Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative

The provincial government under the Progressive Conservatives is applying for leave to file an appeal against a ruling from the Divisional Court of Ontario that overturned the Student Choice Initiative.

A leave for appeal is a procedural measure that must be taken before an appeal is heard by the Court. Thus, the ruling of the Court stands and the SCI continues to be deemed unlawful.

The initiative, known as the SCI, was introduced earlier this year and came into play this fall semester. It allowed students to opt-out of paying certain “non-essential” ancillary fees that fund student unions, campus publication and other post-secondary organizations across the province.

The mandate came from the university and colleges ministry and was not passed through Queen’s Park. PC Party officials insisted to The Avro Post that it allowed for freedom of choice, allowing students to pay only for services that they felt was worth their financial support.

In response, the provincial division of the Canadian Federation of Students and York University’s student union filed a legal challenge against the SCI, stating that they failed to consult with students and should not have interfered with the autonomy of student unions.

Judges ruled unanimously in November to throw out the SCI, an unexpected victory for student allies. They found that the government has “no legal power to control the universities even if it wished to”.

A brief filed by the province on Monday evening states that the ruling restricts the authority to attach conditions to the funding given to public colleges and universities, according to reports by student newspapers.

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the brief reads, adding that post-secondary institutions “remain free” to accept taxpayer dollars, subject to the conditions that come along with the funding.

Over $5 billion comes from provincial coffers to the province’s 21 publicly assisted universities and 24 funded colleges. The Progressive Conservatives argue that the introducing optional student fees is an attempt to allow students to save more financially.

The court ruling, however, pointed out that the optional ancillary fees are a small portion of what students pay in tuition and other fees. For students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, there was only a charge of $55.95 compared to hundreds in overall fees.

The Winter 2020 semester starts in January and fees are due shortly. Some campuses are currently considering their legal options for removing the opt-out option for ancillary fees, The Globe and Mail reported.

IGNITE did not participate in the lawsuit against the province and did not offer support. The student union also refused to respond to the November ruling against the SCI until the government gave a statement.

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