MONTREAL -- A court should consider whether Bill 40 is constitutional before the National Assembly votes on it, a group of English community leaders argued on Monday.

The group, the Alliance for the Promotion of Public English-language Education in Québec (APPELE), opposes Bill 40. If passed, the bill would abolish school boards in Quebec, replacing them with service centres.

But English-language school boards are a vital minority right, APPELE argues. Abolishing them would infringe on minority rights, the group says.

A judge will likely rule on the legislation at some point, but APPELE wants that to happen before the bill is voted into law. The constitution protects linguistic minority rights, and the government should make sure the bill is legal before passing it, the group's members urged.

"It's not at all unusual when there is controversial legislation which is complex [for a court to analyze it beforehand]. The government doesn't want to go ahead implement something which is ultimately judged to be illegal," Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec community groups network and APPELE member, said.

But a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said in a statement that the bill has been carefully considered. "It isn't in anybody's interest to send the bill to modernize school governance to the court of appeal," the statement said. "We are confident that the law, if passed and challenged, would be upheld by the courts."

Quebec's English-speaking minority has been listened to, and concessions have been made in the bill the government's point-man on anglo affairs, Christopher Skeete, insisted. "Our intention is, out of respect for the English community, to maintain control and access. In our plan, the English community will continue to elect its own members from within that community. Universal suffrage of the whole community is maintained," he said.

But the service centres that would replace school boards don't have any real power, the president of APPELE, Geoffrey Kelley, said. "It's fine to say you're having an election, but if it's to a body that has no real power, there's no real purpose in that, and it doesn't respect the constitutional guarantees that linguistic minorities all across Canada have."

English school boards, he argued, should be exempted from the law.