Extend Bill 101: Quebec panel

Quebec's top language advisory panel is recommending the province tighten its language legislation to restrict access to all English private schools.

English schools demand consultation

Quebec's top language advisory panel is recommending the province tighten its language legislation to restrict access to all private English schools.

The recommendation follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that effectively reopens a loophole allowing immigrant and francophone parents to get their children into the English public school system by first enrolling their children in English private school for a short time.

The province's language legislation, Bill 101, which restricts access to English schooling to children whose parents have received an English education in Canada, should be extended to cover all schools including those that receive no government subsidies, the Conseil supérieur de la langue française said Thursday.

Unless the loophole is closed, thousands of parents will use it to send otherwise ineligible children to English public schools, the panel said, adding that parents should not be able to buy their children access to English public schooling.

In 2002, the Quebec government adopted legislation blocking children from gaining access to the English public school system by first attending an English-language private school that receives no government subsidies.

Bill 104 was challenged by a group of Quebec parents and was struck down by the country's top court last October.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court called Bill 104 "excessive" and lacking nuance, and gave Quebec one year to replace it with an appropriate compromise.

The opposition Parti Québécois welcomed the recommendation, which it said echoes steps it has been calling on the government to take for some time.

"The government must not limit access to English school by a subterfuge, it must prevent it," said the party's critic on language issues, Pierre Curzi.

English schools reject recommendation

But private schools denounced the recommendation, which they said would be unfair for students who have no intention of transferring to a public school.

"They are not using [private school] as a loophole," said Michael Wolf,  headmaster at Stanstead College in Stanstead, Que. The school does not receive government subsidies.

"Our mission is to prepare students for university and that is why students are here," said Wolf. "They are not here to work the system or to use this as a springboard for another type of school."

Should the government follow through on the panel’s recommendation, enrolment at Stanstead College would drop by 25 per cent, said Wolf.

Those in the English school system also denounced the proposal, warning the survival of English school boards depend on the parents and students who do take advantage of the loophole.

"The English public system in this province needs some oxygen to survive," said Quebec English School Boards Association president Debbie Horrocks. "We just need an influx of students on a regular basis to insure the stability of our system."

Horrocks is calling on the provincial government to involve English school boards in the decision-making process, which affects thousands of students.

Quebec's minister responsible for the province's French Language Charter would not say whether the government will act on the panel's recommendations.

But, Christine St-Pierre said that social cohesion is important.

"We cannot perpetually have linguistic crises," said St-Pierre.

There are 77 schools in Quebec that receive no government funding.

With files from The Canadian Press