Quebec Jews Ask Royal Commission for Changes in Public School System

Leaders of the Canadian Jewish Congress presented a brief this weekend to the Canadian Royal Commission of Inquiry on Education in which they called for some changes in the present school arrangements in the province of Quebec where most Jewish children attend public schools operated by Protestant churches.

The brief was prepared by the Canadian Jewish Congress after an extended survey of the views of both organizations and individuals in the Jewish community, including “rabbis, synagogues, Jewish schools, general organizations and individuals with a constant interest in matters of education and with public-spirited motivations. “

The brief expresses general satisfaction with present arrangements but indicates there are points on which improvements could be made. The principal recommendation is the reconstitution of Jewish school commissioners which existed briefly about 30 years ago. The re constitution is urged so that the Jewish commissioners could negotiate with the Protestant school boards in the name of the Jewish community.

The brief proposes basically that the British North America Act, which is a section of the Canadian constitution, be amended to give Jews equal status with Protestants in the Quebec public school systems. The proposals are based on the proposition that while a public school system is a bulwark of democracy, the Jewish community accepts the fact that, because of the special circumstances in Quebec, a public school system in the usual sense would not be acceptable to the population of Quebec.

The Jewish child population in Quebec numbers 22, 083 of whom 17, 725 attend Protestant schools and 4,358 attend Jewish day schools. There are no non-sectarian public schools in Quebec. Other than Jewish day schools, the school system is operated under either Protestant or Catholic sponsorship.

WENT TO REMAIN WITH PROTESTANT SCHOOLS, BUT ASK FOR REPRESENTATION

The brief emphasizes that the Quebec Jewish community wished to continue its association with the Protestant schools and that it was not suggesting a separate school system for the Jewish community. However, the brief urges that legal disabilities for Jews within the Protestant school system should be removed as far as membership on the Protestant school boards is concerned.

The brief notes that the Jewish community pays school taxes to the Protestant school boards but Jews are not free to present themselves for election or appointment to any of the boards. “Surely this is a classical case of taxation without representation, ” the brief asserts. Jewish children, it points out, have been treated in a spirit of “harmonious and good relations” in the Protestant schools but the fact remains that they are there on sufferance. In Montreal, Jewish children account for more than half of the enrollment in a number of Protestant schools.

The brief argues that attendance of Jewish children in those schools should be “rooted in law and not subject to the vagaries of an agreement. ” It is “understandable” that when the section of the British North America Act dealing with education in Quebec was drafted, “the only two communities whose interests could be considered would be the Catholic and Protestant” Since Quebec’s Jewish community was tiny in 1867. However, the brief points out, “there are now 112,000 Jews, most of them living in Montreal, and there are now about 22,500 Jewish children of school age in the province.”

EQUAL STATUS FOR JEWS WITHIN PROTESTANT FRAMEWORK REQUESTED

The Canadian Jewish Congress said that it was realized no real relief could be granted unless the Act was amended and the Royal Commission therefore was urged to recommend such amendment “to establish equal status for Jews within the Protestant framework. ” Since a change in the act was not likely to be made quickly, the Congress brief suggested a number of interim measures “to remedy the situation immediately without waiting for the constitutional changes.”

One such measure was “the necessity of a formal recognition by the Protestant School boards that nominees of the Jewish community should be accepted as members within such structures as may be imposed by law. ” Another proposal was “immediate appointment of a Jewish representative to the Protestant Committee of the Council of Education” in Quebec “and the immediate reinstatement of the Jewish School Commission to deal with matters affecting the education of Jewish children in the Protestant schools.”

The brief also contained a proposal that the Jewish day schools “are entitled to assistance in conducting secular programs by granting them the statutory subsidies which the Province provides on a per capita basis to elementary schools under the jurisdiction of the Protestant and Catholic commissions.”

The brief pointed out that during 1961, Jewish day schools in the province were recognized for such assistance on a high school level. “We ask that the legislation be extended, ” and that “consideration be given to the problems of Jewish schools in financing new school structures,” the brief said.

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