Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

TCU Parliamentary Assistant talks delay in report’s release, working with student groups

Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

In light of the provincial government releasing the results of an Ontario-wide sexual violence survey on March 19, The Varsity sat down with David Piccini, current MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), to discuss the implications of the results and the delay in their release.

Student Voices on Sexual Violence was a survey commissioned by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD), the Ministry of TCU under the current Progressive Conservative government.

“It’s, as far as I’m aware, the most comprehensive and in-depth look that’s gone to campuses and colleges around Ontario,” Piccini said.

It was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in all provincially-funded postsecondary institutions from February to April 2018. Across Ontario, over 160,000 students responded.

The results showed that at U of T, 61.7 per cent of respondents reported that they did not understand how to access supports, including how to report sexual violence. In addition, 22.9 per cent reported being dissatisfied with U of T’s response to sexual violence, 22.1 per cent reported that they had been stalked, 17.2 per cent reported a non-consensual sexual experience, and 58.7 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment.

“The results were deeply saddening,” Piccini said. “One experience of assault or harassment on campus is really one too many.”

Piccini emphasized that the ministry took immediate action, mentioning the four initiatives released by TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton alongside the release of the report.

Fullerton announced that the government would double the Women’s Campus Safety Grant, and require publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, deliver annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus, and create task forces to address sexual violence on campuses.

When asked about the potential release of further results from the survey, Piccini told The Varsity that the ministry has “referred [the report] to the Privacy Commissioner,” echoing Fullerton’s statements at the press conference when the report was released.

Fullerton had said that Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish will be consulted “on the release of additional survey results.”

When asked about why there was a delay in the release of the report, Piccini confirmed that it was a delay on the part of CCI Research, the company that developed and distributed the survey.

Piccini told The Varsity that the TCU received the survey results on March 17, two days prior to the public release on March 19. He also confirmed that postsecondary institutions received the report prior to its public release.

This is a marked shift from the release plan of the previous Liberal government, as this timeline leaves a window of no more than a day between when the report was released to postsecondary institutions and when it was released to the public.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Mitzie Hunter, previous Minister of AESD and current MPP of Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be shared with postsecondary institutions in summer 2018. Hunter added that some of the data would be made public and has since criticized the Ford government for “hiding” the results.

However, Piccini contradicted this point. “The previous government had no plans to release this to the public,” he said.

When asked about Hunter’s statement that the AESD had planned to publicly release the data, Piccini said, “I can’t speculate on what she was planning or what she wasn’t planning when we were given this report.”

In terms of implementing the four initiatives, Piccini said that he expects “an ongoing dialogue.”

“The realities are different from one campus to the next. The geographic realities, the size, the various different marginalized groups on campus all present unique challenges that I think must be addressed uniquely to that institution.”

He emphasized his commitment to work further with student groups across campuses to discuss and develop better strategies to continue the conversation about the issue of sexual violence on campus.

“There is not a group I will not meet with,” he said.

When asked if there are any more initiatives on the horizon from the ministry surrounding this issue, Piccini did not give any specific examples, but he cited the ministry’s commitment to viewing this issue holistically, involving mental health in the discussion, and continuing “this ongoing dialogue, and ongoing discussions we’re having with universities.”

“[It’s] important to engage students,” he said. “The solutions to this are going to involve all of us, our entire community.”

Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT reflects on the dangers of Bill 66

Op-ed: Labour must continue to resist

Only a few months ago, Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 47 repealed many of the labour protections won through advocacy by decent work coalitions across Ontario — including the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Workers lost two paid sick days; pay equity between full-time, part-time, and temporary workers; and the scheduled increase of minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The bill passed despite persistent outcry, proving that Ford is not “for the people,” no matter how often he repeats it.

Following Bill 47, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government tabled Bill 66 in December, an omnibus bill titled “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act,” which proposes amendments to several, unrelated laws dealing with childcare, environment, and labour, among other things. The PCs claim it will “eliminate red tape and burdensome regulations so businesses can grow, create and protect good jobs.”

However, the so-called red tape that will be removed crucially protects workers’ rights. The bill is at its third reading stage and will almost certainly pass in the very near future.

When organizing works: the Greenbelt

When it was announced that Bill 66 would open the Greenbelt for development, the PCs were met with strong opposition. The Greenbelt, an established protected land strip, includes more than two million acres of environmentally-sensitive areas and farmlands. That section of the bill allowed municipalities to create “open for business” zoning bylaws, giving them the option to override legislation that prohibits development in the Greenbelt.

Individuals, communities, and environmental organizations were active in opposing this legislation. A testament to political organizing, the opposition was ultimately successful: Schedule 10 of Bill 66 relating to the Greenbelt was repealed.

However, while Bill 66 has received significant media and public attention around the Greenbelt, less attention has been given to its labour implications. This lack of awareness is partially due to the fact that Bill 66 is an omnibus bill that makes changes to multiple pieces of legislation at once.

Though omnibus bills save time by shortening legislative proceedings, they limit the ability for MPPs and constituents to express their objections to specific components of the bill. Instead, they are forced to either support or reject the bill as a whole. In majority governments, omnibus bills become a strategic way to quickly push through enormous policy changes — allowing segments of the legislation to fly under the radar without accountability.

Bill 66 continues the attack on labour

According to the current Employment Standards Act, for an employee to be able to work more than 48 hours a week, both the employer and employee are required to sign an agreement and gain approval from the Ministry of Labour. This specific provision has existed for nearly 75 years in Ontario thanks to labour advocates. However, Bill 66 removes the extra step of approval by the ministry, allowing employers to ask employees to work overtime with little to no oversight.

Ministry oversight is, ideally, meant to keep the power of employers in check. It can be difficult for many workers, especially workers in low-wage, precarious positions, to say no to their employers when asked to work overtime. Removing a mechanism of formal accountability makes workers vulnerable to abuses in the workplace.

Current laws also allow employers to average out hours worked over two or more weeks, but only with the agreement of workers and approval from the Ministry of Labour. For example, working 30 hours in one week and 50 hours in another could be averaged to 40 hours both weeks — and would thus not be considered ‘overtime.’

Bill 66 scraps the requirement for overtime averaging to be approved by the Ministry of Labour. Without oversight, employers are sure to take advantage of this loophole by avoiding paying workers time-and-a-half overtime pay.

When the Ford government says it wants to get rid of ‘red tape,’ what it really means is that it wants to give the green light to employers to place their bottom line above workers’ safety. Agreements between employers and workers are shaped by a clear power imbalance, in which workers are beholden to the whims of their boss, especially if they are relying on a paycheck to put food on the table.

Students are at risk

Students trying to make ends meet by working in precarious sectors, like retail or service, are especially vulnerable. As Ford’s policies, like cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program grants, make postsecondary education more expensive, students will find it difficult to say no to a boss who asks them to average their overtime hours or work excess hours.

Bill 66 also scraps the requirement for the Employment Standards Act poster to be displayed in “a conspicuous place” in all workplaces. While this change is quite small, it is not trivial: it limits workers’ access to crucial information about their rights, making them less likely to seek justice if they have been wronged.

Lastly, the bill harms construction workers. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act has a “non-construction employer” provision, which means that any employer deemed to be a “non-construction employer” is not beholden to any collective agreement that unionized construction workers would regularly be covered by.

Bill 66 expands the definition of “non-construction employer” to include municipalities, school boards, hospitals, universities, and colleges. Workers performing construction work in these settings would not be afforded the protection that their union usually offers them. By allowing these public employers to dissolve collective agreements, Bill 66 effectively undermines the power of unions, hindering access to fair working conditions and wages.

All of the changes to labour laws that this bill proposes are discomfiting, but the changes to the Labour Relations Act especially belie a pattern of the Ford government. Ford’s Student Choice Initiative effectively defunds student unions by making their fees optional, undermining their ability to provide services to students and advocate for structural change.

The collective power of students to challenge establishments like U of T is threatened by the Student Choice Initiative, just as the collective power of construction workers’ unions to advocate for workplace protections is threatened by Bill 66.

We must continue the resistance

In moments like these, when another piece of Ford legislation claws back worker protections, it is essential to remember that making noise has worked before and can work again. Though Bill 66 will pass very soon, we can still hold Ford’s PCs and exploitative workplaces accountable by continuing to organize and agitate.

Indeed, many of the labour protections that we’ve retained, such as domestic or sexual violence leave and the $14 minimum wage, are the direct result of tireless organizing by activist groups like the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Students have been a part of this movement for decent work, and we’re a part of a broader struggle that is resisting Ford’s continued attacks on our collective rights.

In this political moment, we must not only remind ourselves of the fights that have been won, but also be vigilant in advocating for one another in our workplaces and communities. Under Bill 66, when employers no longer have to answer to the Ministry of Labour, they will have to answer to us: the people.

Vidhya Elango is a fifth-year Linguistics, Anthropology, and Computer Science student at Victoria College. Talia Holy is a second-year Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, and Sexual Diversity Studies at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The Ontario Autism Program: what you need to know

A U of T medical student reflects on the proposed changes and what they mean for patients and families

The Ontario Autism Program: what you need to know

Last month, Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS), announced sweeping changes to the provincial autism program. These changes were met with outrage from parents, health care professionals, educators, and autism advocacy groups, culminating with the resignation in protest of a Ford staffer — who was the former head of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a parent of a child with autism.

These changes affect a subset of Ontarians in ways that many may not fully be able to grasp. With April being Autism Acceptance Month and U of T accepting a $25-million donation for establishing the Leong Centre of Healthy Children, now is an important time to discuss how changes to the Ontario Autism Program will affect patients and families.

Defining and managing Autism Spectrum Disorder

According to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by “persistent deficits in social communication and interaction,” as well as “restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activites.”

Individuals with ASD present in a variety of ways. Some may only require help learning complex language skills and particularly nuanced social situations, while others may need more comprehensive training to develop basic language and life skills, as well as deal with challenging and potentially dangerous behaviours, including running away from home, food refusal, and aggression toward themselves and others. Due to this variability in presentation, each individual with ASD is affected differently, and programming must be personalized to their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) is a high-intensity application of the principles of the gold standard therapy for ASD: Applied Behavioural Analysis. IBI involves up to 40 hours of one-on-one therapy per week for at least two years, and is generally recognized by published literature and by the Board Certified Behaviour Analyst guidelines as achieving favourable results.

The Ontario Autism Program

Currently, treatment for ASD is primarily managed through the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). Children under 18 are admitted into the program and assessed by an experienced analyst. This assessment determines the amount of funding they require to receive the best possible treatment to address their needs, which may cost up to $100,000 per year.

This cost is covered entirely by the Ontario government, allowing all enrolled children, regardless of income or age, to access effective treatment with the goal of learning to manage behaviour, enhance communication, and participate effectively in schools and communities.

The OAP’s biggest flaw is undoubtedly its massive waitlist. IBI is demanding in terms of time and funding, although economic analyses show that providing effective and early IBI to a greater number of children actually saves money in the long term. However, it is not feasible under current funding levels to provide effective IBI to every single child diagnosed with autism beginning at the time of their diagnosis. This leads to waiting periods that can last over two years, according to Amy Fee, Parliamentary Assistant to the MCCSS. Recent statements by MacLeod claim that over 8,000 children are receiving IBI through the OAP while 23,000 are still on the waitlist, a number the Ford government is accused of inflating by instructing regional providers to covertly stop accepting waitlisted families.

Changes to the program

Blaming financial constraints, the Ford government’s priority shifted to eliminating the waitlist. Over the next two years, the amount allocated for autism programs in the annual budget will remain at $321 million, but coverage will be rationed between all 31,000 children who are either waitlisted or currently receiving full therapy.

Funding will be awarded to children based on age and family income, with clients receiving up to $20,000 per year until the age of six, followed by $5,000 per year between the ages of six and 18. Families with a household income exceeding $250,000 won’t receive any funding at all.

While earlier treatment is correlated with more effective outcomes, scaling funding with age has been criticized due to the highly variable nature of the disorder. For example, a more neurotypical child at age five could be less functionally impaired than a 10-year-old farther along the spectrum.

However, since March 21, the Ford government announced a number of concessions for which details are still unclear, with MacLeod announcing that she would take the next few months to deliberate further. These updates included removal of the consideration of household family income in determining funding maximums; additional funding for children with autism to access speech language pathology, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy; increasing the total budget allocation to a minimum of $600 million; and committing to additional needs-based funding, without any further numerical or logistical details.

Despite MacLeod’s alleged threats to the Ontario Association of Behaviour Analysis warning the organization against disagreeing with the changes, pushback against the policy from groups across the board as been immense. The OAP revamp has been met with protests and criticism by parents, therapists, and self-advocacy groups. Many parents are saying that despite the unfairness and deep flaws of the previous system, they would rather wait for a full, intensive course of therapy than try to make do with what the government is providing. A significant number of families are being forced to choose between paying differences in cost that can amount to multiple times the Ontario median income, which may involve selling family property and depriving their child of effective therapy.

In response to backlash, the Ford government announced that it would be providing school boards with an average of $12,300 per child with autism enrolled in school, to help train teachers and ensure there are additional supports available. However this was not a new announcement — according to an August 2018 announcement by the provincial government, school boards will receive $12,300 for any student enrolled in school, regardless of their diagnoses or educational needs. Other significantly smaller funds in addition to the standard $12,300 are available for students with special needs in Ontario, but MacLeod’s announcement was deliberately misleading. The push for earlier integration of children with ASD into Ontario schools is particularly ominous when set against the backdrop of significant cuts to education, which will increase class sizes and reduce staffing at Ontario schools.

The broad impact of the changes

No amount of deception by the Ford government can hide the fact that all children, especially those with more severe autism coming from families with lower incomes, will be affected by the sweeping changes to the OAP and the education system as a whole. The ripple effects of these changes should be of concern to all of us. Anyone, from high school students soon joining U of T to mature student parents unable to afford both tuition and appropriate childcare, could be affected. It is up to us to join with all of them and advocate for evidence-based solutions to the needs of some of the most vulnerable citizens of this province.

Imaan Javeed is an MD student in the Faculty of Medicine. The author would like to acknowledge Kristin Bain, a Senior Therapist at AlphaBee, an intervention centre specializing in IBI and other behavioural analytic therapies.

UTSG students join province-wide walkout in protest of Ford cuts

Canadian Federation of Students pushes for repeal of changes to postsecondary funding

UTSG students join province-wide walkout in protest of Ford cuts

On March 20, around 150 UTSG students took part in a province-wide walkout to protest the Ford government’s announced unfunded tuition cut, changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and an opt-out option for certain incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The students began by rallying at Sidney Smith Hall before marching on Simcoe Hall. 

The walkout was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in conjunction with campus groups as part of a province-wide campaign to bring awareness to the postsecondary funding changes. The protesters were joined by representatives from the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, the Arts and Science Students’ Union, and the Graduate Students’ Union. 

The Student Choice Initiative (SCI) is one of the other changes announced by the provincial government that would mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees. It threatens the funding of many organizations that rely on mandatory student levies for funding, including the student unions in attendance at the protest. 

In its January announcement, the Ford government characterized the mandate as giving students the freedom to choose what they would be funding. For organizations like the CFS, this could mean a severe funding cut.

However, the CFS has a plan to keep organizing even with potential losses of revenue. CFS–Ontario Chairperson Nour Alideeb said in an interview with The Varsity that while she can’t speak to the specifics of how the CFS will operate on a reduced budget, it does have a plan for continued advocacy.

“We have strength in numbers, and the reality is that this government’s going to be removed in the next four years, and there will be governments that will be around after that… Because of our strength in numbers, we are actually able to create change,” said Alideeb, also expressing a hope to unite campuses across the province to repeal the SCI. 

While protests continue across the province, the fight to reverse the Ford government’s changes continues at Queen’s Park. Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Spadina—Fort York and Critic for Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Glover has announced that he will be introducing a private members’ bill next week. 

The bill is set to ask the Ford government to relieve student debt by converting all future OSAP loans into grants, and ending interest on student loan debt by the provincial government.

In a statement released to The Varsity, Glover wrote, “Cutting and ultimately eliminating student debt will also be good for our economy. Currently students and graduates are saddled with debts that can take decades to pay off.” Glover sees student debt as restricting participation in the economy and hopes that the government will see education as an “investment in our future, both economically and socially.”

Editor’s Note (4:00 pm, March 27): This article has been updated to clarify that the CFS organized the walkout in conjunction with campus groups, as well as that the protest was also in relation to the SCI.

“I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year”: UTSC students walk out in response to Ford’s education reform

UTSC participates in province-wide walkout

“I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year”: UTSC students walk out in response to Ford’s education reform

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) organized a UTSC Solidarity Action event with a walkout on March 20 as a part of a province-wide walkout to protest the Ontario government’s changes to postsecondary education funding.

The event took place across three locations at UTSC: the Bladen Wing, the Instructional Centre, and the Student Centre. At all locations, SCSU representatives and volunteers collected signatures for its petition against the provincial government’s reforms, as well as letters to be sent to various MPPs.

The SCSU warns that the planned tuition reduction will result in a loss of “approximately $360 million from university operating budgets,” and will increase the already “skyrocketing tuition fees for international students.” 

The province announced the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) on January 17, saying that the previous model, which granted tuition funding to families earning up to $175,000, was fiscally unsustainable. 

The government eliminated the six-month interest-free grace period on OSAP loans, while also lowering the income threshold at which students can qualify for grants. This may force students to take on more loans and accumulate more debt.

In an interview with The Varsity, SCSU Vice-President External Hana Syed, who helped to organize the event, emphasized the importance of participating in solidarity action. 

“The services that our student union offers, like operating a food bank, and the Women’s and Trans Centre, or Racialized Student Collective, and [Free Book Network] that support marginalized communities especially, are now going to be cut.”

Speaking on the changes to OSAP, Syed said, “The way that I’m even able to access education and be here is because I am on OSAP… I have three siblings; it would be impossible for my parents… to send all of us to school, and education is that important to my family.” 

Chemi Lhamo, current SCSU Vice-President Equity and President-elect, believes the government’s changes affect all students. 

“It’s an attack on us,” Lhamo told The Varsity. “When you don’t invest in our future generations, it’s a testament to where your morals lie.”

“I am a part-time student because education is already highly inaccessible to someone like me who comes from different intersectional identities, and I think this can be relatable to a lot of other students, especially in the Scarborough campus because about 80 per cent of our students are racialized folks,” Lhamo said. “A racialized woman came into my office in tears, and said, ‘Chemi, I don’t know how I’m going to come to school next year.’ And that shakes me to the core.” 

UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

UTM students join province-wide walkout against Ford government

UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

During a campus walkout at UTM on March 20, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull agreed to a demand by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) for the university to take action against changes to postsecondary funding announced by the provincial government earlier this year.

Students marched from the Student Centre toward Deerfield Hall, clutching signs and chanting: “Who are we? We are the students.”

These students gathered at the Student Centre earlier that morning to participate in the province-wide walkout organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, of which the UTMSU is a member. The protest is part of a We the Students campaign against the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary funding, which includes cuts to the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP) and an opt-out option on certain “non-essential” incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

After a free brunch offered by the UTMSU, students were addressed by UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and sessional lecturer in political science Kristin Cavoukian. Cavoukian is also the Vice-Chair of Unit 3 of CUPE 3902, which represents U of T’s contract workers. 

Executive members of the Muslim Students’ Association also spoke to students, as did Middle Eastern Students’ Association President Reem El-Ajou.

All emphasized the importance of campus life in shaping students’ lives, and how the SCI could endanger it.

Students also chanted, “Students, united, will never be defeated” and “Education is under attack, what do we do? Unite! Fight back!” as they walked through the new North Building to the Instructional Centre atrium. They continued to the Communication, Culture, and Technology building before settling in the recently renovated Meeting Place of the William G. Davis building.

“All I want to say is that Ford don’t really care about us” reverberated through the area, before Nagata called for Krull to come to the Meeting Place to listen to the UTMSU’s demands.

“[Number one, sign a joint letter with the UTMSU] address[ing] the cuts to OSAP, grants, and the SCI,” said Nagata to Krull. 

Nagata also called on the UTM administration to speak to Governing Council to discuss how the SCI would affect UTM students and the UTMSU, and called on Krull to attend a town hall hosted by the UTMSU. The final demand called on Krull to sign a petition to be sent to the Ford government.

Krull signed the document containing these demands, to the chants of “Ulli.”

“Thank you, first, of all for taking the time to protest,” said Krull to the crowd. “This is important: if you don’t speak up, in what we have as a democratic society, your messages are not going to be heard.”

“Recognize that the entire university is, in a sense, impacted by what the government is doing, whether it’s OSAP, whether it is the Student Choice Initiative. These are things that are impacting all of us,” said Krull.

Krull explained that though he had “no problem” signing a joint letter with the UTMSU, he could not sign on behalf of U of T. He did however emphasize that the “entire university” would be impacted by the changes and signed the letter “on the basis of supporting you and the initiative to get this heard by the President and by Governing Council.”

On discussing the impacts of the SCI with Governing Council, Krull added that UTM “already had presentations here locally in governance.”

“If this is a general statement, that there is a concern about the Student Choice Initiative, OSAP, no problem at all,” said Krull about signing the UTMSU’s petition to the government. “If this is the type of language, the type of text, that usually is more expansive, that starts demanding, for example, free tuition, that is beyond what we are talking about here, so that’s a petition I could not sign.”

“We’re all in it together,” remarked Krull, “This is something we need to work on together.”

U of T starting work on online portal for Student Choice Initiative

ACORN Advisory Team being consulted as U of T waits for final framework from province

U of T starting work on online portal for Student Choice Initiative

In preparation for the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the Ontario government’s plans to mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees — the university is using the ACORN Advisory Team to test user experience for what will become the online portal through which students will be able to opt out of incidental fees. The team is made up of 150 students who give input on ACORN applications.

The SCI is part of larger changes to postsecondary funding in Ontario, announced earlier this year alongside a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition and changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

In an email to Advisory Team members, the ACORN Experience & Process Design Team asked for volunteers to test one-on-one research sessions for feedback on “initial collection of [the team’s] design work.”

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church wrote that the university is still in “very preliminary design tests” for the SCI online portal, awaiting final guidelines from the province.

The lack of clear and final guidelines from the province has been brought to the attention of Governing Council numerous times in board meetings, as the fall semester deadline to implement the system looms.

Church went on to say that the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has been meeting with all 45 student societies directly and reviewing the fees for student societies and student services.

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Student Choice Initiative and domestic tuition cut threaten to undermine student life, exploit international students

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced the controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which will give students the option to opt out of incidental, “non-essential” fees. These may include fees that go toward student unions, clubs and societies, and campus newspapers. While the Ford government highlights the importance of providing students with choice, this policy puts many student services into jeopardy — including here at UTM.

Unfortunately, students may underestimate the importance of student unions, such as the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The UTMSU provides services and a single voice for UTM students in fighting for their interests independently from the university. The prospect of reduced fees means that the union may not be able to effectively function and advocate for change.

UTM students should remember that it is through UTMSU advocacy that they enjoy many important and popular services. For example, the U-Pass is a necessity for many students to affordably commute. Such a privilege does not come out of thin air — it is the outcome of a strong willingness from the UTMSU to fight for its students.

While the government has assured that existing transit passes will not be affected by the SCI, plans for improved passes in the future — such as a GTA-wide pass, which the UTMSU is looking into — will likely be out of reach.

The university administration does not always see student interests as a top priority, but the union exists to ensure that students are heard. The most recent example of this is the Course Retake Policy, which has given students the option of retaking a course and having only the second grade included in their GPA. According to the UTMSU, it had been pushing the policy for seven years. Clearly, getting the university to accommodate administrative changes is not an easy feat to accomplish.

The UTMSU has also been dedicated to tackling food issues on campus. Free Breakfast Wednesdays, which are intended to help fight food insecurity on campus,have been a regular occurrence for the past two years. Similarly, the Food Centre, which provides non-perishable items to students free of charge, is another important student-driven measure that is funded by a $0.50 levy. In 2015, The Medium reported that the centre’s usage had increased drastically from the previous year.

The UTMSU has also declared its struggle against rising food prices on campus. Since Chartwells has a monopoly over campus food, it is arduous to pursue price reductions. The UTMSU may be committed to this fight; however, it is of no avail if its own survival is in peril.

The UTMSU also supplies a huge amount of funding for clubs and student societies, which offer students the opportunity to meet like-minded people, form a sense of community and belonging, and engage in activities of interest. That is what I have gained from my involvement with the Sociology and Criminology Society. The SCI puts club funding in serious jeopardy. Limiting student clubs takes away many opportunities for campus experience outside the classroom.

The SCI also threatens the student media. Student media crucially hold the university and student governments accountable, keep students informed about campus issues, and provide a platform for free and diverse expression. Campus media also endow students with invaluable journalism experience. I have spoken to UTM alumni who have cited their experiences at The Medium as one of the highlights of their university careers. I’ve been involved with both The Medium and The Varsity, and I find my experience with campus journalism irreplaceable.

Another aspect of Ford’s announced postsecondary changes is the 10 per cent domestic tuition cut. Though it appears to benefit students, it will not come with increased university funding. This means that university revenues will take a hit. In response, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull has suggested over-enrolling international students next year as compensation. If implemented, UTM’s international student population will increase from 24 per cent to 25 per cent of the student body.

While this may not seem like a significant increase, there are several problems with this proposal. Krull has already said that the university has faced issues accommodating so many students. With the Davis and North buildings still under construction, there is limited classroom and study space. If UTM plans to increase the number of international students, it will have to increase its resources and space allocation as well — and there is no indication that they will do so. Admitting more students can decrease the quality of the student experience. Since UTM previously announced decreasing the number of incoming students, this sudden announcement seems to be misguided and abrupt.

Over-enrolling international students is also not fair to international students. It seems that the administration is willing to exploit the fact that international tuition is unregulated and use international students as moneymakers. International students already pay thrice the tuition fees of domestic students, yet they do not receive any special accommodations or specific resources to reflect this hefty amount. Instead, they are likely to face bigger obstacles in adjusting to a new environment with little support.

The Ford government’s approach to postsecondary funding is alarming. The SCI and tuition cut are ultimately against student life and affordability on campuses. UTM students must critically review and challenge these changes.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.