Quebec Superior Court Justice Frédéric Bachand listened to lawyer Julius Grey argue this morning in favour of an injunction that would allow parents to keep their children home from school and learning remotely, even if they don’t qualify for a medical exemption. In Quebec, unlike in Ontario this year, school attendance is mandatory. The province has established narrow criteria for who is qualified for an exemption and can receive distance learning. A group of parents is hoping to convince the judge to order the province to loosen those rules.
If granted, the injunction would likely be in place until a court can rule on their associated lawsuit, which argues Quebec is violating the charter rights of parents by forcing them to send their children to school despite the risks of the pandemic. “It’s clearly something that is irreparable and harmful and needs to be decided right away,” Grey told the judge, highlighting the urgency of the matter given that school started in the province last week. He argued that the guidelines allowing for a medical exemption issued by the government are not precise when it comes to family members who could possibly be affected should a child return to school. Grey also cited two key Supreme Court cases — R. v. Morgentaler and Carter v. Canada — that establish medical decisions as inherently individual decisions in support of his argument.
A lawyer with Quebec’s attorney general, Stéphanie Garon, argued against the injunction, saying the government had taken adequate precautions and the distance-learning measures adopted in the spring were a temporary measure. “The return-to-school protocol announced by the government was robust,” she said, noting it included the wearing of masks, frequent handwashing and more. Garon also said the quality of learning for the most vulnerable students will suffer if the injunction is granted. Parents also have the option of home-schooling their children, which does not require an exemption, and other parents whose children don’t qualify for the exemption have opted to keep them at home anyway.