Catholic school funding challenged in court



TORONTO -- The public funding of Catholic schools is discriminatory because it favours one religion over others, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice heard last week.

Reva Landau, a senior who was called to the bar but never practised law, told the court that as a taxpayer, she doesn't believe Catholic schools should receive funding because it infringes on her beliefs.

However, the funding has constitutional protection dating back to 1867, government lawyers told court.
The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed four other attempts to have public funding pulled from Catholic schools.

"If you are a Buddhist or Jew and you want to send your child to a school that promotes their faith, you have to pay for it out of your own pocket," Landau said. "It is discriminatory that only Catholics get to do this without spending anything extra."

In the Constitution, the funding agreement for Catholics only mentions elementary schools.

Former Ontario premier Bill Davis extended the support for high schools.

Landau wants funding cut to high school and financial support for elementary schools reduced to the same level as in 1867, which would be next to nothing.

Much of the evidence Landau wanted to present wasn't allowed because she couldn't back up the information.

Landau had the backing of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) which argued in court that public funding of Catholic schools is discriminatory to other religions.

"CCLA is arguing that the time has come for the court to reconsider its interpretation of the Constitution," the group said in a release. "CCLA is urging the court to re-examine its position in light of the following factors: Canada's increasingly diverse population, other social and political changes in Canada, Canada's commitment to equality and freedom of religion and the international obligations to uphold these rights and freedom."

Lawyer Andrew Lokan, who represented the CCLA, argued the issue is of great public importance.

"What started out as a protection for a minority group has morphed into a privilege," Lokan said.  "This could be re-opened and re-examined."

Lawyer Josh Hunter, with the ministry of the attorney general, insisted the current funding format is fair and the fact that someone like Landau pays taxes doesn't automatically entitle her to challenge the status quo.

"It is not an effective use of the court to grant her standing. She doesn't have any expertise in education funding. This is based on her personal beliefs," Hunter said.

"She also doesn't have the expertise to bring a constitutional challenge of this magnitude."

The court also heard that Landau couldn't prove she has the funds needed to take on this challenge. Representatives for Catholic school systems were not in court.

"We were not involved and have no comment. The matter is before the court," said Jon Yan with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Taking funding away from Catholic schools is a Charter no-fly zone.

In 1867, Catholic school funding was constitutionally protected by the British North America Act.

An individual has filed a court application to strip Catholic schools of their funding.

The Supreme Court of Canada has heard four others cases to end funding and all were dismissed.

"The Supreme Court doesn't want to touch this issue. Why would they?" Justice David Corbett said in court while hearing the application asking to take the latest case to the highest court.

Catholic school funding was guaranteed in the Constitution to protect the rights of the Catholic minority against the Protestant majority.

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