The Canadian Federation of Students and a university graduate have joined forces to fight against new provisions to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act that prevent graduates from being granted bankruptcy protection for ten years after they leave their post-secondary institution.
The recent changes to the legislation create a distinction between student debtors and consumer debtors in general. Under the Act, consumer debtors declaring bankruptcy for the first time may be discharged of their debts in nine months.
Annick Chenier, who holds a master's degree from Saint Paul University, has applied for personal bankruptcy protection, as a test case for the CFS to pursue the court challenge. Chenier has a student loan debt of $50,000 and monthly student loan payments of more than $600. "My education was not a luxury, and I have exhausted every means to try and repay my debt," Chenier said at a press conference organized by the CFS on March 9.
"The Federation isn't advocating that students declare bankruptcy. But the changes to the bankruptcy law have singled out student loan borrowers by denying them the basic bankruptcy protection all other Canadians have access to," said Elizabeth Carlyle, CFS national chairperson. "The government has refused to recognize that the problem is not high student loan bankruptcy rates but high tuition fees and huge student debt loads."
The court challenge is about an unfair and discriminatory law that treats students as a separate class of individuals, said Todd Burke, legal counsel for Chenier and the CFS. "Seemingly, the distinction in the legislation is based on a stereotypical view of students who hold student debt as being irresponsible in its repayment.
"We will advance the position that the provisions of the Act which affect student debt are unconstitutional in that they violate the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," concluded Burke.