Thursday, June 5, 2008

Parents make case for judicial review of immersion decision

Paula Small speaks to reporters outside the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John Wednesday. Justice Hugh McLennan will issue a ruling next week on Small’s application for a judicial review of the education minister decision to scrap early French immersion.

Matt McCann

SAINT JOHN - New Brunswick parents have had their day in court, but will have to wait a week to learn the outcome of their application for a judicial review of Education Minister Kelly Lamrock's decision to eliminate the early French immersion program.

On May 14 Paula Small and Patrick Ryan, two New Brunswick parents, filed affidavits at the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John asking the court to review Lamrock's decision and seeking an injunction to reverse all decisions related to it.

Two weeks later the province responded with an affidavit of its own, filed by John Kershaw, deputy minister of education, seeking to quash the application.

Kershaw stated, among other things, that reversing the process, which is already underway, could end up costing the province $2 million.

Wednesday, lawyers for both sides met before Justice Hugh McLennan at the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John to argue their cases.

Speaking on behalf of Small and Ryan, Thomas Christie emphasized that the issue at stake is procedural fairness and a violation of the Charter rights that guarantee minority language education.

"If there's ever a province where Charter rights around language are an issue, it's New Brunswick," he said.

They weren't debating whether Lamrock's decision was right or wrong, Christie argued, but that Lamrock went about it in the wrong way.

"He has to do it according to rules of natural justice and procedural fairness," said Christie. "The process used to arrive at the decision was wrong."

Both Small and Ryan have children in kindergarten and registered them in early February for the Grade 1 early French immersion program in September.

Shortly after, the government announced its decision to axe the program.

Christie said that on Feb. 27 Lamrock issued a press release seeking public input on proposed changes to French second-language programming in the province, based on 18 recommendations from the Croll-Lee report.

The report's data and methodology have been heavily criticized.

According to Christie, Lamrock left only two weeks between issuing the release and implementing the changes in the report, including axing the EFI program. This was not enough time to gather meaningful input on the policy change.

As well, the press release was only available online, and requested feedback via e-mail, making it difficult for some parents.

Clyde Spinney, the lawyer for the province, said the minister had no obligation to consult with the public over a matter of broad public policy.

In fact, said Spinney, the minister went out of his way to meet with different groups and answered the 100 e-mails he received on the subject.

He also denied that any Charter rights were violated.

Though a decision won't be given until next Wednesday, Small says they've already accomplished something.

"One of the things we've accomplished today is the recognition that yes we do have a voice that needs to be heard," she said.

"I feel it's important for all parents to be involved in the education of their children," she said, "so no matter what decision comes out of the process, I'll be involved in my child's education."

Click here to link to article and comments on the Telegraph-Journal webpage.

1 comment:

Marlene Hull said...

The proceedings regarding this case were very interesting. The judge was fair and thoughtful in receiving the arguments. However I take exception to one comment he made. He said he would find it very difficult to order a court injunction for the sake of two six year olds; that arresting the change that is in progress could not be justified for the sake of two kindergarten children. I do not follow that line of reasoning. Is justice a matter of age or numbers? If a person murders, assaults or robs another, is there not a pursuit of justice? Is it denied because the offence was not mass murder, or repeated assaults and robberies of a large number of people? Is justice denied because the crime was against a child, not an adult? Of course not. I hope justice will be served in this case and that the injunction will be ordered.