The 10,000 students of Ontario’s 25 Jewish day schools returned to school this year knowing that five Toronto parents are leading a three decade struggle to win public funding for private denominational schools. The five, in conjunction with the Ontario Jewish Association for Equity in Education, are asking that the province fund the secular curriculum in Ontario’s 500 private schools of all faiths—Jewish, Protestant, Mennonite—just as it presently does for Roman Catholics. In July of 1994, the Court of Appeal in Ontario (the wealthiest and most populous of Canada’s 10 provinces) found that the provincial government’s refusal to fund denominational schools other than the Roman Catholic separate school system is constitutional. With $170 million in government funding at stake (Ontario’s education budget currently totals $8 billion), the five parents have filed leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada— the country’s final arbiter of justice.
Unlike the situation in the U.S., where the doctrine of separating church and state means no direct government subsidies for private schools, Canada has no laws forbidding this. Today Canada is multiethnic And aside from Ontario, virtually every province and territory provides some form of funding for parochial schools. For Jews, this translates into partial provincial assistance in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The majority of Canada’s 35,000 Jews, however, live in Ontario, where fees for Jewish schools range from $6,000 to $10,000 per year.
The inequitable nature of various court rulings goaded Susie Adler and her co-plaintiffs, Paula Kezwer, Riky Young, Marcy Rapp and Mark Grossman, into suing the Ontario Minister of Health in 1991, alleging a violation of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada’s equivalent of the U.S. Constitution).
Adler says the suit is a demonstration of the strength of Ontario’s multicultural fabric. “It seems to me that the Ontario public is strengthened and enriched by the existence of alternative educational systems such as the Jewish day school system. This education instills in children a self-confidence regarding their heritage and a sensitivity to the heritage and tradition of others,” she argues in her affidavit.