Court quashes Ontario government’s ‘student choice initiative’

Students protest outside court before a hearing in Toronto on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The students are challenging the Ontario government’s “student choice initiative,” which makes certain supplementary fees optional. Colin Perkel / File / The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Divisional Court has struck down the provincial government’s so-called “student choice initiative,” according to a newly released decision posted on the Canadian Federation of Students website.

The “student choice initiative,” announced by the provincial government in January, allows college and university students to opt out of fees that fund campus groups, student newspapers and clubs.

Some fees remained mandatory, such as for walk-safe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation, and academic support. Others, for campus newspapers and food banks, are optional.

Click to play video: 'Ford Government’s “Student Choice Initiative’ forces Queens students to do more with less'
Ford Government’s “Student Choice Initiative’ forces Queens students to do more with less

The result meant student unions, which oversee the funds, won’t know the opt-out numbers – or their budgets – until weeks into the school year.

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The Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students filed an application for a judicial review. The decision in favour of both federations was issued by the Court on Thursday.

“Requiring that universities allow students to opt out of student association fees and other ‘non-essential’ services is inconsistent with the universities’ autonomous governance,” the decision read in part.

“We find that the university guidelines are beyond the scope of the Crown’s prerogative power over spending because they are contrary to the statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”

The Canadian Federation of Students announced Thursday evening that the organization will hold a news conference at Queen’s Park Friday morning.

When asked for reaction, a spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the government was reviewing the decision.

“As this matter is in the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to comment,” Jenessa Crognali told Global News in an email.

As of Thursday evening, it was unclear if the Ontario government will appeal the decision.

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— With files from The Canadian Press

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