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French parents sue government

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 20/05) - A group of parents whose children walk 10 minutes to gym class and cross a busy intersection are suing the territorial government seeking better facilities for French-speaking students.

The Parental Rightholders Association - a group that represents the interests of francophone students -- claims the government has violated its obligation to provide education in both official languages.

"Every year that passes leads to loss of staff, assimilation and failure to comply with the (Charter of Rights and Freedoms)," the association said in court documents filed April 22.

The parents claim facilities at Yellowknife's only French-language school, Ecole Allain St-Cyr, are inadequate. The school lacks art, music and computer rooms and does not have a science laboratory, student lounge or gym, they said. Children walk 500 metres down the road to use a gymnasium at the Multiplex. They occasionally use athletic facilities at neighbouring William MacDonald School. "We have waited for the government to do something and they have refused," said Yvonne Careen, head of the parental association. "What choice do we have?"

Eighty-five students are enroled at Allain St-Cyr, which opened in 2000 after intense lobbying by the Francophone community. The $3.9 million facility was funded by the federal government.

It can accommodate 130 students, but enrolment at Allain St-Cyr is down 21 per cent since 2001-2002. Parents are pulling their children out of the school because of the lack facilities, Careen said.

In their lawsuit, the parents are seeking a court order that would require the territorial government build a school capable of housing 265 students with space for another 75 in pre-school. The association claims 430 students are eligible to attend French schools in the capital.

Possible options include expanding Allain St-Cyr or building a new French-cultural complex that could house a school and provide space for other Francophone groups, Careen said.

Could take several years

Because construction could take several years, the association also wants the government to build temporary facilities, including a science lab, computer room and arts centre.

The parents are suing for general and punitive damages because of the territorial government's "flagrant and continuing" breach of the charter, which sets out responsibilities for public bodies when it comes to language.

"The (government) is not taking into account the needs of the minority linguistic community," the association claimed in court documents.

The territorial government had not filed a reply with the court by press time.

A spokesperson with the Justice department said the government would not comment publicly on pending litigation.