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Students take Ontario government to court over optional fee policy

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is seen in the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Thursday, March 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The Canadian Federation of Students has launched a court challenge against the Ontario government’s decision to allow college and university students to opt out of certain fees.

The group, along with the York Federation of Students, filed a notice of application for judicial review asking the Ontario Superior Court to quash the policy directive.

They say the move will cut funding for student associations, campus newspapers, student legal aid clinics and sexual diversity offices.

The student groups allege that the government issued the directive for improper purposes, unfairly targeting student unions, and interfered with the autonomy and independence of schools.

They point to a Progressive Conservative fundraising email from Premier Doug Ford, in which he bemoaned what he called “crazy Marxist nonsense” from student unions and said he “fixed that” by making student union fees optional.

“The premier’s letter is evidence that the impetus behind the directives was not to protect ‘student choice,’ but to marginalize and silence student groups which are perceived as critics of the governing party and its political objectives in respect of post-secondary education,” the student groups’ lawyers write in the application.

Sofia Descalzi, the CFS national incoming chairperson, said deeming the fees non-essential will harm the ability of students to advocate collectively for their interests.

“The government claims this will expand student choice and save students money,” she said. “In reality, this is a concerted attack on democratic and equity based organizations this government opposes.”

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the initiative was created to make sure that students had more control over how they spend their money.

“I see the student choice initiative as very consistent with giving more freedom to students,” she said Tuesday.

Lawyers are asking the court to hear the case before the start of the new school term in September, and if that can’t happen, to issue an injunction in the meantime.