Not any more

Driven Montreal mom wins language fight

In Canada on August 18, 2010 at 08:52

MONTREAL – Christy Henault wore down two cars driving the 60 kilometres back and forth from her home in St. Lazare to Vankleek Hill, Ont., so her sons could be educated in English.

On a typical school day, after driving back home in Quebec to run errands while her two boys were in class, she would put 250 kilometres on her car.

It took more than three years but the Tribunal administratif du Quebec finally granted her the right to send 11-year-old Andrew and 8-year-old Sebastien to English school in Quebec.

"It’s just not in me to give up," Henault said. "It was tough, but those were sacrifices we were willing to make for the children."

Henault, an American, married a French Canadian in Indiana, and the couple had two sons before relocating to Quebec in 2004. Since her husband went to French school in Joliette, their children were not eligible to be educated in English under Bill 101.

When Andrew started Grade 1 in 2005, Henault lived in Hawkesbury, Ont., most of the school year with Sebastien, who was then only 2. But the distance soon put a strain on her marriage.

"I maintained an address there and just did the drive," she said. "The winters were just treacherous. There were times we left school and it was sleeting or snowing and it took us, maybe an hour and 40 minutes to get home, when it was usually just 40."

Quebec lawyer Doug Mitchell has handled similar language-rights cases.

"The practical reality is that lots of people have transferred from the States and either have to send their kids to private school if they don’t qualify, or they send their kids to French school. It happens often and there aren’t many options available, unfortunately," Mitchell said.

The first step to access English public education in Quebec is to apply to the government for certification. If denied, parents can take their case to the tribunal. The final stop is the Quebec Superior Court for a judicial review.

"It’s tough, it’s long, and in the meantime your kid is out of school -or at least out of where you want him or her to be going," Mitchell said.

Simon Fortin, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport would not comment on Henault’s case, but said each request is unique and treated as such.

"There’s no preset recipe to access English school. There are many factors that are considered," Fortin said.

Henault pored over a four-inch copy of Quebec’s Civil Code and represented herself at the tribunal in 2008. Since Andrew had received the majority of his education in English, she argued he should be allowed to study in that language in Quebec. The tribunal agreed and extended those rights to Sebastien.

The boys started the French-immersion program at Forest Hill Elementary School in January 2009.

"It’s very peaceful now. My kids finally can be part of a community," she said.

cfedio@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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