By Fatima Husain
In a giant win for post-secondary students, Ontario’s Divisional Court has unanimously struck down Premier Doug Ford’s so-called “Student Choice Initiative”, which allowed post-secondary students to “opt-out” of paying for services deemed “non-essential”.
Celebrating the victory, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), said in a statement: “The panel of judges ruled in favour, stating that the provincial government acted without statutory authority. This is a historic moment for our movement, and it shows that the students united will never be defeated!”
Journalism and student democracy on campuses across the province faced a heightened threat as many Campus & Community radio stations and student newspapers were brusquely silenced. Campus media received funding from levies derived from tuition fees. Many stations rely on the fees for as much as 90% of an annual budget to cover fixed costs including royalty payments, emergency broadcasting infrastructure, towers and transmission and more.
Tiina Flank, Station Manager CILU-FM said: "The SCI’s impact on LU Radio in Thunder Bay has been devastating. The unlawful initiative has crippled our capacity to adequately staff our organization for 2020. The student levy makes up 60% of our operating budget and we lost close to 70% 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.”
Besides being a beacon of democratic voices on Ontario campuses, campus media employ over 150 students and young people, and around 3500 volunteers each academic year.
The ironically-named ‘’Student Choice Initiative’’, announced in earlier in January, also had a profound effect on on-campus support services, LGBTQ+ organizations, food banks and part-time jobs.
Barry Rooke - Executive Director, NCRA/ ANREC said: “The Student Choice Initiative has had a destructive impact on campus stations across Ontario leading to loss of operating funds and lay-offs. The SCI directly interfered with out campus stations’ ability to conduct the normal activities of supporting and training students across the province.”
Welcoming the court’s decision, Randy Reid - General Manager, VIBE105 and Vice President of the NCRA said: “The unauthorized and unilateral directive of the Ford government initiative has put at-risk a decades-long relationship between campus radio and students. Campus radio in Ontario has been responsible for literally hundreds of practical employment experiences for students and has been a catalyst to launching several highly successful media careers.”
“We are excited about the court’s ruling and look forward to the potential of reform on campuses across the province and getting back to a spirited relationship with students.”
*Editor’s Note: This is a running story. Watch this space for more developments.