French school board applies to top court

The question of Francophone language rights in Canada is important enough that the Supreme Court of Canada should hear more about it.

The question of Francophone language rights in Canada is important enough that the Supreme Court of Canada should hear more about it.

That’s according to the lawyer representing the territory’s French school board in a legal fight with the Department of Education.

Roger Lepage filed documents this week asking the country’s top court to hear the case between la Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon and the Yukon government.

Earlier this year the Yukon Court of Appeal sent the case back for a new trial in part because of a possible appearance of bias by the original judge, Vital Ouellette.

Instead of agreeing to go back to square one, the school board has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case.

The country’s Supreme Court Act says that a case is chosen by the court “by reason of its public importance.”

Lepage said there are at least two areas where this case qualifies as nationally important.

He said the ruling by the appeal court, that there was a reasonable apprehension of bias by Ouellette, is important.

The appeals court ruled that Ouellette’s conduct during the trial and his status as a governor of the Fondation franco-albertaine in Alberta, was enough to raise concerns.

The test for bias is a high standard, but the Yukon case lowers that bar, Lepage said.

“We’re saying that the Supreme Court of Canada should look at that because it has not only an impact on that judge, it has an impact on all Canadian judges.”

Aside from the question of bias, Lepage said concerns around access also deserve the attention of the court.

Section 23 is the portion of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that deals with language rights.

“There’s no doubt that section 23(2) allows access to French language schools. The government could control that access, or the francophone school boards,” Lepage said.

He will be arguing that control should belong to the school board.

“It’s a question of national importance because it impacts not only on the Yukon, it impacts every jurisdiction.”

The government has 30 days to reply to the school board’s application.

Lepage acknowledges that not every case that applies to the Supreme Court of Canada is heard.

He says he’s as confident as you can be that this case will be heard.

“I’m satisfied that these two questions raise issues of national importance. As soon a you’re raising a constitutional issue, and especially a language rights issue, which goes to the very foundation of Canada, usually the Supreme Court of Canada is prepared to hear it.”

In 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada only granted a hearing to about 12 per cent of the cases that applied. According to the most recently available statistics, it takes on average 4.4 months for the court to decide if it will hear a case.

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