Dual language bus issue hearing begins in Court of Appeal

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal will take the first steps Tuesday morning on the way to a ruling on the controversial issue of dual language-based school bus services.

People's Alliance of New Brunswick and other groups will seek intervenor status

Attorney General Serge Rousselle said last year that he was convinced the dual bus system used in the province was constitutional. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal will take the first steps Tuesday morning on the way to a ruling on the controversial issue of dual language-based school bus services.

The court will sit at 10 a.m. to set out procedures and deadlines for the hot-button case, a full 10 months after Attorney General Serge Rousselle announced he would ask for a ruling.

"I would be surprised if there would be any decision ... on the merits of the case," says law professor Michel Doucet of the University of Moncton.

"It will probably deal with matters of procedure."

The question the court is being asked to answer was filed last November. It asks: "Is there, in New Brunswick, a constitutional obligation to provide distinct school transportation in relation to one or the other official language?"

Kris Austin says the People's Alliance Party of New Brunswick will seek intervenor status at the Court of Appeal hearing on the dual language bus issue. (CBC)
The Constitution guarantees English and French schools in New Brunswick, but whether that extends to the buses children ride to school has been the subject of a fierce debate. Opponents say it adds unnecessary cost during a time the province is cutting services.

Last year, Rousselle said that he was "convinced that the actual system is respecting our obligations and responsibilities" but that he would send the question to the court to resolve the issue once and for all.

Request for intervenor status

Among the procedural steps to be set out today will be the question of intervenors. Several organizations are expected to seek such status, which would give them the right to make arguments in the case when it is finally heard.

The People's Alliance of New Brunswick, the first political party to make dual busing an issue, has hired a lawyer to seek intervenor status.

"It's to put an argument forward as to why dual busing, we feel, is not a constitutional requirement," said party leader Kris Austin.

The party is raising money to fund its intervention. Austin said the party's lawyer is not a constitutional law expert, but it has a University of New Brunswick law student researching the case as well.

"He's going to be seeing if there's been a precedent set in other cases and looking at different angles of the Constitution to give the best arguments," Austin said.

Doucet, a constitutional law expert, is representing three francophone school districts and a francophone parents' group who want to intervene to argue the dual system is required.

The justices can also choose to appoint an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," to argue one side of the case if they feel that side won't otherwise be well presented.

Arguments will likely hinge on two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Section 16.1, which guarantees educational institutions for the English and French language communities in New Brunswick, and Section 23, which guarantees minority-language education across Canada.

On mobile? Follow the latest developments from the Court of Appeal hearing

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.


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