Potential guidelines for Student Choice Initiative revealed

Documents outline essential versus non-essential fees, enforcement mechanisms, timeline for implementation

Potential guidelines for Student Choice Initiative revealed

A presentation obtained by The Varsity that appears to have been delivered by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) outlines which fees will be considered “essential” under the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The SCI is a policy announced by the provincial government that will give students a choice to opt out from certain fees. 

The presentation is dated February 4, and also lays out the requirements for rolling out the opt-out and compliance and enforcement systems of the policy.

These policies are part of the MTCU’s recently announced changes to postsecondary education funding, first put forth by the TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton on January 17.

The rubric

Services considered essential are athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walksafe programs, and student buildings, including student centres. Student transit passes, which only UTM has, are also considered essential. 

Any programs not within these categories are considered non-essential. Individual fees must fit into one of the essential categories to be mandatory.

Health and dental plans are also mandatory, but can be opt-out if a student provides proof of pre-existing coverage. This system is already in place for U of T students.

Co-op and field trip fees will not be subject to the SCI.

The impact on long-term contracts between universities and student associations regarding incidental fees, along with negotiations for amendments, will be the responsibility of those individual parties.

Rollout of the Student Choice Initiative

The MTCU will not introduce any new enforcement mechanisms for the SCI — individual institutions will be responsible for monitoring compliance. Institutions that are not in compliance will be expected to either reimburse students for fees that they opt out from, or the ministry may reduce their operating grants by a commensurate amount.

According to the documents, compliance will be required by the coming fall semester, through an online system that provides an “opt-out” option simultaneously with paying tuition. Individual institutions may also provide students with an “opt back in” option at a later date.

Fees must be itemized individually, meaning that fees collected by institutions must be separated and cannot be bundled together as, for example, “student activity fees.”

It is unclear whether “essential” Career Centre and Health & Wellness Centre fees would be separated from other “non-essential” student life fees such as for Sexual Diversity Offices and other student services not established under the “essential” requirements.

According to the documents, the ministry will release guidelines for the SCI “in the near future.”

Paige Wiggans — Executive Assistant to MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of TCU David Piccini — wrote in an email that the Government of Ontario did not share any documents with The Varsity. Therefore, they “cannot comment on their veracity” as they have not seen the documents.


Editor’s Note (February 6, 12:49pm): This article has been updated with comment from Wiggans. 

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal disqualified from SCSU executive elections

Atwal handed demerit points for “misrepresentation of facts,” “malicious” comments

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal disqualified from SCSU executive elections

SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal has been officially disqualified from the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) executive elections on February 5 for accumulating too many demerit points. Atwal’s campaign was suspended on the first day of voting and his appeal has been turned down by members of the union’s board of directors.  

According to the Elections Appeals Committee, Atwal has been disqualified for three separate violations of the Election Procedures Code of the Scarborough Students’ Campus Union (SCSU) on two different occasions.

Atwal first received 25 points on January 25 for a “Gross Misrepresentation of Facts” after posting “Unapproved Material” on social media. According to the notice, the social media post “contained an unreported incident which contained broad accusations.” After the candidate appealed, five demerit points were removed as the post was not targeted at any one person.

On February 1, Atwal received a total of 25 demerit points for “Malicious or Intentional Violation of this Code” when he made another unapproved social media post and a “direct and misleading” comment toward another candidate during The Underground’s executive candidates debate.

Although 20 demerit points issued in the second instance were withdrawn after an appeals process, the committee decided to uphold the 25 demerit points as Atwal allegedly uploaded more unapproved and misleading material on social media.

According to the Election Procedures Code, an executive candidate with more than 35 demerit points is automatically disqualified. Since Atwal had accumulated 45 demerits, he was disqualified as of February 5.

Following his disqualification, Atwal released a statement accusing the SCSU of “outright attacking” students’ rights to freedom of speech. 

“I have been removed for making a factual remark at a debate that SCSU’s current Director for Political Science [Raymond Dang], who is now running for VP Academics, has actively sought to silence student journalists with his motion,” Atwal wrote.

Dang moved a motion at the union’s board of directors meeting in December 2018 that would allow the SCSU to move toward controlling student media accreditation and access to meetings.

“If truth is considered a ‘malicious attack,’ then send me to jail, for the history of this month gives me a moral basis to challenge the irrational, to resist the oppressive, and dismantle the house of corruption one fact at a time,” Atwal’s statement reads.

UTSC students in favour of Atwal have started an online petition calling on the SCSU to let Atwal continue running in the election. As of press time, the petition had 150 supporters.

The Varsity has reached out to Raymond Dang and the Chief Returning Officer for comment.

Candidate Profile: Chemi Lhamo, President

Slate: Shine Bright UTSC

Candidate Profile: Chemi Lhamo, President

Chemi Lhamo, a Neuroscience and Psychology student in her fourth year of study, is leading the Shine Bright UTSC slate as its presidential candidate.

Lhamo currently serves as the SCSU’s Vice-President Equity.

“The reason why I’m running for president is because I want to prioritize student needs,” Lhamo said to The Varsity. “With my five years of experience at UTSC, I understand what student needs are and I know what gaps lie there.”

Lhamo was elected to her current position under the Rise Up UTSC slate in an election that resulted in a split-ticket executive.
She recalled growing up as a stateless Tibetan refugee in India and said that she “has gone through a lot of adversities in life,” now working three jobs to make ends meet in addition to keeping up with academic requirements and volunteering. She also mentioned creating a mentorship program for Tibetan youth in Canada.

On what her priorities would be as president, Lhamo pointed to representation. “I think I have emphasized this enough because representation is so important,” she said. “All my life I have been treated as an outsider. It’s not a sob story — it’s just a reality.”

Lhamo also criticized the provincial government’s announced changes to postsecondary education funding, including to the Ontario Student Assistance Program. 

“The students will be affected tremendously… we’re talking about every single student,” she said. “Those cuts for the university tuition fees means that tuition fees for international students, unregulated students, will actually increase. So now we’re talking about Doug Ford’s cuts tremendously not benefitting… our student lives everywhere.”

In response to SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal’s claim during Friday’s executive debate that he would donate his salary back to the union if he were elected, Lhamo called it a “noble act,” saying that “if he’d like to volunteer, I’d like to say there are many other opportunities to volunteer because I’ve been volunteering my whole life.”

However, she also advised caution for the future. “If I could donate the money back, I’d definitely do it, but I live a life that is not necessarily as privileged as other people have,” she said. “That kind of step is actually dangerous, because that’s precedence, or almost a barrier, for any other future presidents.”

 With files from Jayra Almanzor and Josie Kao

Candidate Profile: Raymond Dang, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Slate: Shine Bright UTSC

Candidate Profile: Raymond Dang, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Raymond Dang is a fourth-year Public Policy and Environmental Studies student running with the Shine Bright slate to be the SCSU’s next Vice-President Academics & University Affairs. Dang was a Political Science Students’ Association representative for three years in a row, has served on the Council on Student Services, and is the current SCSU Director of Political Science.

One of Dang’s platform points is to advocate for more affordable residence spaces. Part of his plan to achieve this is to lobby the university to “give a commitment as a percentage of affordable residence homes.”

“I understand it is definitely difficult, but having these conversations is necessary, long-run, if we want to create communities that interact with each other.”

When asked what he would do about the provincial government’s changes to postsecondary fee frameworks, which would potentially put the SCSU at risk of losing its funding and cut university revenue, Dang is a proponent of “working with the university to find revenue streams so that it is sustainable, and not just relying on student revenue like student tuition.”

He suggested federal grants, federal sponsorship, and corporate sponsorship as alternate streams of revenue. 

In the past year, Dang has been the subject of controversy, first when he proposed a media policy aimed at regulating access to SCSU meetings, and then when he motioned to give the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre money (AGM). 

When asked about the media policy, Dang said that he “absolutely never intended to make that policy about controlling media” and acknowledged that the wording of the motion was “super clumsy.” 

He added that he hoped the SCSU would issue a statement clarifying his record.

When asked why he proposed the motion to give money to the centre, Dang said that it was because after the AGM, he discovered that the SCSU had enough money in its contingency reserve to give to the centre.

However, Dang added that, looking back, he would do things differently in light of the criticism.

“I would publicize it everywhere, I’d talk to students everywhere. I’d get people who were… also at the AGM and talk to them about the issue.” 

Candidate Profile: Carly Sahagian, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Slate: SCSYou

Candidate Profile: Carly Sahagian, Vice-President Academics & University Affairs

Carly Sahagian is a fourth-year student studying Molecular Biology, Immunology & Disease, and Women’s and Gender Studies, who is running on the SCSYou slate for Vice-President Academics & University Affairs. 

Since she first came to Canada after transferring from the University of Aleppo in Syria, Sahagian has worked at the UTSC registrar’s office in the admissions and recruitment department for two years, and currently represents full-time undergraduates on the Campus Affairs Committee of the UTSC Campus Council. 

“As a leader on campus and being very heavily involved, I wanted to run in the union because the union can actually do more than that,” said Sahagian.

Sahagian wants to work toward making UTSC fees, including those related to exam deferral and rereads, more accessible. Citing free exam rereads at the Faculty of Arts & Science at UTSG, Sahagian doesn’t see any obstacles to establishing the same process at UTSC. 

Her other campaign points include web options for 8:00 am classes, expanding the Self-Declaration of Illness form from the Department of Psychology to other departments, creating a course retake policy for UTSC, and establishing a system for students to write deferred exams in the same exam period.

Union transparency is also a concern for Sahagian, who believes that, without term limits, certain groups can run continuously and discourage others from running. 

Sahagian hopes to use data and statistics from the admissions office to aid in discussion and lobbying for expanding residences for UTSC students, but also wants to look at alternatives, like townhouses, to expand residence accommodation options.

Editor’s Note (February 6, 12:30pm): This article has been updated to correct that Sahagian went to the University of Aleppo.

Candidate Profile: Tebat Kadhem, Vice-President Equity

Slate: SCSYou

Candidate Profile: Tebat Kadhem, Vice-President Equity

Tebat Kadhem is a fourth-year student running with the SCSYou slate for the position of Vice-President Equity. Her main platform points centre around improving accessibility on campus.

Kadhem is the current Secretary General for the Scarborough Model United Nations Conference, President of the Law Society of UTSC, and Public Law Director for the Political Science Students’ Association.

Kadhem’s first priority would be to create an accessible study space on campus for students registered with Accessibility Services. 

The ideal space would include “assistive technology like ZoomText, JAWS, the CCTV, all of these tools that are used by students with disability that are normally not provided by the university,” said Kadhem.

Kadhem estimated that the costs would “be around $10,000–20,000 to get the initiative started” based on “funding formulas” around furniture and other expenses. 

On money, she said that “there are [a] lot of departments that would love to contribute to the initiative.” She continued, “I’m sure a lot of different departments have the money, so it wouldn’t be hard in terms of getting the money.”

Other accessibility initiatives that she is planning include incentivizing student note-takers, mandating that all food vendors have braille menus, and ensuring that the campus has effective snow clearance.

On the problem of equitable food at UTSC, Kadhem plans to work with the current vendors on campus to include more halal, vegan, vegetarian, and lactose-intolerant options.

“It’s very frightening for someone that depends on food from this campus on a daily basis that if you forget to pack a lunch one day, you might be starving for the entire day,” she said.

Kadhem specifically plans to lobby for current vendors in the Student Centre and at the Farmers’ Market to expand their food options, highlighting that they would “see a monetary benefit.” However, Kadhem said that she did not intend for the SCSU to provide “monetary kickbacks” to financially incentivize vendors to expand food options.

Candidate Profile: Leon Tsai, Vice-President Equity

Slate: Shine Bright UTSC

Candidate Profile: Leon Tsai, Vice-President Equity

Leon Tsai is a second-year student at UTSC majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, and minoring in Creative Writing with a focus in poetry. Tsai is the current SCSU Director of Historical and Cultural Studies. 

She is also the External Relations Coordinator of the UTSC’s Women’s and Trans Centre and on work study at UTSC’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre. 

Tsai’s platform includes expanding safe spaces and accessibility services, implementing a dialogue series campaign for mental health, and lobbying the university for decolonizing discourses. She also wants to advocate for LGBTQ+-oriented services, initiatives, and campaigns. 

As an LGBTQ+ and body-positive activist, Leon draws from her personal experiences as a transgender immigrant woman and as a public speaker. “I really believe that decolonizing this institution that’s not built for all of us is the way that we can all feel empowered and move forward.” 

Addressing improvements to the SCSU, Tsai said that there need to be conversation and community consultation regarding equity issues, especially intersectional ones. “I think the SCSU is doing well in the sense that it’s trying to cover a lot of different topics of marginalization and oppression and educate that to the students.”
She criticized equity within food options, specifically the need for more vegan and halal options. 

“Obviously checking the quality is an important thing, but also making sure that there’s vegan and halal options so that everyone gets access to food.”

Responding to complaints about the Student Centre’s food vendors, Tsai said that students need to lobby and pressure the university to make changes, as unions do not have this authority. 

“If we want to change the food options and Market Place, we do need to lobby the university just because the student union doesn’t control those things.”

 With files from Josie Kao

Candidate Profile: Chaman Bukhari, Vice-President External

Slate: SCSYou

Candidate Profile: Chaman Bukhari, Vice-President External

Chaman Bukhari, a fourth-year Public Policy and International Development student and the co-president of the Pakistani Students’ Association at UTSC, is running to be the SCSU’s next Vice-President External.

In an interview with The Varsity, Bukhari said that he is running because the SCSU “hasn’t had a very positive image, and that’s in part due to abstract goals that the SCSU candidates set for themselves while they’re in office.” He said that he has tried to set more realistic and tangible campaign goals, so that students can readily assess whether they have been achieved, should they choose to elect him.

On the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an organization that represents student unions across Canada, and which many member unions have left or attempted to leave in recent years, Bukhari said that it would be up to the students whether the SCSU should remain. He mentioned that he would act only as a liaison between UTSC students and the CFS.

He said that his goal is to first set up a committee to see what the pros and cons are of continued CFS membership. 

“If the committee’s conclusion [tells] us that this is something that should be taken seriously in terms of our affiliation, and we are paying more than the value that we’re receiving in return, then it should go to a… petition, and only then should we be able to decide what happens.” 

On the Ford government’s recent changes to postsecondary education funding, which includes the Student Choice Initiative that allows students to opt out of certain “non-essential” incidental fees, Bukhari said that the organization would be in talks with U of T in order to figure out the student union’s future.

On the cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, Bukhari expressed disappointment and called it “detrimental” to the student experience across the province. “This is something that is very personal to me as well, and to my friends, and I look forward to communicating with the provincial government to make some sort of adjustment,” he said.

In the end, Bukhari noted that he hoped voters would decide “not based on popularity, but based on the policy.”

“In order to bring change, we need different people. We cannot expect change when we vote for the same faces.”