Statement from the Commissioner of Official Languages on the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-britannique v British Columbia
For immediate release
Gatineau, Quebec, June 12, 2020
Raymond Théberge, Commissioner of Official Languages, made the following statement today:
“I am delighted with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v British Columbia. This is a major victory for the broad and liberal interpretation—and the advancement—of language rights in Canada. This decision upholds and reinforces one of our country’s fundamental values: our two official languages.
Specifically, the Court has acknowledged that language rights not only curb the assimilation of the country’s linguistic minorities, but also help official language minority communities thrive in their language and culture.
Minority-language schools are not only places of learning and cultural transmission for students in official language minority communities, but these schools are often the one place where the community can come together to speak its language. The Court has also recognized that minority-language schools are “a setting for socialization where students can converse with one another and develop their potential in their own language and, in using it, familiarize themselves with their culture,” and that it is the government’s responsibility to fund minority-language education to prevent the risks of assimilation and the loss of rights.
The right to minority-language education is a fundamental constitutional right and, for more than a decade, British Columbia’s French-speaking community has been trying to assert its educational rights. The Court’s decision, eagerly awaited by official language minority communities across Canada, confirms that students of an official language minority must at all times be provided with an educational experience that is substantively equivalent to the experience of the majority, regardless of the size of the school or program in question.
The Court’s landmark decision clarifies how language rights must be protected, recognized and implemented, in order to avoid legal battles and lengthy delays, which “undermine access to justice and could slow Canada’s historical progress toward the ideal being sought in s. 23.” It is unfortunate that the community had to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to assert its rights. Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has addressed the matter, I expect all language rights, including the right to be educated in the minority language, to be subject to full implementation by all levels of government.
I would like to congratulate the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the Fédération des parents francophones de la Colombie-Britannique, and the parents who took this case all the way to the highest court in Canada. Their efforts and determination have led to a significant breakthrough in language rights for the whole country.”