The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is in legal trouble again. On April 8, two of the executive members from the men’s issues group that was denied student group status in October asked a court to overturn the RSU’s decision.
The application is seeking to ask a judge to declare the RSU’s decision void, and to direct the RSU to grant the group official status under the students’ union umbrella.
Kevin Arriola, a fourth-year politics and governance student, and Alexandra Godlewski, a fourth-year journalism student, are the two named applicants. Arriola is the president of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) and Godlewski is the social media executive.
The application argues that the decision violated “the principles of fundamental justice and fairness” and that the RSU made it in “bad faith” and with a “closed mind and bias.” It also argues that the decision to deny club status is outside of the RSU’s jurisdiction as it contradicts the RSU’s commitments in its policy manual to support students’ rights.
The application also states that the denial is “unreasonable, discriminatory and fails to respect Ryerson University students’ fundamental freedoms of expression and association.”
RSU president Andrea Bartlett, who was served with the papers on April 8, said that she stands by the decision that the RSU Board of Directors made on Jan. 25 to deny club status to MIAS.
She said that the application’s arguments are “problematic” and noted that the arguments are very similar to those made in an application for judicial review by Students for Life Ryerson (SFLR) in December, after that group was denied club status by the RSU.
In a response to SFLR’s application, the RSU disputed the “applicability and enforceability of various policies in the policy manual,” and pointed out that the allegations of bias and bad faith are factual determinations, meaning they can only be determined by a judge in a verdict.
Bartlett said that she met with Arriola on Oct. 30 to explain the RSU’s concerns over the group’s constitution, and yet even after MIAS submitted a “slightly revised” version, the board still had too many unanswered questions.
“There is a need to talk about these things, and we’re asking the RSU to help, and they’re just saying, ‘no, you can’t get it.’” -Alex Godlewski
“At its core — the fact that we have policies around women’s issues in our manual — there are acknowledgments of certain forms of oppression that just weren’t addressed by the MIAS,” she said.
Bartlett said that the MIAS argument that the RSU’s decision to deny club status was outside of their jurisdiction is “odd.”
“They’re asking for student group status, and one of the RSU’s functions is to approve or deny student groups. So is it outside of our scope? No,” she said.
Marty Moore, the lawyer who is representing Arriola and Godlewski, is a staff lawyer at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) in Alberta. Carol Crosson, who is representing the SFLR case, is also a lawyer for the JCCF.
Moore emphasized that the RSU is “not above the law.”
“The problem is that student unions think they are above the law. They think this decision is within their jurisdiction but they must comply with their own policies,” he said.
At the end of the day, Bartlett said the RSU’s decision does not stop MIAS from being a group on campus.
She said it just means that the group will not receive RSU funding or recognition.
“Groups cannot force the RSU to give them students’ money if the mandate of the group runs contrary to the core equity values of the association,” said Bartlett.
Godlewski says the RSU’s decision is an unfair characterization of the MIAS.
“We are not a men’s rights group. We focus on furthering conversation about things like the skyrocketing suicide rate amongst men, men’s mental health issues and shelters for men in Canada,” she said.
“There is a need to talk about these things, and we’re asking the RSU to help, and they’re just saying, ‘no, you can’t get it.’”
Bartlett stressed that the RSU’s values and mandates are not created by the executives, but rather by students.
“Because of the mandate of our equity service centres and the policies that are core functions of what the RSU is, well, to contradict your own mandate and purpose as a students’ union, that’s not worth it,” she said.
“That’s the nature of the beast of being membership-driven.”
Godlewski says that regardless of what the judge’s decision is on April 25, it will still be a victory for them.
“We’re standing up to the RSU.”
With files from Chris Thomson and Ramisha Farooq.