B.C.’s Francophone school district believes it deserves $300 million, but judges disagree.
In a move that may have repercussions for Francophone education throughout the province, the courts ruled against an appeal from Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, or CSF.
The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim alleging a judge wrongfully decided that public French schools weren’t entitled to $300 million for educational facilities.
This case stems from a CSF lawsuit alleging that French students in B.C. were being denied their right to receive education in their native tongue.
CSF is not to be confused with French immersion programs. CSF schools cultivate French as a first language, while French immersion teaches French as a second language.
The plaintiffs alleged that B.C.’s Francophone school facilities were underfunded, which therefore infringed on the rights of French students to get educated in their language.
In a 2016 ruling, as one of several remedies, Justice Loryl D. Russell directed that a separate set of spending targets should be created for CSF capital projects.
That way, the B.C.’s Francophone school district wouldn’t have to compete for funding with Anglophone school districts.
But Russell stopped short of granting the $300 million sought by CSF.
Specifically related to Squamish, she also didn’t blame the province with respect to the lack of Francophone-only educational facilities.
At the time of the 2016 decision, Russell noted that École Élémentaire Les Aiglons was a kindergarten to Grade 7 French language school that moved into what is now the former Capilano University campus.
She wrote that CSF proposed building a combined elementary-secondary school for $21 million, excluding the cost of acquiring a new site and preparing it for construction.
However, in 2014, the CSF was given the option to acquire Stawamus Elementary and use it as a French school.
CSF secretary-treasurer Sylvain Allison wouldn’t consider a long term tenure there, Russell wrote.
Furthermore, the CSF considered and refused short-term tenure at the facility. Instead, the French school district chose to relocate its program to the campus, Russell said.
“I do not find that current situation at École Élémentaire Les Aiglons arises out of the Ministry’s capital funding regime,” Russell wrote in 2016.
“Instead, the ‘infringing measure’ seems to be the decision taken by the CSF, particularly its concerted effort to avoid taking an adequate, acceptable elementary facility to try to force the province’s hand into building a new facility, at great cost.”
Later, CSF launched an appeal, challenging Russell’s decision to avoid granting the $300 million. The Appeal Court judges released their written decision on July 25.
The judges dismissed the appeal, saying that it was impractical to give that amount of money.
“In our view, the answer to that question is ‘no,’” the decision reads.
The court document said:
“In essence, the plaintiffs argue that because the province has built new schools in communities that have at least 50 students,The Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires the province to build a school wherever there are 50 minority-language students in British Columbia.
“That 50-student, minority-language school must also be substantively equivalent to even a 1,000-student neighbouring majority-language school, such that a reasonable rights holder parent would not be deterred from sending her child to the minority-language school. This is simply not the practical interpretation.”
As part of the court action, the province also launched a cross appeal.
This led to the judges setting aside a measure from the 2016 decision that required the province to pay $6 million in damages as a result of alleged underfunding of transportation to Francophone schools.