Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, and members of the committee, I am Marcus Tabachnick—not that easy to say, but that's what it is—executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association.
First and foremost, on behalf of our president, who unfortunately got bogged down with car problems on the way here and is not able to make it today, the Quebec English School Boards Association thanks you for the invitation to appear before this committee to discuss the study on enumeration of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian charter.
The Quebec English School Boards Association welcomes this opportunity to engage in a discussion with you on a topic that is so critical to our minority community. We stated in our previous appearance before this committee how important it is to consult with the English community of Quebec and for us to be fully recognized as a minority language community as defined by the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights. We must remind you that the Province of Quebec does not recognize our status as a minority language community, so these opportunities to meet with you are of special importance to us.
Our association represents the nine school boards plus one special status school board in Quebec, composed of approximately 340 schools and just under 100,000 students.
Education is not only the cornerstone of any society, it is the key element for the vitality and longevity of minority language communities. Our community is struggling to maintain our institutions and even our critical mass. Our rights in education are entrenched. The fragility of our community, though, is heightened by the fact that Quebec refuses to sign on to paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter, which would provide some much-needed access to our schools to help maintain them, especially our small schools outside of the major urban areas.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of reliable data on the number of rights holders who are in Quebec under section 23. In Quebec, over roughly a 45-year period, or since about 1971, our school population in the English sector has declined from over 250,000 students to 99,500 today, or about 100,000 students, which represents about a 60% drop in enrolment.
The bigger problem for us is that our youth sector continues to decline. Currently our adult and vocational sectors are growing and keeping our numbers stable, but it is our youth sector that is going to sustain our system, not the adult sector.
The current data gathered is not necessarily representative for our minority community when gauging English public schooling eligible families. The Supreme Court of Canada has been clear in indicating that section 23 rights are applicable where numbers warrant. Given the numbers and size of the English community in Quebec, we are entitled to the maximum service given for education in any province.
We also have many different cultural communities in the province, and when asked, these communities would more than likely deem the English language as their preferred day-to-day language but not necessarily as their language spoken at home or the first language learned.
We never have a proper estimate, not only for our community as a whole, but more specifically for our education institutions, when seeking English eligible students. Many rights holders choose to send their children to French schools, private schools, or religious schools, and never apply for a certificate of eligibility for English education. It's based on the numbers of certificates of eligibility that the numbers of potential rights holders are provided to us as data from the Quebec government. As such, many Quebec children are never counted as potentially eligible. Of course, this has a long-term effect on planning, on the school distribution plans we prepare, and, of course, on any outreach or marketing efforts we make to engage people into our system.
The current census does not properly represent an accurate count of the minority rights holders under section 23, and it is the only form we can use as a base for the number of English eligible children in Quebec.
We need to be able to identify our potential clientele. The census does not currently include a question to parents on their own language of instruction and whether it was completed in Canada, including whether they completed elementary or secondary in English or French.
Reliable data on the number of children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 are necessary in order for the purpose of that provision to be fulfilled. The Supreme Court of British Columbia in a ruling last fall deemed that the Province of British Columbia had to collect that type of data. It is clear, however, that the simplest, most effective, and most reliable way to provide access to such data is through the federal census.
Moreover, such data should be collected for the entire country to provide numbers of rights holders in specific areas such as school catchment areas, which only the federal census can do. Therefore, the Government of Canada through the census is the level of government in the best position to ensure that minority school boards and also provincial and territorial governments have reliable data on the number of rights holders.
We're suggesting three potential areas for questions: language spoken at home and mother tongue; whether either or both parents' education was in English in Canada and to what level, whether elementary, secondary, or post secondary; and the number of landed immigrants or new Canadians who have had their education in English outside of Canada.
As we build a case for better access to English schools, that's the type of data we'll need in order to make those arguments for the long-term vitality and viability of our English school network.
Again, we thank you and we look forward to the exchange with you and to continuing discussions into the future.