The Supreme Court has ruled that Abbotsford needs a new French-language school and that Chilliwack’s currently doesn’t meet the needs of its students.                                Jessica Peters/Black Press

The Supreme Court has ruled that Abbotsford needs a new French-language school and that Chilliwack’s currently doesn’t meet the needs of its students. Jessica Peters/Black Press

Supreme Court orders new French-language school for Abbotsford, improved one for Chilliwack

A French-only elementary school must be built in Abbotsford, court ordered in landmark ruling

This story originally stated that the ruling pertained to new French Immersion schools. In fact, the school run by Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) is for the children of francophones, who have the right across Canada to have schooling provided for their children in French.

The provincial government will have to create a fully-French language school in Abbotsford and dramatically improve a sub-par French school in Chilliwack after a landmark Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. A Central Fraser Valley French secondary school will also need to be created at one of the elementary-school locations.

The decision comes after a decade of legal wrangling between the province and the school board in charge of French education in British Columbia – Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF). The CSF had filed a lawsuit alleging B.C. had breached the Charter of Rights and Freedom’s guarantees of minority-language education.

The Supreme Court ruled that the children of Francophones students in several places, including Abbotsford and Chilliwack, were deserving of homogenous (French-speaking-only) schools that were just as good as other local schools.

RELATED: Supreme Court sides with B.C.’s francophone school board over education rights

RELATED: Supreme Court decision ‘good news’ for minority-language communities: Trudeau

READ THE COURT’S DECISION HERE

A similar previous ruling had been overturned by B.C.’s Court of Appeal, which led the Supreme Court to take up the case.

The Court of Appeal had ruled there weren’t yet enough students in Abbotsford, Burnaby, Vancouver and Victoria to require homogenous schools. But the Supreme Court disagreed, noting the long-term student projections must be considered, and that those forecasts show the communities need, and deserve, homogenous schools.

The court ruled by a 7-2 majority that the current lack of a French-language school in Abbotsford “prevents the CSF from providing a global educational experience that is substantively equivalent to the experience at nearby majority language elementary schools.”

The court ruled that Abbotsford students are entitled to a French-language elementary school with space for at least 85 students. That school must provide “that provides an educational experience that is substantively equivalent to the experience at nearby majority language schools.

Chilliwack’s school must also either be improved dramatically – or rebuilt at a different location. The court heard that the French-language school there, École La Vérendrye, is in a state of “disrepair” and had been starved of facilities common in other schools in the area. It has neither a library or its own gymnasium.

(Despite the presence of École La Vérendrye, many Chilliwack students are also enrolled in French immersion programs in mixed schools.)

The gymnasium rents space in a community hall, but getting students there is a complex process. That gym is also too small for basketball, so cold in winter that jackets are sometimes needed, and sometimes reeks like booze.

The court had heard that the hall also can’t be used at the beginning of a week “because they would then have to deal with disorderly premises and the smell of alcohol as a result of community activities held in it on the weekend.”

Books, meanwhile, are stored in a portable, which is also used to house sports equipment.

While the building is in a “state of disrepair,” the school provides “services of high quality in French,” with smaller class sizes than in other parts of the city, according to the Supreme Court judgement.

B.C.’s Court of Appeal had declared that the education provided at the school made up for the lackluster facility and declared the size of the gymnasium and library to actually be bigger than some comparable schools. The Supreme Court ruled that reasoning was flawed.

“The effect of the application of this proportionality‑based approach is to turn a gymnasium where most sports cannot be played and a library set up in a cramped portable classroom into facilities that are considered to be of sufficient quality,” Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner declared, writing for the majority.

“A balancing of the advantages and disadvantages of the French‑language school in Chilliwack shows that the quality of the educational experience provided there is meaningfully inferior to that of the experience at the majority’s schools. A reasonable parent, even one who is aware of the inherent characteristics of small schools, would likely be deterred from enrolling his or her child at this school.”

Chilliwack, the court ruled, needs an elementary school with space for at least 60 students in a facility much better than that currently available.

The CSF had also called for better French-language schools in Mission. But the Supreme Court declared that the same mistakes that allowed it to overturn the B.C. Court of Appeals ruling were largely absent in regards to Mission.

The Court of Appeal had declared that the CSF hasn’t provided enough evidence for a judge to assess the situation at the Mission school. The Supreme Court maintained that the position, while declaring the situation in Mission “concerning,” particularly in regards to that school’s undersized gym.

Its ruling on the Mission situation was simple: “Children of rights holders in the Mission area are entitled to an educational experience that is substantively equivalent to the experience at nearby majority language schools.”

Two justices dissented from parts of the ruling – but maintained that Chilliwack’s school was “substantially inferior” to others in the area, and the Abbotsford French-language students were entitled to a homogenous school.

The provincial ministry of education released a statement saying:

“We respect the direction and guidance of the Supreme Court of Canada on minority language education rights. The decision is lengthy and complex. We are taking the time to carefully review the decision, to ensure that we understand the Court’s guidance and to consider next steps.

“For the past several years, the Ministry and CSF have been mostly focused on communities identified in the 2016 trial judgment, such as Vancouver, Sea to Sky, Penticton, Sechelt, Victoria and Abbotsford. In light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, we look forward to the CSF’s guidance on how it will prioritize capital plan requests for rightsholders.”

Schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

Abbotsford woman, 29, wasn’t injured in either incident

An opossum (not the one in picture) at Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center in Abbotsford is included in an episode of CBC TV’s The Nature of Things on Jan. 29. (Submitted photo)
Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center in Abbotsford part of CBC TV program on wind

The Nature of Things episode includes opossum that uses scent to find a meal

Abbotsford Police is investigating after bullet casings were found following a shots fired call at the intersection of Purcell Avenue and Wells Gray Avenue on Tuesday night. (File photo)
Bullet casings found after shots-fired call in Abbotsford on Tuesday

Abbotsford Police Department seeking witnesses and CCTV footage following shooting

A Chilliwack driver’s vehicle was impounded for seven days after an excessive speeding violation. (RCMP photo)
RCMP catch Chilliwack driver doing 60 km/h over posted speed limit

The motorist was hit with a big ticket and a seven day vehicle impoundment

UFV assistant kinesiology professor Dr. Iris Lesser exercises along Chilliwack's Vedder Rotary Trail with her daughter Kaia. (UFV photo)
UFV study finds women with reduced physical activity had more mental health struggles during COVID pandemic

The study suggested women suffered more than men as gyms, parks and playgrounds shut down

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Most Read