The Ontario Supreme Court ruled today that a $200-million class action lawsuit against Ontario colleges would not go forward. Justice Joan L. Lax’s ruling argued that the issue was political, not legal, and should be handled by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.Two college students launched the lawsuit last year, claiming that Ontario colleges have been charging illegal ancillary fees for years. Compulsory tuition-related fees — including extra charges for locker rentals, lab fees, or laptop rental charges — have been illegal under Ontario government guidelines since tuition was frozen in 2004. Compulsory non-tuition fees, such as levies for student government, are only permitted if approved by students.
Amanda Hassum and Dan Roffery, students at Conestoga College and George Brown respectfully, sought damages for all students who paid the fees since 2004. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) acted in an advisory role in the suit.
But the suit has now been stalled because of today’s ruling. The students will now look to the ministry to enforce its own guidelines.
“We’ve always known that the McGuinty government had the ability to stop prohibited ancillary fees but this ruling makes it clear that it is solely their responsibility,” said Jen Hassum, Ontario chairperson of the CFS.
However, the ministry continued its silence over the issue. Kevin Dove, senior media relations coordinator for the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, said the ministry is “aware of the ruling, but is unable to comment at the present time due to the appeals period.”
But the CFS say there is reason to believe the government has known about the violations since 2004. The ministry sent a letter to colleges in 2004 warning the schools not to raise ancillary fees.
The CFS-created website stopunfairfees.ca also points to a video clip from question period in Queen’s Park from 1993. In the video, Premier Dalton McGuinty, who was in the opposition party at the time, is seen questioning the government about ancillary fees. He criticizes the government’s “decision to turn a blind eye to universities raising tuition through the back door.”
“As an opposition member McGuinty was outraged by the Colleges’ back door shenanigans to raise tuition,” said NDP education critic Rosario Marchese. “Now that he is the Premier, he’s holding the back door wide open.”In response to the ruling, NDP education critic Rosario Marchese urged McGuinty to enforce its own regulations. “This is a clear signal to Dalton McGuinty that he must act now and protect students from paying hundreds of dollars in fees instead of insulting them with a flimsy book voucher,” said Marchese. “The ball is squarely in his court now.”While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, Dan and I have no regrets about bringing this case forward,” said Amanda Hassum. “It took our lawsuit to bring attention to these unjust fees and I hope that the government will finally take action because of it.”The students have not yet decided if they will appeal the decision.-with a report from Joey Coleman