College students to sue schools, province

Class-action suit claims colleges charge illegal fees

Two Toronto students are suing Ontario community colleges and the Ontario government.

They claim the colleges have been illegally charging their students ancillary fees for services that should be included in tuition fees.

On June 6, Toronto students Dan Roffey and Amanda Hassum launched a $200 million class-action lawsuit against the province’s 24 community colleges.

The four allegedly illegal fees specified in the lawsuit are lab, information technology, library, and mandatory laptop leasing fees.

Under provincial policies, Ontario’s community colleges are forbidden to charge compulsory tuition-related supplementary fees.

Arthur Cockfield, associate dean of Queen’s Faculty of Law, said the province must approve all colleges’ fees, unless they’re put to a student vote.

“The basic idea is, only the provincial government gets to regulate what tuition can be charged,” he said.

The fees the colleges are charging don’t comply with these regulations, Roffey said, adding that the provincial government is aware of this but has chosen to ignore the issue.

Before a lawsuit can name a government, that government must be given a notice of intent.

After notice is given, there is a 50-day period before the government can be named a defendant in a lawsuit.

In this case Roffey and Hassum will add the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to the lawsuit at the beginning of August.

“[The students] have got a significant chance; at least that’s the perspective it looks like from the government point of view,” Cockfield said.

He said the ministry recently sent a directive to the colleges to stop charging the ancillary fees.

“The ministry appears worried,” he said.

“Immediately stopping the charging of these fees is our first goal,” Roffey said, adding that the second goal is to win compensation for students who paid the fees since 2004.

“It could be something like a scholarship fund, or students who have been paying illegal fees can qualify for debt relief,” he said. “How that compensation will work, that will be discussed through negotiations between the lawyers.”

The Canadian Federation of Students supports the class-action suit.

The federation’s Ontario chairperson Jesse Greener said the problem isn’t as prevalent in Ontario’s universities, which aren’t as strictly regulated as colleges.

“[Charging illegal fees] does not appear to be as widespread at universities as at colleges because university student unions more actively challenge fees,” he said. “However, this will be a wakeup call for universities. We’ve looked at them carefully.” The Queen’s Centre fee, towards which undergraduate students pay $71 annually, is legal, Cockfield said.

“Any non-tuition fees that are approved by a student referendum are acceptable.”

Negotiations with the Crown attorney have already begun in this lawsuit.

“I don’t expect it to be wrapped up anytime soon because class-action lawsuits can go on for a long time,” Roffey said. “But I am hopeful because, you know, it’s an election year.”

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