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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Victory for English education in Quebec

George Singfield is looking forward to having some stability this year at the Western Quebec School Board, after a Superior Court judge struck down Bill 40 and stripped the government’s control over English education in the province.

The director general of the WQSB told the Low Down that ever since the Legault government adopted Bill 40 in 2020 – which effectively kills English school boards and turns them into government-controlled service centres – teachers, students, parents and staff have been on edge, as they awaited a court challenge.

“I think it’s been a difficult and challenging time for a lot of people, commissioners especially waiting to see what looms ahead for them. And so now this decision has been made, and it gives some stability.”

In a lengthy 129-page decision Aug. 2, Justice Sylvain Lussier struck down parts of Quebec’s Education Act that, as amended by Bill 40, eliminated school boards and transferred decisional power to the Minister of Education. He argued that the bill violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, notably the election of parents to become board members.

“The court concludes…that eliminating more than 90 per cent of potential candidates for the position of commissioner or councillor does not constitute a ‘minimal’ interference with the right to stand as a candidate,” the ruling stated.

“The tribunal finds that the infringement of the rights of the English-speaking minority and section 23 rights holders is not justified,” the ruling went on to say.

The judge also struck down other requirements in the law, such as the presence of unelected staff members on the council and the establishment of budgetary measures sent directly from the education ministry to schools, bypassing the school board.

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), an English rights advocacy group, praised the decision and said it’s a huge victory for teachers, staff, students, parents, grandparents and anyone who ever wants to be involved in their child’s schooling. President Eva Ludvig said after several years of defeat with Bill 96, Justice Lussier’s is a hopeful drip of optimism for English rights in Quebec.

“It’s important that our rights be respected and we’ve had a lot of issues where they have not been in the past little while,” said Ludvig. “Education is an important piece for us to control because it goes beyond book learning. We’re talking about transmitting a culture, learning about our own way of doing things and, in order to do that, we have to be able to manage and control our own schools.”

In August 2020, the Quebec English School Board Association (QESBA) and other applicants took Quebec to court over the reforms to the governance of English school boards contained in Bill 40 — an act to amend mainly the Education Act with regard to school organization and governance. It argued the reforms violated Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by stripping the management and control of English schools from parents. The QESBA had earlier successfully petitioned the courts to suspend the application of Bill 40 to English school boards while the Superior Court reviewed the constitutionality of Bill 40. The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld that stay in September 2020.

“This is a significant victory not only for the English-speaking community of Quebec, but for official language minority communities across Canada,” added Ludvig.

“Education rights are vital because of the well-established link between education and cultural and community vitality.”

Singfield said he’s looking forward to a smooth start to the school year — something that hasn’t happened over the past few years.

“We’ve gone through enough change and upheaval in the last couple of years with COVID and everything else,” he said. “So, just starting the year knowing that we have a commission in place and council commissioners that are representing the school just adds stability.”

The Legault government has said that it will analyze the decision before deciding whether or not to appeal.


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