If student unions are truly good and wonderful, providing immense benefits to all their members, then why must university students be forced to join them and pay dues?  Won’t the benefits and wonders attract sufficient support without coercion?

The Ontario government has announced that it will require universities to allow students to opt out of non-essential fees that fund student newspapers, student clubs, and campus advocacy groups.

The vast majority of student union dues – as high as $2,000 per year per student in some cases – will still be mandatory.  The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities explains that students must still fund “major, campus-wide services and facilities” and contribute to “the health and safety of students,” including things like walk-safe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation, and academic support.

This has not stopped outrage from predictable quarters like the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an umbrella student organization of student unions across the country.  Ignoring the reality of the new policy, the CFS claims the Ford government will take away from “basic necessities that students need to succeed.”

The CFS goes on to claim that “student unions are non-partisan, student politicians have diverse views, and all work to improve life for their classmates.”  The CFS asserts 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 CFS 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 thought it irrelevant that nearly half of MIAS’ members were women, and that the group was at various times headed by a female president.

RSU even claimed that the mere discussion of how men and boys experience higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school would threaten the “safety” of “women-identified students” on campus.

You can’t join a group when the student union prevents its creation.  Clearly, students do not have “the right to join any group they please.”  Clearly, student politicians do not appreciate the diversity of other students’ views.  Yet Mr. Arriola and Ms. Godlewski were forced to fund the same student union that trampled on their freedoms of expression and association. 

Diane Zettel also knows the CFS claims are not true.  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 Ms. Zettel and others from engaging fellow students in student spaces on campus, from organizing events, debates and presentations on campus.  Student union intolerance of diverse opinion on campus was the sole reason for denying Ms. Zettel and other students an equal opportunity to participate in campus life.

Likewise, Kathleen Hepworth and other students at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology were prevented by their Student Association from forming a campus club called Speak for the Weak.  The Student Association claimed that allowing a pro-life club on campus would constitute “systemic societal oppression,” and that only abortion-supporting clubs qualify as “equity-seeking.”

The CFS claims to want to improve life for students, yet supports the censoring of “incorrect” opinions on campus.  Good-bye, diversity.  The only way to fight oppression and seek equity is the student union’s way; anything different is not tolerated.

Further, student unions are very partisan towards politically correct ideologies and causes.  The CFS has passed a motion endorsing the Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions campaign against Israel.  In so doing, the CFS requires 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.  And they use the mandatory dues of students to do so.

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

Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) which has represented students who defended their freedom of expression and freedom of association in court actions against their own student unions.