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The Breakdown: The CFS–Ontario’s legal challenge against the Student Choice Initiative

Levy-funded student union claims Ford government is overstepping autonomy of student groups

The Breakdown: The CFS–Ontario’s legal challenge against the Student Choice Initiative

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.

CFS–Ontario files lawsuit against Ontario government over Student Choice Initiative

Legal challenge cites Ford government's lack of legal authority, bad faith

CFS–Ontario files lawsuit against Ontario government over Student Choice Initiative

Citing a lack of legal authority and bad faith from the Ford government, the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) has announced a legal challenge to the province’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

The SCI, announced in January as part of a broad set of changes to postsecondary funding, requires universities to provide an opt-out option for students on non-academic incidental fees. Postsecondary institutions must have this option implemented by the fall semester or face a possible reduction in funding.

According to The Varsity‘s calculations, a St. George student in the 2017–2018 academic year paid around $1,088.63 to $1,800.15 in incidental fees, depending on their college and program.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the Scarborough Student Union, and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union are all CFS–O members. The CFS is a national organization that aims to give a voice to the student movement.

The President of the York Federation of Students Fatima Babiker said at the announcement earlier today: “We have filed this legal challenge alongside the Canadian Federation of Students to show clear representation from students’ unions themselves who are opposed to this devastating policy.”

This story is developing, more to come. 

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

Letter criticizes CFS structure, calls for reform

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is one of the 10 signatories of an open letter to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) criticizing the federation’s structure and what they call a lack of transparency.

In addition to the UTSU, the signatories include the Carleton University Students’ Association, the Cape Breton University Students’ Association, the Ryerson Students’ Union, the Laurentian University Students’ General Association, the University of Regina Students’ Union, the Kwantlen Student Association, the Lakehead Students’ Union, the University of British Columbia Students’ Union Okanogan, and the OCAD Students’ Union.

The concerns that the letter highlights include the availability of the meeting minutes, bylaws, policies, and financial information; the “overly burdensome” defederation process, the power of the CFS staff, the “closed, exclusive nature of general meetings;” and the “lack of space for dissent and for constructive criticism.”

The 10 student associations plan to pass reform motions at the CFS Annual General Meeting in November. “Our motivation for these reforms comes from a desire to strengthen student organizations in Canada to be truly representative and to further reflect the will of our members,” reads a portion of the letter.

Despite the criticisms, the 10 member locals say that they remain committed to the CFS’s principles and support “the existence of a progressive student movement that advances the interests of all students.”

The UTSU had been a member of the CFS since 2003 and is listed under Local 98. Student activist unaffiliated with the UTSU executive have launched a petition campaign called You Decide UofT in an attempt to have a referendum on continued membership with the CFS.

This story is developing, more to come.