A judge has ruled that the B.C. government has violated the rights of francophone students in several communities across the province, including the west side of Vancouver, where parents have complained schools in the French system are small and overcrowded.
The B.C. Supreme Court decision released on Monday orders the province to pay $6-million to fix a transportation system that some students use to get to francophone schools, and do more to facilitate the transfer of school sites from English-language boards to the francophone board.
The ruling comes a year after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a B.C. judgment that the Charter rights of students at Vancouver's École Rose-des-vents, on the city's west side, had been breached because their facilities and instruction were not equivalent to those at majority-language schools.
In the current case, a group of parents and the francophone school board – Conseil-scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) – said the province violated Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees minority-language education to francophones in areas where numbers warrant it.
"It is a very significant win for the plaintiffs because the court recognized there are systemic problems in the way the Ministry of Education has analyzed funding requests by [CSF]," Mark Power, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said on Monday.
The plaintiffs sought new or improved schools in 17 communities and a new office for the school board. The trial ran from late 2013 to February of this year.
In a 1,600-page written decision, Justice Loryl Russell concluded transportation for the francophone system had been "chronically underfunded" during a decade-long spending freeze. The judge also said province had failed to help transfer school sites from English-language school boards to the francophone board.
The judge's conclusions varied by community: for Whistler (for elementary education), Nelson, Richmond, Southeast Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kelowna and Chilliwack, for example, she deemed services appropriate.
In Pemberton and Victoria, she found facilities were substandard, but that the breach of Charter rights was justified. In still other communities, she found minority language schools were substandard, but that the defendants were not responsible.
But in four communities – Sechelt, Penticton, Abbotsford and Vancouver's west side – the judge concluded adequate facilities were lacking and that the defendants – the provincial government and the Minister of Education – were to blame.
In Abbotsford, the province's failure to finance new projects between 2005 and 2011 contributed to the charter breach, the judge wrote.