Where it's God's way or the highway - Macleans.ca

Where it’s God’s way or the highway

In Morinville, Alta., Catholicism is part of the public school system


The town of Morinville, Alta., population 6,775, cannot offer Donna Hunter’s children the secular, non-denominational education most Canadian parents expect as a matter of course. She is leaving for nearby north Edmonton and taking her three young children. And her sister. And her sister’s two kids. And her retired parents. Mrs. Hunter led the family’s march to Morinville in 1999; not yet a mother, she didn’t realize that all of the town’s public schools are, because of an anomaly in Alberta’s constitutional development, formally Catholic. The school board’s stated mission: “ensuring that Catholic values permeate all school activities.”

Morinville belongs to the Greater St. Albert “Catholic Public” school district—a historically French-Canadian area that declared itself Catholic for education purposes under territorial law in 1884. For generations, non-Catholic parents accepted the status quo, but Morinville schools have grown more strident about their identity even as the town becomes more diverse. Hunter leads a group of Morinville parents demanding a non-religious option, but the Catholic board will not provide one, and apparently can’t be forced to despite its officially public status. The province’s education minister acknowledges the problem but, say critics, has been slow to address it.

As Hunter leaves Morinville, her group is enjoying some progress. The Catholic board is surveying town residents to test the appetite for secular education, perhaps provided within Morinville under the auspices of a neighbouring district. “But the survey won’t count people who already left because of the Catholic monopoly, or those who never move here,” notes Hunter. “Every year that passes while we await a solution, more Morinville parents will face my choice. Stay? Leave? Wait? How long?”


Where it’s God’s way or the highway

  1.  Morinville, where you can enjoy any two of freedom of religion, freedom of movement, or democratic rights.

  2. Why doesn’t Alberta’s Minister of Education get on the case already?  It’s completely unacceptable that Morinville has 4 public schools and none of them will provide a regular, secular education.  Morinville’s population is only about 40% Catholic, and yet 100% of the public schools have Catholic permeation, which means prayers before every meal and snack, religious activities during indoor recess, religion-themed reading in language arts class, Catholic activities for students who finish their work early, and more.  This is no insignificant matter.  The law is clearly on Ms. Hunter’s side, and yet the school board would rather drag their feet than provide the education they’re supposed to.

  3. In Ontario, Catholicism is part of the publicly-financed provincial school system. The Alberta anomaly, as
    opposed to the Ontario and Québec situation, is that historically the
    “majority” was established at the local community level rather than
    at the provincial level (or the territorial level, since Alberta did not exist
    as a province prior to 1905). 

    The protestant school system
    in Ontario became the public school system of today (the minority Catholic
    schools being part of the separate school system), with the situation reversed
    in Québec. In Saint-Paul, Alberta, former home of
    Bernard Trottier, one of the new Ontario Conservative MPs, the public was
    Catholic and the separate was Protestant. 

    To this day, Ontario continues
    to function with the Public/Catholic model. Québec however, through a
    constitutional amendment agreed to with Ottawa, secularized their system by
    replacing the no-longer religious with the linguistic, Protestant becoming
    anglophone, Catholic becoming francophone. Newfoundland and Labrador, where
    every denomination was guaranteed its own publicly-financed school, also
    secularized their school system through a constitutional amendment. Alberta could, through a constitutional amendment, reform its whole education system.
    I note in passing that the
    public Sturgeon School Division, which has its divisional offices in
    Morinville, indicates in its literature that it is a Christian-based
    non-denominational school division. 
    It would be interesting to know if there is
    a consensus in Alberta for a true secular public school system, and if by secular, one means in a United Church values kind of way, as opposed to the more fundamentalist Catholic church values kind of way.

    • There is a push to disestablish separate schools in Alberta, but that doesn’t really solve the problem in any sort of timely manner. A solution to this problem could be offered in the form of an Alternate Program. GSACRD currently offers a number of such programs, like french immersion, and arts programs. Only they insist that all such programs also be permeated with Catholicism.

    • I should say that I got my entire primary and secondary education, all the way from K-12, in Sturgeon schools. The morning recital of the Lord’s Prayer was stopped in 1977 or ’78, and after that I was never confronted with any evidence of a “Christian basis” for the institution. I hope things have not changed.

      • Thanks for the correction. My
        mistake. I should have read their PDF brochure more carefully. They offer the LOGOS Program, “a
        non-denominational Christian-based program that teaches the Alberta curriculum
        in a nurturing environment.”

  4.  Good read. I saved the page for future visit.


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  5. Out of idle curiosity, if there was a historical quirk giving Morinville’s French settlers the legal right to offer French language-only schools rather than French religion-only schools, would the same people be lining up to condemn them?

    • Out of idle curiosity, another question perhaps: if the Morinville schools, through a historical quirk, had been and were still Mormon, Muslim or Jewish schools, would the same people be lining up to defend them? 

    • I’m not sure. Probably, I suppose. There’s probably some analogous example in the recent history of Quebec that would be informative.

      Of course, you’ve begged the question. The legal right to offer catholic-only education is precisely what is being disputed here. It’s not clear to me that right exists.