French school board sues territory

Yukon's French school board is suing the territory. The Yukon government leaves them little choice, said Andre Bourcier, president of the Commission scholaire francophone du Yukon. Negotiations with the Department...

Yukon’s French school board is suing the territory.

The Yukon government leaves them little choice, said Andre Bourcier, president of the Commission scholaire francophone du Yukon.

Negotiations with the Department of Education have gone nowhere over several years, he said.

So now they’re playing hardball. They’re taking the department to court.

Their demands? Full control over the francophone education system.

“We’d like to control the whole bit. So programs, facilities, staff, finances,” said Bourcier.

“The Education Act of the Yukon is very clear about the kind of powers the school boards should exercise in the Yukon – not just the francophones,” he said.

“At this point we feel we’re being micromanaged by the government.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also guarantees minority language communities the right to manage their own school system.

Right now that’s not happening, said Bourcier.

The Yukon currently spends $4.5 million annually on francophone education, said Bourcier.

The board received a budget of about $750,000 last year.

They ought to have control over the whole $4.5 million and direct the money as it see fit, said Bourcier.

“We’re not asking for more. We’re asking for our share,” he said.

Emilie-Tremblay School in Whitehorse currently has about 160 students enrolled. Of those students, only about 30 belong to high school grades.

Bourcier estimates the school ought to have a student population of 250.

Students are leaving the French system for an English system in high school because of inadequate facilities, he said.

The library doesn’t have enough books for older students. The labs are inadequate for high school science experiments.

As French students leave, others follow their peers. This creates a vicious circle, said Bourcier.

Bourcier’s solution? Francophones need their own high school.

After all, the charter says francophones are entitled to a school system equal to that of English students, he said.

That’s not all. The board represents the entire Yukon, not only Whitehorse.

And there are French-speaking students in the communities.

Dawson City has about 25 students who would be eligible to receive a French education. Beaver Creek has seven, said Bourcier.

What’s the solution to this? Bourcier says he doesn’t necessarily have one.

“But I want to discuss it, and I want to discuss it publicly.”

He’s only asking for what francophones are entitled for, he said.

Bourcier’s willing to negotiate with the department, he said. But so far he’s mostly been ignored.

The department’s responsibilities under the Education Act are not being followed, he said.

For example, the board’s budget for this year was supposed to have been approved by March of 2008 by the Education minister. It still hasn’t happened, said Bourcier.

Wouldn’t the transfer of full power to the board simply create a bigger, more unwieldy bureaucracy?

“The bureaucracy is already in the Education Act. What we need is clarity,” said Bourcier.

“If it’s not efficient, let’s get rid of this act and get something that has leeway.”

“If it’s not the rules of the game, then what is?”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.