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Montreal, January 24, 2011 --- The Quebec human rights commission has earlier this month named Concordia University as a respondent in a complaint over a discriminatory provincial policy on loans and tuition for out-of-province students who live in common-law relationships (called “de facto unions”, in Quebec).

The civil rights complaint was filed against the provincial Education Department in Fall 2008 by CRARR on behalf of then-Concordia student Edith Tam, who was repeatedly unable to apply for in-province tuition fees and student loans because she and her partner did not have a child together.

Originally from Vancouver, Ms. Edith Tam came to Montreal in 2005 to pursue a Bachelor's and then a Master's degree in Geography, Planning and the Environment at Concordia University. She had been living for over three years with her common-law partner, neither of whom had a child. Although she and her partner were recognized as common-law spouses by the province's health care and automobile insurance boards, her de facto union was not by the Quebec Education Ministry. When she complained to the financial aid office about this discriminatory rule, she was jokingly told to get pregnant and have a child.

The Act respecting Financial Assistance for Education Expenses (Loi sur l'aide financière aux études) defines a “spouse” as “the person who is married to, or in a civil union with, and is not separated, legally or de facto, from the student, or the person of the opposite or the same sex who lives with the student in a de facto union with a child of the person or of the student.”

Referred by the Concordia Student Union's Legal Information Clinic, Ms. Tam mandated CRARR to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to declare such restriction discriminatory on the basis of civil status and social condition, and consequently invalid and of no force and effect.

The discriminatory provision also affects international students who are in legitimate common-law relationships with Quebec residents, couples who decide not to have children, who are biologically unable to have children, or for whom adoption is too costly, and same-sex couples.

“The human rights commission has apparently decided to hold the university liable for applying a discriminatory provincial law,” said CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi. “This can have serious ramifications for all universities in Quebec, especially those that have no concrete civil rights measures to prevent discrimination.”

In September 2010, CRARR launched SCRIP (Student Civil Rights Information Project) to raise university and college students' awareness of their civil rights on and off-campus, and to respond to growing concerning from student groups of racial and other discrimination in education.

CRARR is presently working on cases of discrimination and exploitation of international students in housing. It is also working on the impact of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that bind military contracts to Canadian aerospace companies, and that openly deny jobs to engineering graduates and professionals who were born in countries deemed to be hostile to U.S. national security (such as Cuba, China, Haiti, Iran, Lebanon, Venezuela and Vietnam, among others.