Canadian Federation of Students to advocate for student groups in Student Choice Initiative Appeal

‘There’s 350,000 members of the federation in Ontario and there’s only one Doug Ford’

The Student Choice Initiative was first struck down in fall 2019.
Journal File Photo

Prior to the appeal of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) on March 23, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) is preparing to advocate for the autonomy of student organizations.

The CFS-O is hoping the court upholds the original ruling from the Ontario Divisional Court in 2019, according to Kayla Weiler, national executive representative for CFS-O. The initial court decision to strike down the SCI was unanimous and ruled on the first argument against the SCI.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing another legal win for students,” Weiler told The Journal in an interview. “It’s not often that students will take a government to court and win.”

Weiler explained that the CFS-O had three arguments to present to the Ontario Divisional Court in 2019 to quash the SCI. The first argument detailed how the SCI was a policy that attempted to override the memorandums of understanding that student unions have with their administration to establish and collect fees for various student initiatives.

“We already have agreements with the administration about how this funding is collected, and it’s not within the scope or the authority of the Minister of Colleges and Universities to put forward a policy that would try to supersede those pre-existing agreements,” she said. 

READ MORE: Ford government to appeal Student Choice Initiative court ruling in March

“Student union fees have already been determined by democratic student referendum, and it’s not appropriate nor is it in the place for the Minster or the Premier to try to jump into those democratic processes.”

Weiler said the CFS-O hopes to present its second and third arguments against the SCI at the March 23 appeal to convey that the policy is unlawful. 

The second and third arguments against the SCI draw on the legislation enacted by the Colleges of Ontario Act and the separate legislation of universities respectively, according to Weiler. The arguments would seek to prove that the SCI oversteps the autonomy of this legislation to unlawfully allow the government to intervene in student unions’ daily operations and budgets. 

“It’s a long standing tradition that the government can’t put forth policies that try to supersede that autonomy,” she said.

Weiler noted the CFS-O is approaching the appeal with “politically” the same message. 

In the event the SCI is reinstated, Weiler said student groups previously denoted as important by students would have to market themselves as valuable; groups such as LGBTQ+ support groups, pride centres, and women’s centres would be at stake. 

“These groups were having to justify their importance and reasons why they are essential when we definitely know as students that these are vital and important groups,” Weiler said. 

Weiler added that the student experience and campus culture would be “dramatically” different if the SCI came back into effect.

“We know that a lot of learning is done outside of the classroom. Students get involved in different groups on their campuses where they develop social, presentation, organizing skills, and things you don’t necessarily learn in the classroom,” she said.

READ MORE: Despite intervenor status, Queen’s “not taking sides” in Student Choice Initiative appeal

Should classes continue to be held remotely in the fall, Weiler said the reintroduction of the SCI would present additional barriers to the student experience. 

“We have seen that student unions have been extremely busy during the pandemic, where they are offering more bursaries and emergency funds. They’re also operating food banks at maximum capacity. They’re trying their best to help students with academic issues, with things like online proctoring and the racism that’s within this proctoring,” she said.

“With continuing another semester online, we’re going to continue to see issues students have with academics and online learning. It’s scary though because, since we’re in this online format, the SCI would be really harmful for the fact that we know there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about the work that student unions do, and we don’t have the format of in-person outreach to continue to tell students how they are represented.”

However, Weiler said the CFS-O would continue to advocate against the SCI despite the remote circumstances. 

“From the very beginning, this policy has never been a good policy,” she said. “We have a very strong coalition with the Labour Unions in the province and all of our student unions that we represent to continue to fight back.”       

“There’s 350,000 members of the federation in Ontario and there’s only one Doug Ford, so we have the numbers on our side when it comes to fighting back against these harmful policies.”

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