Province reviewing decision that struck down Student Choice Initiative

Ministry yet to confirm plans for appeal

Ministry of Colleges and Universities reviewing SCI court decision.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The Divisional Court of Ontario unanimously struck down the Student Choice Initiative on Nov. 21. A week later, uncertainty remains for student organizations impacted by the directive.

In May, the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students filed an application for judicial review against the Ford government over the SCI. The court heard arguments from both parties on Oct. 11.

While the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) confirmed in a statement to The Journal on Monday it’s reviewing the court decision, there has been no word yet on whether the Province will appeal the decision.

“We will have more to say on this at a later date,” Tanya Blazina, team lead of the Ministry’s issues management and media relations, wrote.

Queen’s administration also has yet to comment on the Nov. 21 decision.

“We are awaiting formal communication from the Ministry on this matter and won’t have comment until that time,” the University wrote in a statement to The Journal.

According to court documents published by The Varsity, the judges unanimously agreed neither the Cabinet nor the Minister had the authority to interfere with the “democratic decisions taken by students respecting their student association membership fees.”

“There is no statutory authority authorizing Cabinet or the Minister to interfere in the internal affairs of universities generally, or in the relations between universities and student associations specifically,” the decision read.

While questions remain about whether previously mandatory fees will return to their former status, student groups and organizations are cautiously celebrating the decision.

According to a statement published by the AMS on Monday, the Society is monitoring the situation and is in contact with student unions across the province.

“The AMS remains committed to student controlled democratic principles and processes in the funding of community organizations, our services, and government,” the statement read. “Although the damage to vital student supports, advocacy capabilities, and employment opportunities have already been felt, the AMS is hopeful that this ruling may allow us to return to the original democratic processes that Queen’s students have relied on for decades.”

Like the administration, however, the Society is avoiding comment on the Ministry’s next steps.

“Although we don’t want to speculate on the provincial government’s response to this ruling, we welcome the opportunity to return control of fees back to our peers and are hopeful that we may be able to bring back some of the student jobs that were lost.”

CFRC, Queen’s campus radio station—which recently lost $50,000 under the SCI—told The Journal it’s “delighted” to hear about the Divisional court’s decision.

“We heartily commend the efforts of student groups that took decisive action and succeeded,” station manager Dinah Jansen wrote in a statement.

Jansen, however, pointed out the damage has already been done at the campus radio station.

“The future of the world's longest running campus radio station is still very much in question, but we will continue to provide opportunities on our airwaves and podcast network for students to share their ideas, interests, voices, and perspectives for as long as we possibly can."

Under the SCI, Kingston’s Sexual Assault Centre lost $4,500. Brea Hutchinson, the Centre’s executive director, told The Journal the Centre is “tentatively hopeful” following last week’s ruling.

“While it is still early, this government seems very eager to not give up their proposals once they’ve made a commitment to them,” Hutchinson wrote in a statement. “What is most concerning about the Student Choice Initiative debacle has already been brought to our attention and can’t be undone.”

Hutchinson referred to the Centre’s loss of mandatory fee status as evidence of where the Province’s priorities lies.

“The truly scary reveal is that this government, and those at Queen’s who determined which fees were essential and which were not, have told us that preventing sexual violence isn’t a priority, that preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors doesn’t fall within the government’s established framework.”

Hutchinson added the constant requests for services the Centre receives from Queen’s students has increased the demand for its counselling services.

“Queen’s students have been generous, kind, and a constant friend,” she said. “With the University in a mental health crisis, it really sucks that they didn’t consider us a potential solution and consider us essential.”

According to Hutchinson, the policy only increased austerity on financially stretched campuses.

“This is a huge attack on student rights and student union autonomy,” she said.

 

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