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Québec could be sued by int’l students over private college closure affair

Québec’s Ministry of Higher Education and Immigration Canada could be sued for millions of dollars by a law firm that is acting on behalf of over 500 international students, according to a report by CBC News.

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A hearing in Québec Superior Court was set for March 27 at the Montreal courthouse

The international students lost millions when three private colleges, including M College in Montreal, CDE College in Sherbrooke and CCSQ College, closed early in 2022. The students have been unable to get their tuition fees back.

Between 500 and 600 students requested a refund from the colleges before the owners filed for creditor protection.

The impacted students paid between $10,000 and $15,000, CBC said. Another court filing last year, saw 633 students request refunds totalling $6.4 million.

It is unclear how many students in total have been impacted by the closure, but in February last year, thousands protested in various parts of Canada.

The news outlet said students asked for reimbursements when they were refused or were unable to get a study permit because of the pandemic.

Law firm McCarthy Tétrault was appointed to represent the students’ interests as part of a creditor-protection process and is now working on the lawsuit.

Before they shut down, M College and CDE College had been investigated by the Québec government for what it called “questionable” recruitment practices.

Some of the college’s owners were also investigated by Québec’s anti-corruption unit for financial irregularities, as reported by CBC News.

McCarthy Tétrault is arguing that the Québec government should have stepped in earlier and that the provincial and federal governments are at least partially responsible for the students being unable to recoup their money.

The law firm told CBC News that there is a contradiction between provincial legislation and what students are asked for by Immigration Canada.

“Education is a provincial and territorial responsibility”

Québec law states that colleges are not allowed to ask for prepayment of any fees until the beginning of the school year but on the federal government’s website, it says students need to show they can afford tuition.

“So students, in order to get their visa, prepaid their studies, not knowing this was not legal in Québec and they are stuck today waiting for a reimbursement,” Alain Tardif, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault, told CBC News.

“For us, the federal government — you induced those students to do something they should not have done.”

A hearing in Québec Superior Court was set for March 27 at the Montreal courthouse.

The PIE News contacted the Québec government for comment but did not receive a response.

IRCC told The PIE that the Canadian government knows international students make “immense economic, cultural and social contributions to Canada”.

“Education is a provincial and territorial responsibility. Learning institutions are approved by their provincial or territorial government to host international students. Provinces and territories inform IRCC which institutions are designated to host international students,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson explained that a prospective student who intends to study in Québec must first apply for a Québec Acceptance Certificate before they are able to apply for a study permit from IRCC.

“It is important to note that international students are not required to pay for their tuition in advance.

“In order to obtain a study permit, they are required to prove they have enough money to pay for their tuition fees, living expenses for themselves and any family members who come with them to Canada and return transportation for themselves and any family members to Canada.

“It is important to note that international students are not required to pay for their tuition in advance”

“Generally speaking, a study permit holder is expected to remain enrolled at their school and to continue making progress toward completing their program while in Canada.”

The spokesperson said that a study permit holder affected by a school closure is considered to be on “authorized leave” from their studies. While on authorised leave due to a school closure, a study permit holder is not eligible to use the work authorisation for on- or off-campus work.

IRCC said that students are expected to resume their studies at a different institution, apply for a different status (i.e. as a worker or visitor) or leave Canada in most cases within 150 days of the school closure.

“Foreign nationals with a valid study permit at the post-secondary level may change their school without having to apply for a new study permit,” the spokesperson added.

Practices at some private colleges in Canada have recently come under the spotlight.

One charity has said that private colleges in British Columbia are using “unethical business practices” to refuse international students refunds.

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