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Reva Landau of Open Public Education Now on the religious separate school system in Canada


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/11/21

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: OPEN is a coalition that is crowdfunding for a “constitutional challenge our courts to limit the public funding of the duplicate Catholic separate school system” and to pursue this vigorously. Why was this formed? Who formed it?

Reva Landau: Ontario currently funds the Catholic separate school system at the same or a greater level than the public non-denominational system, but does not fund the educational system of any other religion or philosophy (including atheism, etc.) OPEN (One Public Education Now) was formed because the three major political parties in Ontario continue to insist that the public funding of the separate school system is a “constitutional issue” which is not under their control to change. They ignore that Quebec, a Canadian province, governed by exactly the same constitutional legislation, abolished public funding for separate schools in 1997. As all three major parties refuse to do anything, crowdfunding for a legal challenge under s.15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights seemed the only alternative that would force the provincial government to stop this discriminatory and wasteful funding and create one public non-denominational two-language school system for Ontario.

The coalition includes CRIPE (Civil Rights in Public Education), the Canadian Secular Alliance, and several individuals including our plaintiffs (see more below), and myself. I initiated my own legal action in 2012 but I was refused leave to continue because I was not considered to have “standing” to pursue this legal case because I was not a student, parent, or teacher. Our current plaintiffs should not have that issue. As a result of the response to my own court case, I realized there was a lot of support among Ontario residents for stopping the public funding of the separate school system.

Jacobsen: What is its progress? What are its short and long-term targeted objectives?

Landau: Our short-term goal is to raise enough (an estimated $100,000) to hire a lawyer to prepare and file the application under the Charter of Rights and launch the court case. We have raised over $15,000 so far. We also want to make more people aware that not only is it obviously unfair to fund one religious system, but it is a waste of public funds. It has been estimated in a study by the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario that up to 1.6 billion dollars could be saved yearly by having one public non-denominational two-language school system.

Our long-term goal is to continue raising funds to provide for various legal contingencies, and to either win our legal case or through the publicity around the legal case put such pressure on the Ontario government that they will finally “do the right thing”. Columnists in papers such as the Globe and Mail, radio broadcasts such as the CBC 180 and people such as Charles Pascal, the former Deputy Minister of Education, all support our position. Our webpage, has links to these and other supporters.

Jacobsen: One plaintiff in a legal case is a high school teacher that is unable to qualify for a position in 1/3 of the publicly funded teaching positions because she is non-Catholic, which amounts to a functional prejudice in the system against non-Catholics regarding teaching positions. Furthermore, public money is going to Catholic schools, but only Catholic school teachers can educate at them. What is the progress of this? What can other countries learn about activism to reverse the prejudice?

Landau: The right of the Catholic separate school system to discriminate against non-Catholics for teaching positions was upheld in an Ontario Court of Appeal decision in 1999. It shows that even in a multicultural country like Canada with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that supposedly outlaws discrimination on account of religion, historical injustices continue to exist and citizens must organize against them.

The Ontario situation shows what happens when people just accept that privileged treatment for one group (in Ontario, Catholics) existed in the past and therefore should continue to exist without questioning whether in a province where only 31% are Catholic, 23% describe themselves as “no religious affiliation”, and all the others are non-Catholic Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, etc., and in a country and province which now describes itself as “multicultural”, this privilege should continue to exist.

Jacobsen: Another plaintiff is a parent of two children that want to go to French schools or Francophone schools. It is a 20-minute drive away. But the children have bus 55 minutes because of the only publicly-funded French school being a Catholic separate school farther away. The parent wants their children to have a public education. How common is the story?

Landau: To clarify, the closest Francophone school is a separate Catholic school a 20-minute drive away. The closest public Francophone schools is a 55 minute drive away. I know of other examples. Someone who lives in a small town outside of Ottawa has children who were bused about 40 minutes each way every day to a public (English-speaking) high school. His small town has a publicly-funded English-speaking high school within walking distance of his house, but the publicly-funded high school is separate Catholic and he wanted his children to have a public education. Similarly, Catholic children were bused into his town to go to the separate school from their own towns. If all publicly-funded schools were public, every year millions of dollars on unnecessary busing would be saved because students would go to the closest community school.

Jacobsen: You have a constitutional challenge ongoing through the organization. This is using the Canadian Charter. In section 15, it guarantees equal benefit and protection of the law for all Canadian citizens. Quebec abolished separate school systems in 1997. The same could happen in Ontario and throughout the country. There is desire across much of the country. How can individual Canadian citizens become active in this movement? How can we raise awareness? How can they donate time, skills, money, and connections to OPEN and similar organizations?

Landau: OPEN encourages all Canadians who want one publicly-funded school system in Ontario to donate to OPEN at We have documentation on our website under the Documents hyperlink which they can read for themselves and send to other individuals and organizations who they think would be interested in donating and spreading information about the costly nature of our discriminatory system. Of course, if any lawyers with experience in Charter of Rights equality issues want to take on our case pro bono (or only for out-of-pocket costs), we would welcome their expertise.

The only other provinces that have separate school funding are Alberta and Saskatchewan, and they also fund schools all religions (or schools of no religions) at a lesser level. The other provinces either fund only a non-denominational public school system (which is the model I prefer because all children study together and monies are not wasted on duplicate systems) or fund a non-denominational public school system at the highest rate, and fund all private schools (religious or non-religious) that meet educational standards at a lesser rate. Both these last two examples are non-discriminatory though I prefer the one public non-denominational model.

Jacobsen: How can this set an example for other countries?

Landau: Will let you know once we have had a successful result.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Reva.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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