Monthly Archives: November 2014

Education & Canadian Politics

Here is a paper I recently wrote regarding francophone minority education and language rights in Canada. While not related to technology in education, influence from dominant English hegemony in the digital age presents new challenges for French language schooling in Canada.


Constitutional renewal during Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s tenure, leading up to the inception of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, represents a pivotal period for the minority francophone community’s struggle for educational autonomy in Canada, including the re-forging of a collective identity in the wake of the collapse of French Canada, constructed against the neo-nationalist Quebecois hegemony and embedded within the context of federal-provincial politics and the praxis of constitutional renewal (Behiels, 2004). In chapter two of his 2004 book Canada’s Francophone Minority Communities: Constitutional Renewal and the Winning of School Governance, Michael D. Behiels presents and analyses a number of key points that situate minority francophone education and language interests within these processes, from which two major themes emerge – 1) divergent perspectives and priorities regarding education and language rights and the protective role of the Charter, and 2) divergent interpretations and expectations of s. 23 of the Charter – integrating historical contexts with events and activities surrounding constitutional negotiations that set the stage for minority francophone achievements after 1982 advanced through continued lobbying efforts and constitutional court challenges (Behiels, 2004).

Divergent Perspectives and Priorities on Education and Language Rights

While Quebec nationalists aspired towards territorial dualism – a decentralized federation comprising “two nations”, a Canada and a Quebec, with national institutions representing all francophone Canadians (Behiels, 2004, p. xxv) – the francophone community outside Quebec favoured a pan-Canadian linguistic and cultural dualism (Behiels, 2004, p. xxv) that aligned with the Trudeau government’s vision of Canadian citizenship articulated through mobility rights that extended minority language and education rights (e.g. access to French language education). This directly challenged Quebecois hegemony and at the same time aimed to reduce secessionist sentiments within Quebec (Behiels, 2004, p. 81).

Minority francophone aspirations reached further, however, to include educational governance (Behiels, 2004, p. 54), an objective informed by historical and persistent struggles with provincial policies that limited and eroded francophone autonomy with respect to language and education and that fostered assimilation (Behiels, 2004; Denis, 2006). For instance, reacting to the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta’s (acfa’s) officially neutral stance leading up to the 1980 Quebec Referendum, Alberta’s Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs asserted that Alberta would “never accept the entrenchment of either official bilingualism or education rights for its francophone minority” (Behiels, 2004, p. 57-58).

Combined with provincial governments’ general opposition to entrenchment of language and education rights via the Charter (Behiels, 2004, p. 65-68), examples such as this illustrate the divergence between majority and minority interests mediated through provincial hegemony, and the common impetus for the minority francophone community desiring direct representation by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada (“the Fédération”) in constitutional negotiations, especially given the divergence with Quebec’s interests and the fact that, as a province, Quebec had a seat at the negotiations table. However, the Fédération was not granted this status (Behiels, 2004).

Minority francophone objectives, primarily advanced by the Fédération and its provincial affiliates, represented an additional challenge to provincial autonomy over education, at a time when provinces were being asked to relinquish autonomy through support for constitutional amendments and inception of the Charter (Behiels, 2004). Could the leadership of the Anglophone provinces, and the federal government, appropriately represent minority francophone interests? Importantly, fallout from the Fédération’s and its affiliates’ officially neutral stance[1] (and unofficial support for the “Yes” vote) in the Quebec Referendum had undermined relationships with the federal and their respective provincial governments (Behiels, 2004).

The Federation’s exclusion from official participation in constitutional negotiations was generally perceived as a setback by the minority francophone community, however Behiels (2004) describes how this limitation fostered the development of experience and new capacities for advocacy – including lobbying the provincial and federal governments, and, importantly, engaging with expert jurists[2] – that enabled later achievements in asserting education rights and education governance through continued lobbying efforts and especially via constitutional court challenges. This engagement in micro- and mega-constitutional politics additional helped define a collective political identity for the francophone minority.

Behiels (2004) also highlights internal cleavages amongst the Fédération and its affiliates that helped shape this collective identity. For instance, the Société franco-manitobaine (sfm) (and, later, all four western affiliates) was publicly critical of the recommendations regarding French language education rights in the Fédération’s 1979 constitutional report Pour ne plus être … sans pays, characterising these as “too abstract” and failing to consider “Ottawa’s historical incapacity to enforce its constitutional obligations or the inability of the Supreme Court to impose a coercive decision on a province” (p. 65-66)[3]. Additionally, Behiels (2004) describes that the western affiliates were critical of the Fédération’s failure at establishing a constitutional committee (consisting of Fédération representatives and minority francophone MPs) (Behiels, 2004, p. 65). Challenges such as these helped unify minority francophone leadership and define a collective political identity, as, in the example above, the Fédération responded by modifying its strategy towards coordinated lobbying of provincial premiers and federal government representatives (Behiels, 2004).

Another divergence worth highlighting was the proposed Charter’s failure, from the perspective of the sfm and the afca, to extend rights for majority parents to send their children to a minority language school (Behiels, 2004, p. 72). Behiels (2004) describes that this objective was strongly opposed by the Fédération and the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (acfo) because of the potential for “mixed schools” to foment assimilation, and because increased costs associated with these schools could undermine minority francophone education rights (p. 72-74).

Through his analysis of divergent perspectives, Behiels (2004) situates minority francophone interests within the context of unique historical experiences and socioeconomic dynamics, and illustrates how these influenced minority francophone engagement in micro- and mega-constitutional politics and indirectly shaped the Charter.

Divergent Interpretations and Expectations of s. 23

The minority francophone community’s interpretation of s. 23 was similarly informed by historical contexts and experiences in which provincial autonomy had been utilized to restrict francophone education and language rights, thereby attributing to assimilation (Behiels, 2004). This is important for understanding why minority francophone leadership deemed s. 23 insufficient, and the reasons underlying their lobbying for entrenching specific mechanisms in the Charter for enforcement and recourse.

Behiels (2004) describes the Fédération:

“stressed that entrenchment of abstract linguistic and education rights would be meaningless unless the Constitution included a mechanism which had the mandate and extensive powers required to resolve the conflicts resulting from the implementation of the Charter of Language Rights.” (p. 75)5

Although specific mechanisms were not incorporated in the final version of the Charter, Behiels (2004) describes that education and language rights were exempted from s. 33 (the “notwithstanding clause”)[4] (p. 79-80). As well, s. 24(1) was added to enable individuals to seek court remedy for Charter infringements (Behiels, 2004, p. 79-80), which has facilitated the advancement of minority francophone education rights and education governance achievements through constitutional challenges.

While good law should embody a degree of abstraction to enable courts flexibility in contemporary interpretations, s. 23’s abstract terminology – in particular, “where the number is sufficient to warrant,” “educational facilities,” “public funds,” “regions,” and “primary and secondary school instruction” (Behiels, 2004, p. 71) – was another aspect minority francophone leadership lobbied to change (Behiels, 2004). Perhaps most critical was the French translation of s. 23(3)(b), wherein “facilities” in English was translated more broadly as “établissements”, which implied rights regarding management/governance (Behiels, 2004, p 73-76). This French translation aligned with what minority francophone leaders were seeking, and illustrates why this expectation of the Charter developed and has provided the foundation for constitutional challenges seeking implementation of this clause[5].


Engagement in micro- and mega-constitutional politics, without having a seat at the negotiations table, spurred the development of a “network of modern, secular francophone minority communities” (Behiels, 2004, p. xxii) whose “strongest weapons were the force and intelligence of their arguments in demonstrating that their concept of Canada coincided with the bilingual and multicultural vision offered Canadians by the Trudeau government” (Behiels, 2004, p. 82), in stark contrast to neo-nationalist Quebecois hegemony. This new collective identity was constituted through processes that reciprocally facilitated the minority francophone community’s indirect influence in shaping the Charter (informed by unique historical experiences and socioeconomic factors), its implementation, and its ensuing interpretations via constitutional court challenges and continued lobbying efforts asserting education and language rights. This process was also critical for developing the capacity for continued engagement and mobilization to protect these hard-won rights and achievements from later threats posed by the Meech Lake Accord (1987) and the Charlottetown Accord (1992).


Behiels, M. D. (2004). Canada’s Francophone minority communities Constitutional renewal and the winning of school governance. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Denis, W. B. (2006). Francophone education in Saskatchewan: Resisting Anglo-hegemony. In Noonan, D. Hallman, & M. Scharf (Eds.), A history of education in Saskatchewan. Regina, SK: Canadian Plains Research Centre.

Section thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (2014, September 25). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 29, 2014 from


[1] Behiels (2004) quotes sfm president Gilberte Proteau: “Support for the yes side would send a clear message that the existing Constitution no longer served the cultural and linguistic needs of either Franco-Manitobans or Québécois” (p 56).

[2] Behiels (2004) explains that, since there would be no referendum on the constitutional amendments, appealing for public support would have been ineffective (p. 81).

[3]“The Association culturelle franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan reminded the committee of its longstanding court battles with the Ministry of Education and local school boards in Saskatchewan, which made it sceptical of the government’s ambiguous formulation of s. 23 . In its view, the section would remain a dead letter and therefore doubly humiliating for the Fransaskois” (Behiels, 2004, p 71).

[4] S. 33 “allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override certain portions of the Charter” (Wikipedia, 2014).

[5] Behiels (2004) describes court actions by “minority francophone parents, with support from their respective provincial associations, through the 1980’s” (p. 73).

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