Wang: Read the contract

On August 23, 2007, the SCC dismissed an application for an extension of time to apply for leave to appeal in the case of Danian Wang v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia as Represented by British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education Student Service Branch (B.C.). In doing so, the SCC explained that had an application for an extension of time been granted, the application for leave to appeal would have eventually been dismissed regardless.

Wang is a social law case that deals with social assistance, specifically student loans. In 2002, Wang, the plaintiff, applied to the respondent, the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education Student Service Branch, for a student loan for his studies at Dalhousie University from September 2002 to August 2003. The loan was granted and Wang received $13, 500 and was promised further funds halfway through the school year.

Wang enrolled at Dalhousie, but due to a medical issue, failed to continue to attend classes as of Sept 20, 2002. Dalhousie student services were not advised by Wang of his medical leave of absence and Wang breached the loan contract by using the money to pay for his living expenses in Halifax and his wife’s and child’s living expenses in Vancouver, rather than his tuition. When Dalhousie student services learned of this information, they determined that Wang was no longer qualified to receive the mid-point loan, valued at $9, 048. Wang then sued for breach of contract, requesting damages of $1, 496, 200.

The trial judge granted a summary dismissal of Wang’s action against the province of British Columbia under Rule 18A and granted the plaintiff a judgment of $2, 912 for its counterclaim, an “over-award” paid to the plaintiff for his inaccurate report of the duration of his study period. She found that once the plaintiff discontinued his studies at Dalhousie in September, he withdrew from the contract and his failure to advise student services of his leave of absence amounted to a breach of contract. Furthermore, the plaintiff also breached the contract by using the funds from the loan for living expenses instead of tuition.

At the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, Wang appeared in person and wrote his own factum; his arguments, however, were not clearly articulated. He argued that his medical leave of absence from the University did not constitute a “withdrawal” in the contract and attached many of the trial judge’s findings and conclusions. The Court of Appeal for British Columbia also dismissed his appeal, explaining:

There is no basis on which we can interfere with this judgment. The learned trial judge found four clear breaches of contract. There was uncontradicted evidence to support all of those findings. The judge interpreted the contract in accordance with principle and common sense. I can see no error of law.

By refusing Wang’s application for an extension of time to apply for leave to appeal, the SCC sends a message to individuals who may be tempted to inappropriately use their student loans. In order to continue to be eligible for future installments of student loans, students must attend classes, accurately report their length of study, inform the university of any extended absences, and use funds as required under contract. While university student services personnel may face difficulty in monitoring the requirements that student loan recipients must meet as a result of the large volume of students who attend universities and receive loans, this case affirms he conclusions of the lower courts and serves as a warning to students who expect to receive the full amount of their student loans without regard for the stipulations of the contract.

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