Newfoundlands’s Patchwork


By Bert Riggs, Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association. Reprinted with permission from “Rights and Freedoms” Number 58, November 1986

The Denominational School System (DSS) as it exists in Newfoundland in 1986 is a system rife with discrimination.

Discriminatory realities include:

• All schools operate under the auspices of one, or a combination, of only eight select religious denominations – Roman Catholic, United Church, Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian, Moravian, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist.

  • Teachers are hired, fired based on their adherence to the doctrines of the controlling churches.
  • Candidates for school board must be members of the controlling church.
  • Students can be denied access to programs because of their religion.


Much of this discrimination is legal discrimination protected or condoned by federal or provincial statutes. Specifically the DSS is protected by four individual pieces of legislation which legitimize the system and legalize the various forms of discrimination.

These are:

1. The Schools Act: a Newfoundland stature which gives the system, through the Denominational Education Committees, its power in law;
2. The Terms of Union (‘1949): This amendment to the British North America Act in Term 17 states: “the Legislature (of Newfoundland) will not have authority to make laws prejudicially affecting any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools. . .” 3. The Newfoundland Human Rights Code: Section 4(2) of the Code states: “This Act shall be construed and interpreted so as to ensure that no provision thereof shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools, common (amalgamated) schools, or denominational colleges, that any class or classes of persons had by law in the province at the date of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, or any such right or privilege hereafter by law acquired by the Pentecostal Assemblies of NewfoundIand”;
4. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Section 29 of the Charter states: “Nothing in this Charter abrogates or derogates from any rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominational, separate or dissentient schools”


Discrimination in our society takes many forms. Sometimes it is overt; sometimes it is hidden. Sometimes it is intentional; sometimes it is accidental. Whatever the form, we in Canada have come to treat discrimination as undesirable and have attempted to eliminate or guard against it whenever possible. Each province and the federal government have enacted human rights legislation which prohibits discrimination in a host of specifically enumerated areas.

In 1948 Canada became a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which outlines the rights and privileges which all people in the orld are entitled to share and enjoy. I In 1982 as part of the repatriation of its Constitution, Canada enacted a Charter of Rights

and Freedoms to protect its citizens from all forms of discrimination.


What hypocrites we Canadians are. We enact and endorse highly principled legislation to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from discriminatory practices and then add codicils or make exceptions to the legislation to allow legal discrimination against a certain group or region of the country in the name of political expediency, freedom and fair play.

We enact a Charter of Rights and Freedoms containing a progressive human rights protection clause which states “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (Section 15) and then include a clause such as Section 29 which promotes legalized discrimination based on religion, race, creed, marital status and language.


The Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association has assumed an advocacy role for those who have been and are being discriminated against by the Province’s DSS. The Association, contrary to popular misconception, is not advocating the abolition of the Denominational system.

It is working towards
• the creation of a co-existent, public (alternate), government-financed school system for those who do not wish to be part of the DSS and
• the elimination of current discriminatory practices perpetrated by the DSS in the name of parochial education.


Canada is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Newfoundland, as part of Canada, is a co-signatory to that document. As such we have agreed to live by its principles and promote its ideals,

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration deals with education: Subsection 3 of Article 26 states “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”.


Under an education system which is solely denominational, parents are not able to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children because if they do not want their } children to be educated in a denominational system they do not have the option of sending them to a secular school as they would be able to do in other provinces.

This makes our signature on the Universal Declaration seem at best platitudinous and leaves us open to the charge of practicing selective discrimination adhering only to those i articles which we agree with and disregarding the rest.


However, there are those that claim that we do have a secular or at least an alternate school system in Newfoundland. In the 1960s the Warren Commission into Education in Newfoundland recommended a totally integrated education system as the benchmark for the future.

Throughout the late1960s and early 1970s the United, Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian and Moravian churches did agree to this principle and established integrated schools throughout the Province.

The Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist churches did not integrate. They remain strictly denominational in their structure.


While communities no longer have separate United, Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian or Moravian schools, it does not follow that the integrated schools which exist are non-denominational. They are still operated by School Boards which until 1985 had two-thirds of their members appointed by those churches and in
1986 continue to have one-third of their members appointed by those churches.

Those School Boards are still answerable to the Denominational Education Committees which ruled them before integration. The only difference is the Denominational Education Committee is now integrated instead of being strictly Anglican, United Church or Salvation Army. Those who would claim that these integrated schools are non-denominational are blindly groping for a means to defend a discriminatory system which is being subject to increased and harsher criticism.


In a study conducted by the Political Science Department of Memorial University for the local CBC Television program On Camera, public attitudes to the current denominational system were surveyed.

In response to the question “Should Newfoundland keep its present denominational school system or change to one public system without church control?”, 44.5 percent preferred to keep the denominational system while 55,5 percent preferred changing to one public system.

While this is not an overwhelming majority it indicates a majority of Newfoundlanders are not satisfied with a denominationally controlled education system.


In response to a second question indicating reaction to a joint system of denominational and non-denominational schools, 59.2 percent thought it was a good idea while only 37.4 were opposed.

It is evident from this survey that a significant percentage of Newfoundlanders want a public school system. The Association supports that position, but conscious of the rights of those people who prefer a denominational system, advocates an education system which has both public and denominational schools.

This would satisfy the commitment to education Canada made in signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and would also satisfy the desire of a great number of Newfoundlanders for a public school system.


Even if this conjoint system of education were put into place, however, there remains a number of blatantly discriminatory practices in the current DSS which must be eliminated.

In 1985 the Association was approached by a number of parents whose children had been denied entry into a special program by the Avalon Consolidated School Board (one of the so-called non-denominational school boards). The children in question were barred from participation in a federally-financed French Immersion Program because they were non-Christians, were of no professed religion or were not a member of one of the five denominations under the jurisdiction of the School Board.

Registration for the French Immersion Program was conducted on a first-come first- served basis. Some of the children denied entry to the Program were among the first to register but were relegated to last priority because of their religion or non-religion.

The Association intervened in this dispute on behalf of some of the parents, taking their case to the School Board and to the Department of Education which finally applied to the Federal Government and was granted additional monies to enable the hiring of extra teachers and acquisition of space to accommodate all children who had registered for the Program.


The children denied admission to the French Immersion Program were fortunate on a number of counts:

(1) that the Association was willing and able to advocate on their behalf because under the Provincial Human Rights Code the Provincial Human Rights Commission could not have handled such a complaint against our DSS;

(2) that the program in question was sponsored and financed by federal monies and that the Federal Government was willing to provide additional monies to accommodate them;

(3) that the program the children were denied access to was not one such as music or physical education (which could happen in this age of austerity) because then the parents would have had little recourse but to accept the decision of the School Board and have their children discriminated against.


If these children had the opportunity to attend non-denominational public schools they would not be treated with this type of discrimination – discrimination legitimized by the Newfoundland Schools Act, the Terms of Union, the Newfoundland Human
Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Later in 1985 a second problem of overt discrimination by School Boards surfaced. In November, elections for school boards were held with two-thirds of the members being elected and the other one-third appointed by their respective churches.


One of the regulations for candidacy in the school board elections was adherence to the faith of the school board to which a person wished to be elected. Only Roman Catholics could run for positions on Roman Catholic School Boards; only United Church, Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian or Moravian adherents could run for election to integrated boards. The same applied for Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist boards.

This meant that persons of the Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, Bhuddist or Confuscist religions, non-adherents, agnostics, atheists and even adherents to such Christian denominations as Lutheran, Baptist, Orthodox, Mormon and Mennonites were not allowed to offer their candidacy for school boards which administered the school their children attended and for which they paid provincial, federal and local taxes to support.

The Association has not yet succeeded in attempts to change this policy. This, despite

the fact that most of the candidates elected to the boards who had been contacted before the election indicated they did not support the policy.

Moreover, the survey conducted for On Camera, indicates that 70 percent of the respondents favoured totally elected school boards with no church-appointed members and 75 percent of the respondents disagreed with the policy which required candidates to be of the same faith as the school board.


A third area of discrimination involves the infamous “morals clause” in teacher contracts, and is particularly evident in schools administered by the Roman Catholic School Boards.

Section 12.01(e) of the Teacher Contract states “A contract of employment made between a School Board and a teacher may only be terminated: (e) without notice by the School Board, where there is gross misconduct, insubordination or neglect of duty on the part of the teacher, or any similar just cause. . .”

While the phrase “just cause” has never been defined, it has been used to dismiss teachers who have married a divorced person and to dismiss teachers who have changed their religion to that of one contrary to the School Board in question,


Any attempts to challenge these dismissals has met with failure in local courts because of the legal powers and protections provided to the DSS. As a result, Canadian citizens living in Newfoundland who profess to be teachers, must work under adverse conditions not required of other Canadians including abrogation of the rights guaranteed other Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in other federal and provincial statutes.

And since there is no alternate school system where these dismissed teachers might seek employment, they are forced to leave the Province or seek employment in another field.

This is blatant discrimination against a specific class of people in Canadian
society and would not be tolerated in any other part of the country. In Newfoundland it is legal discrimination because our DSS is an entrenched part of the Constitution of Canada through the Terms of Union and is further protected in its discrimination by Section 29 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


These discriminatory practices cannot be allowed to continue unchecked even if a public school system is introduced in Newfoundland. Discrimination is wrong in any form. The legalized discrimination practised by the DSS must be abolished and this abolition must take place immediately.

We must stop being hypocrites in our own land while we loudly condemn discrimination in other parts of the world, Only then will we provide our children with a system of education which will be truly representative of the ideals and freedoms which Canada as a nation represents and which some of us as Canadians enjoy.

There will always be some of us who are discriminated against. It is our duty to work towards eliminating that discrimination, not to protect it with laws and statutes because tradition dictates we should.

END of article by Bert Riggs


In the foregoing article, author Bert Riggs makes reference to Canada “signing” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. The U.N. periodically makes “declarations” on various subjects, and they are just that—declarations— they are not for signing. Although the Universal Declaration has almost reached the status of international law because of its respect and acceptance, it is not international law.

However, the articles of international law which Canada does violate because it permits publicly-supported denominational school systems, are Articles 1, 55, & 56 of the United Nations Charter itself.

Unlike the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is an international treaty which legally binds the contracting states to abide by the provisions. This Covenant was acceded to by Canada on May 19th 1976. Canada’s publicly-funded religious school systems violate articles 1, 2, 7, 8, 18, 21,26 and 28.

Also, being a signatory of the Vienna Accord, Canada violates the human rights provisions found in Principles 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19 & 26.

The instruments above all stress equality and have religion as a prohibited ground of discrimination. These rights are so sacred that, unlike our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they have absolutely NO OPTING-OUT PROVISIONS, EVEN IN WARTIME.



Reprinted from “Rights and Freedoms” Number 58, November 1986

It costs Newfoundland taxpayers an extra $77 million a year out of a $420 million annual budget to have schools run by selected religions, a brief by the Newfoundland Teachers Association claims in calling for a full review of the province’s Denominational School System.

Education Minister Loyola Hearn, a Roman Catholic, admits the duplication of schools on religious lines makes them more expensive but he said the extra cost is only $10 million a year. He said proposals to share buildings and facilities in smaller communities could cut the excess to $5 million annually.

But schools within schools would still be run by churches along strict lines and those outside the favoured religions—Roman Catholic, United Church, Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian, Moravian, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist—would still be forced to choose which religious education to accept.


That’s a desirable system, Hearn i said, and he doesn’t want it changed. Even if people wanted to scrap the current system, he said, it cannot be done because the right of certain denominations to operate separate school systems is entrenched in the I Canadian Constitution.

In fact the current system could be modified to provide for secular education. END of reprinted article


In 1987 Southam Inc. conducted the Southam Literacy Survey. It tested 2,398 adults in their homes across the country with a battery of more than 40 questions.

The survey identified 4.5 million Canadians who fail to reach a minimum level of functional literacy suggested by a national panel.

Other research strongly suggests that 100,000 illiterates a year are being added to the Canadian population by a flawed education system and humanitarian immigration policies.

Illiteracy increases from west to east, rising from a low of 17 percent among adults in British Columbia to 24% in Ontario to an astonishing 44% in Newfoundland.

One cannot help wondering if the multiple school system in Newfoundland, with its resulting small and inefficient schools in any location other than the big city, is a major factor in the high rate of illiteracy in the population.

Quote of the month

Discrimination on the basis of religion is historically a particularly invidious form of discrimination. It formed the basis of the persecution wreaked by the Inquisition. It underlay the terrible injustices caused to European Jews during the Holocaust.

Arthur M. Grant

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