Nunavut government asks judge to throw out Inuktut education lawsuit

·3 min read
Children boarding a school bus in Iqaluit. The Government of Nunavut wants a judge to throw out a case filed by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. The case alleges the government is discriminating against Inuit students by not providing the same level of education in Inuktut as they do in English and French.  (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Children boarding a school bus in Iqaluit. The Government of Nunavut wants a judge to throw out a case filed by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. The case alleges the government is discriminating against Inuit students by not providing the same level of education in Inuktut as they do in English and French. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Government of Nunavut is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit over the rights of students to be educated in Inuktut.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), which represents Inuit in Nunavut, filed a statement of claim in the Nunavut Court of Justice in October, accusing the territorial government of discriminating against Inuit by not offering education in Inuktut to the same degrees as English and French — despite Inuktut being the dominant language in Nunavut.

On April 4, the government filed a motion to have the case dismissed, saying the basis of NTI's challenge — which hinges on Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — is flawed.

Section 15 is about equality rights. The government says NTI's lawsuit is trying to use it to "expand" on education and language rights set out in other parts of the Charter — which it says is not allowed.

"Language rights, including rights in relation to language of instruction, do not come within the scope of, and are not protected by, Section 15 of the Charter," the motion said.

Nick Murray/CBC News
Nick Murray/CBC News

"Constitutional authority in relation to education, as well as the preservation, use and promotion of Inuit languages, lies within the exclusive purview of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly," the motion said.

Students pushed out, not dropping out

Aluki Kotierk, the president of NTI, said the government's motion to have the case dismissed felt like a punch to her stomach.

"It made me realize how pervasive the colonial approach continues to be within our territory," she said. "Inuit children have to leave who they are when they're going into the school system, and at the door have to speak English and have to excel in the curriculum not based on their culture."

Kotierk says it's the reason students aren't finishing high school.

"These children are not dropping out … they're being pushed out by a system that does not meet them where they are."

Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada
Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada

Kotierk says the Government of Nunavut's interpretation of the Charter is "flawed," and that the Legislative Assembly has a "duty and a responsibility to provide services and programs that meet the needs of the public." A public that, she pointed out, is mostly Inuit.

Waiting for next steps

NTI is asking the Nunavut Court of Justice to step in and force the territorial government to offer a full slate of subjects and classes in Inuktut, across all grade levels, and to do it within five years of the end of the litigation.

Right now, education in Inuktut is mostly available up to Grade 4 only, with subject matter taught primarily in English and French after that.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the passing of Bill 25 in Nunavut's Legislature last year, which NTI argues "further diminished Inuit language education in Nunavut schools."

NTI alleges the government passed Bill 25 after the Nunavut Government failed to meet the legally binding commitment it made in 2008 when it passed legislation that required Inuktut education for all grades by 2019-2020.

Bill 25 changed that law to only require the government to offer an Inuit language course, rather than full grade material in Inuktut. It also pushed the implementation of the course to as early as 2026 for Grade 4, and as late as 2039 for Grade 12.

And while the territorial government has argued publicly it's developing curriculum to have Inuktut courses offered across different subjects, NTI's lawsuit alleges the passing of Bill 25 "harms Inuit students by causing [their] loss of the Inuit language and culture, and undermining [their] ability to achieve their educational potential."

Kotierk said the Inuit organization is now waiting for the courts to decide the next steps in the case.

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