Concordia takes Quebec Attorney General to court over tuition hikes

Graphic by Carleen Loney / The Concordian

Quebec government challenged over tuition hikes for out-of-province and international students.

On Feb. 23, Concordia applied for judicial review by the Superior Court of Quebec over tuition hikes for out-of-province and international students. The university feels it has “no choice but to pursue a just outcome through legal action,” according to a message by Concordia President Graham Carr. 

In the application, Concordia highlighted the main issues with the proposed tuition increases; they contradict the responsibilities of the Minister of Higher Education, they disregard the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by restricting mobility rights of Canadians, and they could worsen the Quebec university system’s pre-existing funding problems.

The application also lays out a clear timeline of events, including key communications between Minister Déry or subsequent representatives of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government and Concordia concerning tuition fee structure. 

Beginning in and around April 2023, the CAQ started to probe and question Quebec’s English-language universities about their out-of-province students. According to the application, Minister Déry said that “non-resident students at English-language universities were not staying in Québec, that the government’s funding policy on non-resident students gave an advantage to English-language universities.” (Lawsuit, 180)

Discussions like the one in April were followed up continuously throughout the year until the announcement of tuition hikes for out-of-province and international students to the universities on Oct. 10. This was just three days before they were formally announced to the public in a press conference held by Déry and the Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge.

Throughout months of discussions with Déry, the Québec government never provided data to back up their claims that out-of-province and international students contributed to the decline of French in Montreal.

Concordia’s lawsuit argues that the Québec government has disregarded many norms of practice, responsibilities and legally binding documents.

Déry only notified CCAFE that the government was seeking advice on the tuition fees for out-of-province and international students on Dec. 14, 2023. As the Minister of Higher Education, Déry has a responsibility to consult with the Advisory Committee on Financial Accessibility of Education (CCAFE) before implementing changes to tuition fees per Section 88 of the “Act Respecting the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie.” English-language educational institutions are not represented in this committee.

CCAFE responded on Jan. 19, 2024, that there was a lack of data provided by the Minister, that tuition fees for out-of-province students in Quebec was already higher than in other provinces, that universities would take on the loss of revenue due to the new grant structure, and that the tuition structure would “create significant financial barriers for students.” (Lawsuit, 180)

The application also claims the decision will restrict the mobility rights of Canadians since the new tuition structure would contradict Section 6.(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that “every citizen of Canada […] has the right […] to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.” The Charter indicates that this includes discriminating against a person based on their province of present or previous residence. 

In the application, Concordia also brought up sections on equality rights as well as minority language rights as the new tuition would limit the freedoms of out-of-province students as well as disproportionately affect the English-language post-secondary institutions of Québec.

It remains to be seen if the CAQ will use the notwithstanding clause to shield the tuition increases from the scrutiny of the Charter. The CAQ has previously used this clause to defend Bill 21 as well as Bill 96 in the bill’s expansion of the investigative powers of the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts