The swollen envy of pygmy minds

By Beryl Wajsman on December 18, 2008

This past Monday, civil rights champion Brent Tyler told the Supreme Court of Canada that the Quebec government is violating the constitutional rights of immigrant parents by denying their children access to English-language public schools. Tyler added,  and we concur wholeheartedly, that the policy could threaten the long-term viability of the English school system by eroding its student base. The issue this time is the constitutionality of Quebec’s Bill 104.

When Bill 104 was passed in 2002, the stated objective of the Quebec Government was to prevent an Allophone or Francophone child from attending a non-subsidized English-language elementary school for a year or less receiving, a certificate of eligibility and then transferring to the English language public school system. The Government used a sledgehammer to solve a relatively small problem. Very few students acquire this possibility through an “achat d’un droit” as lawyers for the Quebec government claim.

In August, 2007, Tyler won an important victory affecting dozens of students when the Quebec Court of Appeal declared a section of Bill 104 unconstitutional. At issue in Hong Ha Nguyen et al. v. Quebec is a constitutional challenge to the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph of section 73 of the Charter of the French Language (“CFL”).

The Court of Appeal for Quebec declared that this part of section 73 of the CFL is inconsistent with the right to instruction in the minority language guaranteed by subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It further concluded that the inconsistency does not constitute a reasonable limit prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. 

Quebec’s appeal to the Supreme Court was expected. But what was stunning and disappointing was that the Attorney General of Canada decided to oppose the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision in favour of Quebec’s Anglophone minority and intervened on behalf of Quebec. One can only speculate on the political calculus involved in that decision.

The Quebec Association of Independent Schools (QAIS), an organization comprising 25 English language private schools and one of the most compelling advocates for minority language rights,  has accused the Attorney General of acting contrary to the best interests of the English-speaking minority of Quebec and of being in contravention of the Official Languages Act. It has written the Attorney General insisting that he withdraw his factum before the case was heard on Monday and has also lodged an official complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages. The QAIS actions should be applauded by all fair-minded Quebecers.

“Prior to the deadline for submitting its factum we, as did other organizations representing our community, reached out to the Attorney General’s office at the highest level and were given the bureaucratic run-around,” explained Jonathan Goldbloom, Chair of the QAIS Bill 104 Committee. “The bottom line is that officials refused to consult with us, and the government has failed to meet its obligations as defined in Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This section obliges the federal government, including Heritage Canada and Justice Canada, to take positive measures in order to protect and promote Quebec's Anglophone minority”.

One cannot help but wonder again as to why so much time and money is still being wasted on the chimera of the “endangered” French fact. But as always there is little that is reasonable or sensible when it comes to language in Quebec.

The Quebec government’s position is prejudicial to a fault. As Brent Tyler pointed out, if all immigrants are directed to French public schools, the only source of new students for the English system will be interprovincial migration since statistics show there is actually a net out-migration of anglophones from Quebec. "If you accept the argument of the Quebec government, you are cutting to zero, for all practical purposes, any source or replenishment," Tyler told the high court.

An interesting fact in this court challenge is that the 26 families represented by Tyler involve about 100 children. Estimates of the total number of transfers before the law was passed range up to about 8,000. And many of those were Francophones who understood the importance of bilingualism.

French is not endangered in Quebec by English education. Francophones, Anglophones and allophones are endangered by the venality of the swollen envy of pygmy minds in the Quebec statocracy who spend millions on marginalizing a hundred kids. It’s time for some fair play in  education.



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