A group of international students at Concordia University wants the school to review its recruitment efforts after Chinese students say they were "tricked" by home stay recruiters and stuck living in poor conditions for a hefty sum.
Gloria Yang, a Chinese finance student, said recruiters promised her a welcoming home and hearty meals for $900 a month when she arrived in Canada from Beijing last year.
What Yang said she got in return was a small room in a home in Montreal's LaSalle borough and the same three meals every day.
Yang said the host family kept the refrigerator locked and would only feed her toast for breakfast and pasta for dinner.
She said her showers were limited to 15 minutes and she was forced to clean parts of the home.
Yan Shi, president of Concordia's Chinese Student Association, said thousands of students have had the same experience, sometimes worse.
Renée Greenberg, owner of agency Premier Homestay, said the students she has been helping have become more difficult and the price for a room is meant to help host families cover the cost of increasing demands.
"It's a difficult topic because I'm talking about a culture that is generally extremely mistrustful of others," said Greenberg. "They're very, very insular in many ways. They're leaving a country where they have very little exposure to people of other races and of colour."
She said she tries to match students with homes that are specific to their demands.
"The food is a huge issue. So, in fact, I encourage them not to take the lunch. [They] should have their own lunch that they're familiar with, during the day outside of the home. But they will for the two months they're there, for sure, will definitely have to adapt, be flexible and try new things. That's what I explain to them."
False advertising from the recruiter
Most of the students have similar complaints. They say Peter Low, a third-party agent hired by Concordia, recruited them.
Students at the rally told CBC News they had to pay up-front but did not receive the services promised by Low.
In one case, Xiao Li, also a student at Concordia, said she paid Low $800 before coming to Montreal to receive information about the airport and on where to find a house because she did not want to board in a room.
"The truth is, after I got here, I didn't see anybody in the airport," said Li. "I found my own way to come to the hostel and, in terms of the website, it's... a free website for Concordia students."
Li said she never got her money back.
Chris Mota, spokeswoman for Concordia University, said "the particular recruiter that we've been working with, we haven't had any negative issues with and we're still reviewing our contracts with their company."
She added they are listening to everyone who comes forward with complaints and taking them into account. She said that if there were any serious wrongdoings, they would reconsider the contract with the recruiter.
Mota said the school's contract with Low only covers student recruitment. She added that every other service provided by Low was made on an understanding between the student and the recruiter.
Calls from CBC News were not returned by Low.
Concordia is urging students living similar experiences to come forward. She said the school would investigate each claim.
A news release from the school said information sessions will be offered in Mandarin to tell International Chinese students about their rights.
In September, two Chinese students came forward to complain about similar conditions at their home-stay accomodations.
One student said he was crammed into a house with 11 other people and given hardly any food.
Yan Shi said many students are too scared to complain for fear they will be deported.
"New language, new country, so they already have so much to take care of. They don't want any more trouble," he said.