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Quebec's tuition hike, French rules for English universities can be challenged in court: lawyer

Lawyer Julius Grey stands outside the Court of Appeal on the first day of hearings on the appeal of Bill 21 in Montreal on Monday, November 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson Lawyer Julius Grey stands outside the Court of Appeal on the first day of hearings on the appeal of Bill 21 in Montreal on Monday, November 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

McGill is now offering a bursary to offset Quebec's new tuition hike for out-of-province students attending English universities, but one lawyer says the university can fight back with an even bigger weapon: a legal challenge.

Julius Grey, an expert in constitutional law, said Quebec's three English universities — McGill, Concordia, and Bishop's — "certainly" have a case to bring forward a Charter challenge against Quebec over the new policy, which he described as a "narrow-minded and petty attempt to destroy some of the best institutions."

"The CAQ justified its language laws by saying French is in danger, which was not true, and we can show that it isn't in danger. But even if it were, there is no way that this tuition hike will promote French. It's simply a mean-spirited attempt to diminish," Grey said in an interview Tuesday with CJAD 800.

Last Thursday, Quebec Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry announced that students from outside of Quebec will have to pay $12,000 in tuition fees to study at an English university beginning in the 2025-2026 academic year, up from the current rate of roughly $9,000. The government backtracked on doubling the tuition rate to $17,000 it had originally announced on Oct. 13, but then added a new requirement: 80 per cent of those students need to reach level 5 (intermediate) French proficiency by the time they graduate, otherwise the university could face unspecified financial penalties.

Bishop's, located in Sherbrooke, Que., will still be allowed to accept a fixed number of out-of-province students at the $8,992 rate "for a total of 825 fee exclusions." The French-proficiency target also applies, but, unlike McGill and Concordia, the school's funding doesn't depend on it. Meanwhile, international students will now have to pay a minimum rate of $20,000, with the government collecting $3,000 in fees.

According to McGill, the new requirements are simply "impossible" to achieve. The university's principal, Deep Saini, said at a press conference the government's policy is a "targeted attack" on Quebec's English universities.

But according to Grey, "Language is one of the forbidden grounds of discrimination." The Montreal-based lawyer said he believes charging students different fees to gain an education based on language would be a violation of their Charter rights.


Protection of the French has been the justification behind the controversial measure, one that Déry said is needed to stop the language's decline in Montreal. She also said that the new funding model would redistribute money to the French university network.

But Grey says the notion that French is in decline is "a myth" and there are critics who question the government's interpretation of the data to back up that claim.

"Yes, Bill 101 was necessary. Yes, French needs protection. Yes, French is very important to all of us, not just the Francophones, but so is English. English is part of the heritage that all Quebeers have and they should all be able to benefit from it. And this government just doesn't see it," he said.

Grey is no stranger to court challenges in Quebec. He's been behind the Charter challenges against Bill 96, Quebec's new language law that limits the use of English in the province, and Bill 21, the provincial law that bans religious symbols from being worn by some public servants.

While Grey supports a legal challenge, the Montreal-based lawyer said it's up to the various stakeholders — English and French universities, CEGEPs, groups representing the English community, or even professors or professors' unions — to take up that fight. Top Stories

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