Deafblind woman’s rights violated by way student loan is administered, court says
TORONTO – An Ontario court has ruled that the provincial and federal governments must manage their student loan programs in a way that ensures that people with disabilities who take longer to complete their education are not more in debt than their able-bodied peers .
But Superior Court Judge Lorne Sossin says the Canada Student Loans Program is not in itself discriminatory, as it already includes mechanisms and discretionary powers to address the additional debt that some students with disabilities may accumulate.
The judge rendered his ruling this week in a lawsuit brought by Jasmin Simpson, who is deaf and legally blind, against the Ontario and federal governments.
Simpson alleged that the program’s current rules, which provide loans for each year a student is enrolled in a college program, cause students who take longer to complete their studies because of their disability graduate with a much higher debt than non-disabled students.
She called for the current system to be canceled and replaced with one that provides financial assistance related to the degree program, not the number of years a student might take to complete that program.
In his ruling, Sossin found that Simpson’s equality rights under the charter had been violated by decisions made under the loan program, but refused to abolish the system, claiming that its structure did not was not inherently discriminatory.
“It is evident that those who administered the CSLP had the political and administrative tools under the CSLP to repair the additional debt that Ms. Simpson had accumulated due to the longer duration of her medical treatment and her disability,” he said. -he writes.
Although neither government acted in bad faith, imposing the additional debt without offsetting it with other remedies “was not a reasonable option,” the judge said.
At the same time, it should not be the responsibility of individual students to take legal action to assert their rights, he said.
“The onus is on the governments of Canada and Ontario (as well as other affected provincial and territorial governments), not the courts, to fashion appropriate and responsive administrative mechanisms to ensure that the operation of the CSLP remedies the effects negative for others in Ms. Simpson’s situation, whether through existing programs, policies and discretion, or through new measures, ”he said.
Simpson’s attorney, David Baker, said his client was delighted his case was helping students with disabilities across the country.
“Ms. Simpson has spent more than a decade fighting to ensure that students with disabilities are not over-indebted to their peers…, he said in an email.
“The case that has just been decided has national implications.”
The court also issued a statement that Simpson did not need to repay debts arising from the discriminatory application of the program and that the federal government was repaying her for any payments related to its unconstitutional operation.
The Ontario government must also reimburse all payments made by Simpson in connection with the unconstitutional operation of the Ontario portion of the program between 1999 and 2003.
Simpson began her post-secondary education in 1999 when she enrolled at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, the only liberal arts college in North America to offer instruction primarily in sign language.
The student loan system does not generally provide funding for education abroad but makes an exception for Gallaudet in light of its specific offerings.
In the lawsuit, Simpson said her disabilities were slowing her academic progress and she also had to withdraw from her studies halfway through her undergraduate degree to seek treatment in Toronto.
She eventually returned to Gallaudet, but had to pay for a full year of schooling even though she had only attended classes for part of a term before undergoing treatment.
Simpson took nine years to get both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in social work from Gallaudet, compared to the five years it would take for able-bodied students, according to the lawsuit.
She graduated with nearly twice as many government funding as a non-disabled student with the same credentials, despite receiving over 90 percent of her funding in the form of scholarships and other forms. financial aid that do not need to be repaid, depending on the combination.
Simpson said she got a job in her field and used that income to pay off her debt, but it limited her financial security and took a toll on her mental health.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 27, 2020.