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English school boards battle with Quebec government over Bill 40 in province’s highest court

Quebec Government lawyers Alexandra Hodder and Samuel Chayer leave the Quebec Court of Appeal on Thursday. August 20, 2020.
Quebec Government lawyers Alexandra Hodder and Samuel Chayer leave the Quebec Court of Appeal on Thursday. August 20, 2020. Jonah Aspler / Global News

Quebec’s English school boards were at the province’s highest court Thursday, arguing with the Legault government about the future of English education.

The hearing was about Bill 40, the CAQ’s law that replaces school boards with service centres.

On Aug. 10, Quebec Superior Court Justice Sylvain Lussier ruled that none of the new law would apply to English school boards while a larger constitutional challenge works its way through the courts.

The government is trying to have that ruling reversed by the higher court.

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

Lawyer Samuel Chayer, representing the Attorney General of Quebec, argued that Bill 40 still allows anglophones to control their institutions, and that suspending the law is not in the public interest. He called the lower court ruling by Justice Lussier a “mistake.”

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The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) called the government’s arguments “groundless.”

“Justice Lussier weighed the harm to the public interest, and that balance of convenience favoured the anglophone community after deliberations,” QESBA lawyer Jennifer Klinck argued in English.

“The attorney general must fail.”

Former Lester B. Pearson School Board teacher Chris Eustace also spoke at the hearing, and argued in favour of the government’s position.

“If the English community’s vitality is at risk, it’s because parents send their kids to French schools,” he told Court of Appeal Judge Benoit Moore. Eustace attacked English school boards for mismanagement, and said Bill 40 would give more power to the English community.

Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) president Geoffrey Chambers watched the hearings closely, and said though Eustace has a right to his opinion, he very much disagrees with him.

I think he’s kind of irrelevant. If you look across the opinion, you know, we do a lot of work to figure out whether or not we’re representing what the community actually wants, and he’s very close to a lone voice,” Chambers said.

Read more: English Montreal School Board joins legal challenge against Bill 40

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The QCGN is strongly hoping Judge Moore will decide to uphold the ruling that prevents Bill 40 from applying to English school boards.

“The bill shouldn’t be implemented just because the government wants to do so in expectation of it being ultimately upheld. That creates so much damage to the educational infrastructure that would be irreversible,” Chambers said.

School board elections are planned for Nov. 1, and with the situation surrounding Bill 40 very much up in the air, English school boards want those postponed.

Judge Moore said he would have a ruling in the coming days.

Click to play video 'EMSB joins fight against Bill 40' EMSB joins fight against Bill 40
EMSB joins fight against Bill 40 – Jun 2, 2020