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Montreal, October 7, 2011--- By winning her case against the Quebec Education Ministry for discrimination in government loans and bursaries, a graduate of Concordia University may launch a movement for hundreds of other students in Quebec to do the same if they have also been discriminated on the basis of civil status or sexual orientation.

Originally from Vancouver, the Winnipeg-born Edith Ming-Yerk Tam came to Quebec in 2005 to pursue a Master's Degree in Geography, Planning and the Environment at Concordia University in Montreal. She has been living for over three years with her common-law partner, a Quebec resident, neither of whom has a child. Although she and her partner are recognized as common-law spouses by the province's health care and automobile insurance boards, her de facto union is not recognized by the Quebec Department of Education.

This is due to art. 2 of the provincial student financial aid law (Loi sur l'aide financière aux études) and the ensuing regulation that 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” (emphasis added). When she tried filling the application on-line, she could not complete the process due to her ineligibility by virtue of this clause; when she informed the Concordia Financial Aid Office representative of her plight, she was told to get around the issue by getting pregnant. As a result, she has been denied access to loans and in-province tuition.

Referred by the Concordia Student Union's Legal Information Clinic, Ms. Tam mandated CRARR to file, in 2008, a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission to declare such a restriction discriminatory on the basis of civil status and social condition, and consequently invalid and of no force and effect in her situation. This form of discrimination can also discriminate against same-sex common-law couples. Ms. Tam graduated in 2010 and is working in Ottawa.

In April 2011, the Commission ruled in her favor, recognizing her Quebec residency status through her common-law relationship as of May 15, 2006. The Commission ordered the Quebec Education Ministry to pay her $8,770 in differential fees which she had to pay between Summer 2006 and Fall 2009 due to the lack of Quebec residency, and Concordia University to pay her $3,000 in moral damages.

In addition, the Commission ordered the Ministry to amend the law and other student financial aid policies to end discrimination based on civil status. The Ministry and Concordia had until May 27, 2011 to comply. Neither answered the Commission on time, which means that the case will head to the Human Rights Tribunal.

“I am very happy to see that the human rights commission rules in my favor,” said Ms. Tam. “My action will hopefully encourage other students and common-law couples in Quebec to stand up for their rights, because my partner and I know that we are not the only people who faced this barrier.”

According to Mr. Gregory Ko, a McGill University law intern at CRARR who worked on the case in 2008, “This discriminatory restriction contradicts Quebec's commitment to gender equality, equality for same-sex couples, equality for common-law relationships and a couple's choice to decide whether or not to have children. The government's requirement of children as the central criterion in recognizing common-law relationships is a step backward that must be prevented,” Mr. Ko added.

“We are very proud to have contributed to this ground-breaking victory for civil rights, for student rights, and for the educational rights of common-law couples, regardless of sexual orientation,” stated Walter Chi Yan Tom, director of the Concordia Legal Information Clinic that referred the case to CRARR.

“Thanks to Edith and CRARR, thousands of students in Quebec can now take similar legal action if they were denied student financial aid in the last three years because of discrimination. We are committed to protecting and promoting equality for our students, and all students,” added Ms. Lex Gill, president of the Concordia Student Union.

Out-of-province students who have been denied Quebec tuition rates within the last three years because of this discriminatory rule must launch their civil rights case as soon as possible. They can contact CRARR or the CSU Legal Information Clinic for help.