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The Mennonite case was based on the 1873 letter of John Lowe to the Mennonites, which outlined the Mennonites' privileges in Canada. The Mennonites argued that the Immigration Act of 1869 and the British North America Act had placed immigration under the control of the Federal Department of Agriculture and therefore it was the duty of the Dominion Minister of Agriculture to carry out the promises made to the Mennonites.
The Provincial Government on the other hand, objected to the Mennonite Privilegium promulgated by John Lowe's letter and the Order in Council of 1873, on the grounds that the Federal Government had no power to give these promises. It was the province, they argued, which had jurisdiction in educational matters. The province also dis missed John Lowe's letter as an insufficient claim, contending the document was at variance with the Order in Council which legally constituted Mennonite privileges. They argued that the rights conferred on the Mennonites were in no way infringed upon by the School Attendance Act, since the matter of language was not mentioned at all and the act did not interfere with the teaching of religion. 18
The Manitoba Court of Appeals ruled in the government's favour contending that John Lowe's letter and the Order in Council of August 13, 1873, were to be accepted as merged, and further, that the difference in wording was largely irrelevant, since the Manitoba Act gave the Province exclusive rights to legislate in matters of education. The judge explained that the Mennonites were entitled only to the unhampered and unrestrictive privileges of educating their children in schools provided by the laws of the country. This did not permit them to retain an independent school system outside the reach of provincial law. 19
A final appeal was made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, but in July of 1920 this body also ruled in favour of the Government of Manitoba. This ruling gave the Manitoba Legisla tion of 1916 full legal sanction and determined that the Mennonites were subject to the School Attendance Act despite their Privilegium.
Even while the court battles were being fought, a number of Mennonite groups were petitioning the Manitoba Government to honour the promises made in 1873. These petitions stated that as a matter of conscience, Mennonites could not delegate the responsibility of educating their children and the right to teach religion in their schools was essential. 20 The Manitoba Government, however, remained un moved.
In setting a patriotic standard for accredited schools, it had in effect made all Mennonite Private Schools, no matter how strong pedagogically, unaccepta ble."