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Quebec will appeal ruling that declared Bill 40 school board reform ‘unconstitutional’

Quebec premier François Legault confirmed that the province will appeal a Superior Court ruling that struck down sections of Bill 40, the government’s controversial education reform law, as unconstitutional.

“I think we need to appeal,” said Legault during a press conference in Saguenay on September 8. The comment came following two days of pre-sessional meetings with the Coalition Avenir du Québec caucus. He noted that the turnout for school board elections were very low even in the English boards and maintained that best practices should be put in place on both the English and French sides.

The premier did not elaborate on the legal reasoning behind the decision to appeal the ruling which was issued August 2 by Judge Sylvain Lussier; he suggested instead that the government will provide more details soon.

A statement issued later that day by Education Ministry staff said, “The judgement raises questions of interpretation of the law and issues of judicial order.” It adds: “Nevertheless, we extend a hand to the QESBA and hope to pursue exchanges with the anglophone education network.”

The 125-page decision by Lussier upheld a challenge to Bill 40 by the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA). It ruled that sections of the law, which would convert English school boards into “school service centres,” are a violation of minority language education rights that are guaranteed under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“This was a strong judgement for our community, and we are very disappointed that this government has decided to pursue an appeal of the entire judgement,” said QESBA president Dan Lamoureux in a statement issued late Friday evening.

The association, which represents 100,000 students in over 300 elementary, secondary, and adult and vocational centres across Quebec, noted that Lussier affirmed in no uncertain way the fundamental importance of minority language rights. “This decision means that the onus continues to be on us to defend our Charter rights,” lamented Lamoureux.

The QESBA, along with several minority rights groups, as well as the Quebec Liberal Party and the Conservative Party of Quebec, had urged the government not to appeal the ruling.

Still, “It was not unexpected in some ways,” said John Ryan, the chair of the council of commissioners of the New Frontiers School Board. He suggested there had been indications over the past few weeks that the government was going to appeal. It was not a surprise, but it was a frustration, he admitted, noting the school boards are now having to defend “what everyone feels was a good, strong judgement.”

Beyond the disappointment, Ryan said the QESBA has confidence in the ruling and is prepared for the challenge. “We will do what we have to do,” he said, noting it was important to invest the time and effort into the process, in the hope of achieving a clear understanding of the English system and what can and cannot be touched in terms of Section 23 minority rights.

“We are watching history in the making,” he added, suggesting this is one of the most significant times in English education history since 1998 when school boards were reorganized along linguistic lines. “We are building a secure system for ourselves as a minority,” he said of the ongoing fight to ensure the English community maintains the right to manage its schools.

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