At a meeting of parents fighting for a French high school in east Toronto, a playful suggestion of a “Francophone march” down Danforth Avenue was met with laughter — but many parents seemed to think it might come to that.
After all, nothing they have done in the past 10 years has worked.
“We are rights-holders, there are enough students here, and the government must put a school in this area,” said Lianne Doucet, an organizer with the group.
Parents overflowed the meeting on Wednesday to discuss suing the government of Ontario — their next step in a decade-long fight for a French high school in Toronto’s east end.
“It is a rallying cry,” Doucet said of the meeting.
The Ministry of Education has refused the parents’ lobbying to put a French high school in Toronto’s east end. This includes Toronto-Danforth and Beaches-East York wards. Francophone parents eventually formed “la Coalition de parents pour une école secondaire de quartier,” known as Coalition PESQ for short.
Constitutional lawyer Nicolas Rouleau, who is representing the parents, told the crowd they are looking for equal treatment. He won a similar fight for a French school against the government of British Columbia last year.
This fight is for “a school that’s accessible, within reason, and a school that has facilities that anglophone students take for granted.”
Section 23 of the Canadian Charter promises access to French education outside of Quebec. This education must be equal to what is offered in English.
Rouleau told the crowd that no French high school is within a reasonable distance of Toronto’s east end, and that even those distant schools are not equal to what English students can expect.
A French high school, kind of
This is the case with the school closest to the neighbourhoods, Collège Français at Carlton Avenue and Jarvis Street. The school is a converted media building without many of the expected elements of a high school — like a field or an auditorium.
“When students imagine what high school might be like, in their understanding of it, that does not fit it at all,” said Sylvia Michelizza, who has three kids in French primary school. “I believe that [Collège Français] is probably a deterrent to students continuing French language education.”
Several speakers also mentioned this fear of losing members of the French community because of the limited resources.
The ministry has begun the process of constructing a new Catholic French high school — but in Scarborough. The school will be near Eglinton Avenue and McCowan Road. Some students would face commutes of over an hour to reach it.
Rouleu said that they will spend the next few weeks to months finalizing documents for their request. If they do not get a response for funding, they will go to court.
He reminded the crowd his similar case in Vancouver took two and a half years to settle. He added that, should the case go to trial, they will push for quick action.