Judge rejects EMSB's demand to halt transfer of 2 English schools to French board
Montreal's largest English-language board says it's weighing legal options
A Quebec Superior Court justice has thrown out an injunction filed by the English Montreal School Board aimed at halting the transfer of two English schools to a French-language board.
The EMSB filed the request for an injunction last week in a last-ditch attempt to stop the handover of the two Saint-Léonard schools to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île.
The board was trying to freeze the transfer while it made its arguments to the court. The judge has now allowed the transfer to go ahead while that challenge continues.
"We have certain rights as an English minority under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada and I think we'd like to see what our lawyers propose," said EMSB chair Angela Mancini.
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge had ordered the transfer of the two elementary schools, General Vanier Elementary and John Paul Junior High, effective July 1.
He argued the French school board was short 3,000 spaces while some English schools in east-end Montreal operate at roughly half capacity.
In a statement Monday, Quebec's Education Ministry said it was pleased with the court's decision and it called on the EMSB to take the necessary administrative steps to allow for the transfer.
"Our government made the difficult but necessary decision to order the transfer while considering the interests of all Quebec students," the statement said.
'Burden on our community'
Mancini said that the board would comply, but told reporters the fact that they had worked to accommodate the transfer may have worked against them as they sought an injunction.
In the meantime, parents say students are left unsure of where they're going to school in the fall.
"I think that's taken a toll and a burden on our community. But I think that, overall, this was not managed properly by any of the parties involved," said Jason Trudeau, whose son was to start Grade 6 at General Vanier in September.
Parents of students who attended General Vanier last year held a meeting at the school Monday night to discuss next steps.
Luisa Durante, whose daughter was to start Grade 5 in September, said the rejection of the injunction is not a surprise, but that she still feels frustrated with the entire situation.
"I feel it's unjust to the whole community, whether you're an English child or a French child." Durante said.
She added she feels parents were left out of the decision-making process by the Education Ministry.
In order for an injunction to be granted, there are four criteria which must be met.
- There must be a matter of urgency.
- There must be a serious legal question to be considered.
- There must be a serious prejudice or irreparable loss.
- The balance of inconvenience between both sides.
Justice Dominique Poulin ruled that the request did not meet the urgency requirement, but was serious in nature.
While Poulin agreed that there would be serious and irreparable harm to the community with the loss of these two schools, she weighed the balance of convenience in favour of Pointe-de-l'Île.
This means the injury to Pointe-de-l'Île would outweigh the relief to the EMSB, citing the overcrowding problems at the French board and the long wait lists for new arrivals.
In its legal challenge, the EMSB argued that the order violates Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which covers minority language education rights.
The school board said the government failed to properly consult the English-speaking community, and they failed to consider the English-speaking community's "exclusive right" to manage and control their educational facilities.
Mancini said last week the board had only decided to resort to legal action against the Quebec government after trying "many other options."
The EMSB is now planning to move John Paul students to Laurier Macdonald High School, while Pierre de Coubertin and Dante elementary schools are options for the General Vanier students.
A drawn-out process
The process has been dragging on for months.
In early May, Roberge sent the EMSB a letter saying he was prepared to transfer three schools to the French-language board.
When the transfer decision was announced last month, the third school — Gerald McShane Elementary in Montreal North — was spared.
Parents at all three schools were vocal in their opposition to the transfer plan, holding numerous rallies and speaking out at EMSB meetings.
The EMSB tried to negotiate a cohabitation solution the Pointe-de-l'Île board leading up to Roberge's June 10 deadline, but the French board rejected the offer.
With files from Steve Rukavina