Education Rights

Roman Catholic schools and public schools are the only schools that are constitutionally protected in Canada. This enables them to receive funding and programming that is not necessarily available to private schools, an area of controversy as evidenced by Adler v. Ontario. Another area of contention with respect to education surrounds the material taught in schools. Should parents or the government have the final say in what Canadian children are exposed to in class? This was the issue in Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 and S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes. In both cases, the SCC overruled the views of the parents and upheld the controversial material.

Adler v. Ontario – Supreme Court of Canada, 1996
The appellants claimed that it was unconstitutional for government funding to be given to Catholic and public schools, but not to Jewish and independent Christian schools. They also argued that the School Health Support Services Program (the “SHSSP”) which provided health support services at publically-funded schools should be available at private schools. The majority of the SCC found that s. 93(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867 constitutionally protected a special status for Catholic and public schools. Protecting these schools, and not others, was a decision made at confederation and therefore immune from Charter attack. The SCC held that the provinces could fund other schools, but were not required to do so. In addition, the SCC ruled that the SHSSP was an education service and therefore immune from Charter scrutiny.

Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 – Supreme Court of Canada, 2002
Chamberlain asked the Surrey School Board to approve three books, which depicted same-sex parented families, as supplementary resources for his Kindergarten-Grade One class. The Board refused, largely because it wanted to avoid conflict with parents who religiously objected to same-sex relationships. The SCC overturned the Board’s decision. It held that the Board violated principles of secularism and tolerance, and found that the Board should have considered the children of same-sex families that might be in the classroom. In addition, the Board failed to consider the curriculum’s goal –to make children aware of the diversity of family models in society.

S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes – Supreme Court of Canada, 2012
Quebec passed a mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture Program for its schools. The appellants requested an exemption from this course for their children, but were denied. The appellants argued that forcing their children to take this course infringed their freedom of conscience and religion. The SCC held, however, that because the appellants did not show how this course would interfere with teaching their own religious beliefs to their children, there was therefore no violation of freedom of religion. The SCC wrote that diversity and multiculturalism was a part of Canadian society and exposing children to this early on was simply a part of life.