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.

Unions file application for judicial review to reverse SCI

CFS–O and YFS documents lay out legal argument for lawsuit against Ontario government

Unions file application for judicial review to reverse SCI

Starting the process for their lawsuit against the Ford government, the Canadian Federation of StudentsOntario (CFSO) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) have filed an application for judicial review to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The application, obtained by The Queen’s Journal, outlines the two student unions’ arguments against the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — a policy the provincial government announced in January.

Alleging that the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) acted “unlawfully, unreasonably, improperly, disproportionately, arbitrarily, and without and in excess of her statutory discretion and authority,” the CFS and YFS are seeking to quash the policy, and place an injunction on its implementation in the meantime.

View this document on Scribd

The two unions also claim that the MTCU’s lack of consultation with student groups on the policy constituted a breach of “procedural fairness and natural justice.”

In an email to The Varsity, Paige Wiggans, Executive Assistant to the Deputy MTCU, presented an argument for the SCI as a policy of transparency and money-saving for students. However, Wiggans did add that: “As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”

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.