Lawyer expects judgment could take six months
Lawyer Allan Kaufman says the May 27-28 Ontario Divisional court trial for eight families who are suing the provincial government for discrimination on the basis of religion and disability received a full and complete hearing and are now awaiting the judgment.
“I think (the proceedings) went well from our point of view, we got a full and complete hearing,” Kaufman, who is one of the lawyers representing the families, tells the OACS News in a recent telephone interview.
Filed in 2007, the lawsuit argues the exclusion of funding for certain disability categories for children who attend Ontario faith-based schools is a bureaucratic distinction that penalizes children and violates their rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that they are to receive equal benefit of the law regardless of their disability.
Certain categories of disability do not receive funding because of how the money is flowed. The Ministry of Health has funded seven services for students in all schools since 2000, including occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy.
But for students who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or have learning disabilities, money is flowed through the Ministry of Education, which does not fund faith-based schools.
Kaufman says he was surprised at the trial that the government lawyers spoke to the court without mentioning the children.
“If you walked into that courthouse you would not have known that there (are) children who are blind, deaf, learning disabled out there waiting for a remedy and badly needing a remedy this coming September,” says Kaufman.
“It was a very sad day I think for the government and for the children,” he says.
The lawsuit also uncovered that the Ministry of Health allocates $14.4 million for students who have a disability in all of the province’s faith-based schools each year, yet only $4.5 million is spent. Kaufman says when this number was brought up in court the government did not dispute these findings.
The government’s response to the constitutional challenge was this is how the money is flowed and how it has always been in Ontario, says Kaufman, noting they called it a constitutional immunity.
“They didn’t offer any other rationale than this is the way it has always been in Ontario since 1984 in the public and Catholic system, so they took that model and imposed it on the faith-based system as well,” says Kaufman. “I’m surprised they didn’t have a justification.”
Due to the complexity of the case, the panel of three judges are reserving a decision, which Kaufman says could take six months.
“That means the school year is going to start in September and we won’t know,” he says.
Kaufman says if they succeed in the court case students from all faith-based schools will benefit.
“If we succeed for any of the categories, whether it be speech, children (who are) blind, deaf, or learning disabled it will be precedence setting for the Christian schools, as well,” he says.