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Divisional Court of Ontario ruled policy ‘inconsistent’ with autonomous governance of universities

The provincial government is looking to appeal last month’s Divisional Court of Ontario ruling striking down the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) and deeming it unlawful, according to the Globe and Mail. 

The SCI was implemented in September by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, allowing students to opt-out of a number of previously mandatory fees they paid with tuition. Those fees included funding for student unions and many of their services, clubs, campus media, support for refugee students, and legal aid clinics.

Back in May, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) filed a legal challenge against the provincial government, arguing the province lacked the authority to implement the policy and acted with improper purpose in doing so.

The case was before the courts in October and a panel of judges released their decision on Nov. 21, siding unanimously with the CFS and YFS and saying the policy is “inconsistent” with the autonomous governance of universities.

Divisional Court of Ontario… by Matt Gergyek on Scribd

But the Globe and Mail reported Monday evening that the provincial government has applied for leave to appeal the ruling. 

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the province says in a brief filed with the Court of Appeal. “Universities remain free to exercise their independence and autonomy through the choice to accept public funding, subject to whatever conditions are attached.” 

“The decision on what financial barriers to education are sufficient to warrant a policy response is precisely the kind of value-driven determination for which elected decision-makers ought to be accountable to the public, and should attract deference from a reviewing Court,” the brief reads.

Kayla Weiler, Ontario representative for the CFS, said the federation’s legal team is working on developing its next steps in response to the leave to appeal.

At the University of Ottawa, about one in four students opted-out of fees under the SCI in the fall semester, meaning campus groups received anywhere from around $8,000 to over $150,000 less in funding than in previous years. Students could opt-out of an average of around $50 per semester. 

The U of O’s former undergraduate student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, was a part of the CFS.

Under their constitution, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) cannot join the CFS.

The constitution blocks the UOSU from joining organizations where membership can’t be terminated by a Board of Directors vote or through a referendum “initiated and administered by the UOSU and governed by the Elections Code, in which only members are eligible to vote.”

The Fulcrum has reached out to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities for comment. This article will be updated as necessary. 

Editor’s Note (Dec. 11, 11:01 p.m.): Updated to include comment from the CFS.

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