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Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr

Province files leave to appeal last month’s Divisional Court of Ontario ruling 

The University of Ottawa is making ancillary fees students could opt out of in the fall semester under the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) mandatory again for the winter 2020 semester. The move follows a court ruling last month quashing the provincial government’s policy.

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. At the U of O, 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

“Starting in the winter 2020 term, the university will require payment of all ancillary fees and you will no longer be able to opt-out of some of them,” the Office of the Registrar wrote in an email to students on Friday. “These fees will automatically be added to your statement of account for the winter 2020 term.”

It’s still unclear how the majority of universities and colleges in Ontario will respond to the court ruling but the University of Toronto recently took its opt out portal offline, the Eyeopener and the Varsity report. 

The provincial government has applied for leave to appeal the ruling, the Globe and Mail and the Charlatan reported earlier this week, adding to the uncertainty.

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the province said 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.” 

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

According to the email from the Office of the Registrar, if students have already opted out of fees for the winter semester they “may have an outstanding balance to pay,” with a deadline of Jan. 7.

Students can still opt out of the health and dental insurance plan along with the U-Pass, which was not impacted by the SCI. The health insurance plan for international students will still be mandatory. 

At the U of O, 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. 

More to come.