FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 6, 2011
Jasmin Simpson is a young deaf-blind woman with lupus. While at university, she experienced unbelievable threats to her education due to elements of the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP) that discriminate against students with disabilities. Through sheer will power and determination she overcame these challenges and completed her post-secondary education with B.S.W. and M.S.W. degrees. However, because she is disabled she graduated with 60% more student debt than would a non disabled student graduating with comparable credentials.
With help from the federally funded Court Challenges Program (CCP) she brought a Charter challenge asserting the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP) discriminates against students with disabilities by imposing higher CSLP debt on them. All subject to a confidentiality clause, the federal government quickly agreed to cancel 100% of her personal student debt and indicated that they would introduce positive changes to the student loan program. They wanted the case ended quickly and quietly.
Ms. Simpson was unwilling to accept a “sweetheart deal” or “buy a pig in a poke”. In the “conditional” agreement she reached with the government, she reserved to herself the right to review the changes and determine if they addressed her concerns about discrimination before deciding whether or not to terminate her case.
Some changes were eventually made to CSLP, but, after careful review, Ms. Simpson felt they didn’t address the discriminatory elements in the CSLP. There were actually some changes which actually made things worse for severely disabled students. After reviewing the new regulations in detail she was hesitant to agree to have her personal debt erased when another disabled student, in precisely her circumstances, wouldn’t receive a scrap of relief as a result of the changes. She was particularly concerned since the government had cancelled the CCP, meaning no one else could take up the cause if she were to bow out.
Before making her decision, and without violating the confidentiality agreement, Ms. Simpson consulted with the leadership of national disability groups, who confirmed her view that the changes did not address the discrimination in the CSLP. This confirmed her perception and she exercised her right under the “conditional” agreement to resume her case, even though it was at great cost to her personally.
The government expressed disappointment, but accepted Ms. Simpson’s decision. The government offered her more money if she would withdraw her objections and hinted that it was prepared to offer her still more. Unwilling to give in, Ms. Simpson remained resolute and turned down the government’s blandishments.
The litigation had recommenced for almost a full year when the government changed lawyers and changed its position. It now claimed that Ms. Simpson could not continue with her case because it had been finally settled by what it acknowledges was a “conditional” agreement. As a result of having brought this motion to have a Court decide that Ms. Simpson had lost her right to continue with her case, the government has put all the confidential documents and communication onto the public record.
A government motion to stop Ms. Simpson’s case will be argued in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, 393 University Avenue, Toronto, 6th floor on June 9th, commencing at 10:00 am. It is possible the case will be moved to a larger courtroom so call in advance or come early. The hearing is expected to end around 2:30 pm.
Representatives of national disability groups are available for comment now and will be at the courthouse [see contact info below]. Ms. Simpson communicates through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. She will be available to speak to the media, with an interpreter, after the hearing.
Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities states, “Ms. Simpson’s case clearly demonstrates there are built-in headwinds for persons with disabilities in the Canada Student Loan Program. If persons with disabilities are to enjoy equal opportunity in post-secondary education this discrimination needs to end”.
Chris Kenopic is President and CEO of The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) and is himself Deaf. He states, “Unless you are disabled you can have no idea how challenging it is for us to secure the education necessary to achieve independence and dignity in this country. CHS calls on the federal government to stop litigating against Ms. Simpson and address the discrimination in the CSLP.”
David Baker, Legal Counsel (416) 533-0040 Ext. 222
Laurie Beachell, Council of Canadians with Disabilities (204) 947-0303