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The challenge was filed on May 23. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students filed a joint legal challenge against the provincial government to block its Student Choice Initiative (SCI) on May 23, saying Ontario lacked the authority to implement the policy and acted with improper purpose in doing so.

The SCI was announced on Jan. 17 and will allow post-secondary students to opt-out of non-tuition fees which were previously mandatory, including student union fees. These fees are then used to fund over a dozen services at the University of Ottawa, including the Pride Centre and Food Bank. The SCI is set to come into effect this September.

The CFS is a national student organization many post-secondary student unions are a part of.

The University of Ottawa Students’ Union has previously said it will not be joining the CFS for its first two years but students can vote in a referendum to join it after that point. Under the previous undergraduate union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, the CFS received $4.57 a semester from full-time U of O students.

The Graduate Students’  Association of the University of Ottawa continues to be a part of the CFS, which graduate students pay $8.40 a semester towards.

“This policy is a direct attack on students’ ability to organize and provide essential services on campus,” incoming CFS chairperson Sofia Descalzi said in a release earlier today.

“It is a clear attempt to silence students’ unions and student organizations who have a long history of holding administrations and governments accountable when it comes to creating accessible, affordable and safer campuses.”

“We are filing this legal challenge on behalf of all students, students’ unions and student organizations, including campus media and student clubs, the province,” added CFS Ontario representative Kayla Weiler in the release.

“Despite its claim, the Ford government is not for the people and it is certainly not for the students. Students’ unions have been democratically voted in place by students and should remain free of government interference.”

The CFS said it hopes the challenge plays out in court before the policy can come into effect.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities responded briefly to the challenge in a statement to the Fulcrum on May 29.

“Our government is treating students like adults by giving them the opportunity to save money and increasing transparency around student fees so they know where their money is going,” the statement reads. “Students are free to support the services on their campus and we encourage them to exercise this choice.”

The ministry declined to comment further, citing that the case is before the courts.

Editor’s note (May 29, 11:36 p.m.): Updated to include comment from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.