How a Supreme Court decision could change French education on P.E.I.
‘We are not able to offer an equivalent education’
A Supreme Court of Canada ruling about French schools in B.C. could lead to better French education on P.E.I., says the chair of la Commission scolaire de langue française.
In a 7-2 decision Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the B.C. government to pay a French school board more than $7 million. It said the board is owed that money because its bus system was underfunded for a decade.
The Constitution guarantees Canadians the right to publicly funded French education wherever numbers warrant.
Gilles Benoit, chair of la Commission scolaire de langue française on P.E.I., said these are issues his schools are dealing with as well.
"I think it's a very important moment for all French-speaking Canadians and for French education as a first language," said Benoit.
"We are not able to offer an equivalent education as those of the majority."
The P.E.I. government had intervenor status in the case, arguing that budgetary limitations could in some cases justify rights infringement. The court rejected that argument.
P.E.I.'s French Language School Board is currently in negotiations with the Department of Education about transportation times to schools, which Benoit said can mean almost three hours a day on a bus for some students. The variety of courses at French schools is also on the table.
"Unfortunately, we are only able to offer the basic courses that the students need to graduate," said Benoit.
"We don't have the resources to offer all those courses [offered in English schools], which is not fair."
These issues are driving students at the high school level away from the French language schools and into the English language schools, he said.
"That kid is probably going to lose his French language and his culture. There's no coming back, probably, to French culture or French education," said Benoit.
Negotiations with the Department of Education have been going well, he said, and this court decision will likely only help.
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With files from Island Morning