The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of ordered British Columbia's only French-language school board today by ordering the B.C. provincial government to pay $6 million in damages for underfunding its school bus transportation system for a the past 10 years. An additional $1.1 million will have to be paid for operations, according to CBC.
"The mission of a government is to manage a limited budget in order to address needs that are, for their part, unlimited," wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner. "This is not a pressing and substantial objective that can justify an infringement of rights and freedoms. Treating this role as such an objective would lead society down a slippery slope and would risk watering down the scope of the charter."
The 7-2 decision was based on the Supreme Court's ruling that the B.C. government had violated section S. 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees education in one of Canada's two official languages in their approach to funding.
The case first came to be after numerous parents and the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique school board accused the B.C. government of systematically underfunding the French-language schools and therefore denying their charter rights.
Suzana Straus, a resident of Richmond, B.C., and president of the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie-Britannique, said that for her son to get to a French school, it takes over an hour. "It means, for many families, they will choose not to send their children to francophone schools," said Straus. "They will choose to go to the local school, and that means assimilation. And that saddens me tremendously."
"We now hope that the provincial governments will step up further in areas that are their exclusive jurisdictions, like education," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was happy with the Supreme Court ruling. Trudeau called it good news for minority-language communities across Canada who have felt for decades that the other provinces aren't providing the necessary access to such services. "As a federal government, we will always stand ready to support and help minority-language communities across this country."
The provincial government of B.C. released a statement confirming that it respects the decision of the Supreme Court and their guidance on minority-language education rights. They are asking for some time so they may review the decision and outline what steps need to be taken next to remedy the issue.
"We will continue to work with the francophone community in B.C. to ensure minority-language education rights are respected," read part of the statement.