Here’s a little-known fact: some Canadians graduating from high school can’t get student loans, even though they have been accepted to a post-secondary institution and have financial need. It’s not because they have a bad credit history, or anything like that: it’s simply because they live in the wrong place. Here’s why.
The Canada Student Loans Program is really only half a program; by design, it sits side-by-side a number of provincial programs. This means that before you can even get assessed for student aid, you need to be assigned a province of origin, so that the system knows which CSLP/provincial combination should do the assessment.
Among provinces who participate in CSLP, this is no big deal: there is a consistent rule that assigns a student to the last province in which they spent twelve consecutive months without attending post-secondary education. But the problem is that not all provinces participate in CSLP; Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have all opted out of the program (with compensation, naturally) to run their own student aid systems.
Quebec is not a problem, since it uses the same 12-month rule as the rest of the country. But in the NWT and Nunavut, it’s a different story. These territories have student financial aid programs that are exceptionally generous, both because most students have high expenses due to travel and because most students are Aboriginal and presumed averse to borrowing. As a result, they have some high barriers to entry – namely, a minimum 24-month residency requirement.
You can see where this is going. Say a family moves from Vancouver to Yellowknife during the summer when their child is going into grade 12. Even if the child successfully finishes grade 12, he or she would not be able to access any public assistance to then go on directly to post-secondary education. Basically, they would be sentenced to kicking around for 12 months until they make the residency requirement. (Lest you think this an outlandish scenario, I’ve actually had the misfortune of counselling someone who was in exactly this position several years ago. Not fun.)
Section 15 of the Charter says the government must offer its services equally to all Canadians, but that’s clearly not what’s happening here. The Canada Student Financial Assistance Act exists to ensure that all citizens can get the funds they need to attend post-secondary education, but the Government of Canada continues to give alternative payments to opted-out jurisdictions without ensuring that all citizens have access to the same services.
The cases of students falling afoul of this rule are probably few and far enough between that Ottawa need not fear a charter challenge. But that doesn’t make it right.