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Student Choice Initiative policy dead after Ontario government announces it will not appeal decision

Controversial policy was struck down for the second time in August
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CHARMAIN WONG/THE VARSITY
CHARMAIN WONG/THE VARSITY

The Ontario government has announced that it will not challenge the appeal decision that struck down its Student Choice Initiative (SCI) in August. If the government had chosen to fight the ruling, the case would have gone up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government’s decision means that the policy, which allowed postsecondary students to opt out of certain incidental fees, will not be returning. 

The policy has been controversial since it took effect in 2019, and many have criticized the initiative for allowing students to opt out of incidental fees that many campus groups and programs rely on for operating revenue. Critics argued that this loss of funding would erode student services and the legal rights of students.

The policy was originally struck down on November 21, 2019 when the Divisional Court of Ontario unanimously ruled in favour of the case’s applicants — the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the York Federation of Students. The Ontario government later appealed the case to the Ontario Court of Appeals, where it was struck down again on August 4, 2021 after going to court in March. 

Though the government continued to defend the policy as a measure that promoted “affordability and transparency,” the court ruled that the policy was an “incursion into university autonomy.” It added that if the government wanted to implement a policy like the SCI, it would first have to modify the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act. 

In a press release in August, the CFS–O celebrated the Ontario Court of Appeals decision, noting that this was not only a win for student unions, but also for all the vital student services that were funded through those unions. 

The SCI was never about saving students money, it was an attempt to silence and defund students’ unions and groups that are critical of and hold the government accountable while providing support for students’ well-being on- and off-campus,” read the statement.