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French NWT school board applauds court decision on student access to francophone schools

The Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest (CSFTNO) is applauding a ruling from territorial Supreme Court quashing a GNWT decision that limited student access to francophone schools.

The ruling, issued on July 23, deemed the refusal by then-minister of education Caroline Cochrane to allow six children to enrol with CSFTNO was unreasonable, the commission said in a news release on Monday.

Following the court's ruling, the children's applications will be referred to Minister of Education R.J. Simpson for reconsideration.

Ecole Allain St. Cyr in Yellowknife is one of two French schools in the NWT run by the Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest (CSFTNO). The commission is pleased with a Supreme Court of the NWT ruling that a GNWT refusal of admittance for six students was unreasonable.
Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Last summer, Cochrane denied admittance to the students on the grounds that the French First Language (FFL) Program should be provided only to rights-holders, said the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) assistant deputy minister John MacDonald.

"Rights holder" refers to the definition of someone entitled to minority language education in Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In Cochrane's refusal of admittance, she "stated that the Franco-Ténoise community was already doing sufficiently well, in large part thanks to the ministerial directive of 2016," the release stated. "Second, the admission of six children would be too costly to government. Third, admitting these children would undermine the consistent and fair exercise of the minister's discretion."

The court concluded that the six refusals were unreasonable because the minister’s conclusions were "based on an irrational analysis" that "rest in large part on illogical considerations or (are) unsupported by the evidence" and "do not reflect a proportionate balancing of (Section) 23 of the Charter."

The July 23 decision is the second time in the past year that the court has overturned the GNWT's decision on admission requests.

Last July, NWT Supreme Court Justice Paul Rouleau found Cochrane had failed to consider all the relevant criteria when she rejected a child's application to Allain St. Cyr due to the fact that the child’s parents were immigrants, non-rights holders and couldn’t access minority language schooling rights guaranteed under Section 23.

RELATED REPORTING: GNWT appeals NWT court decision on Francophone school admission

"The CSFTNO is delighted with this favourable judgment which builds on last year's ruling," said Simon Cloutier, president of the CSFTNO. "The judgement comes at an opportune time, as Minister Simpson has just abolished the 2016 directive and will be proposing new regulations shortly.

"This decision confirms that the minister must bring about changes to the department's overly-restrictive approach to admissions and we hope to be able to discuss the way to move forward with him in the coming weeks to develop a new regime that will be more focused on supporting our schools and community."

The court's decision also comes a few weeks after Simpson repealed a 2016 enrolment directive on French education, which the CSFTNO hopes will pave the way towards more flexibility and clarity in admissions.

RELATED REPORTING: CSFTNO backs GNWT’s changes to French education regulations

Simpson said in an email to NNSL Media that the government recognizes the ECE minister's discretion in making decisions on student eligibility "sometimes makes it hard for parents and schools to predict or understand those decisions.

"We are currently working in consultation with education bodies to develop new regulations that will ensure decisions made are clearer and more predictable and provide clarity around enrolment in FFL schools," Simpson stated.

He said these regulations will come into effect at the start of the 2020-2021 school year under the NWT Education Act.

"I am committed to supporting the protection of the French language through the provision of French First Language education in the NWT,"said Simpson, "and to ensuring that we continue to review our education system, allowing every resident to receive equitable opportunity to education."