Wednesday, April 27, 2016

University of Ottawa: Discrimination in the Name of Bilingualism

Bilingualism is important but not to the point of discrimination as is the recent case with the University of Ottawa and student James Lewicki. Lewicki wasn't accepted into the master of political science program because he's not able to take a course in French, which is a program requirement. However, students in the French stream of the poli sci graduate program aren't required to take a course in English. This is utter hypocrisy and highlights U of O's obsession with bilingualism, namely the French language. It is also compelling evidence that the university discriminates against people with disabilities. Lewicki, who has been diagnosed as gifted, has a severe form of dyslexia that prevents him from learning a second language. "English as a language in itself was very difficult," Lewicki told CBC. "I spent years with a tutor in a special classroom learning the language" ( As a result, he's filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, writing, "This has affected my sense of dignity...For an individual who has struggled with this special identity all my life, this continued reinforcement has shaken my concept of myself and of my abilities" ( A university official suggested that Lewicki apply to a program that is "less stringent on bilingualism" ( "They can say 'Go somewhere else,' but turning someone away because of a disability and saying 'There are other options' is still discrimination," said Lewicki. "If you turn someone away because of the colour of their skin, or their gender, or identity, that's still discrimination, even if there's a store next door that would take them" ( A University of Ottawa spokesperson wrote an e-mail saying that the university "[did] not see this as an accommodation issue... [and that] Mr. Lewicki was not admitted... because he did not meet the essential admission requirements for the program" ( Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said, "What we see... time and time again is rigid requirements that unnecessarily exclude people. Quite honestly, human rights law trumps tradition. You have to articulate something that goes beyond, 'This is how we've always done it'" ( Under the law, a university can only discriminate against someone if it can prove that making accommodations would cause undue safety concerns or financial hardship. Lewicki said he faced discrimination months earlier, ironically while taking a human rights course. He has a physical disability called graphomotor disorder, which means he can't write by hand. "I'm allowed a laptop in classroom and during exams, as long as it's not connected to the Internet," he said. ( A professor, however, forbade anyone from using a laptop in his classroom. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa said that the university is not "flexible" about better accommodating students with disabilities despite the Federation's efforts to "continuously" talk it ( Lewicki said that the university's refusal to accept his application will cost him a year of his life as he's missed his opportunity to apply to other schools for the fall. "To have them turn their back on me like this, to point at me and say, 'You're different and we won't let you in because of it' - that's an emotional blow" (

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