EMSB Asks Québec Superior Court for Stay of Provisions of Bill 96 and the Charter of the French Language requiring use of French in Internal Communications in the English education network
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) announced today that it is seeking a stay of provisions of Bill 96 and the Charter of the French Language requiring the use of French in the majority of the EMSB’s internal written communications, as well as internal documents, and written communications between English school boards, among others.
“We are taking action now,” explained Joe Ortona, Chair of the EMSB, “because in recent correspondence with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), the situations in which the EMSB is permitted to use English only in internal communications have been interpreted very narrowly . While we offer rich programming in French in our schools and are committed to ensuring our students have strong French language capabilities so that they can live and work in our province, it is important to emphasize that we are an English school board and a key institution of the English-speaking community.
“We are launching our legal challenge because ensuring student success is our priority, and the restrictive view of the OQLF is interfering with the pursuit of our mission and mandate,” added Mr. Ortona. “It places an unnecessary burden on our staff, diverting their focus from educational priorities and students. Furthermore, while the province is facing a teacher shortage, the government’s approach shrinks our application pool and severely limits the opportunities for unilingual anglophones within the EMSB.”
Concrete examples of the on the ground reality if the OQLF approach is applied include the following:
- When Directors General of English language school boards write to one another on issues affecting their boards, these emails would need to be in French.
- When commissioners at the EMSB write to each other regarding an upcoming Council meeting or about the EMSB’s constitutional litigation, they would need to write in French.
- A principal of an English school writing to English-language arts teachers about a training workshop would have to write in French.
- A principal of an English school writing to teachers and parents about a school carnival would have to write in French.
Furthermore, the EMSB is challenging the application of amendments to the Charter of the French Language adopted in 2002 that the Government only brought into force in June 2023, without any consultation of the English-language community. These would require English school boards to communicate exclusively in French when writing with key institutions of the English-speaking community, such as the Quebec English School Boards Association or the English Parents’ Committee Association of Quebec.
“Requiring exclusive use of French with these institutions is simply shocking,” said Mr. Ortona. “These requirements should not apply to the EMSB as we are not a school service centre, given the Superior Court’s ruling in Bill 40. If they are found to apply to the English sector, then these provisions should be suspended, as they would cause irreparable harm to the English-speaking community.”
Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, was assented to on June 1, 2022 and the EMSB brought an application to challenge the constitutionality of numerous provisions of Bill 96 and the Charter of the French Language on the same day. “Our constitutional challenge to Bill 96 has been joined with the court challenges of other parties and is progressing through the court system though, like all constitutional challenges, it is expected to be a lengthy process,” noted Mr. Ortona. “Unless we secure a stay the EMSB will suffer irreparable harm during the period of time that we are waiting for a decision on its constitutional challenge.
“Long-standing jurisprudence, recently reaffirmed by Québec courts, indicates that we are on solid ground in requesting a stay,” continued Mr. Ortona. “Firstly, the Quebec English School Boards Association and all nine English school boards obtained a stay of Bill 40 in 2020, which was confirmed by the Québec Court of Appeal, based on the irreparable harm that implementing Bill 40 would cause to the English-speaking community, while waiting for a decision on the merits of the challenge. This is a comparable situation. Secondly, the same judgment of the Québec Court of Appeal reaffirmed that section 23 of the Canadian Charter prevents the province from interfering “with the linguistic and cultural concerns of the minority.”
About the English Montreal School Board
With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines, the EMSB network consists of 73 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at www.emsb.qc.ca.