Eli Ridder | Report
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was slammed by his political opponents on Saturday over a data theft scandal that started with allegations against a University of Guelph-Humber alumnus earlier this week.
The leaders of the provincial Liberal and New Democratic Party’s called on police and Elections Ontario to probe the alleged data breach, with Mr. Ford dismissing the attack, deferring any issues with his PC Party to his predecessor, Patrick Brown.
“This goes back to Patrick Brown,” Ford said, telling those gathered in Baysville, that if they want answers over the accusations, “Patrick Brown was the leader under this whole group of people.”
The Brown-nominated Simmer Sandhu was in the running for the provincial election as a PC candidate in Brampton East before resigning on Wednesday over unspecified allegations tied to his work life and nomination campaign.
In a statement posted via social media, Mr. Sandhu said he had “recently been made aware of allegations anonymously made against me pertaining to both my work life and my nomination campaign,” calling the accusations “totally baseless”.
Earlier that day, 407 ETR said it was informing 60,000 customers that identity information such as their names, mailing addresses and a few phone numbers were stolen from its office during the past year.
York Regional Police launched an investigation into the breach on Friday, but have not confirmed who is involved in the probe thus far.
“I have a news flash for Mr. Ford: He’s now the leader of the party,” said Ontario New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath during a campaign rally the northern city of Sault Ste. Marie.
“It’s now his responsibility to own up to what his party has done.”
Ms. Horwath said she has filed a complaint about the data breach with Elections Ontario, the impartial body in charge of the June 7 election, but has yet to hear what form their investigation might take.
Deb Matthews rejected Ford’s dismissal of the accusations, saying his explanation was “untrue” and playing an audio recording of Ford saying he knew of some 40 ridings where “scandalous” practices had been used in nominations.
Matthews said she had recently received a text message from Ford’s party, despite never giving her number to the PC’s, calling any potential use of the alleged stolen data an “unforgivable breach of ethics.”
Sandhu, who graduated from Guelph-Humber as part of its inaugural business class, won the nomination in December to run for the PC Party in Brampton East and is featured on the university’s website as a notable alumnus.
Sandhu worked for nine years at 407 Express Toll Route as a team leader for collections litigation, the company that owns a toll road through the Greater Toronto Area.
Sandhu was not the only candidate running in the provincial election with ties to the university: Justice Studies head Dr. Gary Ellis was appointed by Ford to run in Scarborough Southwest as a fill-in where there was no nomination contest.
Mr. Ellis refused to answer any questions pertaining to the election from The Avro Post until after the election.
Sandhu was set to attend a panel discussion hosted by The Avro Post in April, before cancelling last minute due to a “scheduling conflict” despite asking to change the meet to the following Monday due to his party not having a platform that week.
Sandhu has not responded to a request for comment.
More details to follow. Image of Doug Ford and Simmer Sandhu from the Canadian Parvasi.
Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative
An Ontario court ruled against the SCI in November.
The provincial government under the Progressive Conservatives is applying for leave to file an appeal against a ruling from the Divisional Court of Ontario that overturned the Student Choice Initiative.
A leave for appeal is a procedural measure that must be taken before an appeal is heard by the Court. Thus, the ruling of the Court stands and the SCI continues to be deemed unlawful.
The initiative, known as the SCI, was introduced earlier this year and came into play this fall semester. It allowed students to opt-out of paying certain “non-essential” ancillary fees that fund student unions, campus publication and other post-secondary organizations across the province.
The mandate came from the university and colleges ministry and was not passed through Queen’s Park. PC Party officials insisted to The Avro Post that it allowed for freedom of choice, allowing students to pay only for services that they felt was worth their financial support.
In response, the provincial division of the Canadian Federation of Students and York University’s student union filed a legal challenge against the SCI, stating that they failed to consult with students and should not have interfered with the autonomy of student unions.
Judges ruled unanimously in November to throw out the SCI, an unexpected victory for student allies. They found that the government has “no legal power to control the universities even if it wished to”.
A brief filed by the province on Monday evening states that the ruling restricts the authority to attach conditions to the funding given to public colleges and universities, according to reports by student newspapers.
“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the brief reads, adding that post-secondary institutions “remain free” to accept taxpayer dollars, subject to the conditions that come along with the funding.
Over $5 billion comes from provincial coffers to the province’s 21 publicly assisted universities and 24 funded colleges. The Progressive Conservatives argue that the introducing optional student fees is an attempt to allow students to save more financially.
The court ruling, however, pointed out that the optional ancillary fees are a small portion of what students pay in tuition and other fees. For students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, there was only a charge of $55.95 compared to hundreds in overall fees.
The Winter 2020 semester starts in January and fees are due shortly. Some campuses are currently considering their legal options for removing the opt-out option for ancillary fees, The Globe and Mail reported.
IGNITE did not participate in the lawsuit against the province and did not offer support. The student union also refused to respond to the November ruling against the SCI until the government gave a statement. ■
High school teachers launch day-long strike
The OSSTF is now on strike.
The union representing public high school teachers launched a one-day strike on Wednesday morning after a deadline for a deal was missed, the first strike in 22 years by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
This means that classes are cancelled at public and Catholic high schools for the day. The bargaining team for the union had remained in their caucus room since 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning but there was no provincial representation, OSSTF said.
Administrations, unions give varied response to SCI ruling
The U of T was first to close the SCI.
On Nov. 21, the Ontario Divisional Court deemed the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative unlawful and the reaction has varied from sending the optional fees website offline to waiting on the Ford government’s response.
On Monday, Nov. 25, the University of Toronto responded by being the first university in Ontario to email its students informing them that they would be freezing the “incidental fees portal” while they took stock.
In an email to students from Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh, University of Toronto students were informed that the school was evaluating the “technical impact” of the court’s decision, and that there would be updates to come.
In a graphic posted on their social media, Sheridan College said “Sheridan is monitoring the situation to see what course of action the government chooses to take. Until we receive a new directive, we’ll continue under the current one, which allows students to opt-out of paying certain fees.”
📣STUDENT CHOICE INITIATIVE UPDATE📣— Sheridan College (@sheridancollege) November 25, 2019
The #StudentChoiceInitiative was successfully challenged in court last week and Sheridan has become aware of the court decision.
As new information becomes available, we will continue to keep you informed. https://t.co/q2UUzOTjJ6 pic.twitter.com/KOrywwsBqn
Few other post-secondary institutions have posted a public update about the new evolution in the implementation of the province of Ontario’s “Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines” document. [hyperlink: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/mtcu-university-tuition-framework-guidelines-mar2019-en.pdf]
The University of Guelph has not released a statement yet, but administration has advised its student union, the Central Student Association, that large institutions can take time to implement legal decisions, and that figuring out mechanics with which to reverse the ”Student Choice Initiative” will take some time.
While the government of Ontario has not yet commented on the releases, there is speculation that they are considering an appeal. In a statement on Friday November 22nd, spokesperson Clara Bryne wrote, “The Ministry of Colleges and Universities is currently reviewing the decision released yesterday. We will have more to say on this at a later date.”
Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario National Executive Representative, and the CFS representative in the legal proceedings, Kayla Weiler, said “we haven’t had any confirmation if there will be an appeal or not, and […] we’re hoping the government will respect the unanimous decision of the panel of judges and respect student democracy”
In its reasons, the Divisional Court said, “The University Guidelines [SCI] … are beyond the scope of the crown’s prerogative power over spending because they are contrary to the statutory autonomy conferred on universities by statute.”
Referring specifically to section seven of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act wherein governments are prevented from interfering with the “normal activities” of student governing bodies – specifically the court ruled that “normal activities” the government is precluded from includes; “reducing or eliminating the funding used by student associations.” ■
Reporting by Jack Fisher;
Editing by Eli Ridder.
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