Premier Doug Ford

Premier Doug Ford

Making student union fees optional for university students is a great idea.

If an organization is truly good and wonderful, if it provides immense benefits to all of its members, why must it be mandatory to join and forcibly pay dues? Won’t the benefits and wonders attract sufficient support without coercion?

The Ontario government has announced a new requirement that allows university students to opt out of non-essential fees. This new policy suggests that students will no longer be required to fund student newspapers, campus advocacy groups, and even student unions.

The vast majority of student union dues – as high as $2,000 per year per student in some cases – will still be mandatory. But this has not stopped outrage from predictable quarters. For example, Nour Alideeb of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) claims the new policy is “really just taking away resources from student groups,” pointing to food banks and campus women’s centres as “basic necessities that students need to succeed.” This overly dramatic assertion ignores the reality that “fees used to fund major, campus-wide services and facilities, or fees which contribute to the health and safety of students” will remain mandatory. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities explains that students must still fund walk-safe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation, and academic support.

Alideeb also claims that “student unions are non-partisan, student politicians have diverse views, and all work to improve life for their classmates.” She goes on to claim that “leaders of student unions are democratically elected, and students have the right to join any group or union they please.”

Kevin Arriola and Alexandra Godlewski know these claims are not true. They and other Ryerson students were prohibited by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) from establishing a Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) on campus, purely because RSU student executives were ideologically opposed to the group. In keeping with their own radical feminist ideology, RSU’s autocratic student politicians rejected the group because it failed to affirm that “systemic male privilege” is a problem.

RSU also claimed that discussions about issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school, would somehow threaten the “safety” of “women-identified students.” That nearly half of MIAS’ members were women and the group was at various times headed by a female president were irrelevant to an ideological student union, which Arriola and Godlewski were forced to fund. Clearly, student politicians do not appreciate the diversity of other students’ views.

Diane Zettel also knows that students do not have “the right to join any group or union they please.” When she and other students tried to set up a Students for Life club, the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union crushed their efforts. The Student Union’s capricious denial of formal club status effectively prevented students from engaging fellow students in student spaces on campus, from organizing events, debates and presentations on campus. You can’t join a group when the student union prevents its creation. The bullying opposition to the pro-life perspective in student unions, which groups such as the CFS promote, was the sole reason for denying Zettel and others an equal opportunity to participate in campus life.

In similar fashion, Kathleen Hepworth and other students at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology have learned that their Student Association would refuse granting club recognition to their student group, Speak for the Weak, due to its stance on abortion. The Student Association claimed that allowing a pro-life club on campus would constitute “systemic societal oppression.” The Student Association further claimed that only clubs supporting abortion are “equity-seeking” and may therefore be allowed on campus.

For Alideeb and the CFS, censoring the “incorrect” opinions is all part of working to “improve” life for your classmates. Good-bye, diversity. There is only one way to fight oppression and seek equity: the student union’s way.

In addition to ensuring that the “incorrect” opinions are less likely to get a fair hearing on campus, student unions also engage in blatant favouritism toward politically correct ideologies and causes. This past November, Alideeb’s CFS, which is an umbrella student organization of numerous student unions across the country, passed a motion endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel. In so doing, the CFS required its member unions to follow suit. Student unions may be non-partisan toward political parties, but they are very partisan in promoting pet political causes.

Making student union dues voluntary rather than mandatory, at least in regard to the funding of campus organizations, is long overdue.


Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms ( which represented students in three court actions against their student unions.