My name is Denis Chartrand, and I am one of the three vice-presidents of the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones du Canada. I am joined by Valérie Morand, our executive director.
Our federation represents more than 265 school trustees servicing the 28 French-language school boards operating in minority settings across the country. Those school boards are located in nine provinces and three territories—in other words, across Canada, with the exception of Quebec. They provide educational services in French as a first language to more than 170,000 students in over 700 schools.
We are testifying before you today on this important issue of collecting reliable, fair and accurate data through the census for the vitality and sustainability of francophone and Acadian communities.
We've submitted to you an 18-page brief, which details our position in regard to the urgency to add questions to the short-form census to better quantify the number of rights holders.
Since 2017, three years ago, the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones has been urging Statistics Canada to modify the short-form Canadian census questionnaire to help school boards quantify the number of eligible children in French-language schools in the various cities, towns and townships in Canada.
The government must require that Statistics Canada add questions to the short-form census questionnaire, not only to the long questionnaire. This is the only way to adequately quantify all rights holders pursuant to section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Three categories of Canadians have the right to have their children educated in French under section 23 of the charter: first, parents whose first language is French; second, parents who have received a significant part of their primary school instruction in French; and third, parents of whom any child is attending or has attended a French-language school.
However, Statistics Canada persists in counting only one of the three categories of rights holders—the first one. As a result, the census underestimates the number of children who can enrol in our schools. The data will not be useful for French-language school boards and provincial and territorial education ministries unless they help determine, and not estimate, the actual number of children in the catchment area they live in.
The short form census questionnaire is the only way to enumerate all rights holders, as it is the only way to determine the number within a specific geographic sector. Conversely, the long form questionnaire estimates a national average, which is useless in a specific community.
It is impossible to demonstrate that “the numbers justify” for a specific community based on a national average. That can only be done using actual data.
Provincial and territorial governments and French school boards must know where to invest in school infrastructure in order to fulfill their obligations pursuant to section 23 of the charter, and thus protect minority language rights and their francophone communities. At this time, because of the lack of precise data, the estimated number of children likely to be enrolled in French-language schools is constantly underestimating the needs in Canadian provinces and territories. Such shortcomings in the current census have adverse effects on the vitality of French-language communities wherever French is the language of the minority.
What's more, the francophonie is changing. The francophonie has changed, and an increasing number of adults speak more than one language. French is often not the mother tongue of recently immigrated francophones. However, since they and their children were educated in French, they fall under paragraph 23(1)(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This new reality must be reflected in the short-form census questionnaire's data collection.
Using only French as a mother tongue does not provide an accurate picture of Canada's francophone population in minority settings, thereby excluding an increasingly significant number of rights holders. This creates headaches for school administrators who struggle to meet the growing demand for French first-language education.
Schools are overflowing.
The lack of evidence during new school infrastructure planning very often results in schools that are too small to meet the demand. Only just built, schools must install portables to respond to an underestimated demand. I'd like to share with you the top priority of my school board, Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, when it comes to school facilities. Built to accommodate 314 students, École Maurice-Lapointe has a student population of 718. That's an occupancy rate of 268%, and yet, there are no francophones in Kanata, they say. The school has 23 portables—I repeat, 23 portables. It actually has more portables than regular classrooms.
Now I'll turn to our recommendations.
Since 2017 the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones has taken some 40 initiatives to make the federal government aware of the importance of modifying the short-form census questionnaire to better quantify French-language school rights. Consequently, what follows are the FNCSF's key recommendations.
First, we recommend that, in the the immediate term, the short-form census questionnaire be modified to include questions that better enumerate rights holders and properly reflect Canada's francophone community. Second, we recommend that, in the medium term, the Official Languages Act be amended to expressly require Statistics Canada to enumerate rights holders under section 23 of the charter.
Comprehensive data on children eligible to attend French-language schools are essential for French-language school boards in order to battle assimilation. These data will allow school boards to better plan their infrastructure needs and to better advocate for capital project priorities before provincial and territorial ministries of education.
Currently, census data provide a very incomplete picture of rights holders under section 23 of the charter. In failing to provide the data necessary to correctly demonstrate that the number so warrants, the census hinders the implementation of section 23 of the charter.
Simply put, the short-form census questionnaire must be modified by the addition of questions to better quantify rights holders, because the vitality and sustainability of francophone and Acadian communities in minority settings in Canada are at stake.
Time is of the essence. The modification of the short-form census questionnaire must happen now, in time for the next census in 2021, in order for the federal government to meet its obligations pertaining to linguistic duality.
The census underestimates the number of rights holders under paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter, as it discourages respondents from identifying several mother tongues. The socio-demographic 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. Thus, the number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(a) of the charter—the only category recognized by the census—is falling significantly.
The number and proportion of parents who meet the criteria of paragraph 23(1)(b) and subsection 23(2) is rising very rapidly, but these categories are not enumerated by the census. There is no doubt that the vitality of francophone communities depends on education. Communities can thrive only if their schools are plentiful and thriving.
The survival of minority francophone communities is threatened by the systematic under-counting of children who have a parent with education rights. It makes it very difficult—and in some cases, impossible—for French-language school boards to justify their applications to provincial or territorial authorities for additional schools, because they do not have the evidence that the numbers warrant them.
The short-form census questionnaire of Canada's population is sent out to 100% of the population. It is the only format possible for enumerating education rights holders properly.
Thank you for your attention. I will answer any questions you may have.