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Jasmin Simpson Challenges Discriminatory Student Loans Programs

BakerLaw, December 9, 2019

From January 14-16, 2020, Jasmin Simpson will finally get her day in court.

Jasmin, who is blind, Deaf, and has lupus, has been waiting for this for nearly two decades. She graduated from Gallaudet University with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Social Work in 2008. Jasmin took 60% longer to complete her degrees than her peers without disabilities. She also accrued 60% more debt.

This is because student loan debt is capped by year, not by program or by degree. As a result, students who take longer to graduate because of their disabilities (because of the need to take a preparatory course, the decision to enroll in programs specifically designed for students with disabilities, the need to withdraw due to illness or disability, the need to take a reduced course load, or other disability-related reasons) can graduate with twice as much – or even more – debt relative to non-disabled students.

As a result, Jasmin is challenging the federal and Ontario governments’ student loan programs –
the Canada Student Loan Program and Ontario Student Assistance Plan respectively – under section 15(1) of the Charter, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The Charter is being used to challenge the application of the cap, rather than a program cap to students with disabilities who take longer because of their disability.

The federal government tried to settle the case by making two irrelevant changes to its program and offered to cancel 100% of Jasmin’s debt (not just the extra 60%). She refused, because the changes didn’t redress the discrimination she experienced and because she believes other students with disabilities should not accumulate discriminatory debt like she did.
(To find the links for the following references go to the link at the bottom of the article)
You can read Jasmin’s written submissions here (link). Canada and Ontario’s responses can be found here (link) and here (link). Jasmin’s written reply to the governments’ arguments can be found here (link).

This case is similar to the “1 person, 1 fare” decision of the Canadian Transportation Agency, which held that persons with disabilities who require more than 1 seat on an aircraft due to their disability should only be required to pay 1 fare. You can read the decision of the Canadian Transportation Agency below. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld this decision by refusing leave to appeal.

Jasmin’s case will be heard at the Superior Court of Justice, located at Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West, Toronto, from January 14-16, 2020. Two sign language interpreters will be present to interpret the proceedings.

Laura LepineLaura Lepine is an Associate at BakerLaw

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