The GNWT is appealing an NWT Supreme Court decision related to denying students admission to Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest (CSFTNO) governed schools.
Last month, Justice Paul Rouleau deemed a GNWT decision to limit student access to francophone schools “irrational” and “illogical.”
The GNWT announced Friday that it disagrees.
July’s court proceedings were based on a decision made by then education minister Caroline Cochrane in 2019 to deny six students access to the French First Language (FFL) program. The denial was on the grounds that the program should be provided only to “rights-holders” – referring to the directive in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that grants Canadian citizens the right to have their children receive an education in the minority language of the province or territory in which they live.
It is meant to ensure that French speakers living outside of majority French-speaking jurisdictions can access quality education.
The idea in denying non-rights holders admission to the FFL program is that by accepting everyone the program would not preserve the same quality of French-language education.
CSFTNO, an NWT school administrator for French programming, has one school in Yellowknife – Ecole Allain St-Cyr – and one in Hay River – Ecole Boreale.
When the court quashed the GNWT’s admissions denial in July, CSFTNO called the ruling “favourable” and said that “the minister must bring about changes to the department’s overly-restrictive approach to admissions.”
Now, the GNWT is taking the issue to the Court of Appeal.
“This is a very important issue that has major implications and affects much more than the parents and children involved,” the GNWT stated in a news release.
The government said “the minister’s process, assessments of the facts and decisions were reasonable” and that Rouleau “made significant errors of law and on findings of fact.”
R.J. Simpson, the current education minister, has announced that while the six children involved wait for the outcome of the appeal, they can attend FFL programs during the 2020-21 school year.
“This will ensure that no prejudice is suffered by these six students and that they are able to complete the entire school year in the same program regardless of the outcome of the appeal. This also ensures that the CSFTNO incurs no prejudice pending the Court of Appeal’s decision,” he said in the release.
The GNWT is working with the education bodies to include admission criteria of non-rights holders to FFL programs into CSFTNO. This amendment would help to ensure clarity around future enrollment decisions.
“While we are appealing this decision, we are also working together with education bodies to ensure that students’ needs are met,” Simpson said. “Further review of the recent decision identified several legal issues that warranted the attention of the Court of Appeal.”