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Canadian Federation of Students taking Ontario government to court

By Emma Sandri

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students have filed a legal challenge against the Ontario government over the province’s plan to move ahead with a post-secondary fee opt-out option in September.

Known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), the policy was first announced on Jan. 17, by Merrilee Fullerton, minister of training, colleges and universities. The SCI gives students the ability to opt-out of certain non-essential, non-tuition fees that were previously a mandatory part of their tuition.

“We hope the Ford Government will reverse its so-called Student Choice Initiative and respect students’ unions autonomy to democratically determine how to best serve their students,” said spokesperson for the CFS Geneviève Charest, to The Eyeopener.  

The legal challenge alleges that the provincial government “lacked the authority to implement such a policy and acted with improper purpose,” according to a press release from the CFS. The legal challenge was filed on May 23.

At the time of the government’s initial SCI announcement, it was not clear which fees were to be deemed mandatory and which students would be able to opt out of.

Over two months later, the provincial government released its guidelines for the SCI. Mandatory fees included student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, campus safety programs, career services and athletics and recreation, among others.

For Ryerson students, this means that approximately two-thirds of the fees they pay to student associations and unions will be mandatory.

Those fees which aren’t mandatory—and subject to student opt-out—include campus student groups and cultural associations, student unions and campus media organizations, such as newspapers and radio stations.

“If students’ unions’ funding is reduced in September, it will be devastating for services that are essential to life on campus,” Charest said in an email. “This includes services like campus food banks, LGBTQ+ support centres, student advocacy.”

The CFS is taking every action possible to express their opposition to the initiative and to encourage the province to reverse it, according to the spokesperson. This action includes rallies, occupations, petition drives, meeting with MPPS and the legal challenge.

Charest called the SCI “devastating” and said that the CFS believes they have put forward a case that shows Fullerton did not have the authority to impose the SCI on “autonomous” universities and colleges.

“The minister [of training, colleges and universities] acted in bad faith by targeting specific groups such as students’ unions, campus newspapers and radio stations, advocacy-based service centres and their provincial and federal affiliates,” said Charest.

The CFS is the oldest and largest national student organization in Canada, said CFS in the release. Overall, the organization represents over 350,000 students in Ontario, including members of the York Federation of Students.

In an article in fall 2018, The Eyeopener reported that the RSU pays more than $500,000 to the CFS to support its campaigns, movements and resources all geared toward a “United Student Front.”

With files from Sherina Harris, Izabella Balcerzack and Alexandra Holyk.

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