Former Hasidic jews sue province of Quebec for lack of quality education

Back to School

In May 2016, Yochonon Lowen and Clara Wasserstein, two former Hasidic Jews of a community in Boisbriand, Québec, filed a motion with the Superior Court of Quebec against the Attorney General of Quebec, the School Board of Seigneurie-des-Mille-Iles, Hasidic schools, and Rabbi Elimelech Lowy. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violate the rights of children in these Hasidic schools to receive the education to which they are entitled.

The Hasidic community in Boisbriand has for decades created and operated private, Yiddish schools which provide an education based on the Torah and the Talmud and which children of the community attend full-time.

In Québec, the state carries the responsibility of ensuring the quality education of all children in the province, including those in private schools. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education monitor the quality and enforce the Education Act, the Act Respecting Private Education, their regulations, as well as the application of the Charter of the French Language in the context of education.

The Basic School Regulation for Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Education adopted under the Education Act provides for a minimum of 25 hours of secular instruction per week, including nine hours of either French or English language instruction. Under the Act Respecting Private Education, no person may operate a private educational institution unless the person holds a permit issued by the Ministry of Education.

On May 15th 2017, the Superior Court dismissed an application for a declaratory judgement made by the defendants, who were seeking to dismiss the plaintiffs’ application at a preliminary stage. The Superior Court opened the judgement by stating:

“In Quebec, parents have the right to choose a religious education for their children. They also have the right to establish institutions which, according to their convictions, ensure the best transmission of their religious values….This right, however, has limits. The State requires that the education of children be consistent with the legislative framework in place to ensure the respect of common values. This framework includes requirements concerning the right to operate an establishment, the educational content and the language of instruction. This framework aims to ensure the education of children and their development in society…”(para 1-2, unofficial English translation).

The Superior Court concluded that “…it is clear that the defendants have failed and continue to fail in their duty to protect children from the Tosh community who receive virtually no secular education, compromising their future ”(para 57). The court cited the plaintiffs’ lack of knowledge of English or French, modern science, geography, and non-Jewish history as contributing to their difficulties in finding work after leaving the Hasidic community.

Citing Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General), the Superior Court spoke about the challenges of balancing the rights of children to a quality, public education and the rights of parents to transmit their religious beliefs, but emphasized that these rights are not necessarily in conflict:

“Religious freedom must…be understood in the context of a secular, multicultural and democratic society with a strong interest in protecting dignity and diversity, promoting equality, and ensuring the vitality of a common belief in human rights” (para 47, Loyola).

According to the website of the legal firm representing the plaintiffs, the defendants’ representatives’ examinations were held in September 2017; the trial date is yet to be determined.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.