English Montreal School Board to take government to court over forced school transfers

MONTREAL — The English Montreal School Board is taking the Quebec government to court over whether the forced transfers of schools infringes on English minority linguistic rights.

The board also called on the province Tuesday to seek an opinion from the province's highest court ahead of its plan to table a bill doing away with the province's school boards.

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In the latest legal salvo involving the forced transfer of two east-end Montreal schools to a neighbouring French board, the school board's lawyers filed a motion asking the court to rule on the section of the Education Act used to transfer the schools.

In July, a judge rejected a request by the English Montreal School Board seeking an injunction to stop the transfers, saying that it had failed to show the matter was urgent. The judge also found the French board would suffer more harm if the transfers were halted.

Now, while waiting for that case to be heard on its merits, the board's lawyers are asking the court to rule on whether the section of the Education Act used to transfer the schools respects English minority rights in Quebec. The section of the act allows government to seize school buildings and transfer them.

The English board has been affected by demographics and declining enrolment, and chairwoman Angela Mancini said she is concerned similar transfers will be imposed in the future.

When he transferred the schools by decree last July, Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge argued the French system was short 3,000 spaces while some English schools in east-end Montreal operated at roughly half capacity.

Francis Bouchard, a spokesman for Roberge, said Tuesday the government made the "difficult but necessary" decision to transfer the two schools to the Pointe-de-L'Ile school board.

"(The French board's) schools were overflowing, and the right to education for hundreds of students was compromised," Bouchard wrote. "This action avoided the worst for the new school year, and we continue to believe that in these exceptional circumstances, it was the right decision to make."

Bouchard declined to comment further as the matter is before the courts.

Mancini said the board is also asking the Quebec government to seek a Quebec Court of Appeal opinion on its intended bill abolishing school boards. The board maintains the move runs contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Specifically, the EMSB wishes to obtain a clear answer from the courts on whether school board governance is constitutionally protected for Quebec's English-speaking community," Mancini said.

On the matter of school governance, Bouchard wrote the government intends to move forward and introduce a bill this fall, one it argues will give schools more autonomy.

"EMSB trustees should spend less time doing politics and more time focusing on student success," Bouchard wrote.

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