CSFTNO in the Canadian spotlight

The 2018 dispute involving five students from the NWT, to whom the Ministry of Education refused entry to French-language schools in the area, is resonating across the country today.

Thomas Ethier
IJL – Network.press – L’Aquilon

In July 2020, the NWT’s Secretary of Education, Culture and Employment, RJ Simpson, said he was open to the creation of a “francophile” admission category and the creation of a Yukon-style registration system, giving schools more powers over admissions. † Pictured: the facade of the Allain St-Cyr school gymnasium. (Photo credit: Thomas Ethier)

Now that Canada’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear its case, the Commission scolaire francophone des TNO is bringing a case that could affect the expansion of francophone schools into minority groups across the country. From this point of view, the National Federation of Francophone School Boards (FNCSF) lends its support to the local school board, which could succeed in strengthening the self-determination power of its Canadian counterparts.

In August 2021, the three judges of the NWT Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the territorial government, which a few years earlier refused to admit five disenfranchised families to Allain St-Cyr School in Yellowknife and École Boréal in the Hay River. Fearing the possible ramifications of this decision, in the NWT and elsewhere in the country, the CSFTNO chose to go to the country’s highest court, which accepted the request in April 2022.

Set admission standards

For Émile Gallant, vice-president of the FNCSF, which brings together six French-speaking school boards, the governments of the territories and provinces will follow the file closely. “Many provincial governments look at what their colleagues are doing,” said the man who is also a school commissioner on Prince Edward Island.

“We are disappointed with this latest decision of the NWT Court of Appeal, but are pleased that the case is going to the Supreme Court. For example, in Prince Edward Island, the school board has the authority to admit students to French schools. However, the CSFTNO’s recent defeat in the Court of Appeal could influence governments and lead them to change regulations to make them more restrictive. †

Several advancements in the history of Francophone school boards in the country stem from Supreme Court decisions. “Many school boards use these decisions to change their situation. In our view, a favorable decision by the Supreme Court is the ultimate decision that can move us forward, especially in regions where it can be difficult to obtain these rights,” he says.

“In many cases, the provinces have assigned this authority to school boards, but that can always change,” adds Mr. Gallant on. Our schools are there for us, and through us. We are responsible for the management of education in French. †

Reject students or expand schools

As a general rule, governments should not interfere in admissions processes and leave power to French-language school boards, according to what the FNCSF notes. However, nothing guarantees this in the long run, especially when financial resources come into play.

“You never know what could happen. When we get to a point where we run out of space and need the resources to expand or build a new school, that’s probably where governments can object to allowing more French-speaking students, and imposing restrictions. Those issues have already been addressed in three different regions, Gallant says. The situations depend on each province, as well as each government elected there.”

“In Prince Edward Island, we have been able to expand our infrastructure and expand our programs, and young people are staying in our schools,” he continues. We lost kids in grade 9 or high school because we didn’t have gyms or trade programs. Now that we can offer these resources, our numbers are growing year after year. Parents are proud that their children have received French education from kindergarten to grade 12. †

A favorable Supreme Court decision would be all the more important in Émile Gallant’s eyes, as the majority of French-language school boards are growing in a minority context in Canada. “The schools have worked hard to develop their communities. There are infrastructure projects across Canada in French schools and we want to be able to continue this growth. †

Agreement between the CSFTNO and the government

In the NWT, despite ongoing legal proceedings, the original dispute between the CSFTNO and the government has been settled in an agreement reached in 2020. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Training has issued a new regulation that gives more decision-making powers to the school board, so that the admission of students without rights is now the responsibility of the school board, not the government.

Minister RJ Simpson also sent an unconditional letter of admission to the five families involved in the case in October 2021, assuring the children that they can attend French-language schools in the Territory until the end of their studies. †

Overall, the chairman of the CSFTNO, Jean de Dieu Tuyishime, testifies to good relations with the government. “I don’t think these Supreme Court proceedings will change our relationship. What we are asking is not to change the ministerial authority, but to clarify once and for all the application of Article 23.”

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