Canadian Federation of Students vs. Ontario

In its unanimous decision to overturn the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) earlier today, the Divisional Court of Ontario declared that the Ontario government lacked the legal authority to govern fee collection and agreements between the university and student associations. 

Announced in January, the SCI was a provincial mandate to Ontario universities and colleges that opt-out selections had to be provided for “non-essential” incidental fees, with the government outlining the criteria for “essential” fees. In May, the York Federation of Students (YFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) launched a legal challenge against the SCI. 

The intervenors in this case were the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, in favour of the applicants, and B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights, in favour of the Government of Ontario. 

Following a court hearing in October, the court ruled in favour of the YFS and the CFS–O today. It found that: “Ontario does not control [the associations of student associations and universities] directly or indirectly.” It went on to note that the province’s cabinet and ministry had no authority to interfere in the internal affairs of student associations.

The decision was rendered by the Honourable Justices Harriet Sachs, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau.

The Ontario government contested the application for judicial review by arguing that the SCI was a “core policy choice” that was not subject to the courts, and that the government was exercising its “prerogative power over spending.” The court contradicted this, saying that this was clearly within its “public law mandate.” The court also wrote that the government had no authority to overturn democratic student procedures, including referenda.

Despite arguments made by Ontario that the financial harm caused by the SCI presented by the applicants was “speculative and unsubstantiated,” the court sided with the applicants. The applicants argued that university guidelines, and the role of student associations in governance, are outside of the Crown’s power over spending, contrary to the “statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”

Concluding that the application of certiorari, or an appeal of legislation and court decisions, was granted and “[quashes] the impugned directives,” the court also announced that the parties agreed to Ontario “[paying] the applicants’ costs in the amount of $15,000 inclusive.”

According to CBC News, the court’s decision is being reviewed by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, which will comment at a later time.

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