Last week, The Medium reported that two student-representative organizations had applied for intervention status in the ongoing legal battle between the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and Ryerson University.
Following a court hearing on March 6, an Ontario judge, Justice Markus Koehnen, made a decision on Monday that ordered Ryerson University to hand over millions in withheld student fees to the RSU. The court decision also reaffirmed the RSU’s position as the official student body representative.
The Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario (CFS-O) and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) previously announced on March 2 their decision to intervene in the legal matter in support of the RSU.
The intervention of CFS and CESAR was made in light of Ryerson University’s move to terminate its long-standing agreement with the RSU on January 24.
Ryerson’s unilateral decision to cancel the agreement meant the RSU would lose its student governance status and its funding from the university. Ryerson University has withheld this funding from the RSU since January 2019, citing allegations of financial mismanagement during the 2018-2019 school year.
An official statement published last Monday through the RSU Facebook page welcomed the court ruling, saying “students should decide who represents them, their priorities and how they are held accountable.”
The statement mentioned that the withheld funds had also impacted the RSU’s ability to effectively serve students: “These [student] fees fund vital student services like sexual violence and equity supports and health and dental coverage.”
According to Ryerson’s student newspaper, The Eyeopener, Justice Koehnen ruled in favour of an injunction temporarily allowing for the continuation of the agreement between Ryerson and the RSU. The injunction was granted alongside an award of $68,657.82 for partial legal fees.
The legal matter between Ryerson and the RSU first arose after The Eyeopener published a report last January citing RSU credit card statements showing over $250k in expenditures spent within eight months.
The report attributed some of those purchases to hotel bookings, liquor and clubs.
Upon learning of these and other finance-related allegations revealed by the student newspaper, Ryerson University attempted to negotiate with the RSU by outlining a set of conditions, including a forensic audit into their finances.
The RSU apparently collaborated with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to complete a forensic audit, but ultimately failed to submit the report to the university.
As a result, Ryerson moved forward with terminating the 1984 Operating Agreement, no longer recognizing the RSU as an “official student government representing Ryerson students.”
A statement announcing the decision in January mentioned that the university had “lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for.”
On January 28, the RSU consequently filed the motion for injunction seeking to prevent Ryerson from cancelling the agreement.
The injunction was also filed to allow the RSU to continue operating as the official student government representing full-time undergraduate and graduate students.
After the judge granted the motion last week, Ryerson University responded through a statement that promised compliance with the contractual obligations originally stipulated under their operating agreement with the RSU.
“Justice Koehnen indicated that both Ryerson University and the RSU can come together to discuss fiscal controls and governance concerns,” said Jen McMillen, vice-provost of Ryerson.
She added that “the university looks forward to working with the RSU to ensure that a model of good governance and financial accountability forms the basis of a relationship that puts the student experience first.”
According to Ryerson University, the RSU was given an interlocutory injunction by the courts, meaning that the RSU would continue to provide student services and retain their official student government status until a resolution is made between the parties.
In his ruling, Justice Koehnen confirmed his assistance to both parties in resolving the matter.
The temporary injunction was of interest to intervening partner CESAR, which runs cooperative services with the RSU including legal aid, student appeals, tax clinics, graduation photos, and the university’s seven Equity Service Centres.
In a prior news release announcing their decision to intervene, CESAR’s statement described similarities between their own Operating Agreement and that belonging to the RSU.
“Any decision on interpreting the RSU agreement will set precedent for interpreting the CESAR Agreement,” the statement read. “The interpretation of this ruling will have long-term implications on the analysis of students’ union agreements at campuses across Canada.”
The court injunction has caused Ryerson to halt its selection of a new student government representative—a process which the university started after initially terminating its Operating Agreement with the RSU.
A full timeline of events surrounding prior and ongoing developments in the matter can be found in The Eyeopener.