Montreal

Concordia University kicking students out of residence with 4 days' notice

Students living in residence at Concordia University in Montreal have been told they need to leave, as the institution seeks to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Decision made to protect 'welfare of our students, our residence staff and our community,' president says

Concordia University is giving students until Sunday to move out of residence as a way to minimize the spread of the new coronavirus. The Montreal school will refund the students for their lease and meal plan for the remaining time between their departure and the end of their lease. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Students living in residence at Concordia University in Montreal have been given four days to find somewhere new to live, as the institution seeks to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

"In light of the current health emergency, and in particular, for the safety of those students living in residence for whom social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, all students are required to move out of residence by the end of the day, Sunday, March 22, 2020," reads a notice sent to students late Wednesday.

Concordia said it will refund the students for their lease and meal plan for the remaining time between their departure and the end of their lease. 

In a statement Thursday, following outcry from students, university president Graham Carr said the move was to protect "the welfare of our students, our residence staff and our community."

He stressed that those unable to return home, given the current travel advisories, would be assisted by the university.

"I want to assure them, and the community at large, that Concordia will support any student who has nowhere to go to the best of our abilities by providing them with accommodation, meals and other services until conditions improve," he said. 

Aurélie Garrone, an international student who arrived to study from France in January, said she was shocked when she received the email.

"I was saying to my dad today, 'What can they do? They can't actually kick us out of residence,'" she said.

'More dangerous to be there than here'

Garrone said the school has been in frequent conversation with students regarding the COVID-19 situation, but until Wednesday, the idea of possibly having to leave residence had never been raised.

"I would have planned ahead if I had known," she said.

Garrone said she will have to speak to the French consulate Thursday to get advice on her next steps. France has been hit hard by COVID-19, and she says it is risky to return home.

"It's kind of more dangerous to be there than here," she said.

First year political science student Alexandre Lao is in a similar situation. He is Canadian, but his family lives in Italy. Due to current travel restrictions, he is not able to go join them.

He said he was shocked to see the school was closing residences.

"I'm not going to lie, I thought it was fake and that someone was pranking us," he said.

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) is calling on the university to reconsider, with a petition quickly gaining traction online.

Patrick Quinn, the CSU's academic and advocacy co-ordinator, said the school told the student union that it is trying to minimize risk.

"I would actually argue this creates more risk to a very vulnerable population," he said.

Montreal is running dangerously low on available rental housing. The city's vacancy rate is the lowest it's been in 15 years — 1.5 per cent — and many of those affected are international students.

"I feel this move is really rushed. It puts students in dangerous situations," he said.

Quinn said he's not sure how many students are affected but suspects the number is substantial.

He's encouraging students to contact the CSU's housing centre, advocacy centre and legal clinic for help.Concordia graduate Romney Copeman wrote an open letter to the university, asking it to extend the deadline to leave residence.

"The timing could not be worse, as the rapid spread of COVID-19 and Montreal's 15-year low property vacancy rate collide with the university's decision to evict its tenants," the letter reads.

He's also calling on Concordia alumni to create a support network for the students who need housing.

In the notice sent to students, Concordia said there may be "exceptional circumstances" that prevent students from leaving by the March 22 deadline. It said cases will be reviewed, and students will be notified of the university's decision "as soon as possible."

"Everybody who cannot leave, whether it's for travel restrictions or other reasons, will be accommodated," said Vannina Maestracci, spokesperson for Concordia.

More post-secondary institutions ousting students

Concordia is one of several Canadian universities forcing students to leave residences before the end of term.

Universities across the country have issued directives regarding living in residence this week, as provinces implement new guidance over social gatherings.

Students who live in residence at the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph are being asked to move out this week.

Residences at several Ottawa-area universities and colleges are clearing out.

Université Laval in Quebec City said its residences will remain open unless public health officials advise closing them.

Rector Sophie D'Amours said many students have gone home, leaving an occupancy rate of around 50 per cent. 

D'Amours said this has created more space in common areas to respect social distancing directives. Staff members are also regularly disinfecting surfaces and making sure there are no gatherings.

At Cambrian College and Laurentian University in Sudbury, the decision was made to allow students to stay in residences, even though most classes have been cancelled.

McGill University isn't forcing students out either, but spokesperson Cynthia Lee said the school has "strongly encouraged students in residences to seriously consider returning home as soon as possible if they are able to safely do so."

For those who cannot return home at this time, steps have been taken in residences to ensure students maintain proper social distancing and hygiene in accordance with public health recommendations, she said.

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