Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montreal, November 12, 2008 --- CRARR has filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of a Concordia University student to declare discriminatory and null a provincial policy on loans and tuition for out-of-province students who live in common-law relationships (called “de facto unions”, in Quebec).

The policy requires that either partner have a child to qualify for the student to qualify for in-province tuition fees and student loans. Married or civil union couples are not subject to the same requirement. Out-of-province students generally pay double what Quebec residents pay.

Originally from Vancouver, Ms. Edith Tam came to Quebec in 2005 to pursue a Bachelor's and then a Master's Degree in Geography, Planning and the Environment at Concordia University in Montreal. She has been living for over three years with her common-law partner,neither of whom has a child. Although she and her partner are recognized as commonlaw spouses by the province's health care and automobile insurance boards, her de facto union is not by the Quebec Department of Education.

This is due to a provincial law, the Act respecting Financial Assistance for Education Expenses (Loi sur l’aide financière aux études) that defines a “spouse” as “the person who is married to, or in a civil union with, and is not separated, legally or de facto, from the student, or the person of the opposite or the same sex who lives with the student in a de facto union with a child of the person or of the student”(emphasis added).

Referred by the Concordia Student Union's Legal Information Clinic, Ms. Tam mandated CRARR to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to declare such restriction discriminatory on the basis of civil status and social condition, and consequently invalid and of no force and effect in her situation.

While the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms binds the Quebec Government, it cannot be used to strike down a discriminatory provincial law; the Quebec human rights commission and the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal can only declare a law inapplicable to a particular victim. In order to strike down a provincial law and have it declared discriminatory and unconstitutional, a court challenge has to be filed under s. 15 (the equality provision) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. CRARR is assessing the feasibility of launching such a legal challenge of the law and the Education Department's policy, which can cost upwards of $30,000.

It is expected that the discriminatory provision affects thousands of out-of-province and international students who are in legitimate common-law relationships. In addition, couples who decide not to have children, who are biologically unable to have children, or for whom adoption is too costly will be adversely affected by the requirement. Same-sex couples are especially affected by the requirement to have a child as proof of their relationship.

“I just want my constitutional right to equality respected by the Quebec Education Department and have fair access to student loans like any other couples who are married or who are made up of Quebec residents,” said Ms. Tam.

According to Mr. Gregory Ko, a McGill University law intern at CRARR who is working on the case, “The government cannot legislate discrimination against out-of-province students who choose to come here to study, live and contribute to Quebec society, not only because it is contrary to the Charter, but also because it is counterproductive tothe goal of recruiting the best minds for a knowledge-based economy.”

“This discriminatory restriction contradicts Quebec's commitment to gender equality,equality for same-sex couples, equality for common-law relationships and a couple's choice to decide whether or not to have children. We ought to be vigilant of any attempt by government to introduce children as the central criterion in recognizing common-law relationships,” Mr. Ko added.

CRARR is calling for all students, be they Quebec residents, out-of province students or international students, who encounter this discrimination to come forward and to join in the legal challenge. It is also calling on undergraduate and graduate student groups to support the challenge and to campaign to strike down the regulation.