English Montreal School Board joins legal challenge against Bill 40

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WATCH: The English Montreal School board is the last of the nine English-language school boards to join the legal fight against Quebec’s Bill 40 aimed at transforming school boards into service centres. But as Anne Leclair reports, the decision isn’t sitting well with all parents – Jun 2, 2020

Despite strong opposition, the Quebec government invoked closure in February and adopted Bill 40, a controversial law that aimed to abolish school boards and transform them into service centres.

The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) launched a legal challenge against the law in May.

Now, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is joining the fight, becoming the last of the province’s nine English school boards to do so. 

“We put a lot of weight on the shoulders of our colleagues at other school boards and now it’s time for us to sign off on this next step,” said EMSB commissioner Julien Feldman.  

“It’s essentially the last green light to our lawyers to proceed with other English school boards in filing a suit against Quebec and Premier Legault.”

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READ MORE: Quebec English School Boards Association files legal action against Bill 40, province’s education reform

The EMSB’s council of commissioners officially passed a resolution on Tuesday afternoon “seeking to intervene to obtain an exemption from Bill 40.”

Despite the fact that the school board is currently under partial trusteeship, commissioners still retain their right to oversee legal matters.

Under the new law, general elections were eliminated for schools within the French-language system. However, English-language service centres still retain the right to hold democratic elections.

The initial application for an interlocutory injunction and judicial review was filed on May 15 by three co-applicants: QESBA, the Lester B. Pearson School Board and Adam Gordon, a parent at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board. 

All English school boards have already passed resolutions hoping to become co-applicants in the case.

They’re hoping the Superior Court will agree to hear their case before July 1, eventually declaring the provisions of the law invalid, and postpone school board elections scheduled for November.

READ MORE: English community groups in Quebec to challenge Bill 40 in court

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QESBA had already requested that elections be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but claims it was refused.

“It would have been more appropriate to delay the elections for one year given the current circumstances, but unfortunately the government of Quebec did not see fit to accede to that request,” said QESBA’s executive director, Russell Copeman.

“It’s a huge challenge to try and organize universal suffrage elections on the 1st of November in the midst of a pandemic, school boards are responsible for organizing those.”

Click to play video: 'Bill 40: Quebec English School Boards Association considering legal action' Bill 40: Quebec English School Boards Association considering legal action
Bill 40: Quebec English School Boards Association considering legal action – Feb 14, 2020

Feldman, commissioner for downtown Montreal and Westmount, believes the government’s handling of education during the pandemic gets a failing grade, adding to the argument that English school boards shouldn’t be subjected to the changes prescribed under Bill 40.

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“In the pandemic our public school system has nearly collapsed, very slow to organize distance-learning,” said Feldman.

“Decision-making should not be in Premier Legault’s office. We shouldn’t have to wait months and months, for example, to get laptops for children who need them to engage in distance-learning will need that in the fall.”

In a statement to Global News, Quebec’s education minister reacted to the EMSB’s move to join the legal battle against school board reforms. 

“We regret, but also acknowledge the step taken by QESBA. Bill 40 fully respects the constitutional rights of the English-speaking community. We will not comment further at this time since the case is now before the courts,” said Jean-François Roberge.

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