Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finally, some good news.

An interesting article appeared in today’s issue of the Montreal Gazette. In, “Students teach province a valuable lesson”, it is reported that as many as 80,000 Quebec students could be eligible for a refund for being charged too much interest on their student loans.

The government of Quebec changed the Quebec Student Loans Programme’s grace period of repayment from seven months to zero months. So, rather than a period of time before students had to start paying back their student loans, they had to start paying once the semester finished. The class-action lawsuit was launched in the names of those students who, unaware of the changes to this policy, were charged interest for the seven months after their last semester.

Harry Dikranian launched the lawsuit after he finished his degree in law at McGill. The suit was for $30 million.

This was the ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada:

Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, who wrote the ruling in Dikranian's favour, said the loan agreement is a contract between the student and the financial institution. As such, he wrote, the government violated the rights of the students by changing the interest obligation in the contract through a legislative amendment.”

While the details vary somewhat, it is unfortunate that the class-action lawsuit launched almost exactly a year ago by Andrea Hassum and Dan Roffey wasn’t as successful. After almost a year of going through the system, it was ruled that the issue of illegal ancillary fee collection is a political matter and students are technically third parties in the transaction between the colleges and the government. Because the ancillary fee protocol is a policy rather than a regulation (which would have carried the rule of law with it), the case was thrown out essentially on a technicality.

That being said, this ruling will likely bode well for any possible future class-action lawsuit that may be launched by students in Ontario, or anywhere in Canada. Justice Bastarache’s ruling sends a strong message to provincial governments that they could be financially liable for changing rules of student financial aid programmes without including students in their decision.

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