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English-speaking groups ask Quebec to seek court guidance over constitutionality of Bill 40

English-speaking groups hoping to have Bill 40 suspended
WATCH: The Alliance for the Promotion of Public English-Language Education in Quebec is asking the provincial government to refer Bill 40 on educational reform to the Quebec Court of Appeal over the constitutionality of the proposed legislation. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, the group is hoping the avoid a lengthy court battle, barring a political solution.

The Alliance for the Promotion of Public English-Language Education in Quebec (APPELE-Québec), is urging the Quebec government to seek guidance from the Quebec Court of Appeal over the constitutionality of Bill 40.

The proposed Bill 40 legislation seeks to eliminate school boards and replace them with service centres. The administration of the centres would fall under a board of directors comprised of parents, community members and staff.

As part of the law, general elections would also be eliminated for schools within the French-language system. The English-language service centres would still retain the right to hold democratic elections.

The bill — which has 300 articles and would amend 80 existing laws — has been the subject of amendments, a study and hearings at the National Assembly.

APPELE-Québec hosted its own hearings into Bill 40, arguing many members of the English-speaking community were left out of the official channels and their concerns weren’t being heard.

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The alliance is made up of 16 groups representing, parents, educators and the English-speaking community. It released its findings in December 2019 and found the law to be unworkable in its current form.

READ MORE: Unions and education groups ask Quebec government to delay adoption of Bill 40

The group argued the proposed law infringes on Quebec’s English linguistic minority’s constitutional rights to control and manage its public schools and offered to work with the government to find possible solutions.

APPELE-Québec, however, contends the government is refusing to amend the section of the bill dealing with the English-speaking community leaving it at an impasse.

“Despite our best efforts to find a political solution, we fear that we are heading towards a lengthy and expensive court battle,” said APPELE-Québec vice-president Kevin Shaar on Monday.  “To avoid this, we are calling on the government to refer Bill 40 to the Quebec Court of Appeal to settle the constitutional issue before the bill is implemented.”

APPELE-Québec explained only the government can ask for a referral to the courts.

The alliance hopes that the adoption of the bill will be postponed or its implementation delayed.

READ MORE: Quebec education minister weighs invoking closure to adopt Bill 40

However, on Friday, Quebec Education Minister Jean-Françcois Roberge said the government hadn’t ruled out invoking closure to pass the controversial bill.

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On Monday the government reiterated its position in a statement to Global News.

“Too much time has already been lost due to the systematic obstruction of oppositions. On the contrary, we must speed up work to ensure the rapid adoption of the bill modernizing school governance and the successful establishment of service centres,” Roberge wrote in the statement.

Roberge said the government has no intention of suspending the study of the bill, nor of asking for a referral, saying it would be inappropriate to do so.

READ MORE: English-speaking groups want the government to hit pause on school board reform

In his statement, Roberge goes on to argue that the new service centres would consolidate the ability of the English-speaking community to manage its own educational institutions by decentralizing decision-making and putting it in the hands of those who know the students by name.

“We are confident that the bill, if passed and challenged, would pass the test of the courts,” he said.

Roberge says the government has already acted upon the demands of the English-speaking community.

“Let us also remember that we have already made an honourable compromise which clearly reflects our openness towards the English-speaking community,” he wrote adding that it was important not to generalize.

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“Finally, a distinction must be made between these representatives and the entire English-speaking community. Several of its members support the bill,” he said.

— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise and Gloria Henriquez