Ford government to appeal Student Choice Initiative court ruling in March

The Student Choice Initiative was struck down in 2019

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Over a year after it was struck down in court, the Ford government is trying to bring back the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

On March 23 and 24, the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) will appeal the Divisional Court’s 2019 ruling that struck down the SCI. 

The SCI is a policy, introduced by the Ford government in early 2019, which allowed students to opt-out of previously mandatory student fees. The policy financially affected LGBTQ+ student groups, sexual assault centres, campus food banks, and student newspapers. Only a narrow slate of fees remained essential under the MCU’s directive. 

READ MORE: The Student Choice Initiative, explained

The Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario (CFS-O) challenged the SCI in the Divisional Court of Ontario, questioning the Ministry’s authority to interfere with student fees, which are primarily decided through a student vote. 

On Nov. 21, 2019, the Divisional Court struck down the SCI, and student fees regained mandatory status in 2020. While the Province announced it would review the decision in 2019, COVID-19 slowed the process. 

The Journal has reached out to the Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario (CFS-O), the MCU, and Queen’s University for comment. 

READ MORE: Student Choice Initiative struck down in divisional court

Motion Judge Fairburn A.C.J.O. posted his legal decision regarding the upcoming appeal case on CanLII in December 2020. 

“In my view, this appeal raises issues that have a far-reaching impact on all publicly-funded universities and colleges in Ontario, as well as the student organizations within those institutions and the student body that attends them,” Fairburn wrote. “Therefore, the resolution of this appeal will affect a wide array of interests, extending beyond the parties involved.”

Six interveners will participate in the appeal: B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights (“B’nai Brith”); University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union; Start Proud and Guelph Queer Equality (collectively, the “LGBTQ+ Coalition”); the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, the Governing Council of the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Ontario (collectively, the “Universities”); the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education (“ACCLE”); and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Centre for Free Expression, the Canadian Association of Journalists, PEN Canada, World Press Freedom Canada, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (collectively, the “Coalition”). 

While the CFS-O does not oppose any of the interveners, the Ontario government opposes the intervention by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, or the Coalition. 

“It [opposes the interveners] on the basis that the Coalition seeks to raise what Ontario describes as a new issue on appeal,” Fairburn wrote. 

Fairburn is allowing the Coalition to intervene. 

“The part of the Coalition’s membership, including 72,000 post-secondary personnel, has a mandate that includes improving the quality of post-secondary education in Canada, something that they say could be seriously adversely impacted by the Initiative.”

According to Fairburn, the Universities claim an impact on their autonomy arising from governmental interference.

This story is developing and will be updated with more information.

 

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