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.

High school teachers launch day-long strike

The union representing public high school teachers launched a one-day strike on Wednesday morning after a deadline for a deal was missed, the first strike in 22 years by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

This means that classes are cancelled at public and Catholic high schools for the day. The bargaining team for the union had remained in their caucus room since 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning but there was no provincial representation, OSSTF said.

Administrations, unions give varied response to SCI ruling

On Nov. 21, the Ontario Divisional Court deemed the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative unlawful and the reaction has varied from sending the optional fees website offline to waiting on the Ford government’s response.

On Monday, Nov. 25, the University of Toronto responded by being the first university in Ontario to email its students informing them that they would be freezing the “incidental fees portal” while they took stock.

In an email to students from Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh, University of Toronto students were informed that the school was evaluating the “technical impact” of the court’s decision, and that there would be updates to come. 

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In a graphic posted on their social media, Sheridan College said “Sheridan is monitoring the situation to see what course of action the government chooses to take. Until we receive a new directive, we’ll continue under the current one, which allows students to opt-out of paying certain fees.”

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Few other post-secondary institutions have posted a public update about the new evolution in the implementation of the province of Ontario’s “Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines” document. [hyperlink: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/mtcu-university-tuition-framework-guidelines-mar2019-en.pdf]

The University of Guelph has not released a statement yet, but administration has advised its student union, the Central Student Association, that large institutions can take time to implement legal decisions, and that figuring out mechanics with which to reverse the ”Student Choice Initiative” will take some time. 

While the government of Ontario has not yet commented on the releases, there is speculation that they are considering an appeal. In a statement on Friday November 22nd, spokesperson Clara Bryne wrote, “The Ministry of Colleges and Universities is currently reviewing the decision released yesterday. We will have more to say on this at a later date.”

Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario National Executive Representative, and the CFS representative in the legal proceedings, Kayla Weiler, said “we haven’t had any confirmation if there will be an appeal or not, and […] we’re hoping the government will respect the unanimous decision of the panel of judges and respect student democracy”

In its reasons, the Divisional Court said, “The University Guidelines [SCI] … 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.”

Referring specifically to section seven of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act wherein governments are prevented from interfering with the “normal activities” of student governing bodies – specifically the court ruled that “normal activities” the government is precluded from includes; “reducing or eliminating the funding used by student associations.”

Reporting by Jack Fisher; 
Editing by Eli Ridder.

Ontario high school teachers vote for strike

Ontario high school teachers voted with a strong majority in favour of strike action on Monday as tensions build between the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the province.

Teachers and occasional teachers voted 95.5 per cent in favour of strike action, while education workers voted 92 per cent in favour, according to a release by the OSSTF, which is already in a legal strike position.

Outside of the OSSLT, elementary teachers are working to launch a “work-to-rule” campaign on Nov. 26 to target administrators and the ministry but avoid an impact on the classroom. Beyond that, negotiations are continuing between Ontario and French teachers.

Negotiations between the government of Ontario and the union started over the summer break as Premier Doug Ford and his ruling Progressive Conservatives made moves to increase class sizes while cutting raises for public sector workers for three years.

In response to the threat of a strike for school support workers in October, Humber College put out an email to students acknowledging that there could be an impact for those enrolled who have children.

There has not been such a statement yet from the college, however, the OSSTF would have to give five days notice before actually going on strike. If there is a notice, parents would have at least five days to prepare.

Doug Ford visits new Humber College building

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited the new Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation on Friday at North Campus, a visit that was unlisted on Humber College’s event calendar.

Ford was on campus with Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano and city councillor Michael Ford, who represents the ward Humber is located in.

“We’ve invested over $20 million in pre-apprenticeship training, like the General Machinist program at Humber,” Ford said in a tweet.

No IGNITE Halloween event this year, other options

IGNITE for the first time in several years will not hold a Halloween-themed event near the end of October and no reason was given as to why, but there are other party options throughout the city for those seeking excitement.

The popular Fiction nightclub is holding “Fright Night 2019” on Friday and tickets can be bought for the students-orientated event for $20 in advance or $25 regular. Everyone is welcome, including non-students.

A tradition for many is Halloween Haunt at Canada’s Wonderland. Tickets are about $38 plus tax with a valid student identification and can be bought in advance on the event page.

Into drinking? A Halloween-themed club crawl organized by Student Tours Canada will be hitting Toronto streets on Saturday and tickets can be bought via Eventbrite.


No IGNITE event

Frosh was confirmed safe by IGNITE’s executive director during an interview in July, but the Student Choice Initiative may have impacted other events that usually come throughout the academic year.

IGNITE’s staff director, Ercolé Perrone, said at the time that Frosh “may not look the same, it may not be two concerts”, but that it — and other large events that usually take place through the year — are still on the agenda.

“We will continue on with some of those signature activities and events, even with the unpredictability of the funding,” Perrone said, explaining that IGNITE is confident students will choose not to opt-out of the fees.

IGNITE has scheduled a Halloween party every year since the student union was re-branded as IGNITE in 2016. However, in 2017, the Halloween event was cancelled due to a five-week long college faculty strike.

It is unclear whether there was not enough funds in place from the Events and Opportunities Fee to hold the event or if there was another or a mixture of reasons.

Earlier this year, a source told The Avro Post that tickets for Frosh were discounted for all students because they were underselling. However, several weeks later, IGNITE’s Wild ‘N Out was reportedly well-attended.

IGNITE has not yet released opt-in numbers for the Student Choice Initiative, or SCI. When asked during an Oct. 4 press briefing about publishing the exact numbers, Perrone acted surprised that students would even be interested.

Several other student union’s have published their opt-in data, however, the only indication about the SCI for IGNITE is that about 80 per cent remained opted-in to a set of “Enhanced Student Experience” fees that were previously not optional, according to Humber’s president.

Perrone did not dispute the 80 per cent mark when asked by a Post reporter in October. There has yet to be a confirmation that IGNITE will release the data at any point, however, it could be at the delayed Special Meeting of the Members in January.

It is unclear at this point what other events could be impacted, such as the annual “Frost” that usually takes place in the new year. While Halloween might be skipped this year, the networking-focused LinkedIn Local series is back with a first event set for early November.

A year later: Dispensary owner reflects on legalization

(CUP) — While reflecting on the first year of cannabis legalization Thursday, Tokyo Smoke, a cannabis dispensary next to campus, said they have been able to educate Ryerson University students on forms and effects of cannabis.

Tokyo Smoke opened its dispensary right across from the Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre in April—and it was the first franchise in the city to sell cannabis products.

Josh Lyon,  a senior director of portfolio integration for Canopy Growth, said that educating consumers, including students, has been a “core tenant” of their business. Lyon has been working at Tokyo Smoke since 2015. 

“It’s about product knowledge, people are hungry for information. So, the hope is that you can come here and have an interactive experience.”

Lyon said that some frequent questions he has heard students ask have been about the difference between having a flower—cannabis buds that can be broken up to be inhaled through a joint or infused in edibles—versus a cannabis-infused oil or capsule and how different forms will affect them. 

Since the store has opened steps away from campus, it has resulted in numerous curious and excited students visiting, said Nina Caputo, a key lead and specialist at Tokyo Smoke. 

Madi Wong/THE EYEOPENER

“We especially noticed when frosh was starting [there were] so many people. But it’s really nice to see [and] get to know some of the students that come by and to kind of build those relationships, especially with your cannabis program at the school,” she said. 

Being near a university campus, Lyon said the store has strived to integrate themselves into the community by prioritizing safety and knowledge around cannabis. 

As of Thursday, edibles can now be legally sold and purchased in Canada. They are expected to be sold in dispensaries such as Tokyo Smoke in the near future.

“I think a lot of people are looking for another way to consume as opposed to smoking…We’re excited [and will] have it in the store by the new year,” said Caputo. 

According to Caputo, edibles will be sold in a variety of forms such as chocolates, gummies and drinks with regulations limited to 10 milligrams per product. 

Heading into the second year of cannabis legalization, Lyon said that there is a lot to look forward to and expect in the cannabis industry, including more factual research on how cannabis can be used and what it can do for people. 

“Just because we kind of snapped and said legalization is here, doesn’t change decades and decades of misinformation. That doesn’t change what we’ve been ingrained to think about cannabis and the people who consume,” he said. 

“I’m hoping as it continues to be open conversations like this, people take the time to educate themselves to form their own opinions and continue to reduce the stigma that still exists today.”

Story syndicated via the 
Canadian University Press.
Original story by The
Eyeopener's Madi Wong.

No CUPE strike as tentative agreement reached

Thousands of elementary and high school kids will most likely still have school on Monday as an agreement was reached late on Sunday night between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the provincial government for some 55,000 education support workers.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce told media that he expects the late night deal to allow support workers to work the next morning and for students to be able to return to classes as per normal.

“Parents can rest easy knowing that the government worked tirelessly to ensure their children remain in the classroom, where they belong, Lecce said in a press conference, adding that that there was “incremental success” in negotiations.

CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions said that wage increases were acquired and the existing sick leave plan will remain in place. The Council of Union’s president, Laura Walton, said that there will be a $20 million reinvestment in schools returning more employment to Ontario.

All the terms of the tentative agreement with the support staff will be kept confidential until formal ratification. As part of the deal, CUPE has agreed to stop all job action, including striking, or work to rule, until negotiations are complete.

Humber College sent an email to all students on Friday acknowledging that should a strike have occurred, there would be an impact on students with elementary and high school-aged children. They encouraged those students impacted to communicate with their professors for any missed work.

Half of campus radio stations at risk of shuttering

(CUP) — Half of campus radio stations are at risk of closing due to the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative, according to a New Democratic Party media release.

In the NDP’s press release, Chris Glover, MPP Spadina-Fort York, described the act of closing campus radio stations as a “broader attack” to post-secondary institutions and their services.

“There’s a $600-million OSAP cut, a $300-million operating grant cut to colleges and universities across the province, and a 10 per cent, unfunded tuition cut. This is an attack on the quality of education students are provided,” Glover states.

The SCI was first announced on Jan. 17 by Merrilee Fullerton, former minister of training, colleges and universities. The policy gives students the ability to opt out of certain non-essential, non-tuition fees that were previously a mandatory part of their tuition.

Over two months later, the province released its guidelines for the SCI. Mandatory fees included student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, campus safety programs and athletics and recreation, among others.

Those fees which aren’t mandatory—and subject to student opt-out—include campus student groups and cultural associations, student unions and campus media organizations, such as newspapers and radio stations.

“We represent 18 stations across Ontario that are being impacted by this initiative and shift,” said Randy Reid, the manager of VIBE105 at York University and vice-president of the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA). “We risk losing at least half of these stations if [Doug] Ford’s decisions are not overturned.”

In the media release, Reid said that campus radio stations have been partnering with universities across Ontario for “the better part of 30 years.”

Ryerson University’s campus radio station, CJRU, is a member of NCRA according to their website. The CJRU’s fee costs students $3.73, annually.

“Since the Ford Government eliminated the six-month grace period after graduation before OSAP loan payments are due, it’s now more important than ever for students to be able to gain experience in their field before graduating,” said Naama Weingarten, a Ryerson student employed at the CJRU, in the media release. “So many students like myself start out with campus community radio stations and student newspapers. This is the way that we get our foot in the door.”

Weingarten says that if radio stations like CJRU are shut down, there would be no way for her to build a portfolio before she graduates.

“At a time where we’re losing our grants, we’re losing OSAP, it should be more important than ever to fund student jobs, and jobs that allow us to excel in our career after graduating,” said Weingarten. “Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be a priority for Provincial government.”

Radio Humber will not be impacted by the Student Choice Initiative, as it is part of an academic program. Students at Humber College have until Sept. 16 when tuition is due to remain opted in or opt out while University of Guelph-Humber students have already made the choice.

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