The NWT’s francophone school board is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to examine an appeal court’s ruling over whether certain children can enter the francophone school system.
At the start of September, the NWT Court of Appeal decided Premier Caroline Cochrane was justified in using her discretion years ago – as education minister at the time – to deny some children entry to francophone schools.
The law in question has since been changed, but the NWT’s Commission scolaire francophone says the appeal court’s verdict nevertheless “substantially weakens section 23 protections” and should be reassessed by Canada’s highest court.
Section 23 of the Charter guarantees educational rights to people whose language is in the minority where they live, such as francophone parents in the NWT.
The original case discussed the extent of the NWT government’s legal obligation to allow any child who does not qualify under the Constitution to attend a francophone school. The appeal court ruled that obligation did not exist.
“Minority language education rights above the ‘constitutional minimum’ … are within the discretion of the government,” that ruling stated.
On Tuesday, the territory’s francophone school board – known as the CSFTNO – said in a news release: “The Court of Appeal’s decision gives the government permission to, without consultation, act against the interests of the Franco-ténois minority and make many decisions that affect it and its schools without taking its interests into account.
“As a result, it is necessary to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to diminish the significant imbalance of power between the territorial government and the French-speaking minority that has been exacerbated by the majority decision of the Court of Appeal.
“The negative consequences resulting from the Court of Appeal’s decision could have a pan-Canadian impact; the CSFTNO has a responsibility to ensure that the strength and scope of section 23 is restored and respected.”
Beyond that, the school board also alleges the Court of Appeal made decisions that “infringed on the right to use French before the court.”
The Supreme Court is also being asked to examine whether the NWT’s appeal court “violated language right guarantees by failing to ensure that the full three-judge panel assigned to hear the appeal could speak and understand French, and instead relying on an interpretation service that was blatantly inadequate.”
The school board alleges the interpretation service provided “could not accurately convey the oral submissions of the CSFTNO’s counsel on the day of the hearing.”
The Supreme Court does not automatically hear any appeal. Only those appeals that “involve a question of public importance or raise an important issue of law” are taken up by the court.