Court hears first arguments in CFS-O lawsuit over Student Choice Initiative

Decision could be returned within six to eight weeks, according to CFS-O national executive

The Divisional Court heard arguments from the Ontario government and the CFS-O on Oct. 11.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The Ontario Divisional Court heard arguments from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) during the first hearing in the groups’ legal challenge against the province’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) on Oct. 11. 

The CFS-O filed an application for judicial review in May to challenge the Ford government’s new policy, which came into effect at colleges and universities in Ontario on Sept. 1. Announced in January, the SCI allows students to opt out of fees deemed non-essential by the provincial government, causing concern among student groups and administration over how the policy would affect student life.

On the day of the hearing, The Varsity reported the Honourable Justices Harriet E. Sachs, David L. Corbett, and Lise G. Favreau heard the arguments, but decided to render a decision at a later date.

In an interview with The Journal, Kayla Weiler, national executive representative for CFS-O, said the court could release a decision within six to eight weeks.

“The judges are taking the information presented at the court hearing and they’re evaluating the arguments,” Weiler said.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities didn’t respond to The Journal’s request for comment in time for publication. Weiler said a team of lawyers presented court with three arguments demonstrating the unlawfulness of the SCI.

According to her, two of those arguments concerned overstepping.

The CFS-O argued in court that Merrilee Fullerton, the former Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, overstepped her authoritative bounds when she imposed the SCI on colleges because the Ontario College of Applied Arts and Technologies Act only gives the provincial government authority over tuition fees, not ancillary fees.

“Our argument for that is because the Student Choice Initiative did not affect tuition at all, the Minister overstepped [her] authority when it comes to colleges in Ontario,” Weiler said.

For universities, Weiler said lawyers argued the Minister overstepped established agreements between student unions and their respective administrations concerning ancillary fees.

“The Student Choice Initiative is a heavy-handed policy because it’s trying to supersede and overstep memorandums of understanding that students have with their universities,” she said.

Finally, Weiler said lawyers argued the Ontario government acted in bad faith when it implemented the SCI because it claimed to introduce the policy to save students money, yet also made major cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

While Weiler said she’s hopeful the court will rule the SCI is not lawful, she couldn’t confirm whether the CFS-O and YFS would seek to appeal should the decision not be returned in their favour.

“We hold the stance, and will continue to hold the stance, that the Student Choice Initiative is not lawful because the Minister did not have the authority to impose a policy like this,” she said.

The contradiction between the Ontario government’s decision to introduce a policy designed to save students money and simultaneous funding cuts to OSAP also came up in court, according to Mark Wright, counsel for CFS-O.

“I think that we were quite buoyed by the questions that they asked counsel for Ontario,” Wright said in an interview with The Journal. “They gave everyone a rough ride, but they gave [them] a particularly rough ride.” 

Wright said he couldn’t say when the Divisional Court will come to its decision over the lawfulness of the SCI, but said he hopes the judges will reach a decision before the end of the year.

“It’s very hard to estimate timelines. It’s a complicated matter, and I know the court will give it significant consideration,” he said. “It would be great to get a decision by the end of the year. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but I can’t make any predictions.”

 

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