Thinking Out Loud

August 2, 2016

Ontario Continues Biased School Funding Program

Christian schools like this one are part of the education picture in Ontario, but only one religion receives funding.

Christian schools like this one are part of the education picture in Ontario, but only one religion receives funding.

On the weekend, The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper carried a full-page book excerpt dealing with how John Tory (now Mayor of Toronto) and the provincial Conservative party lost the 2007 election over the issue of providing funding to faith-based schools.



The issue is simply this: “Ontario was, and continues to be, the only province in Canada that fully funds a Catholic education while not providing funding to other religious schools.”

The province, which has nearly 40% of the Canadian population has a large Roman Catholic school system. Many of its pupils are not Catholic or are nominally Catholic. I recently spoke with a parent who told me that among the 25 or so students in her daughter’s Grade Two class, only three had opted in for the school-based First Communion program. But children in the program — from early elementary to high school — take a Religion course as one of their subjects. The “Separate School System” as it is often referred to, is well entrenched and respected, and often their schools are among the largest in a given city or town.

Religious based schools include Christian, Jewish and Muslim institutions. I am told they make up approximately 1% of the total number of kids in a school system. I know that most of the Christian schools follow the provincial curriculum. I am sure that in cities like Toronto, the number of students enrolled in Muslim schools is probably growing, and I would prefer to think that today, 9 years later, they would have enough political clout to see this issue carry in such a diversified city. Elsewhere in the province, I am sure that bias and bigotry stood in the way. 

(Another argument is to scrap the two-stream school system in Ontario entirely, a view voiced by this submission to The Hamilton Spectator.)

Christian School in TorontoFor one year, I taught Grades 7 and 8 in a school which part of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools. During that year, I was told that Canada has actually been censured by the United Nations for their school funding inequality. In 2015, I tried to access a clear documentation of this I was directed by Julius deJager, Executive Director of the OACS to this 274 page .pdf of a Human Rights Committee report which unfortunately found the particular complaint inadmissible — somewhat on a technicality because the complainants weren’t directly impacted or “victims” — but while hardly constituting a “motion to censure” it does set forth the case.  [Text reprinted below.]

…The defeat of John Tory and the Ontario Conservatives in 2007 probably involved a number of factors, but the faith-based school funding issue is considered key. The Star’s book excerpt, written by a political strategist, goes on to record,

When the issue heated up in early September of the 2007 campaign, Tory explained his rationale: it was a policy based on fairness and a determination to build a more inclusive public education system. “I am actually being honest with people and taking a principled stand which is tough to do but right,” he said, adding, “If I changed course now and said I had made an error — which I do not believe I have — that would either indicate weak leadership in not thinking something through or weak leadership which flip-flops at the first sign of trouble.” …

…The choice that resonated best with voters and campaign personnel was to provide funding for faith-based institutions provided they met two key conditions: their curriculum had to be approved by the province; and they had to be part of the provincial school system and be associated with a public or separate school board…

We created the platform document and presented it to a full caucus meeting along with all of the other campaign policies. Overall, the reaction was positive. We prepared for the campaign launch.

However, a comment from an older man in a focus group held in Peterborough stuck in my mind as we organized our campaign. After listening to a description of our faith-based policy, he said, “Let me get this straight, what they are proposing is to pay Muslim kids to make bombs in the basement of the schools. Is that correct?” As the moderator of focus groups, my role is not to answer questions, only to ask questions. I said nothing, but I recall my stomach turning at the comment…

You can see the polarization and sensationalism here which also characterizes the current federal election campaign in the U.S. In a democracy, extreme comments like the one above is all it takes to sway a gullible electorate…

The piece in Saturday’s Star is taken from Campaign Confessions: Tales From the War Rooms of Politics by John Laschinger, publishing in September.

Text of UN Document cited above; see link to read other sections

2.2 The province of Ontario’s system of separate school funding originates with provisions in Canada’s 1867 constitution. In 1867 Catholics represented 17 per cent of the population of Ontario, while Protestants represented 82 per cent. All other religions combined represented 2 per cent of the population. At the time of Confederation it was a matter of concern that the new province of Ontario would be controlled by a Protestant majority that might exercise its power over education to take away the rights of its Roman Catholic minority. The solution was to guarantee their rights to denominational education, and to define those rights by referring to the state of the law at the time of Confederation.

2.3 As a consequence, the 1867 Canadian constitution contains explicit guarantees of denominational school rights in section 93. Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 grants each province in Canada exclusive jurisdiction to enact laws regarding education, limited only by the denominational school rights granted in 1867. In Ontario, the section 93 power is exercised through the Education Act. Under the Education Act every separate school is entitled to full public funding. Separate schools are defined as Roman Catholic schools. The Education Act states: “1. (1) “separate school board” means a board that operates a school board for Roman Catholics; … 122. (1) Every separate school shall share in the legislative grants in like manner as a public school”. As a result, Roman Catholic schools are the only religious schools entitled to the same public funding as the public secular schools.

2.4 The Roman Catholic separate school system is not a private school system. Like the public school system it is funded through a publicly accountable, democratically elected board of education. Separate School Boards are elected by Roman Catholic ratepayers, and these school boards have the right to manage the denominational aspects of the separate schools. Unlike private schools, Roman Catholic separate schools are subject to all Ministry guidelines and regulations. According to counsel, the additional costs to maintain the separate system next to the public school system have been calculated as amounting to $ 200 million a year for secondary schools alone. Neither s.93 of the Constitution Act 1867 nor the Education Act provide for public funding to Roman Catholic private/independent schools. Ten private/independent Roman Catholic schools operate in Ontario and these schools receive no direct public financial support.

2.5 Private religious schools in Ontario receive financial aid in the form of (1) exemption from property taxes on non-profit private schools; (2) income tax deductions for tuition attributable to religious instruction; and (3) income tax deductions for charitable purposes. A 1985 report concluded that the level of public aid to Ontario private schools amounted to about one-sixth of the average total in cost per pupil enrolled in a private school. There is no province in Canada in which private schools receive funding on an equal basis to public schools.Direct funding of private schools ranges from 0 per cent (Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario) to 75 per cent (Alberta).

2.6 The issue of public funding for non-Catholic religious schools in Ontario has been the subject of domestic litigation since 1978. The first case, brought 8 February 1978, sought to make religious instruction mandatory in specific schools, thereby integrating existing Hebrew schools into public schools. On 3 April 1978, affirmed 9 April 1979, Ontario courts found that mandatory religious instruction in public schools was not permitted.

2.7 In 1982 Canada’s Constitution was amended to include a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which contained an equality rights provision. In 1985 the Ontario government decided to amend the Education Act to extend public funding of Roman Catholic schools to include grades 11 to 13. Roman Catholic schools had been fully funded from kindergarten to grade 10 since the mid-1800’s. The issue of the constitutionality of this law (Bill 30) in view of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was referred by the Ontario government to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1985.

2.8 On 25 June 1987 in the Bill 30 case the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of the legislation which extended full funding to Roman Catholic schools. The majority opinion reasoned that section 93 of the Constitution Act 1867 and all the rights and privileges it afforded were immune from Charter scrutiny. Madam Justice Wilson, writing the majority opinion, stated: “It was never intended … that the Charter could be used to invalidate other provisions of the constitution, particularly a provision such as s.93 which represented a fundamental part of the Confederation compromise.”

2.9 At the same time the Supreme Court of Canada, in the majority opinion of Wilson, J. affirmed: “These educational rights, granted specifically to … Roman Catholics in Ontario, make it impossible to treat all Canadians equally. The country was founded upon the recognition of special or unequal educational rights for specific religious groups in Ontario …” In a concurring opinion in the Supreme Court, Estey J. conceded: “It is axiomatic (and many counsel before this court conceded the point) that if the Charter has any application to Bill 30, this Bill would be found discriminatory and in violation of ss. 2 (a) and 15 of the Charter of Rights.”

2.10 In a further case, Adler v. Ontario, individuals from the Calvinistic or Reformed Christian tradition, and members of the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish faiths challenged the constitutionality of Ontario’s Education Act, claiming a violation of the Charter’s provisions on freedom of religion and equality. They argued that the Education Act, by requiring attendance at school, discriminated against those whose conscience or beliefs prevented them from sending their children to either the publicly funded secular or publicly funded Roman Catholic schools, because of the high costs associated with their children’s religious education. …

[pp 219-270; case hearing runs to p 225]

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