The Northwest Territories government is appealing an NWT Supreme Court order requiring it to review the cases of six children who were denied admission to francophone schools in the territory.
The government announced its intention to appeal the decision in a Friday afternoon news release, saying this is “a very important issue that has major implications” beyond the parents and children directly involved or the territory’s French school board.
“An issue of such importance deserves the attention of the Court of Appeal,” the news release states.
While awaiting the results of the appeal, the government said the six students will be able to complete the 2020-2021 school year at francophone schools.
In July, Justice Paul Rouleau found that in 2019, then-education minister Caroline Cochrane’s decision to deny the students admission to francophone schools was based on “irrational analysis.” He ordered current minister RJ Simpson to reassess their applications.
Now, “following careful consideration” of the decision, the territorial government is disputing those findings.
The territory notes that more than 20 non-rights holder children – those without an automatic right to francophone education under the NWT’s rules – were admitted to francophone schools under the former ministerial directive.
The GNWT denies that Cochrane’s decision not to admit more non-rights holder children impacted the “viability of the French schools and community.”
In the Northwest Territories, parents have a charter-protected right to enrol their children in a French-first language school if their native language is French; they were educated in a French-first language school; or they’re the legal guardian of a child who has been or is educated in a French-first language program in Canada. These are known as rights-holders.
Under the former ministerial directive, parents who were not rights-holders could also apply to enrol their children in NWT francophone schools if they were a new immigrant, not a Canadian citizen, or would have been a rights-holder but they or their parents were unable to attend a French school.
In July the territory said its 2016 enrolment directive on French education, which governs how non-rights holders are handled, would be repealed.
The territorial government said it will soon introduce new criteria for the admission of non-rights holders, replacing the old directive.
Funding is at the heart of the matter. For any school board, the ability to enrol more children represents the ability to request more funding to provide for their education.
In a statement, Simon Cloutier – president of the territory’s Commission scolaire francophone – said: “It is unfortunate that the GNWT wishes to continue the legal battles, especially since the funding concerns were the primary reason for the refusals, but also because the Northwest Territories is really an outlier in terms of restricting admissions in Canada.
“We welcome the minister’s efforts to find a lasting solution over school admissions and enhancing the ability to integrate a few children of ‘newcomer’ and ‘Francophile’ families into our schools.
“Although the GNWT is appealing yet another judgment to the Court of Appeal, we would like to continue the dialogue we have undertaken to see how the new admissions regulations will respond to our needs.”