Opening access to English schools

Commissioners have no stomach to fight for rights

Loi 104 - Les écoles passerelles - réplique à la Cour suprême

Par Ralph Mastromonaco
Disappointing does not begin to define the conduct of English language school-board commissioners on the issue of access to English language instruction.
The establishment of linguistic school boards in July 1998 secured the English-speaking community of Quebec complete control of a unique institution with so much potential for advancing the education interests of the community.
What issue could possibly be more important to a commissioner elected to an English-language school board than access by children to English-language instruction in the board? Of course, engaging in this debate in Quebec is very "political" but elected commissioners have to be reminded that they hold a political office. Commissioners are supposed to take up "political" issues on behalf of the people whom they represent. I cannot understand the lack of significant action on the part of English-language boards on such a front-line issue as access to English-language instruction.

Last year, I represented the Khan family in an obvious case of an unjustified denial of access to English language instruction to children of a Canadian citizen. My experience with this case (which is not unique) indicated the Ministry of Education was not properly applying the Supreme Court of Canada decision to the Khan children.
It was also clear to me that unacceptable delays in processing certificate of eligibility requests and more importantly the appeals before the Tribunal Administratif du Québec on parents' requests for certificates have come to be taken for granted. I sought support for the Khan family.
There is no political support at the provincial level for the position taken by the Khan family, i.e., that as children of a Canadian citizen who received three years of schooling in Ontario they are entitled under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to English-language instruction in Quebec. It is important to understand that I am not talking about advocating an expansion of access to English-language instruction to non-Canadians. After 30 years of language legislation, we all get it. This is never going to happen. Social peace and all of that.
The Khan case, however, is about applying existing law, the Charter of the French Language as it is written and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to Canadian citizens.
I wrote a number of letters to members of the National Assembly to no avail. This is not surprising because the political reality of Quebec 2007 is that a tri-partisan policy of linguistic intransigence reigns. No provincial politician of any of the three recognized parties will publicly sympathize with, much less support the Khan family.
I understand the political reality of why no elected provincial politician publicly expressed any support or sympathy for the Khan family and others in their situation. What I do not understand is the lack of support and leadership from elected commissioners of English-language school boards so directly affected by this issue.
Do they not realize that no one will speak for these parents and their children and that there a total advocacy void? The only support the Khan family received was from the English media. Thank God at least for the free press.
The access issue facing the Khan family is a human rights matter that no elected provincial politician has stepped up to defend. After making two requests to the Lester B. Pearson School Board at public meetings for at least a resolution in support of the Khan family and taking the department to task, the board passed woefully inadequate resolutions that hardly did justice to the Khan family.
In the absence of any political support the only alternative left for the Khan family was legal action.
On this note, the Khans' appeal to the Tribunal Administratif du Quebec was made by lawyer Brent Tyler. The tribunal granted the Khan family's appeal and reversed the department's decision. It remains to be seen whether the Quebec government will appeal.

Courts believe in individual rights. The courts are the only hope for people like the Khans to have a proper constitutional application of the laws as they exist to their situation. This means engaging in litigation. Litigation is costly and time-consuming.
Again, I am not blaming the government for wanting to appeal. The Quebec government would be exercising what it perceives to be its legitimate legal right to do and executing what it believes to be its political duty. My question is what do elected school commissioners of English language school boards believe to be their political duty in this matter? Judging from what has occurred thus far, the answer is as little as possible.
They have every right to respectfully disagree with the treatment its parents and potential students are being given by the government. They could intervene on their behalf and assist them in achieving what the school board wants and what they have a constitutional right to: English-language instruction in an English school board. Of course this means retaining lawyers and litigating with the government.
English-language school boards have an obvious moral, pedagogical and financial interest in this matter. The Khan family and the community at large deserve better.
Ralph Mastromonaco, a Montreal lawyer, was a commissioner on the Baldwin-Cartier School Board from 1988-98, and served as chairman of the provisional council of the Lester B. Pearson school board in 1998.

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