DISCRIMINATION IN OUT-OF-PROVINCE TUITION: MCGILL LAW STUDENT CHALLENGES QUEBEC'S REQUIREMENT OF CHILD FOR COMMON-LAW RELATIONSHIPS
Montreal, February 2, 2015 — Compelled to pay higher tuition rates because he and his spouse do not have a child together, a McGill law student has filed a civil rights complaint against the Ministry of Superior Education, Research and Science and McGill University for discrimination based on civil status.
With his common-law spouse, Bill Bjornsson moved to Montreal from Halifax in August 2012 to pursue his law studies at McGill. As an out-of-province student, he had to pay higher tuition fees. In August 2013, his spouse legally became a Quebec resident as she worked and did not study full time. Mr. Bjornsson would have qualified for Quebec resident status when his spouse acquired this status, but as he later found out through McGill's Scholarship and Student Aid Office, he could not because of a section in the Quebec's Loi sur l'aide financière aux études which defines common-law spouses as couples who “cohabit” with either spouse's child.
As a result, he was required to pay the out-of-province differential fee of $3,300 between September 2013 and April 2014, $400 for the Summer 2014 semester and $2,600 for the Fall 2014 semester (a part of this differential fee was reimbursed by the University and credited towards his Winter 2015 tuition).
What Mr. Bjornsson did not know that the rule requiring a child for one-year common-law relationships was at the heart of a civil rights case launched by CRARR in 2008 on behalf of a Concordia University from B.C. The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission ruled in favor of the case and order the Ministry of Education to change the discriminatory policy (the matter was settled before the Human Rights Tribunal). In Spring 2014, the Quebec Government amended the policy by keeping the child cohabitation rule and adding the option of being in a common-law relationship for three years.
“No one informed me that such a requirement is against to both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms, since civil status discrimination is still an unfamiliar concept for many people,” Mr. Bjornsson said.
“I wish that McGill's Financial Aid Office had informed me of this fact and my civil rights, so that I would not have faced financial hardship for two years,” he added. “I believe that all universities have the legal and moral obligation to inform out-of-province students of this discriminatory rule and of their legal recourses, even if they have to apply provincial laws and regulations.”
In fact, it was by sheer coincidence that Mr. Bjornsson found out about the 2008 Concordia University case, through his field placement with a local legal information clinic. It was the Clinic who referred the 2008 case to CRARR for the legal challenge.
CRARR has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on his behalf, claiming reimbursements of the differential fees (plus interests) which he had to pay because of the discriminatory rules, and moral damages from McGill for negligence and exposing students like Mr. Bjornsson to “discrimination and economic disadvantage.”