Kitchener-Waterloo

University of Waterloo seeks to appeal court order on 'accommodated admissions' for brain-injured student

The University of Waterloo wants to appeal a court decision forcing its admissions committee to reconsider an application from a student with a traumatic brain injury.

A panel of judges ordered the school to use an "accommodated" admissions process for Roch Longueépée

The Ontario Court of Appeal will consider The University of Waterloo's request to appeal an order requiring the university's admissions committee to use an "accommodated" admissions process in the case of a prospective student with a traumatic brain injury. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The University of Waterloo plans to appeal a court decision that would force its admissions committee to reconsider an application from a student with a traumatic brain injury.

Late last month, the Ontario Superior Court ordered the university to use an "accommodated" admissions process for prospective student Roch Longueépée, who has a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress caused by childhood abuse.

A spokesperson for the university confirmed to CBC that it's seeking permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal that decision.

 "I'm disappointed that something, which could be important for others, isn't firmly in place now so that people know how their applications will be handled in the future," said Longueépée's lawyer, David Baker.

Roch Longueépée, advocate for children victimized by abuse and trauma in institutions. (CBC)

Lengthy legal battle

Longueépée has been fighting the university since 2013, when he first applied as a transfer student.

He submitted transcripts from a year he spent at Dalhousie University in 1999, before being diagnosed with a brain injury. At Dalhousie, Longueépée didn't receive any accommodations for his disability. He left school with a D average.

In his application to UW, Longueépée was up front about his injury and submitted reference letters vouching for his significant volunteer experience outside of school.

Longueépée is the founder of Restoring Dignity, an advocacy group for survivors of childhood abuse and trauma suffered in institutions, and led a civil investigation into abuse at the Mount Herbert Orphanage in P.E.I.

The UW admissions committee decided that his marks were still too low for him to have a realistic chance at academic success. The committee told Longueépée to either petition Dalhousie to bump up his grades or to pursue post-secondary education elsewhere.

"Neither option was possible, or reasonable, or fair in light of the situation in which he found himself," said Longueépée's lawyer, David Baker.

Longueépée first appealed UW's admission decision to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It sided with the university in 2017.

He then brought the case to the Superior Court of Justice. A panel of three judges ordered that the tribunal's decisions be set aside and that Longueépée's application be sent back for consideration with an "accommodated" admissions process.

'A fair opportunity'

By now, Longueépée's health has deteriorated to the point where it's unlikely he will ever become a student, Baker said.

Still, Baker said he's hopeful that the decision will be upheld, and that it will help other prospective students with disabilities.

 "It will mean that those students have a fair opportunity to get into university and to be receiving the accommodation they require, so that they can get the education that they are entitled to expect," he said.

A spokesperson for the university declined to comment further while the matter is before the courts.

Clarifications

  • The advocacy role of Roch Longueépée's organization, Restoring Dignity, has been clarified from an earlier version of the story. It has a focus on advocating for children victimized by abuse and trauma in institutions. Also he led, rather than "pushed for," as stated in an earlier version of this story, a civil investigation into abuse in Prince Edward Island.
    Oct 08, 2019 1:25 PM ET