Former student sues University of Regina

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A justice studies graduate with Crohn’s disease claims the social work faculty failed to accommodate her medical condition

Natasha Tersigni
News Editor

Alicia Yashcheshen, a former University of Regina social work student, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 8, 2011, with the Court of Queen’s Bench against the U of R. Among other items, she said the university violated her human rights by failing to make accommodations for her Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, ileum, and anus. The condition is especially prevalent in North America, where there are an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 Crohn’s sufferers.

In the lawsuit, Yashechesen claims the university violated her rights by not providing her with the education services that she paid for through tuition and fees. As well, she adds, the university violated its own policy regarding students with special needs.

Yashcheshen was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in July 2004, and it wasn’t until 2007 that she allegedly started to experience problems at university because of the disease. Due to the unpredictable flare-ups that come with Crohn’s disease, Yashcheshen has been hospitalized approximately 62 times since 2004 and was forced to miss an entire semester of classes.

Yaschcheshen, who could not be reached for comment as of press time, told CBC Radio on Nov. 9 that she is suing the university because it did not accommodate her with her disease and forced her to drop out of the social work program.

“The dean refus[ed] to allow me withdrawal from classes because I was sick, and it resulted in me getting a bunch of NP’s, which is equivalent to 40 per cent,” Yashcheshen said, “Then they asked me to discontinue my studies.”

Yashcheshen claims the university never discussed any alternatives or offered her any help in coping with her studies while managing her disease.

“There was a constant message that I should discontinue my studies,” She said.

Karene Hawkins is the University of Regina Students’ Union student advocate. Due to privacy issues, she cannot talk about this lawsuit or if she has had any contact directly or indirectly with Yashcheshen. However, Hawkins did say that lawsuits against universities are rare.

“When it comes to civil litigation, that is not something that is usually done to the university or by the university because there are processes in place that students can have their needs met through.”

Yashcheshen did not directly take the matter to court. In the spring of 2008, she took the matter of receiving NPs instead of medical withdrawals before the council committee of student appeals, where she won. However, in 2009, the dean of social work denied Yashcheshen withdrawals, which she had requested because she was chronically ill and in severe pain, from three courses.

On May 15, 2009, Yashcheshen made a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. She sought mediation, but when that failed she eventually left the University of Regina and went to the First Nations University, where she graduated with a B.A. in justice studies and a minor in sociology in the fall of 2011.

The lawsuit states that Yashcheshen has “suffered emotional distress, economic loss, worry, anxiety, and other damages as a result of the Defendant’s acts, omissions, wrongdoings, and breaches of legal duties and obligations”

She is seeking restitution for “loss and/or damage,” including tuition fees, as well as “exemplary and punitive damages” against the university.

Canadian universities in court

Alicia Yaschcheshen’s lawsuit against the University of Regina is just another in a long line of Canadian universities getting taken to court. Here is a breakdown of a couple court appearances.

Paul Boudreau vs. University of Ottawa
Case: Boudreau, a 44-year-old part-time MBA student, claimed that the U of O and business professor Jimmy Lin were responsible for copyright infringement of a paper Boudreau wrote.
Winner: Paul Boudreau
Ruling: Boudreau received $7,500 in damages and his legal costs.

Ashraf Azar vs. University of Concordia
Case: Azar sued Concordia for over $15 million in damages and asked the courts to review his expulsion. Azar was expelled from the university for plagiarism.
Winner: University of Concordia
Ruling: The case was dismissed by the courts because Azar had waited too long to file his suit, 15 months instead of the standard 30 days. His attempt to appeal the decision was denied by both the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada

Cynthia Maughan vs. University of British Columbia
Case: Maughan, an English grad student, sued UBC because she believed an agenda of atheism was being pushed and that her religious and academic freedom was being denied.
Winner: University of British Columbia
Ruling: UBC and the English professor who were accused of violating Maughan’s religious freedoms were found not guilty. Maughan owed UBC hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

Steven and Keith Pridgen vs. University of Calgary
Case: The Pridgen twins were suspended from the University of Calgary and were charged with “non-academic misconduct which included probation for comments they made against their Law and Society course professor in November 2007 on the Facebook page, ‘I no longer fear Hell; I took a course with Aruna Mitra.’”
Winner: Steven and Keith Pridgen
Ruling: Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled in the students’ favour, deciding that the University of Calgary infringed upon their chartered rights and freedom to express.



1 comment

  1. URStudent 17 November, 2011 at 23:56

    I am also a student at the U of R, and have Crohn's Disease.  Just as a disclaimer, I've been really lucky and haven't had any major flare-ups in quite a few years, and on top of that the DRO and my professors have always been really accommodating.  That being said, I feel compelled to say that Crohn's isn't a pleasant disease, and that it's hard enough dealing with outdated social concepts about our bodies without having somebody outright laugh at what kind of restrictions that places on your lifestyle.  As if being sick and not being able to prove it isn't unpleasant enough, being laughed at for needing bathroom breaks is outrageous.  I really hope that the U of R reconsiders keeping the prof in question on the university payroll.

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