Photo of the front door of Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education

Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education lost a lawsuit that alleged the school misled international students about their ability to get work permits after graduation.

An international student has been awarded $25,000 from a private college in Nova Scotia that wrongly suggested its diploma would lead to a Post-Graduation Work Permit.

The judgment is specific to one school but could have implications for hundreds of international students who enrolled in private colleges across Canada in the mistaken belief that they would be able to work in Canada after graduation.

Anna-Kay Clarke was one of dozens of international students who enrolled in a two-year program at the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education only to discover after graduation that she was not eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit because the College is a private institution.

In May, Clarke won the maximum award possible in Nova Scotia Small Claims Court — $25,000 – in a ruling that states the College was negligent for suggesting to prospective students that attending the school would qualify them for the precious permit.

“The school itself knew, or ought to have known, whether it was the type of institution that met the government’s criteria for postgraduate work permits,” writes Eric Slone, an adjudicator in the Small Claims Court of Nova Scotia, in a decision released in May.

“It was its business to know such a thing, and it ought to have known that it did not have a designation that would fully satisfy the immigration authorities.”

A database of court judgments suggests Clarke and her sister, Peta-Gay Clarke, are the first international students to successfully sue a private college over this issue.

Neither sister could be reached for comment.

An official with the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education declined to comment on the case.

The lawsuit follows a cross-Canada crackdown by federal immigration authorities. Several private colleges reported that their international students received Post-Graduation Work Permits prior to 2016, but not after. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has said that those permits were issued in error.

A Post-Graduation Work Permit allows someone to work anywhere in Canada at any job for up to three years and is a crucial step toward immigration for international students who hope to stay in Canada. Eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit rests on several factors, including the length and type of program, if the student has studied continuously and full-time, and what type of school they attended. Students who obtain a diploma or certificate from a private college outside Quebec do not qualify for the Post-Graduation Work Permit. However, that was unclear on the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada until early in 2018, and graduates from several private colleges had been receiving the permits for years.

Students from Anderson College of Health, Business and Technology in Toronto discovered in 2017 that they were not eligible for the permits, as did students of Solomon College in Edmonton and Vancouver Film School in British Columbia.

“No ordinary person receiving the school’s assurances would be alert to the possibility that the application would fail for the sole reason that the school was not properly accredited!”

According to court documents, Clarke was offered admission to both Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education and Mount Saint Vincent University in 2015. She chose the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education because its tuition was lower.  Her sister, Peta-Gay Clarke, transferred from Saint Mary’s University to the Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education at the same time.

The Small Claims Court ruling says this crucial decision was based on bad information from the College.

“The combined effect of the representations made in the Claimants’ interviews and the ordinary meaning of the student handbook was to convey an assurance to them that studying at Nova Scotia College of Early Childhood Education, as opposed to another school, would qualify them for the postgraduate work permit,” reads the ruling. “Of course, there was no ironclad guarantee offered. Obviously, a work permit application could fail for any number of reasons, pertaining to the individual’s history or background, but no ordinary person receiving the school’s assurances would be alert to the possibility that the application would fail for the sole reason that the school was not properly accredited! For students such as the Claimants, who were considering attending Mount Saint Vincent or Saint Mary’s, understanding this point was critical. Had they received diplomas from those degree-granting universities, they would have qualified for a PGWP (Post-Graduation Work Permit), all other things being equal.

“I believe that the Claimants were both misled by the Defendant, and that such statements made by the Defendant constituted negligent misrepresentations.”

College Registrar Janet Boutilier told the court that 90 per cent of the College’s international students received the Post-Graduation Work Permit before 2016.

Both Anna-Kay and Peta-Gay graduated from the College with diplomas in Early Childhood Education in spring 2017 and applied for the Post-Graduation Work Permit shortly after. In October, both applications were rejected and the sisters returned home to their native Jamaica. Both sisters eventually returned to Canada with more restrictive work permits granted under a program that allows employers to hire foreign workers if they cannot find a Canadian to do the job.

Anna-Kay Clarke argued in court that the diploma offered her no benefit because she already had an undergraduate degree in psychology from Northern Caribbean University and experience working as a day care worker and so would have been able to get the restricted work permit without the College diploma.

“On balance, I believe she has made out a case that her tuition payments were for naught,” read the judgement for Anna-Kay Clarke. “I recognize that it could be said that there was value to the education she received, but it could also be said that she lost two years during which she might have been working and earning income, rather than studying and paying tuition.”

Slone awarded Anna-Kay $25,000 and Peta-Gay $10,000.

 

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