Doug Rutherford

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Our judges walk on water

July 2011
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If you’re not in the Yukon, you probably aren’t aware that we’ve had one of the more unusual trials I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t different in the subject or outcome, but rather in the judge sitting the trial himself.

The  Commission Scolaire Francophone du Yukon launched suit against the Yukon Government in a lengthy battle over whether or not the Government had withheld funds that had been earmarked for French education. The government countered with the claim that the French school board was adequately funded. The French school, École Émilie-Tremblay, has 184 students and the principal claims that the school is overcrowded. YTG lists the capacity of the school as higher. The board asked for $15 million to expand the school to accommodate its 41 high school level students.

The judge, Vital Oulette, was brought in from Alberta, to sit on the trial. What came out early in the proceedings was that Justice Oulette had a history as a lobbyist and advocate for French education and the government lawyers asked that he recuse himself because of a potential conflict of interest. This seems a reasonable request. It is impossible to avoid the possibility of conflict when you have lobbied in favour of similar groups as one involved in the trial. He refused. He said that his lobbying had been public knowledge. I’m sorry, but saying that people may be aware that you might be biased doesn’t take away the possibility that you are.

He also issued an order for the government to hire more teachers for the French school system 8 months before the trial actually ended, actually predetermining the outcome of the trial. Finally, in his decision, he decided that the French school board should, instead of receiving an expansion, should instead build a new school within two years. Estimated cost: $30 million. Further, he ordered YTG to pay $1.95 million in federal funds to the school board. Needless to say, YTG is planning to appeal Justice Oulette’s decision.

Our little territory has long had issues with judges that thought they could walk on water. I only wish some of them would try it when the lakes aren’t frozen over…



  1. Murray says:

    Bloody incredible – what a system!

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