In any given year, only five to seven students are turned away from Brandon’s only single-track French immersion school program at École Harrison.
That was according to the former chairman of the Brandon School Division, Mark Sefton, when the division scrapped the previous first-come, first-serve sign-up system for French immersion in favour of a student lottery last year.
This new system, a majority of division trustees believed, would be fairer to families who could not spare the time to stand in line for a dozen hours to sign their children up — single parents for example.
But in recent days, a Brandon father who moved to Canada from France 16 years ago says the division’s lottery system is a violation of his minority language rights.
Paul Alexandre told the Sun that he was “shocked” to learn his four-year-old son’s future enrolment at École Harrison — Brandon’s only single-track French immersion school — would be left up to chance with the division’s lottery-style selection process.
“There is an obligation to provide education in a minority language,” Alexandre said. “We are not being given something that is guaranteed by the Constitution. We are made to compete against English-speaking students — the majority language students — and it’s discrimination. That’s how we feel about it.”
His assertion — one that he took directly to trustees on Monday evening during the division’s regular board meeting — has ignited some harsh criticism of his stated desire for his children to be schooled at Harrison.
In the Sun’s Sound Off column today you can read a few submissions from critics who essentially suggested that he was trying to jump the queue, and should either stop complaining and take what he gets, or leave Brandon and move to Quebec or back to France. The original story also prompted dozens of comments with much of the same on our Facebook page.
But there are really a few issues in play here.
First off, it must be noted that Section 23. (1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that any citizen of Canada:
“(a) whose first language learned and still understood is that of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or
“(b) who have received their primary school instruction in Canada in English or French and reside in a province where the language in which they received that instruction is the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province,
“... have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province.”
Like it or not, the law in this regard is meant to help with the preservation of language and culture, be it English or French. And to be fair to Alexandre, he does have the right, as a French-speaking citizen in a predominantly English-speaking province, to demand that his children have access to a fully French education.
This means that dual-track French education programs like those in École New Era School and École O’Kelly School, which also have some English education, don’t fit the bill. While this is a rather large inconvenience, telling Alexandre to move to another community is hardly a helpful suggestion, let alone a workable solution.
According to the Alberta-based website law-faqs.org, each province or territory “has the right to create education laws, or set conditions for access, to assert a Charter right to minority official language education.” The site uses the example of the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine in Manitoba, which requires at least one parent to have received four years of schooling in the minority language to claim that right.
French-speaking families in Brandon also have the option to enrol in the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, a fully French program that has a school in Shilo. But Alexandre said this option isn’t good enough, as he is concerned with the long drive on Manitoba’s highways, especially in the winter, and feels his son is too young to travel alone on the school bus.
That too has been decided by the courts — should a bus ride be too long, (decided case by case) the provincial or territorial government may have to provide a local facility, if there isn’t already one in place.
Brandon School Division trustees now have yet another French education-issue to deal with — merely the latest French-language foofaraw that has angered local parents over the last decade. We have said before on this page that one of the best solutions might be to simply meet the local demand, and find a way to accommodate all students who wish to have French immersion, rather than resorting to a lottery. Of course that is easier said than done, but the system as it currently operates remains unfair to all students.
Not just Alexandre’s.