PEI

National French school board disappointed P.E.I. intervened in Supreme Court case

P.E.I. argued it's reasonable for budget constraints to justify violating language rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

'Francophone students and parents have rights to be educated in their language'

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says 'it's really just a legal maneuver to make sure we can maintain a level of information back and forth.' (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The P.E.I. government has intervened in the B.C. French-language school case currently before the Supreme Court.

The case focused on underfunding in the French-language school system.  B.C.'s French-language School Board alleged the province violated constitutionally guaranteed rights to minority-language education by underfunding the French-language education system.

P.E.I. argued it's reasonable for budget constraints to justify violating language rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case could set a precedent for reasonable limits on constitutionally protected minority language rights in Canada.

"In terms of the federal court case and our intervener status, it's really just a legal maneuver to make sure we can maintain a level of information back and forth much the same way we did with the carbon tax issue on a national scale," said Premier Dennis King.

He said his government has a good relationship with members of P.E.I.'s francophone and Acadian communities and he wants that to continue into the future. King is also the minister responsible for Acadian and Francophone Affairs.

Newfoundland and Nova Scotia also intervened in the case.

'It is not a good enough reason'

Émile Gallant, vice president of the National French Language School Board's Atlantic Division, said he is disappointed  P.E.I. intervened in the case.

"The francophones there have been fighting for over 10 years to be able to get facilities for the increasing number of francophones that are registering in their schools," he said.

Gallant said he sees similarities between this case and Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island 20 years ago. In that case, the provincial government argued there weren't enough francophone students in the Summerside area at the time to justify the expense of building a new facility, but the Supreme Court of Canada ruled francophone students in small communities do have the right to an education in French.

Gallant said when École François-Buote was built in Charlottetown more than 25 years ago the provincial government expressed doubt the school would ever enrol more than 75 students.

"We're over 400 right now and it is the same situation across Canada," Gallant said.

He said giving provinces the option to not build new French schools because it is too expensive is not a good idea.

"It is not a good enough reason. Francophone students and parents have rights to be educated in their language and have the same programs and facilities that would happen on the English side," Gallant said.

New school not in jeopardy

King and the provincial government committed to building a new school in Évangéline.

Gallant said he does not believe the planned school is at risk with the B.C. case, adding that in Summerside the provincial government has agreed to be able to offer industrial arts and music to French students.

"We're hoping that this little bump in the road will go away and we'll be able to reach a long-term agreement," Gallant said.

If B.C.'s French-language school board wins its case, that could create "a layer to protect" P.E.I. students, he said. He said he hopes a decision will come over the next few months.

CBC News also reached out to P.E.I.'s Department of Education for comment.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said, "P.E.I. intervened to get a further understanding of when, if ever, education authorities will be required to prioritize capital projects and if at any point a degree of proportionality can be considered in what services are offered at minority language schools."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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