UTSU is asking students to vote on fee increases for Downtown Legal Services, one of the U of T service groups available to students.
UTM and UTSG students will participate in an online referendum from Tuesday to Thursday to vote on whether they are in favour of the proposed fee increases for the student legal clinic.
DLS provides free legal help to fee-paying U of T students in areas such as academic offences, tenant housing laws, and criminal laws.
Currently, full-time UTM students pay $0.50 of their portion of UTSU fees to the DLS each semester. Full-time UTSG students pay $1.50 per semester.
If the referendum is passed, full-time UTM students will pay an additional $0.50 per semester. This means that UTM students will pay a total fee of $2 per year to the DLS. Similarly, full-time UTSG students will pay an increased $1.50 per semester, a total fee of $6 per year, to the DLS.
If passed, the referendum will also approve for fee increases to account for inflation. By indexing the levy to the inflation rate, the DLS is aiming to make the fee “a sustainable source of funding” instead of one requiring a new referendum for each adjustment to the fees, according to DLS staff lawyer Benjamin Ries.
According to the referendum notice present on the UTSU website, DLS fees are fully refundable during the UTSU refund period.
According to Ries, 163 undergrad students sought DLS services between April 1, 2014 and March 18, 2015. Ries could not provide a breakdown by campus, but he said that UTM students are “disproportionately numerous” among clients of our University Affairs division, which deals with academic offences and appeals to academic offences.
The last time a referendum was held for a DLS fee increase was in 2003. This has led to a funding deficit for the DLS, says the notice, and a dip into the reserves for the past five years.
“In the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years we drew a combined total of over $41,000 from our reserve fund. We will not be able to continue doing so for much longer, and if our funding is not increased as a result of this referendum, we may see cuts,” said Ries.
The DLS launched a #VOTEYESDLS campaign to encourage students to vote yes in the upcoming referendum.
Voting will take place this Tuesday and Thursday. UTM students can vote online at utsu.simplyvoting.ca or on campus in CCIT, Davis, and IB.
Currently, UTSC students also pay the same levy of $0.50 per semester to the DLS but through the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. UTSC students will not vote in this referendum.
According to Ries, the primary funding from Legal Aid Ontario is reserved for low-income Toronto clients.
Since the DLS also serves as an education program, it receives funding from the Faculty of Law. The remaining funding is provided through UTSU, the Graduate Students’ Union, and SCSU, and this funding is earmarked for fee-paying U of T students.