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Supreme Court overturns N.W.T. decision blocking students' admission to French school

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa is shown on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa is shown on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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OTTAWA -

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that the Northwest Territories education minister erred in refusing to allow students from five families to attend a French-language school.

The children didn't have a constitutional right to attend a francophone school in the territory because they didn't fit certain criteria, such as French being their mother tongue or the language of previous education.

But a francophone school board recommended they be admitted anyway to help promote the language.

The parents first requested the transfers in 2018 and 2019, but the minister denied them, kicking off a protracted court battle.

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision says the territory's government should have considered the preservation and development of minority language communities.

Justice Suzanne Cote wrote in the decision that "population growth in the minority language community helps to ensure its development and prevent its decline."

She said admitting the children to the school would have helped prevent "cultural erosion."

The minister put too much emphasis on the cost of admitting the students to the schools, the court found.

The minister also didn't duly consider that the children involved already had a sound knowledge of French and significant ties to the francophone community, the decision said.

While the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories sided with the parents and school board and set aside the minister's decision, the territorial Court of Appeal restored it.

Friday's final decision overturns that appeal decision.

The children in question have either since been admitted to the schools or no longer live in the territory.

The government of the Northwest Territories said it admitted the four students who "would still have been impacted by the court proceedings" to French-language schools in October 2021.

It said in an emailed statement it is "committed to supporting the protection of the French language through the provision of French first language education in the N.W.T. and to providing equitable access to education for all students."

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