Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice, and provides Kelowna Capital News with weekly stories from the world of local, national and international law. (Contributed)

Kootnekoff: French Immersion expanding in Central Okanagan

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

Previous articles in this column have discussed section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter).

Section 23 enshrines in our constitution the right of children of Canadian citizens to study French. Depending on the circumstances, this may be by attending a Francophone school or a French immersion program.

Section 23(1) generally protects the right of francophones to study in French language schools in primarily English-speaking provinces.

Section 23(2) states:

(2) Citizens of Canada of whom any child has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in English or French in Canada, have the right to have all their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in the same language.

Significantly, unlike most rights under the Charter, s. 23 imposes positive duties to act.

To date, court decisions have primarily focused on section 23(1). As a result of these cases, provincial education legislation now specifically provides for francophone schools.

But parents seeking access to francophone schools are not the only ones experiencing hurdles. Parents who wish for their children to study through French immersion programs also experience hurdles.

In a long string of cases over 30 years, beginning with Mahe v. Alberta, the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld section 23 rights.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v. British Columbia. Charter damages of $7 million was awarded against the province of B.C. for not adequately funding transportation to French language schools.

Other cases supportive of section 23 rights include Solski (Tutor of) v. Quebec (Attorney General), Nguyen v. Quebec (Education, Recreation and Sports), Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island, Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education) and Association des parents de l’école Rose‑des‑vents v. British Columbia (Education).

Cases such as these may be helpful to parents anywhere in Canada who wish to challenge lack of access to French immersion programs under section 23(2) of the Charter.

It is heartening to see Central Okanagan School District 23 (SD 23) abandon its decades-long position that French immersion is an inferior “program of choice.”

Previously, SD 23 had no French immersion catchments. Instead, students in the French immersion program were governed by English catchments.

This created various problems for parents and students seeking to access French immersion.

Finally, French immersion catchments have recently been created.

But, Kelowna Secondary School (KSS), the high school which offers French immersion, is currently overcrowded.

To address this overcrowding, SD 23 trustees seek to “enforce” the newly established Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM) French immersion catchment.

This means that students leaving KLO middle school may be separated from their peers. Instead of proceeding to high school at KSS with their classmates, they may be forced to attend OKM, beginning in in 2022 – 2023.

Rather then adding portables to West side schools, West side students may displace those from the lower mission.

Parents and students are expressing concern that their children will be split from their classmates upon reaching Grade 10.

Parents are also expressing concern that SD 23 is prioritizing international students over local students.

At the very same January, 2021 meeting at which parents expressed concern, trustees capped the number of international students at KSS to 65 per year.

Trustee Geistlinger stated that more effort should be made to exhaust all possible options to reduce the student enrolment burden at KSS. She is right.

Disrupting the education of Canadian students, while allowing 65 international students to remain in place, may well be heading for trouble.

In Solski, the Supreme Court of Canada stated, in the context of s. 23(2), that children

are entitled to a continuous learning experience and should not be uprooted…. Uprooting would not be in the interest of …the child.

Studying French immersion ought not to be more disruptive to a child’s education than studying English. Moving the international students to OKM would free up spaces to alleviate having to uproot local students. It is not yet clear if SD23 is considering this.

Canadian citizens have a constitutional right to study French immersion and should not be uprooted.

International students have no such right.

An alleged lack of funds does not justify failing to prioritize section 23 rights.

Just last year, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, in Conseil, addressed this very issue:

The mission of a government is to manage a limited budget in order to address needs that are, for their part, unlimited. This is not a pressing and substantial objective that can justify an infringement of rights and freedoms.

Preserving the revenue generated from international students’ fees is not a valid reason to prioritize them over local students.

Parents can hope that Canadians will be permitted to complete their education with their peers. The school district has its work cut out for it to sort this out in a way that prioritizes the best interests of local students.

About Susan Kootnekoff:

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. Photo: Contributed

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. Photo: Contributed

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children.

Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people’s lives, including employment law.

She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, Alta.

Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013,

Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides.

To report a typo, email:
newstips@kelownacapnews.com
.


@KelownaCapNews
newstips@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ColumnistCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Oliver Fire Department. (Submitted photo)
More human caused fires in Oliver

Firefighters have been kept busy putting out several potentional wildfires

Old English design elements can be seen in the sign of the Summerland Farm and Garden Centre in 1993. The guidelines are no longer in place, but some downtown businesses still show aspects of the days when Summerland had a theme in place. This photo was taken by Summerland photographer Dan Dorotich. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Summerland’s Old English theme has been abandoned

From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Summerland had design guidelines in its downtown

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Through their Simple Generosity campaign, Valley First has pledged to donate $1 million of community support to British Columbia communities in 2021. (Contributed)
Valley First rewarding Penticton families with innovative way to thrive together

Participants with ‘inspiring ideas’ will receive a surprise for their family, valued at up to $2,500

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Mervin Mascarenhas giving one of his pens to Honorary JP-MP. Premier David Burt of Bermuda. (Image: Mervin Mascarenhas)
Kelowna man who made $90K ‘Space Pen’ recognized by dignitaries, sheikhs

Mervin Mascarenhas is the first Canadian to grace the cover of Millennium Millionaire Magazine

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Most Read