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OSAP grace period remains but interest to begin accruing on day one, says MPP David Piccini to The Varsity

Ambiguity about how government would enforce opt-out fees

OSAP grace period remains but interest to begin accruing on day one, says MPP David Piccini to <i>The Varsity</i>

Following a surprise announcement from the Ontario government about dramatic changes to postsecondary education, MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities David Piccini spoke to The Varsity on the specifics of the announcements.

According to Piccini, the six month grace period — which allows students to begin repaying provincial student loans six months after graduation — will remain. However, interest will accrue on the loans immediately after graduation.

Piccini justified this decision by saying that it would align with the process of repaying federal government loans.

Confusion around whether government would enforce opt-out ancillary fees

Ambiguity remains around the determination of “essential” and “non-essential” student fees and how the government would enforce its execution.

The provincial mandate requires institutions to develop an opt-out system for ancillary fees, categorizing them as either “essential” or “non-essential.” In her announcement, Minister of Training, Universities and Colleges Merrilee Fullerton stressed that the opt-out option would only apply to fees not related to health and safety and that universities would have “leeway” in deciding classifications.

When asked what the government would do if universities decided not to deem any fee “non-essential,” Piccini said that universities will be able to develop these policies “at their discretion.”

“Universities are autonomous and we’ve outlined a policy to give students choice, and we certainly hope students will be given choice in this.”

However, Piccini also stated repeatedly during the interview with The Varsity that “There has to be an opt-out option.”

This story is developing, more to follow.

“Students will not be fooled”: emergency rally organized at Queen’s Park

Protest comes after Ford announces cuts to tuition, OSAP

“Students will not be fooled”: emergency rally organized at Queen’s Park

A day after the provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced sweeping changes to postsecondary education, student unions and groups across Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park early Friday afternoon to express their outrage. 

U of T student groups, including the Arts and Science Students’ Union and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Toronto, met at Sidney Smith Hall, marching toward the Ontario Legislature Building and occupying a stretch of College Street.

Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were announced on Thursday in a press conference organized by PC MPP Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. When asked by The Varsity if students were consulted about Ford’s proposals regarding tuition and OSAP cuts, as well as the decision to opt out of ancillary fees, Fullerton vaguely stated that they had done so, but did not name individual groups.

Speakers express concern about effect on students

Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFSO), spoke first and heavily criticized the PCs for attacking students across the province under the announcement.

The CFS is the largest student organization in Canada and represents five student unions at U of T.

“Today we are gathered outside of Queen’s Park to send a very clear message to the Ford government… that students will not be fooled,” Alideeb said.

“Yesterday, the government chose to pick a fight with students… As the announcements unraveled, it turned out that this is a reckless attack on students and their families, on academic workers, on faculty, on universities and colleges across the province.”

Deputy Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), Sara Singh, alongside MPP Joel Harden of Ottawa Centre, Bhutila Karpoche of Parkdale—High Park, and Rima Berns-McGown of Beaches—East York, also attended the rally to express solidarity.

“These investments in public services are what are going to drive our economy forward, which are going to make sure that you all have the best opportunities you can as students,” said Singh.

“As we head into that next election, you all are those future voters. You are all those decision-makers that are going to make sure that we’re shaping the province we want.”

Ontario students decry sweeping changes without student consultation

James Chapman, a fourth-year U of T student and the co-chair of the U of T New Democrats, criticized the decision from the Ford government.

“I think there’s two reasons students are gathered here today,” said Chapman. “One is to tell Doug Ford that we think it’s unacceptable that the grants and loan combination that was created by the previous government after years of fighting by students on the ground is being removed. The second thing is that we’ve seen this time and again from this government where it’s a revenge plot against voices of dissent followed by complete chaos.”

Chapman noted that the most appalling part of the announcement would be the effect on marginalized students. “Those are the students who are accessing the services that largely the campus unions provide.”

Tom Fraser, a third-year U of T student, slammed the Ontario government for the apparent lack of consultation of students in the decision. “I’m here today because I’m mad as hell about every single cut that’s coming from this government,” he said.

In a similar vein, Clement Cheng, a fourth-year student at U of T and member of U of T’s Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter, commented on the future of funding for student unions and resources on campus.

“We are being saddled with even greater debts. We’re being given worse educational opportunities,” said Cheng. “Everything that we cherish about the university… all of that is under threat.”

Ashlee Redmond, a fourth-year student on the Innis College Council, shared the same sentiments as Cheng, commenting on the quality of student services and resources.

“Events on campus are going to have to become a lot more exclusive, especially if students have the option to opt out of annual fees,” she said.

“There’s going to be a drastic drop in the number of students who are able to attend postsecondary.”

Editor’s Note (January 18, 11:52 pm): The article has been updated to clarify that the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was not affiliated with the protest. UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin was present but attended in a personal capacity.

Op-ed: A critical moment

How will the university move forward in addressing sexual violence?

Op-ed: A critical moment

These are troubling days indeed for students, faculty, and staff who care about preventing sexual violence and helping its survivors. Recent events such as the trial of Jian Ghomeshi — which can only be characterized as theatre of the grotesque — certainly remind us of the flaws of our justice system. 

Other developments, however, seem more promising. This month, legislation passed ordering universities to develop a concrete sexual assault policy, a move to which U of T, and other Ontario universities are now responding. Many have lauded this decision, while others have questioned whether this draws a strange distinction between the way in which sexual assault is handled on campuses, as opposed to in the ‘real’ world.

This distinction is more visible in the United States,  where Title IX culture directs university committees to look for a “preponderance of evidence” in sexual assault investigations, rather than requiring claimants to prove their allegations “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as required in a criminal trial.   

In Canada -— lacking Title IX directives — universities have fewer guidleines when determining campus procedures that may diverge from law on the outside. We suggest that federal and provincial governments encourage universities to adopt a system of their own, because they understand how unlikely it is for survivors of assault to be treated fairly in the regular court systems. 

Although some may consider this chauvinism, according to these directives, universities can actually protect students better than the cities in which they are situated. Devising and executing such a policy, however, requires imagination, will, and collective buy-in.  It is also what U of T is tasked with doing, as suggested by the February Final Report of the Presidential and Provostial Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence. 

While the time it took for the committee to produce the report is an issue of its own, the lack of specificity concerning when the report will be turned into a set of concrete policies and practices is alarming. The term is near end, meaning the administration will have the summer to mull over the appropriate decisions to take — but also the opportunity to lull us into forgetting about the urgency of the situation. Lacking pressure from students and faculty, this report could become analogous to the work of so many blue ribbon committees: symbolic gestures of compliance with zero impact. 

One concern of the final report is that it swims in a sea of moral ambiguity. Peppered throughout the document is the statement, “Sexual violence will not be tolerated on our campuses.” It is a conveniently vague phrase that, in reality, gives little indication of the consequences that those who commit sexual assault will face. Will perpetrators be suspended or expelled? Will faculty who harass students be penalized? At a certain point, the administration will have to define these consequences. 

The report’s use of the word “resolution” is similarly a cause for concern.  The Committee seems eager to produce resources that aid in the quick resolution of assault claims, but “resolution” suggests a mere misunderstanding, a conflict among equal parties. Treating sexual assault as the product of misunderstanding obscures the very violent reality of the issue. This is also the central error of the culture of the Sexual Harassment Office at U of T, which treats harassment as a misunderstanding among equals that needs to be mediated.  Countless students have gone to that office seeking justice, and resolved to quietly manage their own grief because the system will not recognize its legitimacy.   

For all the experts, consultations with diverse sets of stakeholders, variegated committees, and accounting structures, the committee’s report is void of courage. On the other hand, the province says universities can do it differently, while Title IX practices indicate some of the ways this is so.  We can create new ways to address sexual assault with integrity, and protect survivors. We can be an example to the city in which we are nestled and to the courts, which are in walking distance. The question posed to the administration is: are you up for it?         

Judith Taylor is a sociology and women and gender studies professor at U of T.  Arielle Vetro is a third-year Trinity College student studying equity and women and gender studies.