Student fees policy dismissed by Ontario court
Thousands of student initiatives have faced challenges after Premier Doug Ford’s implementation of an opt-out policy.
Earlier this week, the Ontario government announced it will not be appealing an August court decision to uphold Premier Doug Ford’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
Jill Dunlop, spokeswoman and minister of colleges and universities, revealed that the province is not interested in seeking a legal fight within Canada’s highest court over post-secondary tuition fees.
In the past, the policy was detrimental to the development of student groups and prevented campus communities from accessing several resources including student union services.
Bethany Osborne, director of communications at Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities, stated in a public email, “we remain committed to supporting a world-class post-secondary education system and continue to explore every possible avenue to further increase accountability and transparency within the sector.”
In their ruling, the Appeal Court found the directive to dispute with legislation governing Ontario’s colleges and universities.
In 2019, Ontario Premier Doug Ford implemented a controversial policy, known as SCI, that would enable students to opt-out of ancillary fees, or those that were deemed ‘non-essential.’ However, this decision resulted in significant losses in funding for student groups and unions.
For instance, Ryerson University was impacted by the policy as their student union, equity centres, campus radio station, and newspaper saw a major decline in budgeting. In comparison, the University of Ottawa faced a significant loss of approximately $155,000 in funding for student life and organization.
The Varsity, U of T’s tri-campus paper, experienced an average opt-in rate of nearly 75 per cent, compared to other U of T initiatives that averaged 78 per cent back in 2019. The paper’s Editor-in-Chief revealed in an interview with Vice Magazine that some students’ unions were forced to cut down on mental health coverage in light of the budget cut.
On August 4, Ontario’s Court of Appeal released a unanimous decision upholding a Divisional Court ruling that declared the SCI as ‘unlawful’—dismissing Ford’s attempt to reinstate the policy.
The court affirmed this ruling and ordered the government to compensate $20,000 in costs to the Canadian Federation of Students.
Canadian jurist and legal scholar, Justice Grant Huscroft, writes in a statement, “indeed, given the role played by student associations in university governance, the framework is a profound interference in university autonomy—not a mere fettering of the universities’ discretion, as the Minister submits.”
The opt-out provisions that were enacted in 2019 resulted in challenges for several on-campus organizations, as they defunded them and deprived them from the adequate resources needed to serve students.
A third-year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who chose to remain anonymous, tells The Medium in an email interview, “I always thought of university as a place where the most self-discovery occurs, but when groups lose funding, I feel as though students are losing the opportunity to express themselves and to build those connections that people seek in university.”
The defunding of student groups not only affects associations themselves but the communities they provide for as well. The decision to discontinue Ford’s policy will benefit several students and provide them with the resources they require to thrive in university.
News Editor (Volume 48) | email@example.com —
Going into her third year, May is currently completing a double major in Sociology and Criminology. Before becoming News Editor, May contributed The Medium for two years as a Staff Writer and Associate Features Editor. One of her biggest goals is to launch a nonprofit organization that mediates humanitarian crises around the globe and that supports children living in third-world countries. When she is not writing or studying, May spends her time working with canine coaches to provide supervised fun to four-legged furry friends at Dogtopia Applewood.