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NFSB will intervene in legal challenge over English communications

The New Frontiers School Board will ask for intervenor status in the court challenge launched by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) against the provincial government over the right to communicate in English.

The EMSB announced on November 8 that it had filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court, requesting a stay of provisions of Bill 96 and the Charter of the French Language that require most of the board’s written communications be in French.

Many of the provisions in Bill 96, including a requirement that those in the public service make “exemplary” use of French, came into effect this past June. Since then, the EMSB began to receive internal complaints about the language used in internal written communications.

Narrow exceptions to these rules for English language school boards mean pedagogical communications, or those that are directly connected to teaching, can be written exclusively in English, while administrative communications that relate to the management or organization of the school board must be either in French or in both French and English.

According to the Office québécois de la langue française, examples of administrative communications include back-to-school information, registration procedures, school calendars, policies, annual reports, governing board meeting agendas and minutes, etc. The same would apply to school board internal documents, written communications between English school boards, and school social media accounts.

The law also requires that English school boards communicate exclusively in French when writing with key institutions of the English-speaking community, such as the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) or the English Parents’ Committee Association of Quebec.

In a press release issued by the EMSB, Joe Ortona, the chair of the school board said he finds the requirements shocking. “These requirements should not apply to the EMSB as we are not a school service centre, given the Superior Court’s ruling in Bill 40. If they are found to apply to the English sector, then these provisions should be suspended, as they would cause irreparable harm to the English-speaking community.”

The EMSB argues the implementation of these provisions will alter its linguistic culture, while imposing translation burdens on staff, including principals. They may also make it more difficult to staff English schools if boards can no longer employ unilingually English teachers and support staff.

The EMSB is challenging the constitutionality of Bill 96, however it is expected that this will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, the EMSB is arguing a stay will prevent the board from undergoing irreparable harm until a court decision on the law is rendered.

During the December 5 regular meeting of the NFSB Council of Commissioners, a motion was unanimously passed for the board to become an intervenor in the EMSB’s request for a stay.

“Most boards are planning to intervene, and we have chosen to do so as well,” said NFSB chair John Ryan. An intervenor in a court case is a third party that is permitted by the court to make arguments in a case.

The lawyers will examine the situations of the intervening school boards to determine whether this interpretation of Bill 96 by the OQLF and the Quebec government could result in irreparable harm to the institutions involved. The boards will then be able to intervene in the case by presenting written or oral submissions to the court.

It is expected that the QESBA will ask for similar intervenor status in this case.

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