Top court to hear French school case

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a Yukon case involving French language schooling.

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a Yukon case involving French language schooling.

In a rare decision, the country’s top court decided that the lengthy battle between the Yukon government and the territory’s French school board deserves its attention.

In 2012 the court granted a hearing to about 12 per cent of the cases that applied.

The decision to hear a case is a yes or a no; the justices do not provide any reasons.

Board president Ludovic Gouaillier says the case raises questions about how school boards control enrollment and hiring, infrastructure questions and questions about funding.

“A number of jurisdictions have started recourses before the court to have these issues clarified,” he said.

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

The francophone school board brought the case against the Yukon government, alleging it had not met its obligations under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects minority language rights.

In 2011 the original judge in Yukon Supreme Court, Vital Ouellette, ruled in the board’s favour. He ordered a number of administrative changes, but most notably ordered the government to build a new French high school and to pay the board nearly $2 million that the school board alleged had been diverted from it to French immersion programs.

Earlier this year the Court of Appeal ruled the judge showed “reasonable apprehension of bias” because of his connections with the Alberta group Fondation franco-albertaine.

A new trial was ordered and the school board applied to the top court.

Gouaillier said the board disagrees with the appeal court regarding Ouellette’s impartiality. By ordering a new trial, the court also left all of the legal concerns unanswered, he said.

Education Minister Elaine Taylor said yesterday that she respects the school board’s right to continue in court.

Taylor said the relationship between the two sides has improved.

“We remain just as committed to work productively with CSFY towards that successful outcome for French language students in the territory.”

She points to two new portables that have been placed at Ecole Emilie-Tremblay as well as discussions around a new funding formula.

Gouaillier agreed things have gotten better.

“The reason this matter went before the court in the first place was because… the school board could get nowhere trying to advance some of its arguments and its positions in terms of building a new school and programming,” he said.

“The government was clear about not being willing to accommodate. This government seems to be willing to discuss.”

But it remains to be seen if this yields concrete achievements, he said.

“The board is happy with the level of access and the attitude on the part of the government and is really hoping that we’re going to be able to some strides.”

The school board recently completed a public consultation period to gauge when the community stands surrounding a new French high school.

“We have to make sure before we make a decision in relation to moving forward today that we have our finger on the pulse of the community as it currently stands,” Gouaillier said.

The conflict has not been cheap. Yukon government officials estimate they’ve spent $2.6 million on the case from the beginning.

No date has been set for when the case will actually be heard by the country’s top court.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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