(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Supreme Court decision ‘good news’ for minority-language communities: Trudeau

The high court sided with British Columbia’s francophone school board earlier this week

A Supreme Court of Canada decision delivered Friday is “good news” for minority-language communities across the country who feel shortchanged on services, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

The high court sided with British Columbia’s francophone school board, at least in part, in a dispute over French-language education in the province, saying lower courts interpreted constitutional protections too narrowly.

“We now hope that the provincial governments will step up further in areas that are their exclusive jurisdictions, like education and certain services for minority-language communities,” Trudeau said Friday at his daily media briefing.

ALSO READ: Supreme Court sides with B.C.’s francophone school board over education rights

One legal analyst said the ruling broke new ground on liability that could open the door to compensation when government policies violate other charter rights.

The court case began a decade ago when the board, Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, and the parents of students alleged the province had breached a Charter of Rights and Freedoms provision guaranteeing minority-language education.

They sought orders requiring the province to change how it funds French-language education, fix problems with inadequate facilities in a number of communities and offer compensation for its failure to provide proper funding.

After a long trial, the school board and parents won a partial victory, including an award for charter damages arising from unpaid student transportation costs.

However, they appealed the ruling on various points, primarily the conclusion they were not entitled to millions of dollars in educational capital projects they had requested.

The B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed the challenge and allowed the province’s cross-appeal, saying the trial judge should not have awarded the transportation costs given the traditional principle of government immunity.

In writing for a majority of the court, Chief Justice Richard Wagner said the courts below had “adopted an inordinately narrow interpretation” of section 23 of the charter, which enshrines the right of citizens from English and French linguistic minorities to have their children taught in their language when the numbers warrant.

The decision clarifies the series of steps to be followed in determining the practical effects of the constitutional protections.

In applying these principles to the B.C. case, the high court said the board and the parents were entitled to eight French-language schools in various communities the lower courts had denied them.

The court said the children who have the right to attend the board’s schools or participate in its programs are entitled to an educational experience “that is substantively equivalent” to the experience at nearby majority-language schools.

In addition, it restored the trial judge’s order concerning school transportation, awarding $6 million in charter damages to the board to make up for 10 years of inadequate bus funding. It also approved another $1.1 million in damages to compensate for grant monies denied to the board.

In adopting section 23, the architects of the charter aimed to ensure that vulnerable minority groups were endowed with the institutions and rights necessary to maintain and promote their identities, Wagner wrote.

“By doing so, they definitively closed the door on language policies that would prevent instruction in the language of a minority, and chose an approach that favoured the promotion and development of minority language communities across the country.”

The section is intended not only to prevent the erosion of official language communities, but also to redress past injustices and promote the development of those communities, meaning the courts “have a crucial role to play,” he added.

“Many rights that have been granted to Canada’s minorities were dearly won over many years, and it is up to the courts to give full effect to them, and to do so clearly and transparently.”

The Supreme Court deemed the B.C. government’s freeze on school transportation funding to be a policy that violated the charter minority-language guarantee, noted Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

“If the court is now inviting charter actions that claim certain government policies are violating other charter rights, this could open the gates to some significant possible liabilities,” he said.

Examples could include federal policies on child welfare funding on Indigenous reserves, or provincial policies concerning similar caps on special education and autism programs, or ”the appalling situation” now seen in long-term health-care facilities, he said.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Supreme Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

The current state of the Royal Hotel. (Photo Contributed by Richard Leeks)
‘No one is willing to step up to take any responsibility’: Royal owners plow on with renovictions

Heat, kitchen appliances, doors, running water and WiFi have been allegedly removed

RDEK reminds public to register for their emergency notification system. File photo.
RDEK reminds residents to register for East Kootenay Evacuation Notification System

Provincial Alert system cannot be used for local emergencies

City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
City of Fernie: New orders a challenge, but community is supportive

Mayor Qualizza said that the new public health orders were an opportunity to safeguard the winter season

Sparwood mayor David Wilks was in attendance at the street party to discuss potential changes to Centennial Square.
Wilks reflects on new public health orders

Sparwood Mayor Wilks said that it was important to work towards a normal Christmas in 2020

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

The grey region of this chart shows the growth of untraced infection, due to lack of information on potential sources. With added staff and reorganization, the gap is stabilized, Dr. Bonnie Henry says. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 tracing to keep up with surging cases

People now notified of test results by text message

Most Read