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English universities have grounds for legal action to counter tuition hike, lawyer says

Constitutional Rights Lawyer Julius Grey believes anglophone universities, and the province’s English-speaking community as a whole, have grounds for legal action against the CAQ government.

“Its essence is to reduce the role of the English language and therefore it constitutes discrimination as to language,” Grey said of the recent tuition change.

On Thursday, Quebec Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry confirmed she’d be moving forward with planned tuition hikes for out-of-province students.

She also announced English universities would soon have to ensure 80 per cent of their students coming from outside Quebec are able to speak French at an intermediate level by the time they graduate.

“They’re waging war on the English language,” Grey said in an interview. “There should be a lot of people before the courts saying this is wrong.”

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) also sounded the alarm on the tuition hikes and new French requirements.

“English-speaking Quebecers will tell you they feel targeted right now,” said QCGN director general Sylvia Martin-Laforge.

Martin-Laforge argues that, similar to Bill 96, the tuition hike is just a latest in a series of Quebec government decisions that have English-speaking Quebecers questioning their future in the province.

“People will not be coming to Quebec because they will not feel they will be able to work in Quebec down the road,” Martin-Laforge said. “It’s not a welcoming place for Canadians from other provinces, for international students and workers.”

Liberal MNA Gregory Kelley says he hasn’t seen any evidence the tuition change would have an impact on the protection of the French language either.

“It will not set out to do what the CAQ claims it will accomplish,” said Kelley.

The government has said it made the decision, in part, to help with the chronic underfunding of French universities in the province. But similar to what some of the French-language universities have said, Kelley does not believe this will solve that problem either.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that there aren’t francophone universities, especially in the regions, that don’t need to have more funding, but where is it?” asked Kelley. “Minister Déry hasn’t announced the money that is necessary to ensure those institutions succeed either.”

In an email to Global News, the Conseil du Patronat, Quebec’s largest group of employers, agrees. It also argues the new French-language requirements aren’t realistic and will push students from some countries away, depriving Quebec of much-needed workers.

But Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce is taking a more cautious approach. President Michel Leblanc is asking the province to make an exception for some university programs, like psychology, where tuition will now be less competitive. He says university students are a driving force of the city’s economy and he’s concerned by the potential economic impact of  lower enrollment numbers at Concordia and McGill.

“What we said to the government as well is, ‘You’re changing a recipe that’s working right now, which is attracting those foreign students and also rest-of-Canada students,” said Leblanc. “Be aware if it’s not functioning, if it diminishes the number, well maybe, we’ll have to reconsider.”

Leblanc is asking the province to revisit its decision a year or two from now if it sees enrolment numbers really are down.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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