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Ford’s Student Choice Initiative Struck Down by Ontario Divisional Court

Photo Credit: Global News

YFS, CFS-O, UTGSU win legal challenge against the student choice initiative

Chiara Greco, News Editor 

On November 21, 2019, the Divisional Court of Ontario declared, in a unanimous decision, that incidental fees fall outside of provincial authority. 

The York Federation of Students (YFS) and the Canadian Federation of Students — Ontario (CFS-O) originally brought this legal challenge before the court in October, arguing that the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) mandate was unlawful. The SCI, a directive which was brought from the Ontario province’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities as part of the Ford government, allowed students to opt out of certain fees. 

Initially, the CFS-O had called the SCI an attempt to silence voices which hold the government accountable — like student unions and campus media. The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) intervened to argue in support of these claims. The Ford government contended that the SCI was created to allow students more choice as to which campus services they support. 

The YFS, CFS-O, and UTGSU argued that “the impugned directives [of the SCI] are inconsistent with statutory schemes regulating colleges and universities in Ontario; the impugned directives were made for an improper purpose in bad faith; and the Minister’s failure to notify or consult student associations prior to announcing and issuing the impugned directives breached a duty of procedural fairness owed to the applicants and other student associations.”  

Ultimately the Divisional Court of Ontario sided with the student group applicants writing that it found that “the impugned directives are contrary to law,” thus granting the application, and granting “an order in the nature of certiorari quashing the impugned directives.”

In regard to this, the Court decision further found that SCI directives by the province are “not authorized by law and are inconsistent with the autonomy granted to universities, bedrock principles on which Ontario universities have been governed for more than 100 years.”

The Court also reviewed the SCI’s definition of incidental versus essential fees. The Court pointed to an ultimate lack in explanation behind why certain fees were deemed to be essential, such as those for athletics and others such as student union fees as incidental.  

Further, the Court stated that “there is no statutory authority authorizing Cabinet or the Minister to interfere in the internal affairs of these student associations.” 

The Court decision essentially argues that the Ontario government lacks legal authority to govern fee collections and agreements between universities and their student associations. This decision was provided by Honourable Justices David Corbett, Lise Favreau, and Harriet Sachs. 

In response to this according to CBC News, Kayla Weiler, the Canadian Federation of Students’ — Ontario representative, said “she is unsure if the fee schedule and full funding for those groups can resume for next semester or next year.” 

According to Global News, a representative for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities is currently in the process of reviewing this decision. As such, more information will be available in the coming days in regards to potential appeals.