Lobby group fights bankruptcy law

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By Tim Cook

The Canadian Federation of Students is moving ahead with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge to the revised bankruptcy act.

The CFS says a section of the act, which doesn’t allow students to declare bankruptcy on their student loans until 10 years after they graduate, is discrimination based on age.

The 10-year limit was increased from two years in the federal government’s 1998 budget.

The CFS held a press conference Tuesday in Ottawa announcing their plans to challenge the act with the Charter. The lobby group had to find a student who couldn’t file for bankruptcy because of the new law before taking the case to court.

This is where psychotherapist Annick Chenier, 29, of Ottawa, enters the fray.

Chenier accumulated a $63,000 debt while on the road to obtaining her master’s degree, which she completed in 1997 at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. She now works full-time and 34 per cent of her monthly income goes to paying off her student loans.

The CFS is using Chenier’s situation to challenge the act. So far, Chenier has applied for bankruptcy and is waiting for a response from the Ontario Court’s General Division. Once her case is denied, the CFS will challenge it under the Charter.

“My student loans imprison me,” Chenier said in a release. “By prohibiting me from declaring bankruptcy, the federal government is placing me in the same category as a convicted felon.”

Lawyers from across the country have been in touch with the CFS, interested in taking up their cause.

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is CFS’ most significant legal supporter. Elizabeth Carlyle, national CFS chair, said having the association on their side increases their chances of winning.

The lobby group is also receiving support in the House of Commons from NDP MP Libby Davis, who entered a private member’s bill into the house at the end of last year calling for the act to be repealed. The bill has yet to come up for debate.

“I am glad that the federation has decided to challenge the act,” Davis said. “I get really pissed off when I see these students being victimized by the system.”

Carlyle said this procedure will be costly. Many of the lawyers have offered their services for free. Public donations will help cover the rest of the lobby group’s costs.

They expect to be in court sometime within the next nine months, and a decision in the case is not expected for at least a year.

The CFS is confident they will win. “We are in for quite a fight though,” Carlyle said.

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