McGill launches legal challenge against government measures

Following a unanimous vote at a special Board meeting on February 15, McGill University today launched a legal challenge against two measures announced by the Government of Quebec on December 14, 2023:
  • Tuition increases for Canadian students from outside Quebec studying in undergraduate and professional master’s programs; and
  • Changes to the funding model for international students studying in undergraduate and professional master’s programs.

The University is asking the court to issue a stay, which if granted would suspend the application of the two measures while the court considers the challenge. The case argues that the measures:
  • Constitute discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
  • Were an unreasonable exercise of the powers of the Minister of Higher Education, since they were incompatible with the mission assigned to her by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Act.
  • Were adopted following inadequate consultation and an unfair process.
  • Constitute a disguised and illegal tax, which is being imposed without the authorization of the National Assembly.
  • Create unconstitutional barriers to interprovincial trade thereby limiting student mobility, choice of university and access to education.

This legal action does not challenge the francisation measures also announced by the government on December 14, 2023. McGill is participating in a government working group convened to discuss francisation, and we remain hopeful that we can work together to set realistic, achievable targets.

Why McGill is undertaking legal action

"We are undertaking this legal action because we believe that these measures are illegal and if upheld, will threaten McGill’s mission, its place as one of the world’s top universities and its vital role in Quebec," said Deep Saini, President and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University.

Following the government’s announcement of its intention to put in place new measures on October 13, 2023, applications to undergraduate programs at McGill University from Canadian students from outside Quebec dropped by more than 20 percent compared to the previous year, while applications from international undergraduates dropped by more than 5 percent.

"In addition to the financial impacts these measures will have on McGill, we are hearing from our recruiters that these measures are making students think twice about coming to Quebec. I find this particularly distressing, considering how warm and hospitable I have found Quebecers to be, and how much employers want and need these highly talented young people."

"Although McGill is challenging the legality of these two measures, we remain committed to partnering with the Government of Quebec on our many dossiers," Saini underlined.

The road to the legal action

"Given this extraordinary situation, we have no choice but to take extraordinary action. We tried our utmost to work in partnership with the Government. We would have greatly preferred not to do this, but we have run out of viable alternatives," says Saini.

"Again and again, we proposed realistic, concrete solutions that would allow us to continue to attract top talent to address Quebec’s labour needs and strengthen Quebec’s knowledge, competitiveness and innovation agenda, while also significantly improving the French-language skills of McGill’s non-francophone students."

Last spring, the Minister of Higher Education asked McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s universities for solutions to help retain more students here after graduation, and to do more in teaching them French. In response, McGill designed its Rayonnement du français program that would invest $50 million over five years to help non-francophone students learn French and integrate into Quebec’s workforce.

We informed the Minister of this initiative and invited government representatives to the planned October 11 launch. When the Minister informed the University that measures would soon be announced that would negatively affect its finances, McGill paused the launch, given that we could not be confident we would have the resources to fully implement the initiative.

After the government announced tuition and funding changes for Canadian and international students on October 13, we made two further proposals to the Government. The Government did not accept these solutions or collaborate with us on alternatives.

We have repeatedly and unsuccessfully requested data demonstrating the feasibility and necessity of these government measures. These requests were echoed by the government’s own Comité consultatif sur l’accessibilité financière aux études, composed of representatives of government and French-language universities and Cégeps, who said that the decision risks compromising access to a quality education and depriving Quebec society of potential talent. Therefore, the Committee "strongly urges the government to reconsider this decision."

McGill’s role in Quebec

By weakening McGill, the measures also put at risk the University’s positive contributions to Quebec society.

McGill’s health network of affiliated institutions and practitioners provides care to nearly 2 million Quebecers throughout the regions of Quebec, in La Montérégie, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Gatineau and Nunavik. Our Campus Outaouais collaborates with the CISSS and community partners to provide cutting-edge medical training entirely in French.

The University is an economic engine for Quebec, at the heart of innovation ecosystems in artificial intelligence, RNA therapies and the energy transition. Our entrepreneurship programs have helped launch more than 350 companies currently operating in Quebec.

We provide a world-class education to exceptionally talented students from across Quebec, allowing francophone students to submit their coursework in French.

"A strong McGill is an extraordinary asset for all Quebecers and for the world. In challenging these government measures, we are working for all those across Quebec who gain from the world-class healthcare, education, professional training, economic contributions, music, culture, greenspaces, and other benefits that McGill provides - regardless of the languages they speak or the regions in which they live," says Saini.