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Protecting the Constitutional Rights of Francophone Parents in Greater Vancouver

For the past 15 years, the BC government has been unable to provide Francophone children in Vancouver with the quality of education they are constitutionally entitled to. Today in the legislature I questioned the Minister of Education about why that is and when he will relocate the children to a facility that meets their Section 23 rights.

In 2010, a group of Vancouver parents with children attending the Rose-des-vents primary school took the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) and the provincial government to the BC Supreme Court. They petitioned the court to declare that lack of equivalency between the Rose-des-vents school facilities are those offered to English parents living in the same catchment area constituted a breach of section 23 of the Canadian Charter which guarantees that people whose first language is French, or who have received their schooling in French, have the right to have their children educated in either English or French. The court ruled in their favour but that ruling was subsequently overturned in the BC Court of Appeal by the province.

In an April 2015 Supreme Court of Canada reinstated the BC Supreme Court ruling and declared that a Section 23 infringement had taken place. It was the parents hope that this would bring all parties to the table to find a solution, but the province has continued to fight the rulings. The Province is  now seeking a Section 1, “reasonable limits”,  justification of a Charter breach.

After 15 years of frustration, parents whose children attend l’école Rose-des-vents are still being forced to send their students to a school with unacceptable conditions despite the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that their charter rights are being infringed upon.

L’école Rose-des-vents was established in 2001 as a temporary primary school that was intended to house 199 students. For the 2015/16 school year there were 357 students enrolled. The school has limited outdoor space, inadequate washroom facilities, classrooms without windows, and has been forced to lease additional facilities from surrounding buildings, including a church basement.

What is particularly frustrating is that parents have gone out of their way to avoid drawing out the process, only wanting to bring all parties to the table to address the infringement of their rights. It is unacceptable that they are still caught in a back and forth between the government and the School Board.

Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees minority language rights, giving parents who fall under this right the entitlement to have their children taught in an equivalent educational facility to what they could receive in the majority language. Infringements of this right require urgent action on behalf of government. The Supreme Court of Canada Judgments noted that “…for every school year that governments do not meet their obligations under s. 23, that is an increased likelihood of assimilation and cultural erosion”.

In many cases, these children’s french-speaking parents have been recruited for jobs in Vancouver because they are bilingual. They bring a valuable skill-set to the city, but have to fight to have their Francophone children educated in the language they speak at home. The problem is only getting worse.

Francophone student numbers are going up, while enrollment for english-speaking schools in the rest of the city is going down.

In the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF; School District 93) “School District Facilities Plan”, dated November 2015, the board notes that one school is no longer sufficient. There is such a demand for elementary schooling that two catchment areas, each with its own elementary school are now required to ensure that the CSF is offering education that is of equivalent quality to that offered by the Vancouver School Board (School VSB; School District 39) – something they have failed to do for 15 years.

As you will see from the question period exchange reproduce below, while it is encouraging that the Minister of Education’s recognizes the problem, I did not get the sense it is being addressed with the sense of urgency it deserves. Given excess capacity in Vancouver School Board schools, perhaps the Minister can help facilitate timely discussions between the Conseil scolaire francophone and the Vancouver School Board to move decisively to ensure and agreement is developed, and that parents at Rose-des-vents finally see their children taught in a acceptable facility.

We’ve faced similar challenges in Greater Victoria over the last few years. Last year the Victoria School Board leased the recently closed Sundance Elementary to the CSF to meet growing demand. The CSF École Victor-Brodeur, located on the grounds of the old Harbour View Junior Secondary School, also expanded in 2012 into Lampson Street Elementary School that was closed in 2007.


Video of the Exchange


 


Question


It’s far too long now since parents at l’École Rose-des-vents have been trying to get this government to address their Charter rights to have their children receive a comparable public education in French.

For 15 years now, primary school students have faced unacceptable conditions — a school with a capacity of 199 teaching 357 students, in the 2015-16 school year, classrooms without windows and inadequate washroom facilities, all as part of sharing a program with the secondary school. After years of frustration, francophone parents went to court, arguing that section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being violated. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of parents.

Let’s be clear. For the parents, this wasn’t about assigning blame. In fact, their petition to the court specifically avoided the question as to who was to blame. Yet, despite the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, parents still don’t have any answers about when the infringement of their rights will be addressed.

My question to the Minister of Education is this. Surely, this is exactly the type of red tape that this government purports to want to do away with. Why, after over 15 years, has this government not stepped in to ensure that these children are getting the educational experience they are constitutionally entitled to?


Answer


Thank you to the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for the question. As I believe he’d be aware, because there is a court case going right now, I’m unable to talk about any of the specifics around that. What I can talk about is our support for school district 93 and for a Conseil scolaire francophone.

When you look around British Columbia right now, there are 290,000 French-speaking people in British Columbia. We have 40 francophone associations. Our French immersion in our school system has increased by 40 percent. I agree with the member opposite that there’s lots that can be done to continue to support the French-speaking students in our school system. We have 53,000 French immersion students in 273 school districts around the province. We also have school district 93, which has school districts right around the province. We continue to work closely with them.

I agree. There are opportunities that we have. We’re going to continue working with them, as we have been within my ministry, for the school, Rose-des-vents, to make sure that they have the best education possible for all students. Every student in British Columbia deserves the same educational opportunities.


Supplementary Question


It’s important to acknowledge that section 23 infringements require urgent action on behalf of the government. The Supreme Court of Canada, in the judgment, stated specifically: “For every school year that the governments do not meet their obligations under section 23, there is an increased likelihood of assimilation and cultural erosion.”

This is especially true in the case of École Rose-des-vents. In November of 2015, in the CSF school district facilities plan, the board notes that one school is no longer sufficient. In fact, francophone elementary schooling is in such demand that two schools are now required.

I don’t think it’s much to ask that after 15 years, parents be given more than just a commitment to study options and work with others. What is the timeline that the minister expects to see children relocated into a facility that meets their section 23 constitutional rights?


Answer


We have two challenges here. We have a school district based mostly in Vancouver that is looking for space. We have the Vancouver school board, which has lots of empty space. I think that we have a great opportunity here to put the two groups together. When you look at the school district, the growing enrolment….

Interjections.

Madame Speaker: Please wait, Minister.

Please continue.

Hon. M. Bernier: As the member opposite pointed out, we do have growing enrolment in CSF. It is one of the areas we do have growing enrolment, while we continue to see declining enrolments in the rest of Vancouver. One of the things that I think that needs to happen — and I will work on this — is making sure that we get that message out there, that we can have these opportunities for the school districts to work together.

If we have empty classrooms and we need those, then let’s start using those classrooms for students and have great education in Vancouver.

One Comment

  1. Frederic Gonzalez-Reply
    April 27, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    I am afraid the Minister of Education of BC is confused. He is confusing French immersion and all-French schools.
    He is confusing french native speaker ( around 70.000 in BC) and the people who understand french ( approx. 300.000 in this Province).

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