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Yukon francophone case draws national attention

The ongoing battle over territorial funding for francophone education in the Yukon could set a national precedent.

The ongoing battle over territorial funding for francophone education in the Yukon could set a national precedent.

Or at least that’s the argument put forward by francophone groups who want intervener status in the upcoming appeal of a court ruling handed down last July.

The Yukon government has appealed the Yukon Supreme Court decision that ordered it to build a new high school for francophone students, to pay nearly $2 million in misspent money and to cover court costs.

The appeal is scheduled to be heard March 5.

Last Friday, the National Federation of Francophone School Boards applied for intervener status in the case.

“This has become a national issue,” said Andre Bourcier, the chair of the Yukon’s francophone school board.

The school board wants full control over the roughly $5 million of federal funds spent annually on francophone education in the Yukon. Currently, the board has a budget of less than $1 million.

It has been arguing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees minority language communities the right to manage their own school systems.

“The federation would like to make the case in favour of that fiduciary relationship with all provinces and territories,” said Bourcier.

“It had never been argued before because there’s never been such a clear case as the case we had in the Yukon.”

The case dates back to 2009 when the French school board sued the territory after it axed several teacher positions at Whitehorse’s Ecole Emilie-Tremblay.

Until the appeal is heard, the court order that the government build a new school and pay the school board $2 million has been put on hold.

This week the government will also ask the court to defer the $1.5 million in court costs it has been ordered to pay to the school board.

A decision on the intervener status is expected before Christmas. Bourcier expects it may come down this week when the parties appear on Thursday.

Whether or not the federation receives intervener status in the case makes little difference to the Yukon’s francophone school board, said Bourcier.

“It’s always nice to have support,” he said.

“But we argued our case from the local point of view and our case is very strong so we’re very confident that we will win our appeal,” he said.

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