WOZNIAK: DOES WEIL HAVE THE WILL?
by Beryl Wajsman
February 11, 2009
You got to dance with the one that brought you
Don't let the green grass fool you
Don't let the moon get to you
Those words from Shania Twain are as appropriate as any political pundit’s as Quebec Justice Minister Kathleen Weil faces her first test of conscience and conviction. The newly elected MNA from NDG successfully fought back charges during the campaign that she really didn’t understand the concerns of her constituents and that she had been parachuted in for convenience into the heavily anglo and allophone riding. Weil has a distinguished record in community and social activism and a lot of political capital. The case of 11 year old Kyle Wozniak is the place for her to use it and put all doubts to rest.
Kyle and his mother live in NDG. They are constituents of the Justice Minister. They are seeking justice. Kyle faces the prospect of being thrown out of his English elementary school because of Quebec’s retrograde education statocracy and the one missing signature needed to satisfy it.
A Quebec government committee ruled that Kyle isn’t eligible to attend English school. He started his education in French but in September, switched to Willingdon School in NDG. The committee defended its decision citing a lack of proof that Kyle’s parents received the “major part” of primary education in English in Canada. It’s an eligibility requirement for English education under Quebec’s French Language Charter.
The problem is that Wozniak’s mother, estranged from his father, cannot get his signature attesting to the fact that he did all his schooling in English. Kyle’s father left when he was an infant and his mother hasn’t been able to reach the father for an affidavit.
With help from the father’s mother, Brenda Romanuck in Alberta, the English Montreal School Board did get some proof that Kyle’s father attended Grades 3 and 4 in English in Saskatoon as well as English high school. But the search for records from two other elementary schools the father attended proved fruitless because there were no school records at a British Columbia school because of a fire in the 1970s, and a school in Stony Plain, Alta., destroys records once a former student reaches the age of 30.
Romanuck said her son did all his schooling in English. But she said it seems no matter how much information they try to provide about her son’s schooling: “It’s just never enough.”
And that’s exactly the problem with Quebec’s language bureaucrats. Nothing ever seems to be enough. The law stipulates that a child can attend English school in Quebec if just one of their parents went to an English elementary school in the province. But it’s not just about the letter of the law, it’s about its spirit. Language laws in Quebec, whether in education or commerce, have always been applied mean-spiritedly. They have brought this whole society to the low limitations of narrow circumstance.
Many times they have been blamed for economic prejudice to Quebec with companies not wanting to expand here because executive talent doesn’t want to come here from other jurisdictions. But in cases like Wozniak, or the kids in the Bill 104 challenge, the law is hurting the most vulnerable. Children.
It is still debatable whether French language and culture was ever in danger in Quebec. What is not debatable is that these laws have been draconian from the outset and not in keeping with a mature, developed, free society. One other matter is also not debatable. An 11 year old child is not a threat to the system. When there is a doubt, give the benefit of it to the child. Is that simple, decent rule so hard for Quebec to follow?
Laws are not just, simply because they exist. In a free society there is an obligation to dissent from those that are unjust. “We hope somebody at the Ministry of Education who handles these cases will do justice by this child,” Angela Mancini, the EMSB chair, said in a statement recently. We concur. And that’s where Weil should step in.
Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote that, “For the law to be respected, it must first be made respectable.” It may be a long task to make our language laws respectable again. But it does not take a herculean effort to make their application just. Weil can do it with a phone call and a public statement. She can make it respectable.
Her community is largely served by the EMSB. The EMSB has lost nearly 1,000 students last year and it expects enrolment to fall by another 4,000 students in the next five years. The board blames the exodus of English-speakers to the suburbs as well as Bill 104 that closed a loophole in the language laws.
The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a legal challenge of the bill but the law remains in effect pending a final ruling. Weil can’t help the 100 or so kids affected by that challenge. But she can help one. And in so doing demonstrate to her constituents and to the province the real power of one. She will also have proven that, in the words of Shania’s song, no one fooled her and no one got to her.
Wozniak gets to stay in English school
By P.A. Sévigny
March 18, 2009
Early this past Monday, after Nancy Trudel of the English Montreal School Board received a brief message from MEQ (Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec) executive Line Briand, she hugged her assistant, Nancy Mikoluk and both women shed a few tears before Trudel got on the phone to tell Nina Wozniak her son Kyle could stay in Willingdon School. Later that afternoon, after Kyle and his mother met the assembled media who were waiting for the boy in the schoolyard, both women were glad to hear how their fight to keep Kyle in the school of his choice made such a big difference for the boy and his family.
“I want to say a big thank you to everybody who helped us,” said Kyle. “I’m very happy to be here and I’m glad I can stay in this school.”
Located at the back of a corridor near the entrance of the EMSB’s head offices, the small sign above Trudel’s office door is labeled “Bill 101”. Both women said the parents who have to come down the hall to this office usually get some bad news because the government’s rules for admission to an English school in Quebec were strict and very few exceptions were made to those rules. But once they saw the Wozniak file, they knew they could do something for young Kyle.
“We’re here for the kids,” said Trudel. “That’s the bottom line.”
Both women knew the child had every right to be educated in English but he still had to have the documents to prove it. As reported last month in The Suburban, Wozniak could not contact Kyle’s estranged father but she did manage to locate the boy’s grandmother who could tell the EMSB authorities where Kyle’s father had been to school. While this should normally have been enough to guarantee the boy a place in his NDG classroom, the father’s school records in British Columbia were destroyed in a fire while the Alberta School Boards destroy their records once the former student is 30 years old. Due to the incomplete records, the MEQ decided Kyle was not eligible to be educated in English and should be returned to a French environment. When Nina Wozniak decided to appeal the decision and have the examination committee take another look at the file, Trudel continued to do whatever she could to find the documents she required to build the case.
“You have to beg,” she said. “You have to plead…we knew we had to help this child.”
Last February, after The Suburban wrote a blistering editorial about what was now known as “l’Affaire Wozniak,” Trudel said the file quickly began to gain traction as it made its way into the city’s mainstream media. When the MEQ agreed to accept a solemn declaration from Kyle’s grandmother about her son’s experience in various schools across the Prairies and deep in the woods of British Columbia, Trudel began to think Kyle Wozniak may finally get his chance to stay in his school. Once a local Justice of the Peace took his grandmother’s solemn declaration and sent it on to the EMSB, Trudel made sure the document was placed with the rest of Kyle Wozniak’s file on the right desk and in the hands of the right person within the massive bureaucracy of Quebec’s MEQ.
On Monday, surrounded by all of his friends in the Willingdon schoolyard, 11 year-old Kyle Wozniak said he was happy to know it was all over. After telling everyone he still had to go home to do his homework, he also said he was happy because he doesn’t have to worry about where he’s going to be spending the rest of the school year. He also said it was nice to know both he and his mom had a lot of friends who did what they could to help him stay in school.