The Divisional Court of Ontario ruled that the Ontario government did not have the legal authority to impose the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) on universities on November 21.
The case against the Ford government was brought forward by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) back in May. The organizations argued that the government failed to consult them on the fee changes and alleged that an email sent by Ford stating “I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student union get up to” indicated bias on the part of the government.
The court noted Ford’s statement but said it was inadmissible because they “do not decide the issue of improper purpose or bad faith.”
The court did, however, note the failure of the government to provide a rationale as to why of all student ancillary fees, only “one student association fees was deemed by the Cabinet to be non-essential.”
The Ford government, in contrast, argued that the CFS-O and the YFS failed to demonstrate financial harm as a result of the SCI. They also argued that there was no need for judicial review of the initiative, since it was a cabinet directive.
The court denied these arguments, saying that they had a role in ensuring that minsters have “the legal authority to require universities and colleges to comply with the directive.”
In the aftermath of the decision, CFS-O declared the victory, stating in a tweet, “from the streets, to the court room, the students united, will never be defeated.”
In contrast to early reports by other media organizations, the ruling does not necessarily mean the end to SCI.
The Ford government has the option to appeal the ruling or impose the SCI through legislation. The latter option, however, would raise the potential of the government interfering in the operations of post-secondary institutions and act as repudiation to the recommendations of Ontario’s Royal Commission on the University of Toronto.
The 1906 commission report recommended Ontario to allow post-secondary institutions to have institutional autonomy from the “political whims of government.”
As of press time, the Ford government is still reviewing the decision but “will have more to say on this at a later date,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
In addition, in the possibility of appeal or legislature there exists considerable uncertainty of whether the court’s ruling will stand.
A representative of CFS-O, Kayla Weiler, said that she was uncertain if full funding would resume for next semester.
The university is currently reviewing the court’s ruling.
“The University is aware of the decision and is evaluating the technical impact,” said the vice-provost of students Sandy Welsh in an email to student leaders.
The university will release a statement on what the court’s ruling means to UTM students this week.