YELLOWKNIFE, NWT, May 28, 2007 – The Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories (NWT) ruled recently that the Yellowknife Catholic School Board may not refuse to allow non-Catholics to run for election as trustees, who govern the board.
The decision brings to the fore the constitutional rights of Catholics to maintain the Catholicity of schools supported by the education tax dollars of Catholic ratepayers. The right to Catholic schooling supported by education taxes from Catholics has already been removed in Newfoundland and Quebec. (See League backgrounder.)
In the current case, Justice J.E. Richard of the NWT Supreme Court ruled that when in 2006 the Board Superintendent tried to nix the candidacy of two non-Catholics who were seeking to run for election as Catholic school trustees, he was outside the law (See complete decision.) The returning officer rejected the Superintendent’s notice that non-Catholics Amy Hacala and Debora Simpson were ineligible to run for election. (Ms. Hacala had already served one term.) Yellowknife Catholic Schools launched the court case to protect its Catholic identity.
Ms. Hacala was re-elected. Her daughter is a student in the system, although she is not Catholic either. Ms. Hacala had publicly criticized the school board and its religious orientation in the past.
The Board took the returning officer’s decision to court for a ruling. Of note, Brendan Bell, the Attorney General of the NWT, sided with the returning officer in denying the Catholic Board the right to limit its controlling officers to those of the Catholic faith.
League President Phil Horgan, after reviewing the decision, found that it failed to
recognize the role that Catholic school trustees have traditionally played in maintaining the religious character of our schools.
“This ruling relies on constitutional points that distinguish the NWT from provinces which enjoy these denominational rights,” said Mr. Horgan. “It does not address the traditional reality that Catholic schools exist to enrich every aspect of education with the Catholic faith.”
The board hopes to appeal the decision.
– with reports from CBC News and LifeSite News.