The need for a French language secondary school in the East of Toronto is clear and very well documented. Parents in this community have been waiting and advocating for this school for a decade and the Ontario Commissioner of French Language Services confirmed the urgent need in his June 2011 and June 2016 reports. Furthermore, this need will increase inexorably over the next many years. The Francophone population is growing steadily in this neighbourhood. The 2006 census numbers confirm a very high number of Francophones, and in ward 32 (Beaches-East York), the number of Francophone families increased by 81%. Enrollment in the elementary schools of both French language school boards continues to grow and the boards anticipate a steady increase over the coming years.

Due to the lack of a French secondary school in the neighbourhood, young Francophones do not have access to education in their language in the same way that Anglophone students do. Once they reach grade 7, our children must travel one to two hours per day outside of their community to reach the nearest French high school. This secondary school, serving kids from grades 7 to 12, is situated downtown in a building that was once a media office. This building does not offer the array of facilities that most local English high schools and other French high schools in Toronto possess, and that we consider basic for a high school, such as an outdoor sports field, a cafeteria large enough to welcome the majority of the student population, multiple gyms or a gym that can be divided in two, an auditorium, a fitness room, etc. The result: despite our young people travelling outside of their neighbourhood to the nearest French high school, they do not benefit from an equivalent school experience. Not surprisingly, many families choose to abandon the French language system.

For most Francophone parents, a quality French education and a school building that is reasonably close to their home are factors that determine their choice of secondary school. Because of the lack of proximity of a French high school and the lack of quality facilities at the nearest French high school, many children and parents give in to the appeal of local English schools and are thus assimilated. This result is counter to the objectives of article 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While Francophones face these struggles, Anglophone students looking to attend a local high school have an embarrassment of choice – they can choose among many local schools that are accessible by foot, bike or public transport. For them, a one-way trip averages 5 to 15 minutes. Additionally, in our neighbourhood, the English public board, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), has held onto many underutilized high schools for years despite consistently declining enrollment rates. Four of these schools are well under capacity (between 22% and 49%) and two others sit at within 1% of 65% capacity, which is considered “underutilized”. All of these schools are less than 4 km away from one another.

There are over 3,500 surplus pupil spaces in neighbourhood TDSB schools. In 2015, the Ministry of Education’s Wilson Report obliged the TDSB to develop a plan to reduce their underutilized school space.  Subsequent to that, the province ordered the TDSB to conduct a Pupil Accommodation Review that included eight local high schools. In the end, the TDSB’s proposed plan doesn’t come close to addressing their under utilization rate.

Steps Already Taken

Article 23 of the Charter guarantees French instruction in equivalent school establishments for our children. The Coalition PESQ created a petition to obtain a French secondary school in the East end of Toronto. In March 2014, this petition was presented at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario with over 1,500 signatures. It was presented again in November and December 2014. The minister of education advised us to work with our school trustees to find resolution.

The Coalition therefore multiplied the meetings with the different representatives – Members of the Legislative Assembly, school trustees, directors of both French school boards, TDSB representatives, provincial civil servants, and local municipal councillors. In so doing, we have convinced many to support our cause.

What’s Next

On January 23rd 2018, the Government of Ontario announced that it will invest more than $16 million with the Viamonde school board to help create a new French high school in Toronto-East. For many years the Coalition PESQ has been warning the Government that the lack of a French high school in their neighbourhood constitutes a breach to the constitutional rights of Francophones under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In June 2017 the Coalition PESQ filed a suit with the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario to have these rights respected.

The Coalition PESQ is encouraged by the Government’s announcement which represents a good start. However there is still much work to be done to provide an equivalent school to Toronto-East Francophones. In the coming weeks, the Government and Viamonde school board will need to present Francophone parents with concrete details and a construction timeline for this school. They will also need to confirm that the school will have amenities that are equivalent to those of Anglophone schools in the neighbourhood, such as specialized classrooms, a track and field, an auditorium, leisure areas and common spaces for the students.

The Coalition PESQ has already proposed many sites for the construction of this school and will continue to collaborate with the Government and Viamonde on this important project to resolve this Charter breach as soon as possible.

Heidi Pospisil of the Coalition PESQ: « It’s great that the Government has finally recognized the urgent need for a French high school in Toronto-East. Now we must get to work exploring every option to ensure that this school is truly equivalent! The children of this neighbourhood deserve no less, and the vitality of our growing community depends on it. »