How Courts Solve Parents’ Tussles Over French School
Soon, the seasonal festivities will come to a close and the kids will be returning to school after their holiday break. The question of the children’s schooling becomes one of the many issues that arise, in terms of the parents having to make decisions and come to an agreement (or not) on the location and type of education. But the issue can become complicated once parents decide to separate and divorce, and even more so when one parent favours has a particular emphasis, such as a religious component or language instruction.
Three recent Ontario cases provide a glimpse of how those issues get resolved by the courts.
In a recent case called Perron v. Perron, 2012 ONCA 811 http://canlii.ca/t/ftw26); leave to appeal to the SCC refused 2013 CanLII 33947 (SCC) (http://canlii.ca/t/fz6dz) the court weighed the benefits of sending the children of a separated couple to a homogeneous French-language school (which specifically addresses the cultural and linguistic needs of the Francophone community) as opposed to sending them to the French immersion program (which simply provides bilingual instruction to English speakers in an English-language majority environment). While recognizing the numerous benefits of a homogeneous school, including the promotion and strengthening of cultural and linguistic links with the parents, the court stopped short of ordering the children to attend there. It noted that a significant amount of time had passed with the children attending a different school, and it would accordingly not be in their best interests to force them to change at this point.
A similar issue arose in another recent case called Bamford v. Peckham, 2013 ONSC 5241 (http://canlii.ca/t/g077t). There, the child’s father – who was fluently bilingual – wanted to have her attend a homogeneous French-Language Catholic school over the objections of the unilingual English-speaking mother, who in contrast wanted the child to simply attend the local public school near her home. After weighing the cultural and linguistic benefits of that French-language school, the court nonetheless favoured the position asserted by the mother. In doing so, it considered numerous factors, including the fact that the mother had no car and would be unable to drive to the French school, and that (being unilingual) she would be unable to help the child with French homework or understand the resources on the school’s website. Nor would she be able to appreciate the French-language presentations, concerts and events in which the child would be participating. Rather than force the switch, the court found it sufficient that the child would continue to experience the French language and culture through interactions with the father and his French Canadian family.
Finally, in another recent Ontario case called Potter v. Dhieux, 2012 ONSC 4498 (http://canlii.ca/t/fs7r4), the court was likewise asked to consider moving a child from a French‑language school to an English‑speaking school with an extended French program. The court agreed to allow the move. It was not persuaded that the mere fact that the child attended a unilingual English-speaking school in an extended French program would cause her to lose her French culture.
Needless to say, these kinds of determinations will depend on the facts, and each set of circumstances will be unique. But what remains a constant factor is that in all cases where the court must make these kinds of choices, the best interests of the particular child will always govern.
For the full text of these decisions, see:
Bamford v. Peckham, 2013 ONSC 5241 (http://canlii.ca/t/g077t)
Potter v. Dhieux, 2012 ONSC 4498 (http://canlii.ca/t/fs7r4)