What place does separate but publicly funded religious education have in modern Canada? As mentioned in a previous post, Manitoba was the first jurisdiction in Canada to end the practice of having parallel public and Catholic school systems. People are in favour of this system for both practical and principled reasons.
In Alberta, it seems perfectly normal to have parallel school systems; however, this is no longer the norm. Only Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario retain this old division. Quebec abolished it, with federal consent, in 1999.1 The BNA Act guaranteed provinces with separate school systems the right to keep them under section 93.2 Section 93’s wording allows for the abolishment of parallel schools if it is not “prejudicial”, which justified Quebec’s actions.3
A major argument in favour of abolishing the Catholic system is efficiency. The Catholic school system is not merely a set of schools, but an entirely parallel administrative system. Edmonton Public School Board Chair Michael Janz recently floated the idea of Catholic programs run by Edmonton Public Schools. The Board already has programs for other denominations of Christianity, Jewish, and Islamic schools.4 Janz clearly maintained that he does not want to abolish the current Catholic Boards, but does see value in not duplicating infrastructure as both types of schools are built in new suburban neighbourhoods.5
Michael Janz has no interest in fighting to abolish the Catholic system, but there are those who do. Albertan Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning (APUPIL) and their spokesperson, Luke Fevin, are against segregated religious education. The description on their Facebook group reads:
“A community & a resource for Albertan parents of all faiths & non-faiths that wish for the children of our communities to be educated equally & inclusively, without religious preference, segregation or exclusion.
A group that recognizes the right of all humans to choose their faith and to practise it within the law, but that our childrens place of public education must be free of all religious bias so that all our children may be equally afforded the rights accorded to them through the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.”6
What is the counter-argument in favour of separate schools? Often the argument is that the fight is not worth having.7 Others argue that keeping Catholic schools is valuable to preserve choice in education, or to create competition.8 Sometimes giving people an environment that is steeped in their own religious tradition (or someone else’s religious tradition, to explore that culture) for school has value.9
Will Catholic School Boards remain separate in Alberta? The tide is turning against separate schools. It is particularly difficult to justify separate schools for one religious group, when the public system has demonstrated a willingness and ability to establish alternative programs for other groups who have not been granted the privilege of their own separate school system.
1 Samantha Emann, “Canada’s Publicly Funded Religious Schools Have to Go,” Metro (14 March 2016), online: <http://www.metronews.ca/views/opinion/2016/03/14/canadas-publicly-funded-religious-schools-have-to-go.html>
2 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, s 93, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 5.
3 Supra note 1.
4Paula Simons, “Public School Board Chairperson Stirs Pot With His Catholic Education Proposal”, Edmonton Journal (10 February 2017), online: <http://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/paula-simons-public-school-board-chairperson-stirs-pot-with-his-catholic-education-proposal>.
5 The Edmonton Journal Editorial Board, “No Need for Duplicate Catholic Education”, Edmonton Journal (8 February 2017), online: <http://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-no-need-for-duplicate-catholic-education>.
6 A PUPIL, “Description”, posted on A PUPIL - Alberta Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning, online: Facebook <https://www.facebook.com/groups/APUPIL/>.
7 Supra note 5.
8 David Climenhaga, “Advocates for More Choice in Education Unite to Condemn Public School Board Chair’s Call for More Choice in Education”, (10 February 2017), Albertapolitics.ca (blog), online: <http://albertapolitics.ca/2017/02/advocates-choice-education-unite-condemn-public-school-board-chairs-call-choice-education/>.
9 Supra note 4.