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Warm words exchanged, deadlock remains for francophone high school legal battle

The head of the French school board says he's optimistic about working with Yukon's new education minister, Doug Graham. Ludovic Gouaillier met with Graham for the first time last week.

The head of the French school board says he’s optimistic about working with Yukon’s new education minister, Doug Graham.

Ludovic Gouaillier met with Graham for the first time last week. High on the agenda was the push to have a francophone high school built in Whitehorse.

“It was important for the school board to determine what a change in minister meant, if anything,” Gouaillier said.

“So far the indication is that there will not only be continuity but also commitment. It’s a certainly a step forward and in a direction that’s positive for the francophone school board.”

As it stands, the two parties remain locked in a long-standing legal battle.

In 2009 the French school board claimed the Yukon government had withheld funds and wasn’t giving it control over its staff and admissions.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of the Yukon ordered the territorial government to build a new high school for francophones within two years.

But last year, the Yukon Court of Appeal found that ruling may have been biased because the judge had been governor of the Alberta group La Fondation franco-albertaine. The French school board subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its case against the Yukon government.

On Jan. 21, the court heard final arguments from both parties in the matter. It will take between six and nine months to reach a decision.

Since the Supreme Court may or may not rule on all the issues brought before it, including the need for a new francophone school, both parties have decided not to wait that long.

“As we’ve said there is a possibility that the Supreme Court of Canada could send both parties back to the beginning,” Gouaillier said.

“If anything, and I can’t speak for Minister Graham, but certainly for the school board there’s an interest in advancing this file through negotiation. It’s far from certain that we’ll get any resolution from the Supreme Court.”

In the past, the school board has held a firm position on the need for a standalone school, while previous proposals from the government have included attaching a separate wing as part of the new F.H. Collins Secondary School.

Last summer, the board held a round of consultations in which it gathered input from parents, teachers and students.

It compiled the results into a lengthy report, which stated the territorial government was willing to work towards a deal but needed more clarity on which option the board wanted to pursue.

Those options included: enlarging Ecole Emilie Tremblay; building a new school on its property but separate from the existing school; building a new school on the FH Collins campus but separate from it; building a school annexed to FH Collins; and building a stand-alone school elsewhere in the city, ideally closer to downtown.

The report states the school would aim to have space for 150 to 200 students from Grade 8 to 12.

“It was made clear to us that an option to attach a school as a wing or extension was not an option favoured by the community,” Gouaillier said.

In early January, parents of francophone high school students studying at Academie Parhelie said they were fed up with cramped classroom conditions. Two portable classrooms, set up next to Ecole Emilie Tremblay, currently house the Grade 9-10 and 11-12 classes.

Despite the positive meeting, many steps have yet to be made before reaching a consensus, Gouaillier said.

“We won’t start digging a new foundation (for a school) in the next few months,” he said, “but we had a very positive meeting and agreed to stay in touch and discuss issues as they arise.”

Doug Graham declined to be interviewed for this story.

Contact Myles Dolphin at