Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the CSFCB.
Your committee is all too familiar with the shortcomings of the census and the issues its data causes to the CSFCB and to the francophone and Acadian school boards in minority settings.
The sociodemographic reality of minority language communities is simple and well-known: as a result of immigration and exogamy, fewer and fewer children eligible to attend French-language schools have French as their only first language learned.
On the other hand, more and more of them learn French at school rather than at home. So the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter are falling significantly, while the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) are rising very rapidly. These categories are not enumerated by the census.
Effectively, the CSFBC and the province cannot adequately plan the required investments because they do not have access to reliable and relevant data on the number of potential students in French-language schools. It is not enough to know how many eligible students live in each municipality; we must also know where students live in every catchment area.
That is why your committee recommended the following in 2017:
That the Government of Canada require Statistics Canada to include questions in the 2021 Census that would allow for the enumeration of all rights-holders under the broadest interpretation of paragraphs 23(1)(a) and (b) and subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, despite your recommendation, Statistics Canada has systematically avoided guaranteeing that the questions will be asked in the short form census.
It is indisputable that the short form census of Canadians is the only way to enumerate all the children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter. Therefore, the CSFBC is using its invitation to testify to ask the committee to plead with the federal government to require that the questions intended to enumerate the children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter be added to the short form census questionnaire.
This question is very important for the CSFBC, which has directly suffered the consequences of the undercounting of right holders through the census. In fact, the CSFBC spent weeks—and I do mean weeks—during its trial before the Supreme Court of British Columbia trying to estimate the number of right holders under paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) of the charter because Statistics Canada had never done it. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful.
Despite all the efforts of expert witnesses and the invested resources, the trial judge concluded that it was impossible to estimate the number of children who were not counted. The judge relied only on Statistics Canada data, which is substantially incomplete. Therefore, the Supreme Court of British Columbia concluded on several occasions that the number does not justify certain buildings or building expansions.
I want to be very clear. The “where numbers warrant” criterion set out in section 23 of the charter depends on the enumeration of all children of right holders. That is what the Supreme Court of Canada has been telling us since the Mahe case, in 1990. That case will be 30 years old at the end of next week.
Therefore, the implementation of section 23 requires the enumeration of the children of each local community to then determine what is “justified” in a given community. To do that, we must determine the number of children residing within a very specific geographic area and not simply estimate their number and guess their geographic location.
Here is an example. You could now refer to tab 5 of our brief. I am talking about the Pemberton example. The 2016 Census enumerated 46 children of right holders under paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter. So we are talking about 46 children in 2016. However, in 2016, 59 children with at least one parent with rights under section 23 of the charter were enrolled in our school.
Owing to the incomplete data of the census, the judge concluded that the community was entitled to one school that could accommodate only 55 students. Today, 79 students are attending the elementary school La Vallée de Pemberton. We have no more space in Pemberton. If you look at tab 4, you will see a photo of our school. As you can see, it consists of two portable classrooms. Imagine 79 students in two portable classrooms.
To avoid the Pemberton issue and a number of others, the francophone and Acadian school boards and provincial and territorial governments need to know the absolute number of the children of rights holders under section 23 of the charter for each of the existing and proposed school catchment areas. That is how they—and the courts, as needed, as we have seen—determine what a community is entitled to under section 23. To do so, new census questions must be put to 100% of households using the short form questionnaire.
Although Statistics Canada is the government entity charged with developing and administrating the census, it is the cabinet—the Governor in Council—that is ultimately responsible for determining the content of the census. Therefore, the CSFBC expects the federal government to act accordingly.
We are very appreciative of the hard work your committee is doing with respect to the rights of the Franco-Columbian community. This study and the resulting recommendations will help ensure the flourishing of current and future students of our schools, but also of Francophone minority communities in Canada.
Thank you very much for listening to me.