It’s been over a month since an Ontario court tossed out a $200-million class action lawsuit against Ontario colleges for charging ancillary fees in violation of provincial government guidelines. The courts dismissed the case, stating they did not carry the force of law necessary for them to act.
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.
The courts said is that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy to enforce his own regulations. And yet, after months of pressure from the Canadian Federation of Students (an intervener in the case), the ministry continues to refuse to comment.
Initially, the ministry refused to comment because the case was before the courts, although the province was not named on the lawsuit against the colleges. Nevertheless, with the appeal period over and the plaintiffs signaling that the lawsuit is dead, Milloy is still mum.
Internal Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities documents, released under freedom of information, clearly show the bureaucracy does not feel some of the fees are in the spirit of the regulations governing fees.
The Minister must answer the following question:
“With the 30-day appeal period now expired, does the Minister plan to exercise the enforcement mechanisms available to him under the current protocol governing ancillary fees?”
In short, does the Minister plan to enforce his own regulations and stop the charging of “illegal” fees or not?
Ken Maricniec, communications coordinator for CFS-Ontario, explained in an interview that he believes the government could always comment on their part in the issue, regardless of the lawsuit. He sees the case as two distinct parts: first, the fact that students have paid thousands in these allegedly “illegal” fees for years (which was the centre of the the lawsuit against the colleges; and second, that the government continues to allow the colleges to charge students these fees. “There is no reason the minister couldn’t speak on that issue,” he said.
This week is Ontario provincial lobby week for CFS-Ontario, and the student lobbyists have met with ministry staff to discuss the issue.Maricniec said that the CFS has not yet received any response to their aggressive campaign against the fees. “We’re going to keep on the pressure,” he said.
I’m planning to make the trip to Queen’s Park tomorrow to ask the Minister about a question or two about the fees issue. I’m still debating exactly how to phrase my question. Maybe the Premier can help me out:
*-with a report from Erin Millar *