Sask. Catholic school boards to appeal court decision, despite use of notwithstanding clause

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Saskatchewan's Catholic school boards say they want a permanent decision on who can attend their schools.

On Monday, the provincial government announced that it would invoke the notwithstanding clause to defy a judicial ruling in Saskatchewan that would stop provincial funding for all non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools.

On April 20, Justice Donald Layh ruled funding of non-Catholic students in the schools violates both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and "the state's duty of religious neutrality."

But the notwithstanding clause allows provinces to create laws that operate in spite of the Charter rights that the laws appear to violate.

It is, however, temporary. While it can be re-enacted, any notwithstanding clause declaration expires after five years.

Tom Fortosky, former Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association president, said the group is grateful for the government's decision, but it does not lessen a need for an appeal.

"As you can appreciate, the notwithstanding clause is a temporary measure — it's five years. On the appeal, if we're successful on appeal, it resolves the issue for all time," he said.

He added that the five-year window would give them some breathing room to work on the appeal and provide concerned parents with some certainty for the time being.

Fortosky estimated it would take about three to five years to get an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

He noted that the cost of the appeal would be about $125,000 — a number that would double if taken to the higher court.

He said a fundraising campaign is currently in the works to help cover the cost of the appeal.