Published Nov 22, 2019University campus radio stations and student newspapers are among the campus groups feeling relief in the wake of an Ontario court's decision to quash an order from the province's Progressive Conservative government that effectively cratered their funding.
Yesterday (November 21), Ontario's Divisional Court struck down Premier Doug Ford's "Student Choice Initiative" (SCI) in a unanimous decision, ruling that implementation of the policy overstepped the government's legislative authority.
Issued in January, the SCI allowed college and university students to opt out of fees that fund campus groups. While fees for health and counselling, athletics and recreation, and academic support remained mandatory, fees for campus papers, food banks, radio stations and other support services were optional.
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and York Federation of Students filed a legal challenge against the SCI this past spring, arguing that the mandate was a politically motivated attack on student unions, as well as to the autonomy of the province's post-secondary institutions.
In a fundraising email sent by Premier Ford in February, he claimed, "Students were forced into unions and forced to pay for those unions. I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student unions get up to. So, we fixed that. Student union fees are now opt-in."
In a statement issued today, NCRA executive directer Barry Rooke said, "The Student Choice Initiative has had a destructive impact on campus stations across Ontario leading to loss of operating funds and layoffs. The SCI directly interfered with our campus stations' ability to conduct the normal activities of supporting and training students across the province."
Tiina Flank, station manager for Lakehead University's CILU-FM in Thunder Bay, called the impact of the SCI "devastating," and offered a glimpse of the effects in a statement of her own:
The unlawful initiative has crippled our capacity to adequately staff our organization for 2020. The student levy makes up 60 percent of our operating budget and we lost close to 70 percent thanks to the SCI. Since we didn't even receive any student levy funding until half-way through our fiscal year, the financial uncertainty made staffing the organization nearly impossible. We are highly reassured by this decision, and hope that with the support of the Lakehead University students and the community we can recover and continue providing training and a voice to the community.
Of the ruling, CFS representative Kayla Weiler said, "Today the Ontario Divisional Court has confirmed what students already knew: the Student Choice Initiative is unlawful, and the Ford government acted beyond their authority. Doug Ford's attempt to wipe out students' unions under the guise of giving students 'choice' has been exposed for what it really was: an attempt to silence his opposition."
Jenessa Crognali, press secretary for Attorney General Doug Downey's office, told the Canadian Press Thursday that the ruling is being reviewed. It is currently unclear if the government will appeal the decision.