In January 2019, the Ford government announced a series of regressive reforms to post-secondary education. These reforms included an attack to all organizations that depend on student levy fees established via referendum (e.g., students’ unions, student papers, sexual assault centres, campus food banks, student clubs, community radio, etc.).
“We represent the workers of these organizations who have worked tirelessly for decades to not only advocate for students but offer services and representation that often prevent students from falling through the cracks,” said Moe Alqasem, President of Local 1281 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, “what is clear is that this is also an attack on workers — many of whom are students as well. It is a disgrace that rather than work to invest in education — where Ontario tuition fees are the highest in the country — the government is choosing to waste tax-payer funds to go after these organizations.”
In response to this attack, a legal challenge was put into motion in May 2019. By November 2019, the Student Choice Initiative was deemed unlawful by the Divisional Court of Ontario in a unanimous decision which declared that “there is no statutory authority authorizing Cabinet or the Minister to interfere in the internal affairs of these student associations.”
The decision further concluded that the directives from the provincial government are “not authorized by law and are inconsistent with the autonomy granted universities, bedrock principles on which Ontario universities have been governed for more than 100 years.”
“The Student Choice Initiative does a disservice to students across the province and actually provides students with less choice, because student organisations will find it harder to sustain the same level of supports for these students” said Ian Sakinofsky, President of the Ryerson Faculty Association, “defunding the organizations that our students depend on for services, bursaries, and advocacy is not what this government should be focusing on right now.”
The period between January and November 2019 was difficult and filled with a high level of uncertainty for students involved in campus organizations. Many organizations underwent significant restructuring that are still working to undo and recover from today. Organizations impacted by this restructuring include campus students’ unions, campus media and faculty student societies.
“The Student ‘Choice’ Initiative was a direct attack on student organizing and student democracy,” said Janet Rodriguez, President of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, “We implore the Doug Ford administration to stop this right now — we are in the middle of a pandemic and our members need more support, not less.”
The Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities immediately announced an intention to appeal the decision and on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 it will be making its case to courts.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic, this is – by far – the last thing that this government should be prioritizing,” said John Girardo, President of Local 3904 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“Graduate students are juggling a lot in their daily lives — yes, we are students, but many of us are parents, workers, caretakers for our senior parents,” said Angelique Bernabe, President of the Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union, “this pandemic has been hard on us and the last thing we need is to lose access to services we depend on — e.g., sexual assault centres, food banks, academic advocacy, bursaries, etc.”
“Our campuses are open in the middle of a pandemic — we have seen outbreaks on campuses in Ontario — our members need more support than ever before,” said Jennifer Bareng, President of Local 233 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, “and this legal challenge does nothing to reassure us of the government’s commitment to the health and safety of our members.”
The Ryerson All-Union Coalition is encouraging Ryerson University students, faculty and staff to unite to fight back against regressive policy directives, and to re-energize the fight for more public funding for public education from our provincial government.
Joint statement endorsed by CESAR, CUPE 1281, CUPE 233, CUPE 3904, the RFA, and the RGSU.
Full names and websites available on the next page.
Joint statement on Student ‘Choice’ Initiative (March 19, 2021) endorsed by:
Continuing Education Students Association of Ryerson (CESAR) representing part time and continuing education students.
Local 233 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 233) representing custodians, groundskeepers, and maintenance workers employed by Ryerson University since 1964.
Local 1281 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 1281) represents over 300 individual members in workplaces as far away as St. John’s Newfoundland and Winnipeg, Manitoba. CUPE 1281 represents staff at various workplaces at Ryerson University.
Local 3904 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3904) representing approximately 3,000 full-time and part-time academic employees at Ryerson University. Our members include Contract Lecturers, Continuing Education Contract Lecturers, and Academic Assistants (Teaching and Graduate Assistants, Lab Monitors, and Invigilators).
Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) representing tenure-track faculty, limited term faculty, librarians, and counsellors at Ryerson University.
Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) is a membership-driven union, representing over 2,500 full-time and part-time graduate students at Ryerson University.
CUPE 3904 stands in solidarity with the members of Unit 1 of CUPE 3902 (Teaching Assistants, Course Instructors, and Invigilators) as they seek to bargain a new collective agreement with the University of Toronto (U of T). CUPE 3902’s main priorities for this round of bargaining are to improve workload standards, foster inclusion and anti-oppression at U of T, increase compensation and job security, and promote (mental) health and safety. We support the Unit 1 academic workers from CUPE 3902 in their efforts to demand a fair, safe, and just workplace at U of T. Bargaining updates and more information can be found here: https://weareuoft.com/