École Saint-Paul parents ponder constitutional challenge over closure

A committee opposed to the pending closure of École Saint-Paul in Kent County is considering taking the provincial government to court in a constitutional challenge.

About 100 people demonstrated Friday against June closure of K-8 francophone school in Kent County

École Saint-Paul, which has only 60 K-8 students, is slated for closure in June. (Ecole Saint Paul/Facebook)

A committee opposed to the pending closure of École Saint-Paul in Kent County is considering taking the provincial government to court in a constitutional challenge.

The announcement was made during a demonstration that attracted about 100 people outside the K-8 school in Saint-Paul de Kent on Friday morning.

The Committee to Save St-Paul Francophone School argues the planned closure in June is unconstitutional, as it conflicts with Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Marc Henri, co-chair of the committee to Save St-Paul Francophone School, says the plan to close the school in June is unacceptable. (Suzanne Lapointe/CBC)
Section 23 outlines the right to French-language education to children outside of Quebec, as well as the right to an English-language education to children in Quebec.

"It's not acceptable," said Marc Henri, co-chair of the committee, which has hired two lawyers.

"We need this tool to give their children the chance to learn French and maintain our culture and our vitality in St-Paul, the Acadian community."

Henri cites a similar case in Summerside, P.E.I., which made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Parents were pushing for the construction of a new French school, because their children had to travel almost an hour to a French school in the Évangéline region.

"The Supreme Court decided that if having no school, or a school closure, would negatively affect the impact of the French language in P.E.I., because it is the minority language, it's going against [Section] 23."

'Informed decision'

Last week, Education Minister Serge Rousselle approved the decision of the Francophone South School District Education Council (DEC) to close the school.

The DEC had conducted a review last winter and determined the school, which has only 60 students, is not viable.

DEC president Gérard McKen stands by the Feb. 2 decision. 

"The Education Council is convinced that we took an informed decision and respected Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the legal advice we obtained confirms," he said in a written statement, issued in French, on Friday.

The Department of Education also stands by the decision, said spokeswoman Leah Fitzgerald.

"The Minister's decision to approve the recommendation of the DSF-S District Education Council to close École Saint-Paul was based on the thorough file submitted by the DEC and received by the minister on February 4. This file clearly demonstrates that Policy 409 was respected, as well as the legal and constitutional requirements," she said in an emailed statement.

And while the DEC had subsequently recommended on March 30 a one-year moratorium on the closure, pending a socio-linguistic study to better understand the impact it would have on the town's francophone community, that was only if the minister requested further study, said Fitzgerald.

'Assassination of another community'

Still, parents, staff members and area residents opposed the closure.

Parent Bernie Melanson says the approximately 100 people who attended Friday's protest against the school closure was a strong show of solidarity. (Suzanne Lapointe/CBC)
Bernie Melanson, who has a child in Grade 7, at the school, believes the closure will stop people from moving to the community.

"It's the assassination of another community, by taking out what makes families want to come and experience rural life," he said.

Melanson describes the turnout to the protest as a strong "show of solidarity."

The committee is being represented by Bathurst-based lawyer Basile Chiasson, as well as Dieppe-based lawyer André Daigle.