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High court strikes down language law

by admin October 27, 2009

Canada’s highest court has struck down a Quebec law that prevented immigrants from sending their children to provincially funded English schools. On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled that Quebec will have one year to replace the Bill 104, after finding it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Some of the 25 families that have fought for seven years to send their children to English schools will be able to send their children to English schools. The others will have to seek special permission from the provincial government.
Bill 104 was passed in 2002 to close loopholes in Quebec’s language laws. Because of the loophole, a handful of students who shouldn’t have were able to attend public and provincially-funded private English-language schools.
Quebec has restricted access to English-language schools since 1977.
In the decision, Justice Louis LeBel called the law “excessive” because it did not consider the specific circumstances of each child.
He also highlighted the low number of children affected by the law &- less than 10 per cent of students eligible for English-language education – when it was passed in 2002.
The decision reaffirms a 2007 ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal which also found the law to be unconstitutional; the Quebec Government appealed the decision, leading to the Supreme Court case.
Alan Lombard, executive director of Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, a federation that represents teachers in the English school system, said he was satisfied with the decision.
“We found that it’s a balanced ruling,” he said. “But we’re not sure it will have much practical application.” He said he expects to see a small increase in the number of students enrolling in English schools.
Section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees English and French speaking minorities the right to send their children to publicly-funded schools that operate under the same language in which they received their education.
However, the Charter right only applies to Canadian citizens, whose schooling took place in Canada. The Charter also mandates that children who began their education in one language, in Canada, have the right to continue in that language.
Quebec law forbids students from attending English-language schools unless they fall into one of these categories.
However some parents found a loophole, sending their children to unfunded private schools for a short period of time, and then transferring them into publicly supported schools.
Bill 104 was aimed at closing this loophole and preventing the use of these so-called “bridging schools.”
While the Judge struck down the law, Quebec will be allowed to put limits on these schools in the new legislation.
“Bridging schools could become a mechanism for almost automatically circumventing the [Charter of the French Language’s] provisions on minority language educational rights, creating new categories of rights holders under the Canadian Charter and, indirectly, restoring the freedom to choose the language of instruction in Quebec,” he wrote.
The provincial government was not pleased with the ruling. Quebec’s Minister of Culture Christine St-Pierre, whose department is responsible for enforcing the language laws, told reporters she was disappointed and outraged by the decision.
Opposition leader Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois has said she wants the rules expanded to cover unsubsidized private schools.

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