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International students airing grievances

by Matthew Guité November 20, 2012
International students airing grievances

The focus of the Chinese international student scandal widened this week as a workshop set up by the CSU-run Housing & Job Bank, also known as HOJO, and the Advocacy Centre examined how some students’ rights were being violated on and off campus.

The workshops, offered on Wednesday and Friday, focused on informing students of their rights and the services available to them. It also sought to gather students’ opinions on situations that could be improved upon or addressed.

The three speakers at the workshop were Walter Tom, co-ordinator for the CSU’s legal information clinic, Lisa White, co-ordinator for the Advocacy Centre and Leanne Ashworth, co-ordinator for HOJO. Each spoke briefly about subjects that students in attendance may have needed to know more about, such as their legal rights when renting apartments and what to do if accused of plagiarism.

Throughout the workshops a translator was present, repeating everything that was said in Mandarin, to ensure that Chinese students in attendance would be able to follow easily.

International students were asked to fill out surveys that addressed the quality and usage of bathrooms in homestays and asked if individuals were ever “intimidated or bullied” by their hosts. The questionnaires also inquired if students received additional charges for requiring help for their transit passes, obtaining a cellphone or information about Montreal.

Ashworth said that the questions on the survey stemmed from real problems and complaints reported by students in recent weeks.

The application form that international students are asked to fill out before arriving in Canada was another source of worry for Ashworth.

“We saw the question ‘do you have any friends or family in Montreal?’ and we’re not sure what could be a good use of knowing that for a homestay,” said Ashworth. “That seems disturbing.”

Tom concentrated on tenants’ rights, a subject that he said is often neglected by international students.

“You’re already dealing with so much, so many things, a new place, new environment, your studies, all these adjustments, and then on top of that you have to deal with problems about where you’re staying,” Tom said. “Often these things are pushed aside because there are more immediate concerns, and unfortunately the problem with bad landlords is that they know they’re bad landlords, they know how to take advantage of people.”

Tom referenced the ongoing allegations of mistreatment by Peter Low, the director of the Concordia China Student Recruitment Partner Program, an issue that was brought to light in the Sept. 25 issue of The Link.

“A lot of that stuff, you would think that this would be part of the package that Concordia would provide to all international students when they arrive,” Tom added. “This is the shocking thing: you have a representative of Concordia charging them for stuff that that representative should know is provided for free by his employer.”

When surveyed at the information session, more than half the students in attendance said they had once stayed in a homestay. Now, however, none of them do. Most individuals chose to move out on their own but are still facing similar issues today. A common complaint from students at the workshop was that their landlord would not turn on their heating, or would not exterminate a bedbug infestation.

Speaking at the workshop, Ashworth told students that many of their rights were the same, whether living in homestays or in apartments, and that they could not be punished for protecting them.

“If you have a problem in your apartment or in your homestay, you need a clear process to deal with that problem,” Ashworth said. “We help students, for free, deal with those problems, whether it’s a heating problem or a bug problem, that’s what we’re here for.”

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