Remarks delivered by Marcus Tabachnick, President, and David Birnbaum, Executive Director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, Ottawa, June 14th, 2007



    Propos de Marcus Tabachnick, président, et David Birnbaum, directeur
    général de l'Association des commissions scolaires anglophones du Québec
    devant le Comité permanent des langues officielles de la Chambre des
    communes, le 14 juin 2007 à Ottawa

    MONTREAL, June 14 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards
Association (QESBA) will make the following bilingual presentation to the
House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages tomorrow in Ottawa.
    L'Association des commissions scolaires anglophones du Québec (ACSAQ)
fera la présentation bilingue suivante demandant le rétablissement du
financement du Programme de contestation judiciaire, devant le Comité
permanent des langues officielles de la Chambre des communes.
    "Monsieur le président, members of the Standing Committee: the Quebec
English School Boards Association (QESBA) thanks you for this opportunity to
present its views in support of the reinstatement of the Court Challenges
Program of Canada. We have felt it important to add our continuing voice to
those of numerous institutions, community organizations, academic, political
and opinion leaders who are calling for the reversal of a very ill-considered
government decision to cancel funding of the Court Challenges Program. QESBA
was pleased to appear on this subject last year before the House of Commons
Committee on Canadian Heritage and our association was one of more than 100
who lodged complaints with Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages on the
failure of this government to respect its legal obligation to consult
minority-language communities, among others, before undertaking the drastic
and damaging step it took.
    L'ACSAQ est la voix publique des neuf commissions scolaires anglophones
du Québec, desservant quelque 115 000 élèves du primaire, du secondaire et des
centres d'éducation aux adultes à travers le Québec. Nos membres, commissaires
scolaires élus au suffrage universel, représentent le seul palier de
gouvernement responsable uniquement envers les personnes qui s'identifient
avec la communauté de la minorité linguistique du Québec. C'est en fait au nom
de ces électeurs-et plus particulièrement, leurs enfants-que l'ACSAQ est ici
aujourd'hui pour demander à nouveau le rétablissement du Programme de
contestation judiciaire. Il nous semble toute à fait raisonnable que nous nous
attendons a ce que le gouvernement donne finalement suite à cette demande.
    Our leadership is deeply committed to strengthening its future through
partnerships and collaboration with Francophone Quebecers, through agreements
and innovative projects with neighboring French school boards, municipalities
and communities. QESBA is proud and determined to contribute to the vitality
and development of English-speaking Quebec. That pride and determination
instructs us to build bridges to our majority community... It also requires
that we work to safeguard our Constitutional and legislative rights and
freedoms as a minority in Canada.
    The Government of Canada, of course, has obligations regarding the
vitality and development of its linguistic minorities as well. QESBA maintains
that the reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program of Canada is among
those obligations. It is an essential tool if the individual and collective
rights and freedoms of members of Canada's linguistic minority communities,
and the vitality and development of those communities are to be realized, as
enshrined in Part VII of the Official Languages Act - not to mention Canada's
Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
    As Commissioner of Official Languages Graham Fraser noted in his
preliminary report on the government's 2006 Expenditure Review: "...the Court
Challenges Program's significant contribution over the years to the
advancement of language rights in this country is unquestionable. Just as
certain are the ongoing evolution of language rights and the need of
minority-language communities for reasonable access to the judicial process to
ensure the protection and promotion of their interests."
    The Commissioner's preliminary report clearly restates the vital role of
the program to linguistic minorities and equality groups across Canada and
then goes on to validate QESBA's complaint and that of so many others that the
cancellation of the Program was not, as required, the subject of due process.
Mr. Fraser's preliminary findings subsequently confirm the negative impact
that will ensue from the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program: "...The
elimination of financing for the Program will have an even more serious impact
on the respect and implementation of language rights, since, on the one hand,
many legal issues have not yet been resolved, and on the other hand, the
crystallization of language rights depends on positive actions by governments,
which are not always prepared to meet this obligation."
    This eminently sound reasoning was echoed in May 2006 by the very same
federal government that then deemed to cancel the program only months later,
and I quote: "The Court Challenges Program, funded by the Government of
Canada, provides funding for test cases of national significance in order to
clarify the rights of historically disadvantaged groups. An evaluation of the
CCP in 2003 found that it has been successful in supporting important court
cases that have a direct impact on the implementation of rights and freedoms
covered by the Program." The quote continues: "The Program has also
contributed to strengthening both language and equality-seeking groups'
networks. The program has been extended to March 31, 2009."
    The above deposition was made by the Government of Canada before the
United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as reported
in the Commissioner's preliminary report.
    QESBA particularly addresses itself to the members of the Government side
on this committee when it asks for some explanation - because no satisfactory
one has been forthcoming in the months passed since the cancellation of the
program - for this sudden and final decision. The absence of such an
explanation has inevitably led to suggestions that the cancellation was
motivated by ideological intransigence, partisan considerations or simple
disdain for due process. We await to be enlightened by a more constructive or
defensible answer.
    Les québécois anglophones ont parfois détecté une tendance visible dans
les cercles parlementaires et ailleurs de négliger le fait que le Canada a
deux communautés linguistiques minoritaires - anglophone et francophone - et
dans ce cas, le fait de ne pas reconnaître que ces deux communautés paieront
un prix élevé si l'annulation du Programme de contestation judiciaire n'est
pas renversée.
    Notre communauté anglophone et le réseau scolaire que nous desservons
sont bien adaptés à un Québec qui évolue. Malgré cela, les gouvernements
successifs du Québec, comme leurs contreparties provinciales du reste du
Canada, n'ont pas toujours été généreux ou sensibles aux besoins de leur
électorat linguistique minoritaire.
    Consequently, recourse for us to the Court Challenges Program is as
pertinent as it is to francophones in the rest of Canada, and to equality
groups across the country. Our current provincial Minister of Canadian
Intergovernmental Affairs, ironically, and perhaps inadvertently, made this
case for us recently. He deposited a motion before Quebec's National Assembly
supporting the annual report of the Official Languages Commissioner, which
dealt so prominently with the Court Challenges Program. It read, in part, as
follows, and this is our translation:
    "That the National Assembly reiterate the importance that the French
language be defended and promoted as an official language of Canada and demand
that the federal government clearly affirm its intention to follow up on the
last report of the Commissioner of Official Languages and this, in the
interests of the future of the French language in the rest of Canada."
    ...Laudible sentiments to be sure, and the motion carried unanimously. It
continued for another four paragraphs ...without a single mention of Quebec's
own minority-language community... Quebec's own founding voice of linguistic
duality. That is to say, it concluded with not a word of reference to Quebec's
English-speaking community. There is indeed, a continued imperative for
vigilance on minority-language matters in Quebec as well as in the rest of the
country.
    The nine-member school boards of QESBA have the constitutional right to
control and manage schools serving the English-speaking community of Quebec.
School boards exercise that right, at least in part, by virtue of decisions
rendered in landmark cases made possible by the Court Challenges Program of
Canada. Perhaps, the most significant of those cases, the Mahé case in
Alberta, would not likely have found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada
without support from the Court Challenges Program. Key interventions from
English-speaking community organizations in Quebec were funded in that case
and in others directly affecting education rights. The right of students to
attend minority-language schools is also a question which the Court Challenges
Program was created to help answer.
    In Quebec, access is limited by the Charter of the French Language, but
nevertheless protected within those limits under s. 23 of the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms. If individuals are to test the extent of those
Constitutional protections - against the formidable resources of government -
they must have the right to do so.
    The Court Challenges Program is an essential, meaningful and, lest anyone
forget, financially reasonable way to ensure that that right. Avec le plus
grand des respects, nous soutenons que suffisamment d'audiences de comité ont
eu lieu et suffisamment de rapports rédigés... pour y répondre par une
promesse du gouvernement de renouveler sans délai le plein financement du
Programme de contestation judiciaire.
    With the greatest of respect, enough committee hearings have now been
held, enough reports drafted. It's time to call the question...and to answer
it with a government promise to renew without delay full funding of the Court
Challenges Program."




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For further information: Kimberley Hamilton, Communications and Special
Projects Officer, (514) 849-5900, ext.: 225, (514) 919-3894 (Cell.)


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