Jared Dodds, News Reporter
Just as the dust begins to settle on the initial Student Choice Initiative trial, another student union is heading to court.
But instead of going toe-to-toe with the government, this time it will be federation versus institution, as the Ryerson Student Union is taking Ryerson University to court.
The student union is seeking $2.7 million for breach of contract, $100,000 in punitive damages, an accounting of all withheld student and insurance fees, reinstating the 1986 agreement with the university and an admission of the breach of the agreement in a suit filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Jan. 28.
The statement of claim — which argues the separation was not performed as outlined within the agreement — has yet to be tested in court. Ryerson University has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
Vice Provost of Students Jen McMillen, former Dean of Students at Humber College, announced last Friday that Ryerson University was no longer recognizing the RSU as the governing body for its students.
This decision stems from reporting by The Eyeopener last year that RSU’s board of directors spent $250,000 on credit cards, with charges including Casino Rama, LCBO bills and a sporting goods store.
When the news broke in January 2019 the university met with RSU officials to tell them student fees would be withheld until a variety of conditions were met.
Those conditions included a forensic audit of RSU, sharing the results with the university, and the negotiation of a new operating agreement with the university. A police investigation is ongoing.
“Despite the university’s best efforts to be a collaborative partner, the RSU has failed to meet the conditions set out in January 2019,” Ryerson’s Friday release said. “To this date, the RSU has not shared the results of the forensic audit with the university, nor has a new operating agreement been finalized.”
RSU, however, is not going down without a fight.
The student union held an information session on Tuesday to provide context and explain to students why they resorted to legal action.
“We have received words of support from many students who are concerned about access to the services they have paid for through student fees,” Reanna Maharaj, the executive director for RSU, said in an email to Et Cetera. “Those services will be in jeopardy if the funds are not released in the near-term.
“While we await next steps in the process of our claim before the court, we remain open and eager to go back to the negotiation table with the University,” she said.
There have been a variety of statements from RSU in the aftermath of the separation, all leading up to Monday’s release saying the organization has no intention of ceasing their support for Ryerson students.
“The RSU was elected by students for students,” the RSU statement said. “We remain accountable to our membership and will not stop being a voice for student initiative and change.
“We need the University to hold up its part of the agreement so that we can hold up ours. We ask that you recognize the RSU as the student union that was duly elected by the student body,” the RSU release said.
McMillen wouldn’t have made this decision lightly and would have only made it in the best interest of the students, said Ercole Perrone, the executive director of IGNITE and a former colleague of McMillen.
“I tend to operate from a point of view that people are inherently good, and inherently want to do things that ultimately serve the best interests of not only a finite community but a broader community,” Perrone said.
“For what it’s worth, I don’t think she [McMillen] enjoyed making that decision based on my experience with her.”