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Montréal, August 28, 2018 - After being denied adequate support to fully integrate and succeed in his law studies over a period of two years, a law student with disabilities at McGill University has decided to file a complaint of systemic discrimination against the institution with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.

The case brings to light major systemic flaws with the University's Office of Students with Disabilities (OSD), whose mandate is to help students with disabilities in their educational activities. Some of these flaws not only create disastrous academic, financial and professional effects for these students, but they can also drive them to PTSD, depression and suicide.

This is exactly what happened to Didier Chelin, a blind law student who is in his second year at McGill's Law Faculty. He received earlier this month six F grades for failing to meet the Faculty's workload and deadline requirements.

After two years of ongoing attempts to receive accommodation measures, Chelin encountered a series of barriers at McGill that are mostly systemic, starting with the very agency that is supposed to help students like him to integrate and succeed. For instance, the McGill OSD:
❏ Never contacted, since his admission, his professors to make classes more accessible for him, thus professors were never told to prepare all the course readings at the beginning of the semester, resulting in professors sometimes posting readings merely 2 days prior to a lecture. This left him without complete access to his course readings at the same time as other students, which in turn led to sleep deprivation as he rushed to get through the readings in time for class;
❏ Never contacted his rehabilitation center in order to get information about his needs as well as governmental programs designed to respond to them (the Quebec government provides funding to agencies like his rehabilitation center for course material transcription);
❏ Adopted its own policy leading to neither his friends nor his family being paid for any help they provided, which is contrary to a governmental program. Chelin had to pay a paralegal to help him with a take-home exam, while his father, who gave numerous hours of help, received no compensation;
❏ Failed, in December 2017, to properly provide adequate accommodations for an important law exam (in the form of a legally trained scribe), which led him to have severe anxiety and to being hospitalized; and
❏ Consistently ignored his mental health needs for almost two years, which are in part related to last year's diagnosis of his mother's Alzheimer.

“It's clear that the very office and people that are supposed to help students with disabilities fail to understand physical and mental disabilities,” Chelin said. “I was offered minimal support to integrate, I was left searching for help and even paying for some of these measures myself which has significantly added to my student debt. There are things that are clearly against government policy and the law,” he added.

According to Chelin and some of his classmates who have been helping him, the Law Faculty also failed to understand and accommodate his special needs. For instance, the Faculty:

❏ Ignored his mental health needs, especially over the last year. It failed him in 6 courses, despite knowing that his inability to complete his assignments came largely from panic and anxiety attacks due to the unreasonable time pressures the faculty imposed on him, which resulted in three visits to the emergency room, one hospitalization, severe anxiety and thoughts of suicide, which were compounded by inadequate support and accommodation from the OSD; and
❏ Ignored the importance of extracurricular professional activities for his legal education and professional development. For instance, when he was hired as a summer student by the Human Rights Commission in 2017, the Faculty asked him to quit his job and repeatedly asked him not to take any additional commitment beyond his academic obligations.

“As a law student with disabilities who wants to specialize in anti-discrimination and equality law, I regret to say that the problems I have encountered so far at McGill are what we call barriers of systemic discrimination,” Chelin noted. “These problems are effectively driving me off the cliff, but I don't intend to give up.”

“This raises not only the issue of equal access to university education with people with disabilities like, but also access to the legal profession,” he concluded.

Chelin is soliciting the help of CRARR for his civil rights complaint against the University. He has been involved with CRARR in the last two years as a law intern, during which he conducted legal research and helped in cases of systemic discrimination based on disability.