The “Right” to a Quality Legal Education

Most of our readers would be aware of the ongoing strike at York University led by CUPE 3903. York administrators have also indicated serious financial difficulties.

What people may not have realized is that the strike also affects law students at Osgoode Hall.

A second-year Osgoode student, Thomas Wisdom, shares the challenges some of his peers are facing,

First- and second-year students with summer jobs: A lot of people are ecstatic about the fact that they will be gainfully employed at law firms in the summer months… [but] they face the frustration of renegotiation start dates with their employers.

Daniel Simard, also in his second year, points out how graduating students are also impacted,

…third year students could potentially be detrimentally impacted if they have to complete their studies well into the month of May; the period perennially allotted for the fulfillment and preparation of licensing requirements mandated by the Law Society of Upper Canada, including Bar Admissions.

Parents and students have also expressed that the reputation of York University, and by extension, Osgoode Hall, may be affected.

But do all these concerns give a right to sue? The Globe & Mail mentioned yesterday that some of the families are considering a class-action lawsuit against both York University and the union.

David Doorey, Adjunct Professor at Osgoode, notes on his site the difficulties in making a cause of action for such claim. Some of his readers mention that York has a disclaimer for class interruptions that may prevent claims for breach of contract, but others note the inequality of bargaining power between unsophisticated student parties.

Over 4,000 people (as of today), presumably York students, have joined a Facebook group, Student Class Action Lawsuit AGAINST York University. Discussions in this group include a supposed York policy that will expel any student bringing legal action against the school, and how to form a claim against the union with the majority of the membership.

One student points out Ciano v. York University over the 2000 York strike, which dismissed the case in a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.

The students only lost classes, and not money, and could not demonstrate a financial loss. The court expressed reluctance over evaluating the quality of the education provided, and awarded costs of $35,000 against the student, which would likely discourage many would-be plaintiffs in the current labour dispute.

If law students (and others) can indicate that the tight deadlines around legal jobs and licensing requirements do have a direct financial impact, is it possible that the court could rule different in the future?

Winkler J. of the S.C.J. does discuss some of the issues around the university’s disclaimer,

16 York points to the Important Notice found in the 1995-1997 Undergraduate Program Calendar as an absolute defence to any claim arising out of the strike. The Notice states that,
“York shall incur no liability for loss or damage suffered or incurred by any student or third party as a result of delays in or termination of services, courses or classes by reason of: … strikes”.
The defendant states that each student is made aware of the Calendar through a number of publications distributed during enrolment and registration. While the Calendar itself is not mass distributed, it is made available at the libraries and on the University’s webpage. The defendant contends that if indeed there is a contract between the University and the students, the Calendar forms part of contract and the terms of the Important Notice act as a total bar to any claim advanced by the plaintiff.

17 However, in respect of the specific contractual defence asserted by the defendant, a number of issues arise. Does the Calendar and the Important Notice constitute a part of or a term in the contract between university and student? If so, is it superceded by the university’s Senate Policy?
[emphasis added]

If anyone can figure out how to structure a more successful statement of claim than Ciano, the sizeable body of Osgoode law students would probably be the ones to do it. And social media might play a role in bringing them together to work collaboratively.

The legal fallout of this strike might be something interesting to watch in the near future.


  1. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that Osgoode resumed classes some time ago, even though the University is still strike-bound. The university senate was persuaded by the sorts of points that Omar makes that any further delays in the resumption of classes would prejudice law students beyond easy repair. Law students have faced and will continue to face inconvenience and even difficulty because of the missed weeks; however, compared to all other students at York, they are fortunate indeed.

  2. There’s a story about the return to school for law students on our website Canadian Lawyer 4Students:

  3. Thanks for the link Gail.

    Whether a condensed schedule is as compelling case for a disruption in legal education is questionable. It will still be interesting to see if students do take this further, and how courts may treat the case.

  4. In today’s news:

    …a Toronto law firm said it has filed a class-action lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on behalf of York students, claiming they’re entitled to a refund of their tuition and other fees.

    In a release, Juroviesky and Ricci LLP says the suit, which has yet to name a lead plaintiff, alleges “class-wide violations of various statutory and common law duties to the students of York University.”

    The firm has made the information available on York Took My Money.

  5. Is this even permitted under the Rules of Civil Procedure? I’ve often seen a plaintiff suing without a lawyer, but a lawyer suing without a plaintiff! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life! (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

    This has a whiff of champerty, in my opinion – a thought that clearly has occurred to Juroviesky and Ricci, in view of paragraph 2 of their “Retention Agreement”, which asks the prospective plaintiff to agree that he/she “did not acquire the services that are the subject of this action at the direction of the Lawyers or in order to participate in the Litigation.”

  6. Well, I don’t even take CivPro until another couple weeks, so I won’t comment on the mechanics of a class-action.
    The initial plaintiff now appears to be indicated in para. 4 of the Statement of Claim:

    The Plaintiff
    The Plaintiff John Turner resides in Richmond Hill, Ontario and has attended York for approximately three (3) years. His academic career at York began in 2005 after transferring from another university. He is a Kinesiology major who is currently scheduled to graduate from York in the spring of 2009.

  7. OK, right – that makes more sense. They have named a plaintiff in the statement of claim, but presumably the lead plaintiff may change depending on who steps forward and who is best qualified to represent the proposed class.

    I see their PR strategy has also been hard at work, getting the message out that the students twisted J&R’s arm until the firm at last agreed to represent them. How virtuous.

  8. I’m willing to bet the journalist read this page before doing the write-up.
    Any takers?

  9. None?
    Well it looks like this student newspaper in Halifax did, and at least they provided attribution.