Refugees in Schools: Intersection of Municipal Law & Federal Obligations

AuthorAlastair Clarke
DateJune 16, 2016

To date, the Federal government has accepted 27,580 Syrian refugees into Canada through various government programs and private sponsorships. The processing of this volume of applications has been a monumental task. In meetings, the Deputy Minister described how they created a 24/7 processing machine, using their resources around the globe to increase efficiency and decrease processing times. These +27,500 refugees join the ~150,000 other refugees from other source countries. When they arrive, there is no doubt that they require significant settlement services and the children need access to education. This is where things can get messy. While the Federal government is clearly in charge of deciding who lands in Canada, the costs of settlement after the families arrive is divided between the feds, the provinces, the cities and other groups.

On June 14, the Calgary School Board demanded to be “reimbursed” for the cost of schooling the Syrian refugees in its system: CAD $2,600,000. The funds were used to provide “20 specialized classrooms, teachers, two psychologists, interpreters, English-language instructors and other educational assistants.” The Federal government announced that it would increase the funds available for resettlement to $335 million through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) service and the Calgary School Board clearly believes it is entitled to some of these funds. This funding announcement, however, does not mention any additional moneys for education.

The issue of education funding for refugees, and other non-status students, is not a new issue. In 2007, after many meetings and tragic cases, the Toronto District School Board adopted a policy across its system for “Students Without Legal Status in Canada.” This policy was welcomed by community groups and advocates and it has been used as a model for other school boards. Unfortunately, other school boards have not been as welcoming to refugees as the TDSB. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), in particular, refused to adopt a similar policy and this led to many tragic cases. While I was at the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples legal clinic, we worked with latin american students to find alternative education; however, as Catholics, they wanted their children educated within the TCDSB.

To keep the momentum from the 2007 TDSB policy, a group in Ontario produced a report in 2008: “Right to Learn: Access to Public Education for Non Status Immigrants”. The report...

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