Thousands of refugees were among the winners when Prime Minister Chretién’s “legacy” budget was delivered last week.
Recognized refugees will finally be able to access student loans after the budget called for amendments to the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. Prior to this budget, the Act stated that in order to receive financial assistance, students must be citizens or permanent residents of Canada.
U of T has actively lobbied for this change. University president Robert Birgeneau commended the amendment in an article published by U of T’s public affairs unit. “Ours is a country of immigrants,” said Birgeneau. “The inclusion of protected persons in the loan program is an important step in fairness and equity.”
The Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a social action organization that has been involved in the lobby effort, said: “We are so pleased that these young people, Canadians-in-waiting, will be able to access university or college education and get on with their lives in Canada.”
The CPJ has previously pointed out that the omission of refugees from the Canada Student Financial Assistance act was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In a 1998 report, the United Nations Council on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights denounced Canada’s failure to provide student assistance to refugees. The changes that will allow refugees to be included in the student loan programs are relatively minor in cost, but require somewhat tedious amendment process.
A 2000 report from the Department of Citizenship found 8,381 recognized refugees residing in Canada. Of these, CPJ says approximately 3,000 were between the ages of 18 and 30. CPJ estimates approximately one third of these (1,000) would have sought post-secondary education, and thus were affected by student loan inaccessibility. Changes to the Canada Student Loan Program, which also included increased exemptions for income earned while in school, merit-based scholarships, debt forgiveness and reduction measures represent an investment of some $60 million over two years, starting in 2003–04.