EMSB taking Quebec to court to fight for right to communicate in English

“We should have the right to work in English at an English language school board,” says Joe Ortona of the English Montreal School Board. The board is taking Quebec to court for the right to communicate in English. Swidda Rassy reports.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is filing a motion at the Quebec Superior Court for a stay of provisions of Bill 96 and the Charter of the French Language – which requires the EMSB to use French in the majority of their internal communications.

“We are taking action now because in recent correspondence with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), the situations in which the EMSB is permitted to use English only in internal communications have been interpreted very narrowly,” explained Joe Ortona, Chair of the EMSB, in a press release issued on Tuesday morning.

“The OQLF is looking for ways to pick a fight with the English-speaking community,” said Ortona during an interview with CityNews.

“I think it’s fair to say that we should have the right to work in English at an English language school board and we should have the right to promote English and we should have a right to defend ourselves from these absurd interpretations,” he adds.

The board says they were told by the OQLF to communicate with their communities in English only when it is a pedagogical matter.

“While we offer rich programming in French in our schools and are committed to ensuring our students have strong French language capabilities so that they can live and work in our province, it is important to emphasize that we are an English school board and a key institution of the English-speaking community. We are launching our legal challenge because ensuring student success is our priority, and the restrictive view of the OQLF is interfering with the pursuit of our mission and mandate,” Ortona added in the same press release.

The board is asking for a stay on the language rules until their other legal challenges of Bill 96 are concluded.

The EMSB says the language rules are slowing down operations and wasting precious resources.

“It places an unnecessary burden on our staff, diverting their focus from educational priorities and students. While the province is facing a teacher shortage, the government’s approach shrinks our application pool and severely limits the opportunities for unilingual anglophones within the EMSB,” Ortona said.

The board provided these examples of when the OQLF expects the EMSB to communicate in French:

•             When Directors General of English language school boards write to one another on issues affecting their boards, these emails would need to be in French.

•             When commissioners at the EMSB write to each other regarding an upcoming Council meeting or about the EMSB’s constitutional litigation, they would need to write in French.

•             A principal of an English school writing to English-language arts teachers about a training workshop would have to write in French.

•             A principal of an English school writing to teachers and parents about a school carnival would have to write in French.

The EMSB says it is also challenging the application of amendments to the Charter of the French Language adopted in 2002 that the Quebec government brought into force in June 2023, without consulting the English-language community. These would require English school boards to communicate exclusively in French when writing with key institutions of the English-speaking community, such as the Quebec English School Boards Association or the English Parents’ Committee Association of Quebec.

“We operate in English and I don’t think we should be ashamed of that in any way whatsoever,” said Ortona.

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