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Education History

Religion and Schooling in Canada

The Long Road to Separation of Church and State

by (author) Robert K. Crocker

Les Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa/University of Ottawa Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2022
History, General, Religion, Politics & State
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2022
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2022
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2022
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Christian organizations have always played a large role in Canadian education. By 1949, five provinces had constitutionally protected denominational schools. The federal government’s responsibility for the education of Indigenous Peoples was effectively contracted out to the churches for more than a century, resulting in a history of abuse that has only recently come to light.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, several initiatives in different provinces set the stage for significant reforms to education. Some of these tested the limits of denominational protections, but could not shake the underlying constitutional structures.
Patriation of the Constitution and adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 codified fundamental changes in thinking about civil rights. The Charter allowed existing denominational rights to be challenged on many fronts. However, all such challenges were rebuffed by the courts on the grounds that the Charter cannot be used to override other parts of the Constitution.
By the 1990s, it became apparent that another route to reform was available, through the amending formula. Constitutional amendments were used to end denominational control of schools in Newfoundland and Quebec in 1997 and 1998.
The circumstances around those constitutional amendments are discussed in detail as possible precedents for similar outcomes in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. This book contends that change will certainly come to these provinces and several paths to reform are explored. This reform aims to remove the discrimination inherent in denominational institutions while preserving some form of religious involvement in certain schools.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Recipient of the CEA/Whitworth Award for contributions to educational research, Robert Crocker is Professor Emeritus at Memorial University. He was Associate Deputy Minister of Education in Newfoundland, where he was involved in negotiations leading to the constitutional amendment ending religious control of education in that province. He also served as a member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and as President of the Canadian Educational Researchers’ Association.

Excerpt: Religion and Schooling in Canada: The Long Road to Separation of Church and State (by (author) Robert K. Crocker)

“The status of sectarian schools has increasingly come under question, to the extent that the rights of some religious groups to have their own schools, entrenched in the Constitution at the time of confederation, have been extinguished in two provinces. However, they remain in place in three other provinces and in the territories. These schools are now almost exclusively Catholic. This has led many to challenge the privileged status of the Catholic Church in education.”
“Charter cases related to the conduct of religious activities or observances in public schools have resulted in a near prohibition of such activities. On the other hand, Charter challenges to the privileged status of separate Catholic schools have been completely unsuccessful. Consequently, the very activities prohibited by the Charter in public schools can be mandated in separate schools. In no other area has the Charter led to such conflicting application. This has led two provinces, Newfoundland, and Quebec, to resort to constitutional amendment to resolve the issue.”
“This book argues that change is required to resolve underlying constitutional contradictions and to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse society. The main theme is that change should be driven by consideration of fundamental principles and by the rights and freedoms offered by the Charter, rather than waiting for some local crisis to emerge as was the case in Newfoundland and Quebec.”