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Top court sides with parents in fight for better French-language school in Vancouver

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa is shown

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of a group of British Columbia parents who claimed a French-language public school their children attended in Vancouver was sub-par compared with schools attended by English-speaking students.

In 2010, parents of children at the Ecole Rose-des-vents school asked the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether the school facilities provided to minority French-language speakers in the area were sufficient.

In October 2012, the judge declared that parents living west of Vancouver's Main Street who had the right to have their children taught in French were not provided the facilities guaranteed to them under the charter of rights.

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But B.C's Court of Appeal overturned the decision on a technicality, agreeing with the province that the judge hearing the original case failed to take into account the cost of providing better school facilities.

The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned the appeal decision and reinstated the original court ruling, along with costs awarded to the parents.

In the unanimous 7-0 decision, the high court says what matters more under the charter is not the cost, but rather the quality of the education provided to the students.

"What is paramount is that the educational experience of the children ... be of meaningfully similar quality to the educational experience of majority language students," Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said in the written decision.

The council that operates the school and the province are still quarrelling over who is responsible for providing better French-language educational facilities.

The high court says the question of who pays will have to be determined at the provincial level.

Karakatsanis listed the shortcomings of the existing school, saying it is small, with narrow hallways and no coat hooks or lockers.

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"There is a lack of storage space," she wrote. "This is said to have contributed to the spread of lice among students. There is no available flexible space in the school. The washrooms are inadequate. The library is very small, and the classrooms are significantly smaller than those in other schools. Only three classrooms meet the recommended size for classrooms. Two classrooms have no windows. The playground is divided into small sections."

Since the elementary school shares space with a high school, it is likely to get squeezed even more as time goes on, she said.

"By contrast, the English-language schools in RDV's catchment area are larger, with larger classrooms, larger and better playing fields, and more spacious libraries."

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