EMSB to take Quebec to court over school transfers, threat to abolish boards – CBC.ca

EMSB to take Quebec to court over school transfers, threat to abolish boards - CBC.ca
EMSB to take Quebec to court over school transfers, threat to abolish boards
The English Montreal School Board is bringing a constutional challenge against the Quebec government over the forced transfer of two English schools into the French system.

In July, a judge blocked the EMSBs bid to keep General Vanier Elementary School and John Paul I Junior High School from being transferred to the Commission Scolaire de la Pointe-de-lIle (CSPI), after Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge determined it was necessary due to overcrowding in the French board.

EMSB to fight Quebecs plan to abolish school boards

In an announcement made Tuesday, EMSB chair Angela Mancini said the boards lawyers have now filed a second court case, asking a judge to decide on the constitutionality of the transfers. "The EMSB is concerned that similar school transfers will keep happening in the years to come – and for these reasons, the EMSB is bringing a constitutional challenge before the Quebec Superior Court," said Mancini. 

Referring to the initial injunction, Mancini said, "while the judge stated that our case had merit, she was reluctant to not move forward with the transfers in part because there was little time to prepare for the next school year."

At the news conference Tuesday, Mancini will encourage other English school boards, the Quebec English School Boards Association and other representatives of the English speaking community to contribute financially to the board’s legal fund.

The EMSB and other anglophone rights groups say the transfer violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, giving the English-speaking minority community the right to manage its own school system.

"Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms confers on the representatives of the English-speaking minority of Quebec the exclusive authority to make decisions relating to the minority language instruction and facilities," the boards minutes from a Sept. 4 meeting, signed by Secretary-General of the ESMB Nathalie Lauziere, read.

The board is calling on the government of Premier François Legault to test its theory that its school board reform plan is legal by asking the Quebec Court of Appeal for a declaratory judgment on the issue.

The school board feels that the Supreme Court of Canada "has held that management and control over educational facilities by representatives of the official language minority is vital to ensure that the minority language and culture flourish."

In July, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected the EMSBs request for an emergency injunction to temporarily block the transfer of two of its schools to the overcrowded French school board in the east end.

In addition, the board argues Roberges stated intention to abolish all school boards "will have a significant negative impact on the Charter-protected rights and the vitality of Quebecs English-speaking minority" and lessen the quality of English education. "No government says Im adopting a law thats unconstitutional, but laws have been struck down before many, many times over constitutional issues," said EMSB councillor Joe Ortona. "We pay the school tax, we pay the taxes out of our salary that fund education and yet we would have no say in how the schools are run, in anything in the curriculum… its a form of taxation without representation, no doubt."

Just weeks before the Quebec government is expected to introduce legislation to abolish school boards, the English Montreal School Board is taking legal action to try to stop the government in its tracks.

Students from John Paul I High School have begun their academic year at Laurier Macdonald High School, and students and staff from General Vanier Elementary are attending Pierre de Coubertin.

EMSB commissioners adopted a resolution last week authorizing the legal action against the government. The resolution says abolishing school boards will lessen the quality of English education.

The English Montreal School Board is taking the Quebec government to court over its forced school transfers and its plan to do away with school boards. 

The board plans to contest the constitutionality of Section 477.1.1 of the Education Act, which gives the education minister the power to transfer buildings from one school board to another.

EMSB chair Angela Mancini said the board is fighting for the rights of all English school boards across the province.

The judge ruled that suspending the transfer would go against the public interest because the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île was in desperate need of additional space.

"School boards, and the multi-faceted role that they play, [are] extremely important for our minority community," she said at a news conference Tuesday. 

“This is a very important issue for not only our school board, but school boards across the province,” said Michael Cohen, a spokesperson for the EMSB.

The board plans to use $1.3 million in surplus money from its international student program to help pay for the legal fees, which could total several million dollars.

Separately, the EMSB will continue its legal challenge of the government’s authority to transfer schools from one board to another.

She is hoping other English school boards and representatives from the English-speaking community pitch in.

But the EMSB plans to continue its legal action because it wants a judge to rule on the merits of the case.

In July, a Quebec Superior Court justice rejected an injunction filed by the EMSB aimed at halting the transfer of two English schools to the CSPI, a French-language board.

That challenge, however, still hasn't been heard on its merits by the Quebec Superior Court, even though the school transfer already took place.

The EMSB plans to file a separate lawsuit arguing that doing away with English school boards would be a violation of minority rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

The Coalition Avenir Québec government ​is planning to table legislation this fall that would replace the province's school boards with regional service centres. Abolishing school boards was a campaign promise in the last election.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge maintains the ministry's position when it comes to transferring the two schools.

Spokesperson Francis Bouchard said that while the English schools lacked students, the French board was short on space.

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