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“A profound interference in university autonomy”: Ontario court dismisses Student Choice Initiative appeal

Canadian Federation of Students among groups to challenge Ontario government, calls decision “historic victory for student democracy”
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

On August 4, the Court of Appeal for Ontario struck down the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) policy, a controversial directive which allowed students to opt out of paying incidental fees that the provincial government deemed “non-essential,” including levy fees for student organizations.

Originally challenged by the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students, the SCI was unanimously struck down by the Divisional Court of Ontario in November 2019. After the Ontario government appealed the decision, the case went to court in March. Previously, the Ontario government defended the policy as promoting “affordability and transparency” in a statement to The Varsity. Meanwhile, some interveners in the case argued that the SCI infringed on student democracy.

The appeal result supported the 2019 divisional court ruling, finding that “the framework constitutes an incursion into university autonomy by interfering with the funding of student associations.” The court noted that the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act and the acts that establish each Ontario university would need to be changed for the SCI to be lawful.

The court also disputed the Minister of Colleges and Universities’ claim that the SCI merely restricts universities’ discretion, instead claiming that “the framework is a profound interference in university autonomy.”

In an email to The Varsity, the Ontario government wrote that it is reviewing the decision and that it “remains committed to increasing transparency for all postsecondary students and their families who make tremendous personal and financial sacrifices to attend postsecondary institutions.” A U of T spokesperson also confirmed that the university is reviewing the decision.

A press release from the Canadian Federation of Students — Ontario called the ruling “a historic victory for student democracy, campus life, and the well-being of students.” 

Editor’s Note (August 4): The article has been edited to include statements from the Ontario government and U of T Media Relations.