restricted access Canada's Francophone Minority Communities: Constitutional Renewal and the Winning of School Governance (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael D. Behiels. Canada’s Francophone Minority Communities: Constitutional Renewal and the Winning of School Governance McGill-Queen’s University Press. xxx, 442. $34.95

Michael Behiels's book provides a well-researched and penetrating account of the efforts of the francophone communities in English Canada to secure a constitutional guarantee of schools in which their children can be educated in French language and culture. This campaign was waged on two fronts – the mega-constitutional struggles of Patriation, Meech Lake, and the Charlottetown Accord to revise Canada's Constitution, and micro-constitutional efforts to obtain through judicial decisions the widest possible interpretation of rights won through the mega-constitutional struggle.

Behiels tells us that his study of these constitutional battles is a 'bottom up' rather than 'top down' approach. And that it is, in the sense of telling the story from the perspective of the leaders of the francophone minority communities and their prodigious efforts to influence the politicians and judges at the top. But it is not a grass-roots account of the struggle. The main players are the teachers and parents who led provincial and federal associations of francophone minority communities – and their lawyers. We do not meet the families or glimpse the daily life in the communities represented by this array of associations. But Behiels's study does provide a thorough exposure of the personalities and machinations of the extensive network of organizations and interest groups operating federally and at the provincial level in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

The book's focus is on the minority-language school rights in section 23 of the Charter. This reflects the deep-seated belief among Canada's francophone minority leaders (and clearly shared by Behiels) that the possibility of French surviving in English Canada not just as a language skill but as the basis for growing up in a distinct and historic culture depends on a large and liberal interpretation of the constitutional right of francophone parents to have their children receive primary and secondary education in French. The crucial struggle was to have that right interpreted and applied so that the francophone parents controlled the governance of the French-language educational facilities. Though never getting all that they wanted either from the courts or from provincial governments, these parents were successful in securing a much wider interpretation of the constitutional right than could ever have been obtained through direct constitutional amendment. The 'winning of school governance' by the francophone minority communities, while only a partial victory, was nevertheless a remarkable triumph of 'judicial activism.'

Peter Russell

Peter Russell, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto