The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is asking for the Quebec government’s approval to use federal funding for its court challenges against two of the province’s laws, including Bill 21.
Quebec’s largest English-language school board announced the decision on Thursday after it said last week it would renounce grant money approved by the Court Challenges Program.
“All the EMSB wants is to be allowed to avail itself of all funding sources at the disposal of all minority groups in order to have its constitutional cases heard and judged in a Quebec court,” the school board said in a statement.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge was quick to shut down the school board’s request on social media, saying “it will be no.”
A spokesperson for the minister said in a followup statement it would “simply be absurd” for federal grants to be used to object to laws passed in Quebec’s national assembly.
The EMSB was granted the federal funding from the program to challenge the Legault government’s contentious secularism law, which bars some public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work.
A grant was also approved for the EMSB’s fight against part of the Quebec Education Act. The school board applied for the money after it was forced to transfer some of its buildings to an overcrowded French-language school board last year, arguing the province infringed on English-language minority rights.
The Court Challenges Program of Canada is an independent non-profit run out of the University of Ottawa. It provides financial support to groups bringing human rights or language-related cases of national significance before the court.
However, the EMSB was the target of a complaint by a leadership contender for the Parti Québécois last week. Frédéric Bastien alleged the school board violated its ethical rules by not seeking authorization from the province.
Quebec Premier François Legault also lashed out at the Canadian government after learning about the money awarded to the EMSB and said it was unacceptable.
Legault demanded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intervene to stop the payment. Trudeau, for his part, said the program is run by an independent body that makes its own decisions.
The EMSB said on Thursday that in spite of renouncing the federal funding, its resolve to challenge those laws hasn’t been weakened. It said it’s “counter-intuitive” that it must ask for the province’s permission to accept the grants.
The school board was placed under partial trusteeship by the province in late 2019 following a probe into allegations of mismanagement.
The damning report found there was “dysfunctional” governance at the EMSB and that the education ministry’s interventions were repeatedly met with reluctance.
The partial trusteeship is set to last until April.
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier and the Canadian Press