The Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon No. 23 read with interest the comments made by Keith Halliday in the opinion piece Francophone School “Jackpot” Hits A Nerve, published in the Yukon News on August 3.
The text of the decision is only available in French on the website of the Supreme Court of the Yukon at this time, although evidence was given in both French and English during the trial and practice direction No. 43 of the Supreme Court of the Yukon Territory states explicitly that, “It will be the practice of the court to issue judgments in both official languages when trials, hearings or applications are conducted in both official languages.”
Nevertheless, Halliday is bilingual.
It is unfortunate he elected to write his opinion without verifying the facts in the actual decision.
Halliday asks two main questions. The first is: “Why francophones get their own school?” and the second is: “What, exactly, does it mean to be educated in French?”
These questions are misleading.
Canada is a country where citizens can receive equal services in either of the two official languages.
Canada has made that choice to ensure the two founding European societies could live equally anywhere on the land. Francophones in the Yukon have a right to be educated in schools managed by the official language minority community, which is quite different than a right to be educated in French.
Canada embraces linguistic duality, it doesn’t force or prevent anyone to speak both official languages.
Halliday is sensibly asking for flexibility on all sides.
Prior to trial, the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon had many meetings with the Education minister and senior officials of the Department of Education to discuss ways to settle our differences out of court, but a settlement didn’t materialize.
The trial went on for nine weeks, 25 witnesses were called, including four expert witnesses, and 533 documents were entered into evidence.
Honourable Justice Vital O. Ouellette states at paragraph 666 that almost all of the misunderstandings and quarrels between the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon and the Yukon government could have been avoided if the government had implemented the Education Act in good faith.
The Supreme Court of Yukon will also retain jurisdiction over the case, as of paragraph 865, because the government has consciously decided not to respect the Education Act.
Both parties will have to show up before the court every three months to report progress.
Halliday would like us to believe that Ecole Emilie-Tremblay is only at 40 per cent capacity.
The court found, at paragraph 785, that senior officials of the Department of Education didn’t understand the difference between “raw capacity,”“ideal capacity” and “practical capacity.”
The trial judge had no choice but to agree with expert testimony at paragraph 788 that the school not only lacked space in general, but also essential spaces to offer a high school program.
The necessary spaces are described at paragraph 869. The trial judge accepted expert testimony again, at paragraph 644, that there are between 400 and 435 francophone students in the Yukon.
He also found, at paragraph 737, that the staffing formula didn’t take into account the specific needs of francophones in the Yukon.
These findings raise major issues concerning high school programs all across the Yukon.
How many teachers does a school need to offer a complete high school program?
Why are we building K-12 schools in the Yukon if we have no intention of staffing them to offer a full high school program?
Is it fair to force parents outside of Whitehorse to send their kids to the three major high schools in the city to get a decent education?
These questions go beyond the francophones vs. anglophones division to include urban and rural Yukon where all K-12 schools are found, Ecole Emilie-Tremblay being the only K-12 in Whitehorse.
The answers to these questions should be discussed by all Yukoners and should be framed, of course, in terms of available funding.
Halliday suggests the funding per student at Ecole Emilie-Tremblay is at least 50 per cent higher than at larger Whitehorse schools.
This statement is puzzling since paragraph 731 and 736 state senior officials at the Department of Education have yet to determine the cost per student either for Ecole Emilie-Tremblay or the whole Yukon.
The decision recognizes, at paragraph 658, that all 28 school councils could become school boards.
Yukoners don’t need the rights of section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to manage their school system. They have the same rights under their own Education Act.
Yukoners could agree the cost per student in Old Crow should be higher than the cost per student in Whitehorse. Yukoners could also agree that the cost for a student in difficulty should be higher than the cost for mainstream students.
But to discuss these issues, Yukoners need to know what these costs are. This is the goal of school board management under the Yukon’s Education Act.
One last point needs clarifications.
Some commentators have insisted Ouellette should have recused himself because he belongs to a community that has to fight to have its constitutional rights recognized by different levels of government in Canada.
This line of reasoning would also imply native justices should never use their personal insights to hear native cases and female justices should be disqualified from hearing cases involving violence against women.
This clearly goes against the necessity to have a justice system reflecting the pluralism of Canadian society.
The two official language communities can live together in the Yukon. We have to share resources. We also have to share with the first inhabitants of this land.
First Nation people know sharing starts with respect, accepting the other as different and not trying to force one’s own vision of the world onto the other.
Most of the Supreme Court orders, at paragraph 869, are forcing the Yukon to simply sit down and negotiate in good faith the business of sharing powers with the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon.
This decision is the perfect opportunity to enlarge the discussion to include all Yukoners. Instead of spreading rumours and fallacies, let’s get the real numbers and facts out, sit down together and sort out our differences in a respectful manner.
We’re all in it for our children, after all.
Andre Bourcier is president, Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon No. 23.