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Francophone rights in the Supreme Court

If you were at Buckets last week, you may have overheard me in a heated discussion about two Supreme Court cases being heard in the next 30 days (anyone wondering what Renaissance College is all about need only read this sentence). The first comes to us from Alberta, the second from Yukon.

 Alberta: Le Cas Caron

A few years ago, a Québécois truck driver moved to Alberta. He was eventually pulled over for a minor infraction and given a ticket … in English. Scandalous, I know. M. Caron took issue with the fact that he could not be ticketed in his language and sued the provincial government, using an obscure piece of legal trivia from the acquisition of Rupert’s Land and the Manitoba Act as grounds for his challenge. From my understanding of the case, the Manitoba Act clearly states that English and French are equal in the legislature and in the courts of both Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. Caron is arguing that this remained unchanged when Alberta and Saskatchewan were created. A similar case in Manitoba established that all of the province’s laws were illegally unilingual Anglophone and gave them two years to translate everything to French, so it’s kind of a big deal. The case goes before the Supreme Court Feb.13.

 Yukon: French Schools

The one Francophone school in the Yukon has been suffering from a dwindling population. In recent years, they have loosened their admissions policy to allow non-Francophones and new immigrants access. This has boosted population to the point that the expansion or construction of a new school is a necessity. Pretty cut and dry: we have more kids; we need more schools — right? Wrong. The territorial government refused their request with the justification that the new students should not have been admitted to the school in the first place, as most are either not Canadian or not francophone. The community is fighting back with the argument that it should be they, not the legislature, who get to decide who goes to their schools.

This decision could open the door for other anti-Francophone legislatures to deny their communities the right to determine their admissions, with especially disastrous results for minority communities (such as Fredericton and Saint John) which rely on admitting immigrants to maintain their numbers. It also has consequences for the Anglophone minority of Québec, which is why their government recently testified against the Yukon Francophone School Board. This case is being heard right now.

Supreme Court watchers delight — we’re in for a hell of a month (five months from now when we actually get a decision.)

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