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Mahe v Alberta

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Mahe v Alberta

Mahe v Alberta
Supreme Court of Canada
Hearing: June 14, 1989
Judgment: March 15, 1990
Full case name Jean‑Claude Mahe, Angeline Martel, Paul Dubé and the Association de l'école Georges et Julia Bugnet v Her Majesty The Queen in right of the province of Alberta
Citations [1990] 1 S.C.R. 342
Ruling Mahe appeal allowed
Court Membership
Chief Justice: Brian Dickson
Puisne Justices: Antonio Lamer, Bertha Wilson, Gérard La Forest, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, John Sopinka, Charles Gonthier, Peter Cory, Beverley McLachlin
Reasons given
Unanimous reasons by Dickson C.J.

Mahe v Alberta, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 342 is a leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling is notable because the court established that section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires that parents of the official-language minority in each province have the right either to be represented on the school board, or to have a school board of their own, in order to provide adequate protection for the education rights of their children.


Three Edmonton citizens, Jean-Claude Mahe, Angeline Martel and Paul Dubé, were dissatisfied with the quality of the French language schools provided by the Alberta government. In 1982 they submitted a proposal to the Minister of Education for a new French elementary school that would be administered by a committee of parents within an autonomous French school board.

The Minister of Education told them that it was not in their policy to make such arrangements and so they suggested they try to do it through the public school board. The board rejected them. Mahé and the others brought an action against the government of Alberta for violating their right to a Francophone-run education system under section 23 of the Charter.

The questions before the Supreme Court were:

  1. Have the rights of the Francophone population of Edmonton under section 23(2)(b) of the Charter been violated?
  2. Do the rights under section 23 include the right to manage and control the schools? If so, what is the nature and extent of the management and control?
  3. Does the provincial School Act violate section 23? If so, can it be saved under section 1 of the Charter?
  4. Are the rights affected by section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, section 29 of the Charter, and section 17 of the Alberta Act?

Opinion of the Court

The Court held that section 23 guarantees representation on the school board, and exclusive control over the children's education with respect to culture; or it can guarantee a separate school board. However, there must be sufficient minority language population to warrant either level of protection. In this particular case, the Court decided representation on an existing school board would be sufficient, and held that this did not interfere with denominational school rights under section 29 of the Charter since it merely affected language.

The Court's unanimous decision was given by Chief Justice Brian Dickson He began by examining the purpose of section 23 which is to "preserve and promote the two official languages of Canada, and their respective cultures". The section was intended to be remedial so as to prevent the loss of a minority group's language and cultural identity and so must be interpreted in light of section 15 and 27 of the Charter.

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