Student Choice Initiative ruled unlawful

by | Nov 22, 2019

Flyers lining the wall of Carleton’s students’ centre highlight events and services offered by the school’s associations. Photo by Kayla Holmes.

Student associations celebrate victory against controversial Student Choice Initiative.

Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled this week that the Student Choice Initiative, put in place earlier this year by Doug Ford’s government, was unlawful. 

Starting in September 2019, the initiative allowed post-secondary students in Ontario to opt out of non-mandatory fees. This affected funding for student associations, student-run media and university clubs and societies.

“This was an unprecedented attack on student unions,” said Sofia Desclazi, a representative of the Canadian Federation of Students on Friday. “And it really hampered the ability of student unions to be able to deliver essential services on campus.” 

On Nov. 21, the Superior Court agreed. 

The decision came months after a lawsuit was launched by the Canadian Federation of Students and the York Federation of Students. The court stated that allowing “students to opt out of student association fees and other ‘non-essential’ services is inconsistent with the universities’ autonomous governance.” 

At Carleton University, students could choose which services to support. Travis Lindgren, who is the general manager for Carleton’s undergraduate students’ association, said that on average, each student group lost about 15 per cent of its financial support this fall. 

At 20 per cent, Carleton’s student radio station, CKCU, lost the most support.

Jeff Pelletier, a radio host at CKCU, said the initiative’s effect on student-run media limits students’ right to free expression.


The Carleton University Student Association saw about a 15 per cent opt-out rate. “It went better than expected,” said Lindgren. 

Still, in anticipation of the losses, the association cut two full-time employees in the spring. “And it’s a year-by-year process, so we don’t know what would have happened next year,” he said. 

Not everyone welcomed the court’s decision on Friday, however. 

Some turned to Twitter in support of the initiative, claiming that it gave students control over which associations they supported.

Student associations are waiting to find out if the government plans on appealing the decision. 

The Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities said in an email that it “is currently reviewing the decision,” and offered no comment at the time of publication.