Minority (language) education rights affirmed in B.C.

The attempt to ameliorate educational policy injustices still comes before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

According to reports in the media, the Supreme Court last week compelled the government of British Columbia to ensure that francophone speakers, even where their numbers are small, have a right to their own high-quality schools. A francophone school board and a group of francophone parents in B.C. launched the action some 10 years ago alleging that the poor quality of school facilities in some of the communities where francophone families reside effectively deprived them of the right to equal educational facilities to those serving the majority anglophone communities. The case involved 17 communities in which francophone speakers live. In all, according to The Globe and Mail, the francophone board in B.C. lists 6,200 students out of a provincial total of 576,000.

In a 7-2 decision, the SCC ruled to establish the appropriate quality for the minority school, the comparison need not be to a majority language school of similar size in a small rural community.
The minority language group is entitled to schools of equal quality to schools of comparable size wherever those schools exist in the province including in the large cities.

The Globe and Mail further reported that the court said cost should take a back seat to educational needs when a province assesses what it must do to meet its constitutional obligation to an official language minority. Cost cannot be considered at all when a court decides whether infringements on children’s right to an education in their own language are justified under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Clearly the facts of this decision to not apply to the situation in which we are involved relating to independent schools. However, there are some critical points to note from the decision that are relevant to our circumstances:

  • Justice in educational issues is a recurring subject of litigation at the highest court in the land.
  • The SCC appears moved to interpret the constitution in a manner that gives full effect to the rights enunciated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • Perhaps the SCC could be persuaded – based upon changed societal circumstances and changed approaches to interpreting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1996 – to reassess the Adler decision in a manner that places treatment by the government of Ontario of families whose children attend independent schools within the Charter’s reach?
  • If the SCC does extend the reach of the Charter, would it also invoke its ruling that costs should take a back seat to educational needs?

These questions and others will be resolved in challenging the government of Ontario to bring fairness and justice to its own educational funding policies.

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Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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