Anti-abortion group’s court case will affect future student union decisions

Carter Grant and Teresa Mervar are the two members of SFLR bringing the lawsuit to the RSU. (Ryersonian File Photo)

Carter Grant and Teresa Mervar are the two members of SFLR bringing the lawsuit to the RSU. (Ryersonian File Photo)

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR) are awaiting a decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that could forever change student group relations with the RSU.

“We were told in February that it could be any day now,” said Andrea Bartlett, president of the RSU.

The court will decide whether the RSU acted properly when it denied SFLR group status.

If the court decides the RSU was within its rights to reject the club, it will be able to deny status to other groups in the future.
Avner Levin, an associate professor and chair of Ryerson’s Law and Business department, said that this case will have a significant impact on the school no matter the result.

“The strongest precedent is if this case is ever appealed and goes to the Court of Appeal and they reinforce the position,” Levin said.

“Then that would really be a meaningful precedent.”

At issue is whether the RSU was biased when it dismissed the anti-abortion group’s application and whether the court has any jurisdiction to make that judgment.

Levin said that the decision would be something for other courts to consider in similar cases.

“It could help the RSU defend itself from similar lawsuits for sure,” he said, explaining that if the RSU wins, “the courts would recognize that they … should not interfere in these kinds of student group activities.”

Levin said it would also affect issues with other Ryerson student groups, such as the men’s issues group that was denied status last semester.

Bartlett says that this case is “very similar to what is currently happening with men’s issues.”

She said that each year the students’ union deals with such problems regarding politically charged student groups.

If SFLR wins, the group hopes that it would help other anti-abortion groups fighting for club status at universities across the country.

Carter Grant, vice-president of SFLR, said that both his group and the RSU have gone forward with the lawsuit because of its far-reaching ramifications.

“I think both parties realize the significance of a case like this,” he said.

“Currently, the only beliefs that can be expressed on campus are the ones that align with the RSU.”

Grant and his group had hoped that the RSU would take a settlement earlier in the year when they offered it to the union.

When that didn’t happen, they took the case to court.

“We want to solidify free speech on campus,” Grant said.

“Not only here at Ryerson but at other university campuses across Ontario and Canada,” he said.

“Hopefully pro-life groups will have their club status solidified because of the decision.”

Grant said that schools like University of Victoria, University of Toronto and York University have all faced similar conflicts.

Here’s what both sides argued

The SFLR argued that the RSU discriminated against it when the student union rejected its application for club status. The group argued that the student union did not appropriately consider the request and limited the group’s freedom of expression under Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The SFLR argued that even a private tribunal like the RSU must act with discretion and cannot “punish members whose social and political beliefs do not accord with that of the association.”They also stated that the RSU acted in “bad faith” when making the decision regarding the group, meaning that the RSU banned the group based on its own feelings rather than the actual policies in place. In a statement prepared in its defence against SFLR, the RSU made three main arguments for why the case should be tossed out.

Here are the arguments:

1. The court does not have the jurisdiction to intervene in the affairs of the RSU.

2. The case was brought before the court improperly.

3. The RSU is not subject to the charter.

One Comment

  1. University campuses should be places for free speech and ideas. Student unions have no place to limit this fundamental right to open discussion and knowledge. It’s 2016! Let the groups have their right to discuss freely. What is everyone so afraid of?

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