Ontario government needs to stop “hiding” results of sexual violence survey, MPP Mitzie Hunter says

Minister Fullerton refutes Hunter’s allegations, citing privacy concerns

Ontario government needs to stop “hiding” results of sexual violence survey, MPP Mitzie Hunter says

After The Varsity and the Queen’s Journal reported that the Ontario government still has not released data from a province-wide sexual violence survey conducted last year, the Liberal MPP who initiated the survey has rebuked the Progressive Conservatives (PC) for “hiding” the results, further linking it to criticisms of the PC changes to postsecondary education.

On February 12, Mitzie Hunter, former Liberal Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD) and current MPP for Scarborough—Guildwood, released a statement demanding that the Ford government release the results of the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey.

Under Hunter, the survey was developed and administered by the Ministry of AESD, currently known as the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), and sent to all postsecondary institutions in the province.

Months after the estimated date set by the previous Liberal administration for the release of the survey data, schools and students alike still have not seen the results.

Merrilee Fullerton, the current Minister of TCU, adopted the responsibility of handling the release of the survey results when she succeeded Hunter. When asked by The Varsity about the results, Fullerton said that privacy concerns have caused the delay.

In her statement released this week, Hunter said, “This is a report that should have been released months ago. The Minister’s excuses so far have no credibility.”

In a previous interview with The Varsity, Hunter said that when developing the survey, “There was thought given to confidentiality and the privacy of those [completing] the survey.”

“[The government] has been hiding a report that will shed light on sexual violence on university campuses,” Hunter wrote in her statement. “What’s concerning is that universities and colleges won’t have money to take action on this report once it’s released,” referring to the province’s 10 per cent cut to tuition.

“Ford’s post-secondary education plan is taking millions of dollars out of post-secondary institutions… there will be limited money at best to combat sexual violence on campus,” Hunter wrote.

In response, Fullerton released a statement saying, “I am deeply disappointed in MPP Hunter, who used to be a Minister of the crown and is now choosing to politicize the privacy of sexual assault survivors.”

Fullerton reiterated the privacy concerns. “When I am satisfied the data fully protects participant privacy, I will release the survey results on this important issue. I will not be rushed into reckless action, as MPP Hunter suggests.”

When asked by The Varsity for an approximate timeline for the release of the survey results, Fullerton’s Director of Communications Stephanie Rea said that no date has been set, as “it depends on how long the vendor takes.”

When asked about the privacy concerns, Rea said that the Ministry of TCU “[has] not seen the data. It is still with the vendor, and will not be released to us until it is proven all confidentiality has been maintained.”

When The Varsity previously reached out to the vendor, CCI Research, it referred all questions to the Ministry of TCU.

U of T student unions sign open letter against Ford government

UTSU, UTGSU, UTMSU joined by 75 student unions across Canada

U of T student unions sign open letter against Ford government

Seventy-five student unions across Canada have signed an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Merrilee Fullerton condemning the government’s recent changes to postsecondary education funding.

The letter, first released by Carleton University’s student newspaper The Charlatan on January 29, calls on Ford and Fullerton to reverse the decision mandating Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for “non-essential” student fees. It also calls the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program “disappointing” and a “firm step backwards.”

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) are among the signatories.

The letter compares the government’s decision to implement an opt-out option on incidental fees — a policy that Fullerton labelled the “Student Choice Initiative” —  as similar to if taxpayers were allowed to opt out of paying for services like a police force and public libraries.

The student unions write that the Student Choice Initiative puts on-campus services funded by incidental fees at risk, specifically services such as “health and dental plans, peer-to-peer support, on-campus press, support services like food banks and more.”

“Students will be less safe, more vulnerable to failure and less able to gain the skills and work-related experience they’ll need to find jobs after graduation.”

The unions also expressed concern about how the Student Choice Initiative would affect mental health and sexual assault support services, as well as on-campus jobs.

The letter ends with the student unions calling on the Ford government to reverse the mandate and to consult with student associations, labour unions, and institutions on how the initiative will create a less prepared workforce and one “saddled with debt.”

“By making postsecondary less accessible to middle and low-income families, and by jeopardizing student experience on campus, your government is actively standing in the way of growing that workforce.”

UTSU President Anne Boucher confirmed to The Varsity that the UTSU had joined with the other Canadian student unions in the letter.

“We wanted to show a level of solidarity with the other groups across Ontario,” wrote Boucher.

The University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, and the University of New Brunswick Student Union are also among the student associations that signed the letter.

The Varsity has reached out to the UTMSU and the UTGSU for comment.

This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Takeaways: student groups concerned with lack of consultation, U of T to review budgets

This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Stakeholder groups at U of T are reacting to a surprise announcement made earlier today by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton regarding cuts to postsecondary education.

Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that Ontario colleges and universities will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent next academic year and freeze it for the following two years. In addition, there is now a mandate to create an online opt-out system for “non-essential” student fees, such as fees collected for student clubs, as well as cuts to the Ontario Student Assistant Program.

 

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler said, “We will do all we can to limit the impact of these changes on the U of T community.”

“We need to review our budgets to assess the full impact of these changes,” said Gertler. “We feel it’s important to remain firm in our long-standing access guarantee: That financial circumstances should not stand in the way of a qualified student entering or completing their degree.”

U of T’s statement did not mention how it would respond to the mandatory opt-out option for “non-essential” student fees.

According to Fullerton, universities and colleges will have some “leeway” over which groups will be deemed necessary.

— Meric Gertler, U of T President

 

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — the largest student union at U of T — released a statement a few hours after the announcement criticizing the provincial government’s decisions.

“The UTSU is deeply concerned with the changes relating to non-tuition fees, or ‘ancillary fees’, which fund vital programs and services enriching the lives of students across the province… The risk of significant funding reductions, direct or indirect, would be grave and irrevocably change campus life.”

The UTSU added that it will be “working with campus partners and other stakeholders across the province” on this issue.

— The University of Toronto Students’ Union executive

 

President of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) Mala Kashyap expressed concerns about the impact of the announced changes in a statement to The Varsity. “Part-time and mature students are already often excluded from access to government and institutional funding. We are waiting for more details regarding the announced changes.”

It remains unclear whether or not the announced tuition cuts will affect part-time students.

— Mala Kashyap, Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students President

 

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that ASSU was “disturbed” by the policy announcements.

“We implore UofT administrators and President Gertler to protect students unions who provide essential services to students. ASSU will work with other college societies, unions and clubs on campus and across the province to act.”

— Haseeb Hassaan, Arts and Science Students’ Union President

 

The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) quickly responded, calling the initiative a “transparent attempt to bankrupt students’ unions in the province.” The statement further emphasized that all proposed changes are detrimental to students and campus workers.

“Students were not consulted in this process. The Ford government is looking to dismantle public post-secondary education and is attempting to eliminate the opposition to do it.”

Sami Pritchard, the National Executive Representative for the CFSO, criticized the decision as a “cynical move” from the government to “undermine” organizations poised to fight cuts to postsecondary education.

“Students remain undeterred and will unite with workers in Ontario to protect quality, public post-secondary education and defend students’ right to independent democratic representation,” Pritchard said in a statement posted online.

— Canadian Federation of StudentsOntario

 

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), which is an opt-out U of T-levy group, released a statement on Facebook earlier today, criticizing the Ford government’s plans.

OPIRG especially expressed concerns about the future of student group funding and the services that they provide. Though students can already opt out of services, the provincial government’s execution of this policy makes it difficult for such groups to advocate for certain causes and resources.

The only difference between how this is set up now, and how the PC’s want it to be set up is that we no longer have that month long period to show students why they should continue to fund organizations like OPIRG, Students for Barrier-free Access or LGBTOUT. We no longer get the opportunity to have discussions with students face to face about what we actually do.”

OPIRG is part of an international network of Public Interest Research Groups, 11 of which are in Ontario.

— Ontario Public Interest Research Group

 

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn slammed the government’s announcement as an “attack on student democracy on campuses.”

“These cuts were made without consultation with the University sector, and will have damaging impacts for students for a long time to come,” Hahn said in a statement posted on CUPE Ontario’s website. “Doug Ford’s insiders have attempted to cover up a devastating attack on students with a paper-thin discount on tuition that will cost students more in the long run.”

Hahn claimed that the government was “looking out for itself” with the decision to slash fees.

“Student democracy, through elections and referendums, should determine student fees, not government insiders,” Hahn said.

CUPE represents thousands of workers at U of T, including librarians, service workers, teaching assistants, exam invigilators, and student and postdoctoral course instructors.

— Fred Hahn, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario President

 

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), echoed Hahn’s statement and described the government’s announcement as a “full frontal attack on democracy.”

“[The decision] turns legislature committee pre-budget hearings into a sham,” Thomas wrote on Twitter. “Ontario colleges and universities still have lowest per student funding in Canada. Student debt will not go down. No winners with today’s tuition cut announcement.”

OPSEU represents thousands of public sector employees in the province. The union represents Campus Police at U of T and research officers and associates at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

— Warren “Smokey” Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union President

 

The Canadian University Press (CUP), a non-profit cooperative owned by student newspapers across the country, including The Varsity, said Thursday that student publications are “essential” services to people in postsecondary institutions, and expressed its disappointment in the announcement.

“Our members offer scrutiny to university and college administrations, ensuring that there is transparency in university governance,” CUP wrote. “However, most of our member papers rely on student fees to fund their work. Without access to this funding, Ontario student publications will not be able to operate.”

The organization also criticized the apparent lack of consultation with students as “further proof that the Ford government does not truly have the interests of students in mind.”

“This decision is a direct hit to institutional transparency, healthy democratic dialogues on campus, freedom of the press and the free speech that the Ford government claims so strongly to defend.”

— Canadian University Press executive

 

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union likewise released a statement against the changes, stating that it “will not stand for this and will continue to fight for you to ensure that this government’s unilateral decision-making does not go unchecked.”

“We want to make it clear, that a step to lowering tuition fees is certainly a step in the right direction, but this is not the case with this announcement,” the statement said.

— The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union executive

 

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA), which is affiliated with Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party, spoke out in favour of these cuts, citing the sharp spike in tuition under the previous Liberal government. 

“Unfortunately, undergraduate tuition for Ontario students has risen from an average of $5,000 to almost $9,000 since 2006. The previous Liberal government was unable to stop post-secondary education from becoming increasingly unaffordable. That is why OPCCA supports the Ontario PC Government’s action for the Affordability of Postsecondary Education in Ontario.” 

The OPCCA also spoke in favour of the reforms to OSAP, claiming that the government is now better equipped to assist low-income students. It also supports changes to student fees, claiming that they are often used to “fund third-party advocacy groups known for controversial agendas and financial mismanagement” like the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. The statement claims that these groups have been promoting radical causes, such as “abolishing capitalism and boycotting Canada’s ally Israel.”

The OPCCA, did, however, say that campus media, activities, and clubs are worthwhile, and that “when students are free to choose which school initiatives to fund, these student groups will be incentivized to show their value to students who might not otherwise get involved.”

— Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association

Statement by The Varsity on announcement by the Ford government

A letter from the editors

Statement by <i>The Varsity</i> on announcement by the Ford government

Today, the Ford government announced sweeping changes to the tuition and student fee frameworks at colleges and universities across the province.

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton stated that students will be able to opt out of fees that are deemed non-essential. The services that the province views as “essential” are those related to health and safety, like walksafe programs, athletics, and counselling. Universities and colleges will decide the rest.

The Varsity is extremely concerned about the impact these changes may have on the future of the student press in Ontario.

All students benefit from the student press. Recently, The Varsity broke the story of Muslim Students’ Association executives receiving surprise visits from law enforcement. We followed the progress of U of T’s controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy, and we examined the implications of the university’s investments in offshore tax havens.

Student journalists are often the only ones to hold colleges and universities accountable for their actions, but this policy may allow the schools themselves to determine whether or not student journalism is “essential.”

Student media is the platform for students to make their voices heard, and a fee opt-out could seriously threaten the future of our operations. A government that postures as an advocate for free speech on campus must recognize that student journalism is the bastion of campus free speech.

We call on the Ontario government to recognize that campus journalism is unquestionably an essential service. We are hopeful that the University of Toronto will recognize that The Varsity, like all campus media, is vital to the integrity of this institution as a stronghold of freedom of speech — and freedom of the press.

 Jack O. Denton, Editor-in-Chief & Reut Cohen, Managing Editor