Nine students from the University of Ottawa have sued their student union, arguing that the implementation of the mandatory transit pass (U-Pass) is unconstitutional.
The nine complainants all live within walking distance of the school and claim that the pass is useless to them.
They are suing the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) in small claims court for $6,022.57.
“Our main challenge is against the legality of the referendum question. We want to know how they got this implemented,” explained one plaintiff, second-year economics student Chris Spoke.
“There is no opt-out option for students who don’t want it.”
Other than those who have a disability, live over the Quebec border in the Société de transport de L’Outaouais service area, or already have a valid pass, all undergraduate students must pay for a U-Pass out of their tuition.
Carleton University journalism student and 2010 mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor made scrapping the U-Pass a major element of his campaign.
“It is unethical to add [the U-Pass] as an additional requirement to graduate,” Taylor said.
“The reason it works is because it’s mandatory,” he said. “CUSA [Carleton University Students’ Association] has been actively campaigning to guarantee it as a permanent institution.”
The students who are suing argue the referendum was not carried out in accordance with the SFUO constitution and the wording of the referendum question was vague.
“The only reason OC Transpo is going along with this is because it increases their revenue. This is about minority rights. Universities cannot impose service fees,” Taylor said.
SFUO president Tyler Steeves said he was “not surprised” by the lawsuit.
“SFUO and CUSA were forced into making concessions with the city,” he said. “In a perfect universe I would have liked the pass to be optional.”
Former CUSA vice-president (student issues) Nick Bergamini worked actively to promote the pass.
“The reality is the majority of students benefit from it. The problem is it can’t exist unless it’s universal,” Bergamini said.
“This lawsuit is a waste of student money. There was nothing ambiguous about the process,” Steeves said. “For those who think so I would just restate the [referendum] question.”
“By taking [the SFUO] to small claims court, we are definitely getting their attention,” Spokes said. “Several articles have been printed and many Ottawa U students are getting frustrated by it.”
The SFUO has until late January to respond, Steeves said.