By Charlize Alcaraz and Jessica Mazze
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and York Federation of Students (YFS) called on the provincial government to “do better” in a press conference at Queen’s Park on Friday amid the Ontario Divisional Court’s decision to strike down the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
“This was never about choice,” said CFS national executive Kayla Weiler during her speech. “It was always about the Ford government trying to silence the exact bodies that hold them accountable and challenge them to do better.”
The government’s attempt to mandate that certain fees become optional under the SCI was deemed “unlawful,” in a court ruling made yesterday by the Ontario Divisional Court.
The SCI was first introduced on Jan. 17 of this year by previous Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton. This initiative allowed students to have the ability to opt-out of ancillary fees that were once compulsory. This includes student unions, campus newspapers and campus radio stations, among others.
The CFS and the YFS first announced their legal challenge against Premier Doug Ford’s policy on May 23 when they filed for legal action, claiming that the provincial government did not have the authority to implement SCI, acting with “improper purpose.”
According to Weiler, student involvement is a crucial part of the fighting and effectively scrapping the SCI.
“Let’s celebrate this victory … and encourage the fact that we can continue to fight for students’ rights and we are effective in our organizing, we can win things for students,” said Weiler.
“Students were the ones who felt the impact of this undemocratic policy the most when they were no longer able to access the services they needed to succeed,” said Fatima Babiker, president of YFS. “Since the implementation of [the SCI], students have fought against the direct impact [on] student autonomy.”
“Students have been vocally angry within our campuses, and they are simply not okay with the provincial government making decisions on their behalf,” she said.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) showed their public support for the court ruling as well, commenting that the SCI “led to shortfalls in funding for student food banks, support programs for women and LGBTQ students, and for campus newspapers and radio stations,” according to Chris Glover, MPP for the Spadina-Fort York riding and the NDP critic for colleges and universities.
“The defence that the government was making for their actions was repugnant to the fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy, ” said Glover.
Louis Century, an associate at Goldblatt Partners and lawyer for the CFS, hopes that student unions will see the court decision as an affirmation of their central roles on campuses.
“A core part of the court’s decision is recognizing that student unions are … [the] core to what happens on campuses at universities, so much so that the government overriding their affairs is overriding the autonomy of the university,” said Century.
While student groups across the province are celebrating the occasion, Weiler said that “this doesn’t end just here.”
CFS’ chairperson Felipe Nagata said that it’s important for students to celebrate yesterday’s victory, but it’s also important to “seek more until we have a free and accessible post-secondary education, and we have to keep fighting.”
“It was a rough time for all of us, for student media and student unions,” said Nagata. “So I think now is the time where we can truly be happy, this is a huge victory.”