Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, A.B., et al. v. Minister of Education, Culture and Employment of the Northwest Territories, et al.
(Northwest Territories) (Civil) (By Leave)
Constitutional law - Charter of Rights, Administrative law - Constitutional law — Charter of Rights — Minority language educational rights — Ministerial directive — Administrative law — Discretion — Right to use French in court proceedings — Simultaneous interpretation — Children of non-rights holder parents — Minister denying applications for admission to French-language minority schools — Decisions set aside at first instance but restored on appeal — Whether Minister had to consider purpose of s. 23 in her decision-making process — Whether Minister’s denials were reasonable — Whether there was infringement of right to use French in courts protected by s. 19(1) of Charter and s. 9(1) of OLA — In alternative, whether right to natural justice was breached — Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ss. 19(1) and 23 — Official Languages Act, R.S.N.W.T. 1988, c. O-1, s. 9(1).
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In 2018 and 2019, the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment of the Northwest Territories denied six applications for admission to French-language schools made by non-rights holder parents. The ineligibility of their children was assessed according to the criteria established in the Ministerial Directive — Enrolment of Students in French First Language Education Programs developed by the government of the Territories. Because none of the criteria in the Directive applied in the circumstances, the parents asked the Minister to exercise her residual discretion to authorize the admission of the six children concerned, which was denied. The non-rights holder parents and the school board applied for judicial review of the Minister’s decisions. In two judgments, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court set aside the Minister’s decisions on the ground that there had been no proportionate balancing of the protections guaranteed by s. 23 of the Charter and the government’s interests. The majority of the Court of Appeal allowed the Minister’s appeals and restored her decisions. The court found that the chambers judge’s reasoning on constitutional values had proceeded on the mistaken assumption that the case involved constitutional rights. The families in question did not qualify under s. 23 because they were not rights holders, and they therefore had no legal or statutory right or expectation to have their children attend the French-language schools.
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