French-Language Schools Demand Funding

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – Dozens of parents and school administrators of French language schools sued the British Columbia government and its Education Ministry, claiming chronic underfunding of French programs and facilities has made it nearly impossible for children to receive an education in Canada’s other official language, comparable that offered in English.

     The French-Speaking School Council of British Columbia and the Federation of French-Speaking Parents of British Columbia (Conseil Scolaire Francophone De La Colombie-Britannique, Federation Des Parents Francophones De Colombie Britannique) claim in B.C. Supreme Court that the government has failed to live up to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
     The plaintiffs say the Charter guarantees them the right to have their children educated in French.
     The Charter guarantee “was designed to remedy an existing problem in British Columbia, namely the historic and structural inequality in the education sector between the Province’s French language and English language communities,” according to the 147-page complaint.
     But the Charter guarantee applies only if “numbers warrant,” the complaint states, making “British Columbia’s French language community particularly vulnerable to delay or inaction by the defendants.”
      “For every school year that the defendants do not meet their [Charter obligations], there is an increased likelihood of assimilation,” the complaint states. “If delay is tolerated, the defendants could potentially avoid the duties imposed on them by [the Charter] through their own failure to implement the right vigilantly.”
     The council runs more than a dozen French schools throughout the province, and claims the facilities are substandard compared to English schools in the same regions and far less attractive because of long travel times for students and inadequate opportunities for extracurricular activities.
     “There is a high rate of assimilation among members of the French language community in British Columbia in general, and in the catchment areas of the Conseil‘s schools,” the complaint states. “Many people who are members of the French language community of British Columbia are losing their proficiency in French. Many people who are members of the French language community of British Columbia are no longer fluent in French.
     “The Conseil‘s schools have a direct and major impact on the French language and culture in British Columbia.”
     Plaintiffs seek a declaration that underfunding of their schools violates the Charter, and an order compelling the province to provide millions of dollars in new funding to bring the schools’ facilities up to the same standard as English schools in the same regions.
     They are represented by Robert W. Grant, Mark C. Power, Christian Paquette and Jean-Pierre Hachey with Heenan Blaikie.

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