The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O), along with the York Federation of Students, launched a legal challenge against the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) back in May. 

The SCI, originally announced in January by Merrilee Fullerton, the former Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), was part of a broad set of changes to postsecondary funding that requires universities to provide an opt-out option to students for non-essential incidental fees. 

Postsecondary institutions are required to implement the opt-out option for the upcoming fall semester or face a possible reduction in funding. U of T’s online opt-out system for non-essential incidental fees is live on ACORN, in compliance with the Ontario government’s guidelines.

In an email to The Varsity, Tanya Blazina, Team Lead, Issues Management and Media Relations for the MTCU, wrote, “as this matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

The legal challenge

“The government, particularly, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities doesn’t have the authority to impose a policy upon the memorandum of understanding between the student unions and the college and university administrations,” the National Executive Representative for the CFS–O, Kayla Weiler, said to the The Varsity in an interview.

Weiler also added that the collection and remittance of student society fees is determined democratically through student referenda and covered in the memorandum of understanding between the university administration and student associations.

Citing section seven of the Ontario College of Applied Arts and Technology Act, Weiler accused the provincial government of undermining the autonomy of student organizations through the SCI, which inhibits the ability of student governing bodies to collect fees. 

In addition, Weiler added that Fullerton misled students to believe that they would be able to save money by opting out of incidental fees, as the highest fees are still considered mandatory. 

At U of T, undergraduate Arts & Science students can opt-out of about 10 per cent of their total incidental fees, totalling around $50 to $70 depending on their college and campus.

What now?

In an interview with The Varsity, Nelson Wiseman, Director of the Canadian Studies Program and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, expressed doubts about the CFS–O winning their legal challenge.

“My impression is that the students are going to lose this case.” 

However, Wiseman also added that the courts can make unexpected decisions, citing a judge in September that blocked Premier Doug Ford’s reduction of the Toronto City Council.

Multiple student organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and multiple college and student societies have also responded to the SCI by forming the ChooseUofT campaign at the St. George campus.