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Tag Archives: Charter of Rights and Freedoms

French versus French Immersion at the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has recently heard a case involving the Government of Yukon versus the French school board (la commission scolaire district #23). For those interested in French immersion, it is an interesting case to follow.

There are many issues at play but the most significant for the purposes of French immersion is the following: The French school board of Yukon alleges that the government redirected just under 2 million dollars from funds earmarked for the French school to French immersion programs offered by the English schools.

Another interesting issue is who gets to control access to minority language education (in this case, French as a first language): the government or school board? If the right to access minority language education is interpreted narrowly, then the population of the minority language will not greatly increase thereby potentially threatening that culture. If, on the other hand, the right to access minority language education is interpreted too broadly, non-francophones (in this case) could have access to the school and, essentially, transform a French school into a French immersion program. This could also significantly impact on the survival of that culture.

There has also been much made of Québec’s intervention in the case. It takes the position of the narrow definition for the simple reason that if the broad definition is accepted outside Québec (i.e. more people can access French as a first language schools), then more non-anglophones can access English schools in Québec. In order to maintain the predominately French culture of Québec, governments have been reticent in allowing access to English schools. It’s legal position is that (1) school boards do not have a constitutional right to decide criteria for admission to schools of the minority language and (2) broadening the criteria for admission to minority language schools without (provincial/territorial) government consent would require a constitutional amendment of section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It usually takes the Supreme Court of Canada about 7-10 months to deliver decisions, so the outcome should be known by fall.

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