Yukon government, French school board make last ditch effort to avoid court

The Yukon government and the French school board have a last chance to avoid going back to court. Both announced the creation on Tuesday of a settlement committee to deal with the issues.

The Yukon government and the French school board have a last chance to avoid going back to court.

Both announced the creation on Tuesday of a settlement committee to deal with the issues the French school board has been fighting for in court for the past six years, including the construction of a new high school.

“The school board contacted the government and said we should do something concrete about trying to move these positions forward and see if it’s going to be necessary to go to court,” said Ludovic Gouaillier, spokesperson for the school board.

The government and the school board will appoint an equal number of representativesto the committee and to a sub-committee for the high school construction. The committee is scheduled to begin its work in September.

Gouaillier remains hopeful the situation can be dealt with without going back to court.

“The government and the minister have indicated in many statements to be open to resolve some of these issues,” he said.

In 2009 the school board sued the Yukon government, claiming it hadn’t been meeting its obligation under section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects minority language rights.

Specifically, the school board was claiming the government had withheld funds, and was asking for the construction of a new high school, the ability to handle its own budget and the right to widen admission criteria for the school.

Yukon Supreme Court sided with the school board but in 2014 the Yukon Court of Appeal overturned the decision, noting a reasonable apprehension of bias from the trial judge.

In May the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the bias apprehension and ordered a new trial.

The school board is keeping the option of going forward with a new trial if they don’t see change happening.

“If the (French school board) is going to relinquish its right before the court… it wants to make sure the issues are resolved as completely and as concretely as possible,” Gouaillier said.

“There will need to be substantial progress made, and that’s what we indicated to the government.”

The government is slated to announce funding for planning the new high school, Gouaillier said, but it wouldn’t commit to a precise timeline for the construction.

“So far nothing concrete has been achieved in terms of formal agreement, changes to the legislation and money being committed to anything,” summed up Gouaillier.

The government also announced it would soon release its decision on an interim solution for francophone high school students. Parents had petitioned the French school board that the current high school students be moved as early as this September. They currently share classrooms with elementary students.

“It’s still difficult to move a whole body of students to a location that is suitable,” said Gouaillier.

“Everybody knows it’s going to be a compromise, that’s why it’s important to build this new school, the actual solution to the problem.”

Yukon News made requests to speak with Education Minister Doug Graham but did not hear from him in time for today’s deadline.

“Our government remains committed to building a new Francophone secondary high school in a reasonable time frame,” Graham was quoted saying in a press release.

“We are all focussed on finding solutions and ensuring a high quality of education for Francophone students in Yukon. At a recent meeting with board representatives we discussed a number of long-standing issues and we believe we have found a path forward.”

As of last May, it was estimated the government had spent more than $3 million and the francophone school board had spent $1.8 million since the beginning of the case in 2009.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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