Court Strikes Down Ford's Student Choice Initiative

Court Strikes Down Ford's Student Choice Initiative
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Students declare victory in lawsuit against Ford’s attempt to defund them

Link to PDF of decision

The Canadian Federation of Students, the York Federation of Students and Goldblatt Partners held a joint press conference Friday morning, November 11, 2019, to respond to the Ontario Divisional Court’s unanimous decision to quash the Ford government’s “Student Choice Initiative”.

“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,” said Kayla Weiler, Ontario representative of the Canadian Federation of Students.


  • On January 17, 2019, the Ford government announced the “Student Choice Initiative”, which arbitrarily deemed some ancillary fees as non-essential and optional for students, including students’ union, campus media, food banks and LGBTQ support centres.
  • Students’ unions are important and independent organizations that advocate for students’ best interests and provide cost-savings services. The services and representation provided by the students’ union are paid for by students’ union dues that have been democratically set by members.
  • On May 28, 2019, the Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students, represented by Goldblatt Partners, filed a legal challenge against the Government’s Student Choice initiative. The Divisional Court began proceedings in this case on October 11.

OUCC Partners’ Reaction

CUPE Ontario hails court ruling striking down Ford Conservatives’ attack on students’ rights and services

TORONTO, Nov. 22, 2019 /CNW/ - A court ruling, striking down efforts by the Ford Conservative government to choke off democratically-approved funding for hundreds of Ontario campus organizations, represents a dramatic victory for students and workers at Universities across the province, the leader of Ontario’s largest union said today.

“We were thrilled to learn that the Courts have quashed the Ford Conservatives’ attack on students’ rights and services on campus in the strongest possible terms,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario.

“This can only be described as a major victory for students, university workers and other members of the post-secondary education community, and a major defeat for the Ford Conservatives,” he added. “As a result of this victory, vital student services that had been cut because of the Ford Conservatives’ attack, will be restored.”

The ruling strikes down the Ford Conservatives cynically titled “Student Choice Initiative” which forced universities and colleges to make mandatory student levies, set through democratic means on campuses across Ontario, voluntary. These small levies fund a wide range of services at post-secondary institutions across Ontario, including student unions, campus radio stations and newspapers, sexual assault survivors’ services, women’s and LGBTQIA-positive spaces, Public Interest Research Groups and many others.

In response, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) took the government to court, arguing that the so-called Student Choice Initiative, among other things, were implemented for an improper purpose and devised in bad faith.

The three-member court agreed with the student federations, ordering the directives to be quashed and ordering the government to pay YFS and CFS $15,000 in costs.

“From the moment the Ford Conservatives attacked student unions and campus organization last year, it was clear they were trying to silence the voice of university students and workers,” said Janice Folk-Dawson, Chair of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee (OUWCC), which speaks on behalf of CUPE members working at post-secondary institutions across the Province.

“Our union has been proud to support the CFS, YFS and all student organizations opposing this agenda of cuts and attacks on student rights. They should be congratulated for standing up for our university communities and bringing these injustices before the courts. In doing so, they have won a victory for students, university workers and all Ontario,” she added.

For further information: Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario President, 416-540-3979;
Kevin Wilson, CUPE Communications, 416-821-6641

Faculty applaud court ruling that strikes down Ford government’s unlawful “Student Choice Initiative”

Toronto, Nov. 22, 2019 – Ontario faculty are pleased to see that the Ontario Divisional Court has struck down the Ford government’s controversial “Student Choice Initiative” (SCI), finding the directive both unlawful and a violation of university autonomy.

The Court found that Ford’s Cabinet and the then Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities overstepped their authority in requiring universities and colleges to make certain ancillary fees optional – including democratically determined students’ union dues. The Court found that the SCI’s requirements were inconsistent with the laws governing Ontario’s universities and colleges, and interfered with university autonomy and student democracy. To quote the ruling: “There is no statutory authority for Cabinet or the Minister to interfere with democratic decisions taken by students respecting their student association membership fees.”

“This ruling affirms that the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom are fundamental to the functioning of Ontario’s universities and the rights of faculty and students,” said Rahul Sapra, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Through its numerous uninformed and reckless policy directives, the Ford government continues to threaten the integrity and quality of Ontario’s universities. These policies include the anti-democratic SCI that sought to silence student voices critical of the government, the massive cuts to OSAP that have made postsecondary education unaffordable for many, and the new performance-based funding model that will cut funding from institutions that need it most.”

This is only the most recent legal defeat for the Ford government, which has established a pattern of introducing bad legislation and policies with no consultation, and then losing when those pieces of legislation and policy are challenged in court.

The ruling confirms the essential contributions students’ unions make to collegial governance structures at Ontario universities. Further, it confirms the central role of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in ensuring universities are able to operate effectively, free of political interference from government. The court references these as being “bedrock principles on which Ontario universities have been governed for more than 100 years.”

“Ontario faculty have a great deal of respect for students’ unions and the important services and advocacy they provide for their members. We congratulate students across Ontario on this significant victory,” said Sapra. “Students’ unions are a vital part of the campus community and we will continue to work with them to advance our shared goal of fostering vibrant universities that provide accessible, quality education and innovative, ground-breaking research.”

If Doug Ford truly wants to save students money and reduce barriers to postsecondary education, he should consult with the students, faculty and staff who understand Ontario’s postsecondary education system. Collectively, we have long called for increased public funding for Ontario’s universities that would allow the government to responsibly lower tuition fees and abandon its dangerous plans for performance-based funding.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. OCUFA can be found online at


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:
Ben Lewis, Communications Lead at 416-306-6033 or [email protected]

TORONTO—Unifor stood in solidarity with elected student leaders from the Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students at a media conference this morning to announce the successful legal challenge of the Doug Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative.

“From day one, we called on Doug Ford to scrap this unlawful attack on Ontario’s post-secondary students and institutions,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We welcome the Ontario divisional court’s unanimous and decisive ruling that the governments’ attack violated the bedrock principles on which Ontario universities have been governed for more than 100 years.”

The Ford government sought to undermine student organizations across the province and the democratically allocated student funds for a wide range of services at post-secondary institutions across Ontario.

The funds went directly to benefit student unions, campus radio stations and newspapers, sexual assault survivors’ services, women’s and LGBTQIA-positive spaces, Public Interest Research Groups and many others.

“The Ford government has been dealt a serious blow in its attempt to silence students and de-fund groups that disagree with their conservative agenda,” said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Director. “I am proud that workers and students stood shoulder to shoulder to fight for our fundamental rights to organize.”

The Ford government directly threatened students’ unions across the province by creating conditions to defund them, intervening in institution and student union independence.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

For further information:
please contact Unifor Communications National Representative David Molenhuis at [email protected] or (cell) 416-575-7453.