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On Thursday November 21, the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) announced that it won its legal challenge against the provincial government’s implementation of the postsecondary non-tuition fee directives and guidelines, commonly called the “Student Choice Initiative” (SCI).
The SCI allowed students at postsecondary institutions to “opt out” of non-tuition fees that the Ontario government did not deem “essential” to student life before their semesterly bills were to be issued. At Trent, these fees include support for international and refugee students, grocery assistance programs, campus and community media, charities, and the collegiate tradition.
CFS-O, a province-wide student union funded by membership levy fees, announced in May that it and the York University Federation of Students (YFS) would be pursuing legal action against the Ford government after the SCI was announced in January 2019. This took the form of a legal challenge in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court, which was heard on October 11.
The court filing for the legal challenge states that CFS-O and YFS successfully argued that the SCI is “inconsistent with the statutory schemes regulating colleges and universities in Ontario,” and was “made for an improper purpose and in bad faith.” Furthermore, the student unions argued successfully that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities “breached a duty of procedural fairness” in consultation before announcing and implementing the SCI. As such, the SCI has been deemed unlawful.
The Court ruled unanimously in favour of CFS-O and YFS, stating that the provincial government acted without statutory authority when implementing the SCI. CFS-O and YFS were also supported in court by the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union via intervention.
Many are excited about the win, with member of provincial parliament (MPP) for Spadina-Fort York and Opposition Critic for Colleges and Universities Chris Glover calling the win “unprecedented” in a tweet.
“Students’ unions are autonomous organizations and there has never been a place for government interference in their affairs. The services that student organizations on campus provide have been democratically voted on by the students themselves,” YFS President Fatima Babiker said in a media release on November 22.
Arthur obtained the following statement from the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) which is a member organization of CFS at both the federal and provincial level:
"We agree that this is one of the best-case scenarios in regards to SCI. The court agreeing that SCI is unlawful directly emphasizes to the provincial government that all student unions and groups should be equally regarded as important and influential to students. The work that both CFS and YFS have done in regards to their fight for students is empowering and invaluable, and we hope that this continues to inform and inspire a movement towards a more accessible education for students. This precedent-setting case provides a clear message to the provincial government that their attacks on students will not be tolerated, and we are happy that the Divisional Court agrees with us."
In the meantime, groups, services, and organizations across the province are cautiously hopeful, waiting to hear of a possible appeal or for attempts to legislate the SCI in the coming months. The Trent University Office of Student Affairs has notified students that the winter opt-out period that was set to run from November 22 to December 6 has been suspended until further notice.
As this is a developing story, Arthur will continue coverage and requesting further comments as information is made available in the time to come.