Administrative law – Universities – Governance – Fees – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Evidence
Assn. of Part-Time Undergraduate Students of the University of Toronto v. University of Toronto,  O.J. No. 3231, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, August 28, 2007, B.A. Allen J.
At the University of Toronto, a process had been established whereby students, through their student organizations, could be involved in decisions regarding ancillary fees (“COSS Protocol”). The Council of Student Services (“COSS”), was established in relation to the COSS Protocol and was governed by the COSS Constitution. The parties disagreed regarding two actions taken in relation to the exercise of powers under the COSS Protocol. First, the imposition of permanent and temporary increases to ancillary fees and, second, the decision of COSS to approve an additional increase in the ancillary fees for one year and the acceptance and implementation of that decision by the University Affairs Board. The Association submitted that the fee increase was invalid because it was arrived at in violation of the COSS Protocol and the COSS Constitution. One aspect of the complaint was that the procedure used to appoint a temporary COSS Chair was improper.
The Court dismissed the Association’s application. The resolution of the party’s dispute involved the interpretation of the provisions of the COSS Protocol. The Court rejected the Association’s interpretation of provisions regarding the power to increase ancillary fees. The impugned provisions were not ambiguous as argued by the Association. Each provision created a separate power to increase fees. One granted the power to impose a permanent increase and the other granted the power to impose a temporary increase. There were no words that expressly or implicitly created a relationship between those two powers whereby the exercise of one power precluded the exercise of the other. The Court noted that where the terms of an agreement are clear and unambiguous, there was no need to look to extraneous evidence. In this case, it was clear that the intention of the impugned provisions was to give the University two options for increasing ancillary fees. The procedures followed to approve the fee increase did not require judicial intervention. The Court found that there were some irregularities in the process but these did not operate to render the fee approval process a nullity. Further, any irregularities, such as the substitution of the COSS Chair, had been subsequently resolved through ratification by the appropriate bodies. In the Court’s view, organizations should be allowed to deal with procedural issues using their internal mechanism without interference from the Court unless they conduct themselves outside their authority and in a manner inconsistent with fairness. In this case, the Court held that the ancillary fee approval process reflected the hallmarks of a fair process.
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