Opinion: Here's why Concordia is taking the CAQ government to court

Our decision is about defending who we are as an anglo university. It’s also about demonstrating that the government did not act reasonably.

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After months of unsuccessfully trying to engage the government of Quebec in genuine, evidence-based dialogue about tuition fees for out-of-province and international students, Concordia University has decided to initiate legal proceedings against the measures. Sadly, we are left with no other alternative.

This decision is certainly not about attacking our government. We agree that enhancements to the funding formula for universities are needed, given the chronic underfunding of the entire Quebec university sector.

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Nor is our legal recourse about pulling back from Concordia’s strong commitment to francization. On the contrary, that commitment predates the government’s announcement on tuition fees, and we further reinforced our support in November when, with the other anglophone universities, we declared a common objective to help 40 per cent of non-francophone undergraduates attain intermediate French proficiency before they graduate.

At its core, our decision to initiate legal proceedings is about defending who we are as an anglophone university, proud of our diversity, accessibility, autonomy and service to Quebec. It is also about demonstrating that the government did not act responsibly or reasonably in unilaterally imposing the tuition changes.  

Concordia is a historically English institution, with roots dating back to the 19th century through our two founding institutions, Loyola College and Sir George Williams University. At the same time, today’s Concordia serves all our society — anglophone, francophone, allophone, Indigenous — with nearly 70 per cent of our students coming from within Quebec.

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Our legal argument asserts that, because of Concordia’s status as a key institution of the linguistic minority in Quebec, the government had the obligation under law to weigh the interests and protection of the anglophone community when modifying its tuition policy. Put simply, the government had to ensure that any change in policy would not cause undue harm to Concordia as an institution of the English-speaking community.

The government failed in its obligations by implementing disruptive tuition policies that exclusively apply to, and disproportionately affect, Concordia and McGill (which is filing a separate lawsuit), in contrast to francophone universities. On several occasions, members of the government were very clear that the policies were designed to inflict harm on our institutions by reducing the number of students attending our universities, changing our demographic profiles, shrinking our revenues and weakening our financial positions.

Regrettably, the failure of the government to balance its stated objectives with the rights of the English-speaking community and its institutions in implementing the new tuition policies is part of a larger pattern of behaviour on this dossier.

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From Day 1, it has been obvious that the government is improvising — never presenting accurate data to support its claims, refusing to engage in respectful dialogue or constructive consultation, continually inventing new reasons to justify its decisions, and dismissing all meaningful evidence. Most recently, the government even ignored a report from its own advisory committee, which declared that the massive tuition hikes undermine accessibility, a hallmark of Quebec’s and Concordia’s approach to higher education.  

What is at stake is not just about Concordia. Our legal proceedings aim to protect the autonomy of public institutions from undue government interference. It is truly unfortunate and deeply concerning when a university must ask the courts to prevent the harmful effects of ill-conceived and hastily introduced governmental policies.

It is also extremely disappointing to see how little the government values its partners — whether that is in protecting French, training highly skilled workers, fighting climate change, enriching Quebec’s art and culture or contributing to countless other critical areas where Concordia and the government have collaborated in the past.

Being open, innovative and collaborative has helped Concordia become one of the world’s great young universities in one of the world’s great university cities. Our successes benefit Quebec, and a thriving Quebec allows Concordia to do even more.

This is why we are advocating now for what is right. We believe in protecting what makes Quebec unique as well as in how Concordia, as an emblem of minority cultures, can be especially sensitive to that uniqueness and exceptionally well positioned to enrich its bright future.

Graham Carr is the president and vice-chancellor of Concordia University.

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