Education minister accused of ignoring Charter on equitable schools
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
The French-language Catholic school board is threatening to ramp up its legal battle to get the Ministry of Education to help it build a new high school on the Mountain.
Board president Nathalie Dufour-Séguin said she and her fellow trustees are considering seeking either an injunction or a judicial review “to accelerate the funding” after once again being shut out on the project in the ministry’s annual allocation for new schools.
She said it’s unfair that the ministry only agreed to pay for a new English public high school on the south Mountain when students at her board must make do with Académie catholique Mère-Teresa, a former elementary school on the east Mountain with no playing fields.
The English public board also received $31.8 million for a new high school in the city’s north end in last year’s allocation.
“I’m very happy for them, but we’d like to have the same thing. We need to offer the same thing to our students,” Dufour-Séguin said.
“The growing gap between francophone and Anglophone facilities is bigger and bigger,” she said. “This is not fair because the French Catholic students have the same rights as any other students.”
The French Catholic board launched a lawsuit last November alleging the province is violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by failing to provide French-speaking students a high school comparable to those for English-speaking students.
At the time, the ministry had for the second time denied funding to buy land for a new school, which the board hopes to build on a 3.8-hectare property on Broughton Avenue on the east Mountain owned by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
Dufour-Séguin said her board initiated the legal action reluctantly and only after repeated calls seeking a meeting with Education Minister Liz Sandals went nowhere.
She said apart from funding for the property, her board is seeking $17 million for a school for 470 students.
“She doesn’t want to talk to us,” Dufour-Séguin said of Sandals. “It’s like she doesn’t see the urgency. We’re losing our population because this refusal contributes directly to the assimilation of young francophones because students who would otherwise be enrolling at Mère-Teresa now are instead attracted to English-language high schools.”
Ministry spokesperson Derek Luk said Sandals was unavailable to discuss the matter and cited the lawsuit as the reason that she hasn’t met with Dufour-Séguin’s board.
He did not answer emailed questions on the alleged discrimination and delays in responding to the lawsuit.
“The ministry is always willing to work with boards to address local concerns,” Luck said in an email. “Now that there is active litigation it would not be appropriate to discuss it outside of that legal process.”
Hamilton’s public French board also came up empty-handed on its request for money to build a school for 500 students in grades 7 to 12 at the south Mountain site where the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board is building its new high school.
Luk said a ministry evaluation found the French public board “does not have an immediate need for a new high school in the Hamilton area” to replace the existing École secondaire Georges-P.-Vanier on Macklin Street North in the lower city.
He said the board only placed the school sixth on a list of eight capital priority projects submitted last fall.
By contrast, the English public board put the new high school at the top of its priority list and Luck said it “demonstrated a more compelling need” because the school will replace Barton, Hill Park and Mountain.
Claire Francoeur, communications director for the French public board, said the south Mountain school remains “a very important project for us.”
She said her board covers a wide region in Ontario and did get money this year for four new schools elsewhere.
“It’s kind of normal that the government doesn’t give us money for all of them,” Francoeur said. “We’ll be very happy when they give us the money. We just have to wait.”