Canada top court orders new trial over Arctic French-language school

14th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

The Supreme Court of Canada sent proponents of broadening admissions to one of the Arctic's few French-language schools back to the drawing board Thursday, ordering a new trial in a convoluted case.

In its decision, the high court affirmed the Yukon government's purview to set admissions criteria at Emilie Tremblay School in Whitehorse, as long as they meet constitutional essentials.

It noted that the government may delegate this function or go beyond the minimum standards, as is the case in other Canadian jurisdictions, but added that there is no requirement to do so.

Canada's constitution obliges governments to fund French education for French Canadians living outside the French-speaking majority province of Quebec, but there are disagreements about who qualifies.

The Yukon Francophone School Board's lawyers had argued that exceptions must be allowed, including for French-speaking immigrants, Canadians of French ancestry who were assimilated into the English-speaking mainstream and anglophones integrated into French-speaking communities.

The Yukon government said it was concerned about costs and maintaining control over funding priorities if more students qualified for the French school.

The justices concluded that a new trial pitting the far northern territory's government against the Yukon Francophone School Board would determine if the Yukon has met the minimum constitutional requirements for school admissions.

The board's lawyer Roger Lepage, however, said that may not be necessary, as the board now hoped to reach a negotiated settlement with the government, noting that bilateral relations have improved since the lawsuit was launched in 2009.

The two sides had been at odds over what the school administration saw as restrictive admissions criteria for the Yukon's only French-language school.

The school board had put the number of students eligible for instruction in French at 400 while the government suggested it was between 117 and 263.

There are an estimated 150,000 students attending French-language schools elsewhere in the country outside of Quebec province.

Manitoba and Ontario provinces -- both with sizeable French-speaking minorities -- have granted school boards wide discretion to admit children of non-French-Canadians.

Others have granted limited authority in broadening admissions.

Demand for instruction in French, which was once banned in parts of Canada, meanwhile, has skyrocketed over the past four decades.

© 2015 AFP

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