East end parents to sue province over lack of French high school

A group of parents in Toronto's east end say their inability to access a French-language high school is a violation of charter rights, and they're planning to sue the province to get funding for a long-awaited school.

Parents say the inability to access a French high school violates their charter rights

Lianne Doucet says the francophone community has been fighting for 10 years for a French high school. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

A group of east-end parents has plans to take on the provincial government over the lack of a French-language high school in their community.

The parents say the inaccessibility of French schooling violates Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees access to French education outside Quebec.

Around 50 of them met with lawyers on Wednesday evening to begin the process of launching a formal lawsuit.

"Students who have been educated at the primary system in French definitely should have a high school in French and we don't have one," said Lianne Doucet, an organizer of the parent's coalition.

In order to continue learning in French, Doucet says her youngest daughter now travels to a school on the west side of Toronto, which takes around an hour each way from her home in Leslieville.

Facing a similarly daunting commute, Grade 8 student Oscar Vanassereid switched from College Francais to Cosburn Middle School in the Toronto District School Board.

"The French language is important to me, I'd like to keep my French," he said at Wednesday's meeting. "It's important to me that I have a school close by that I can go to."

New school, wrong neighbourhood

Ontario's Ministry of Education says it has invested $1.9 billion in French-language school boards since 2003.

"We remain committed to supporting both French and English school boards across the province to build better schools to ensure all students have safe and healthy environments in which to learn," ministry spokesperson Sean Greson told CBC Toronto.

To that end, the ministry is funding construction of a new Catholic French high school near Eglinton Avenue and McCowan Road.

The constitutional lawyer representing the parents, Nicholas Rouleau, says that school will not meet the criteria written into the Charter, specifically because parents will still not have an "equivalent" French-language high school in comparison to the local English schools.

"Equivalence has a few different components, one would be the accessibility of the school," explained Rouleau, adding that anglophone parents have around 10 local high schools to choose from in the public system alone.

"We're simply asking for one [French school] that's accessible for the area," he said.

More roadblocks ahead

The region's French public school board says it too has been calling for the construction of a new high school in the east end.

Conseil scolarie Viamonde has placed the community on its "priority list" for provincial funding, but the board says there will be significant challenges even if the money arrives.

"In this neighbourhood it's very difficult to find the land, it's impossible, there's no empty space where we can build a school from scratch," said Claire Francoeur, the board's director of communications and marketing. "But we're working with the English school board to try to find a solution."

The parents say their new coalition and their plans for legal action will put the pressure to find a solution squarely on the province.

"We have a right to French-language education and we are going to let the government know that they no longer have any more wiggle room," Doucet said.


Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Politics

Nick Boisvert is a reporter at the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. You can reach him at