Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Premier has a record of disregarding the needs of minority communities

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he would not be marching at Toronto’s Pride Parade on June 23 as long as uniformed police officers remained banned from the event. Uniformed police officers will not march at Pride for the third year in a row, following a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest at the 2016 Pride Parade.

BLM successfully demanded the removal of police floats from future parades and voiced the need for Pride to better include communities of colour. Since then, criticism over perceived police inaction and mishandling of several disappearances in the Church and Wellesley Village has also underlined the continuation of the ban. 

Ford’s decision not to march — calculated and political — is not surprising, considering his history of exclusionary policy-making, some of which reduced funding for healthcare, education, and social services.

These changes will impact the most vulnerable of our community and blatantly express a disregard for constituents who are unable to access these resources independently. His choice to march in the York Pride Festival on June 15 alongside the York Regional Police is just another reminder of Ford’s disregard for the marginalized in Toronto and raises the question of whether the premier was marching in support of Pride or in support of police.

Ford breaks six-year tradition set by Wynne in 2013

By contrast, Kathleen Wynne became the first sitting Premier to march in the Parade in 2013. Wynne, who led Ontario’s previous Liberal government, was unaware of this historical first, and said of her attendance, “Every year I take part in the Pride events. Jane and I go to the Pride and Remembrance run on Saturday morning. I go to the church service, which is always very, very moving, on Sunday morning, and of course I walk in the Parade.”

Wynne, who was the first Premier in Canada to openly identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, noted at the time that many of her constituents told her that Pride was like an annual family gathering, given that many of their own families had excluded them from important events.

On the other hand, in 2014, while running for the mayor of Toronto, Ford — alongside his brother, former Mayor Rob Ford — declined to march in the parade, infamously saying, “Do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge Street buck naked? Absolutely not.” He continued, “Maybe there are some people in this city that approve of that, and maybe they can bring their kids down to watch this.”

The Fords have long been criticized for their absence at the parade, and it is unreasonable to expect Ford to attend the parade now. Since taking office last summer, Ford reintroduced a regressive sexual education curriculum which, as discussed in a previous Varsity editorial, greatly threatened the ability for LGBTQ+ students to learn in an inclusive space.

After much backlash from Ontarians, including legal challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Ford’s government backtracked on its plans, instead opting for a new sex ed curriculum that appears similar to Wynne’s 2015 version. However, though sexual orientation and gender identity are still in the curriculum, they will now be taught much later, and parents will also have the ability to opt-out their children from the curriculum.

Absence at Parade follows legally-challenged move to revise Ontario’s sex ed curriculum

In truth, Ford’s appearance at Toronto’s Pride Parade would be a farce, as his policies do not reflect the needs of the community. In practice, his reversal of Wynne’s sex ed policies is regressive and detrimental to students’ health education. A 2015 comparison by Global News revealed that the previous government’s policies brought Ontario’s sex ed curriculum closer to that of Canada’s other provinces and territories. 

By reverting Ontario’s sex ed curriculum this year, he instigated a harmful discourse questioning the importance of LGBTQ+ identities. Eliminating references to sexual orientation, gender identity, and same-sex relationships — as Ford planned to do before the reversal — threatens efforts to normalize different gender and sexual identities through the public school system.

Not only did the previous curriculum aim to foster a community of inclusivity, but it also strived to eliminate gender and sexuality-based persecution and bullying in and outside of schools. In many situations, this curriculum may have been the first time many students below grade eight encountered issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Ford government claimed that Wynne’s curriculum was too detailed in its description of certain elements of sexual health and reproduction and introduced certain concepts too early in students’ education. Rather than rewriting and introducing an alternative curriculum that would specifically remedy these issues, Ford wanted to roll back Wynne’s 2015 curriculum, a decision which the CCLA says “stigmatizes, degrades, and alienates” LGBTQ+ students and parents.

In addition, his cuts to public education threaten the livelihoods of teachers, parents, and students as schools will be forced to make cuts to specialized programs, elective courses, and classroom supplies. It also grossly increased class sizes, reducing face-to-face time between students and teachers. These disproportionately affect students who are not able to access programs outside of school due to financial, physical, or environmental factors.

Ford’s Student Choice Initiative has also threatened funding of LGBTQ+ student advocacy groups

Similarly, Ford’s highly controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI) allows students to opt out of non-essential fees. Institutions must rationalize “essential” services according to the framework set out by the Ontario government. Student groups, such as The Varsity, will need to provide a fee opt-out option. The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario and the York Federation of Students subsequently launched a legal challenge against the initiative in May.

The opt-out policy has the potential to defund or severely restrict funding for groups and services whose members may be otherwise without a community to depend upon for social support. Particularly at U of T, an institution that has been criticized for failing to foster a positive collegiate atmosphere, students rely on clubs and group activities to transform our university into a place of emotional and social growth and support. Minority students, many of whom may not be able to express themselves in their communities and homes — whether through their gender identity, sexual orientation, or cultural and ethnic heritage — will be without these support systems.

The SCI will potentially cut the ability of levy-funded student organizations, like LGBTOUT, Rainbow Trinity, and Woodsworth Inclusive, all of which advocate for LGBTQ+ students.

University is meant to be a place of growth and of self-discovery, and Ford’s SCI limits individuals’ and clubs’ ability to fully support this element of postsecondary education.

Ford’s funding cuts do not stop at the SCI. His reductions of OSAP funding threaten lower- and middle-income students’ ability to access postsecondary education. In particular, the decrease in grants for loans, the consideration of parents’ incomes up to six years after being in school, and the fact that the loans will accumulate interest immediately after graduation have detrimental effects on students’ ability to access funding. Just this week, many students took to social media to show how much funding they stand to lose in comparison to previous years.

According to Higher Education Today, a blog by the American Council on Education, “higher education has historically been and remains a positive location for students’ identity development.” Gender and sexual identity development should not be bound to an economic bracket.

Placing an increased pressure on lower-income students to find funding for school not only places these students in a compromising position, but uniquely challenges LGBTQ+ identifying students by limiting their access to a historically supportive space — and especially considering that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be in lower socio-economic brackets. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Bisexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians… An Ontario-based study found that half of trans people were living on less than $15,000 a year.”

Doug Ford has never been for the people, and there is no reason to believe he has a place at Toronto Pride. His policies have increased financial and systemic pressures on the province in general and on the LGBTQ+ community specifically.

Ford continues to tout his adherence to his campaign base while ignoring and flagrantly opposing much of the social and financial support systems which aim to benefit marginalized communities and individuals. By limiting access to student groups, financial aid, and modern sexual health education, Ford is unduly challenging members of the LGBTQ+ community who rely on these services.

Ford’s last-minute decision to participate in York Pride was his opportunity to assure his base of his support of the police force, and, in the process, his prioritization of the needs of institutions over vulnerable communities and individuals. Supporting the LGBTQ+ community was never the nexus of his appearance. If it were, he would have attended the Parade during his time as a city councillor. Doug Ford chose not to go to Pride, but the truth is, Pride is better off without him.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email

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. 

Provincial government releases official guidelines on Student Choice Initiative, details of tuition cuts

Fees for student unions, campus newspapers, other levy-funded groups set to become optional

Provincial government releases official guidelines on Student Choice Initiative, details of tuition cuts

The Ontario government has released official guidelines for the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), the provincial mandate to give students an opt-out option for certain ancillary fees. A document published today by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities expands on a previous unofficial rubric of what constitutes an essential fee, and also includes information on how universities must explain to students the reasoning behind each essential fee.

According to the document, an ancillary fee refers to “a fee imposed or administered… in addition to regular tuition fees, which a student pays for a service or product.” U of T denotes such fees as ‘incidental.’

View this document on Scribd

Student Choice Initiative guidelines

Incidental fees charged by universities to support clubs, student societies, and programs that fall outside of the provincial framework for compulsory fees will be required to have an opt-out option for students.

The ability to opt out, according to the guidelines, must be presented to students before paying fees for that semester. The deadline last fall for Arts & Science students to pay their fees was August 29.

Services can be deemed “essential” by individual institutions, as long as they fall within the government’s established framework, which includes athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, student achievement and records, financial aid offices, and campus safety programs.

Levy-funded groups like various student unions — including college student associations, The Varsity, and campus radio stations — will require an opt-out option, unless the university rationalizes these services as falling within one of the essential categories. The University of Toronto Students’ Union fee for the Student Commons project could potentially fall under the essential “student buildings” category, and will be decided at the university’s discretion.

Fees must also be itemized when provided to students for opting out. This requires the university to differentiate between various fees and restricts it from creating a general ‘student activity’ fee.

The guidelines also require universities to submit an ancillary fee protocol that governs creating new fees or increasing existing ones.

U of T’s guidelines on incidental fees are outlined in the Long-Term Protocol on the Increase or Introduction of Compulsory Non-tuition Related Fees created in 1996, which generally meets the requirements outlined by the province.

Program-related fees will not be governed by these guidelines and can still be mandatory under the university’s purview.

Details on tuition fee cuts provided, not applicable to deregulated programs

The tuition of full-time and part-time students in regular fee programs will also be cut by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year. This cut will also apply to new programs that have been approved for implementation in this or later years.

However, the cut will not apply to “most international students” and students in “full cost recovery programs,” which are programs for which all funding is received through tuition.

The cut will also not apply to students in deregulated programs, such as computer science and commerce.

From 2020–2021, the ministry will also freeze the tuition of students in each program and year of study. This means that students will pay the same tuition in 2020–2021 as they did in 2019–2020.

It is currently unclear whether this tuition freeze will apply to students in deregulated programs or international students. No information was released in this document on whether the freeze will stay in effect for future years.

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.