UPDATE: RSU embroiled in controversy after firing a new mother on parental leave and her temporary replacement

RSU fires employees Dina Skvirsky and Gilary Massa, right on the heels of hiring general manager Natasha Campagna.

Originally posted Dec. 3 @ 9:09 a.m.

Update: This story has been updated to include details of a confrontation between RSU president Andrea Bartlett and former vice-president equity Pascale Diverlus.

Update 2: Added details from a statement released by the RSU.

Update 3: Added details from board members who question the accuracy of the RSU statement.

Update 4: Added details of an interview with Bartlett.

Update 5: Added additional comments from Bartlett, news of CESAR boycott.

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is embroiled in controversy after it fired two senior staffers: a new mother on parental leave and her temporary replacement.

The former employees say they unjustly lost their jobs as part of a strategy to replace them with a new general manager, who started work one day before they were let go.

The firings have spiralled into a confrontation between RSU executives and a former executive, with accusations of harassment and racism lobbed and students taking sides on social media. Some RSU board members have spoken out against the decision and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) announced a boycott of the RSU’s printing service in protest.

In response to the controversy, the RSU published a statement Thursday on its website, which said an “independent external review” found the cut position — the executive director of communications and outreach (EDCO) — was “largely redundant.”

Gilary Massa is one of the employees fired. She received the news Tuesday afternoon — while feeding her three-month-old infant — through a phone call from RSU president Andrea Bartlett, who said her job was no longer part of a restructured staffing plan.

Dina Skvirsky, who had been filling for Massa, was also let go. She was told in a meeting with Bartlett and given the same explanation.

Bartlett told The Ryersonian the staffing changes are also designed to put the student union “back into the hands of the students,” by replacing unionized executive directors with a non-unionized manager who can provide what she says will be impartial advice to executives and staff oversight.

RSU president Andrea Bartlett responds to the controversy surrounding a decision to fire two RSU employees including a new mother on parental leave. (RyersonianTV)

RSU president Andrea Bartlett responds to the controversy surrounding a decision to fire two RSU employees including a new mother on parental leave. (RyersonianTV)

She said there’s a conflict of interest when unionized workers are in the position to advise student executives on labour and human resource decisions.

Natasha Campagna has taken on the new general manager position, leaving a job overseeing the administrative operations of the Ryerson Commerce Society (RCS).

Bartlett is a former RCS executive vice-president and worked with Campagna, leading to accusations on social media the restructuring was an excuse so the executive could hire a friend.

“There is a lot of what I call ‘sweetheart deals’ that have been happening in the students’ union for the last decade,” Bartlett said. “This was not that, but I knew that no matter what kind of process that I go through, that’s the way that it’s going to come out in the media.”

She said the job was advertised through the RSU’s normal channels and Campagna was the only person from Ryerson to apply. “We did everything that we could to make sure that it was the qualifications and not the relationship with the student” that determined the successful candidate, she said.

Gilary Massa, the RSU employee who was fired on Tuesday, 14 weeks into her parental leave. (Courtesy Gilary Massa)

Gilary Massa, the RSU employee who was fired on Tuesday, 14 weeks into her parental leave. (Courtesy Gilary Massa)

Massa says she was not offered another position and had no opportunity to apply for general manager because she thought she already had a job. She had been on extended leave since April, using saved vacation time. She started parental leave on Sept. 1, when her daughter was born. Under the Employment Standards Act, she was entitled to another 21 weeks for a total 35 weeks of leave.

Social media has exploded since the news of the firings broke, with many attacking the decision to fire a new mother still on parental leave.

Bartlett said the decision “had nothing to do with the people that were in the role.”

The RSU’s statement says the terminations had the support of the board of directors, but two members say the board never voted on them at all. Board members Angelyn Francis, a fourth-year journalism student, and Zahra Islam, director of community services, also say they don’t know who wrote the RSU statement.

However, Bartlett said the dissenters had expressed their concerns, but the majority of the board was “very strongly in in favor of this decision.”

In an interview with The Ryersonian, Massa said her dismissal was unjust. She had never worked with current RSU executives who took office on May 1. “I was shocked,” she said. “It blindsided me. I had no idea where it came from.”

Under Ontario law, employees returning from parental leave must be reinstated to their former jobs, or a comparable position if their job no longer exists. However, it is legal in Ontario to terminate employees on parental leave, so long as they were not let go specifically for taking leave.

Massa and Skvirsky’s role included advising and assisting the executives, transitioning new executives, implementing policies, co-ordinating communication, outreach and long-term goals. They also supervised several staff, including all the equity service centres and their supervisors.

According to Skvirsky, the general manager will now have about 90 per cent of their former duties, including all staff reporting to her.

Skvirsky said the current executives had been assigning many of her duties to other employees over the last few months to frame her position as obsolete. “The hiring of the general manager who is supposed to be doing the same job as me was kind of, very much, I think a plan,” Skvirsky said.

“Just seeing someone on maternity leave getting fired from their workplace is obviously pretty upsetting and makes me feel like no workplace is safe.”

Saphi Subendran, former RSU vice-president student life and events, worked alongside Massa last year. “I’m pretty shocked,” Subendran said. “She was the go to person if I needed clarification or assistance while working at the RSU.”

Skvirsky and Massa are unionized workers under CUPE 1281 Unit 2. Massa says she was sent a termination letter electronically Wednesday morning. They both said they hadn’t received any severance pay, and hadn’t been informed if they would be. As well, they said they’re still due payment for overtime hours worked.

Contradicting the former employees, Bartlett sent an email to The Ryersonian saying both Massa and Skvirsky had “received all notice, pay in lieu of notice or severance to which they were entitled under the collective agreement and the ESA.”

Skvirsky said she and Massa will be working with CUPE to explore their options.

CUPE had not sent a response to The Ryersonian’s inquiries at the time of publication.

Massa started working for the RSU in 2007 as the equity and campaigns organizer. She was key in forming the Racialized Students’ Collective.

She was her family’s primary breadwinner and the loss of her job means she has to cancel plans to visit her ill grandmother in Panama, she says.

“I want my daughter to meet her great-grandmother. Hopefully she doesn’t pass soon, but we don’t know.

“I loved my time at Ryerson, (and I am) saddened that it’s gone down this way,” Massa said. “I’m not quite sure what to do right now … I’m putting my family first and foremost.”

CESAR announced Friday it will boycott the RSU’s printing service, CopyRITE, to protest the firings. In a statement, it said the action was to ensure “CESAR is not financially contributing to this irresponsible and anti-union student executive.”

Massa’s firing upset former vice-president equity and RSU presidential candidate Pascale Diverlus, who was involved in a confrontation with Bartlett that has sparked further controversy.

RSU president Andrea Bartlett's Facebook post.

RSU president Andrea Bartlett’s Facebook post.

Bartlett posted on Facebook on Wednesday night to report she had called security after Diverlus and another student confronted her in her office. “I repeatedly asked them to leave because I was not comfortable, and we didn’t have an appointment (many other hurtful things were said) until it escalated to the point that I had to call security,” Bartlett wrote. “At this point, our offices no longer feel like safe spaces.”

Diverlus posted on Facebook a 41-second video, which recorded at least part of the incident, in an attempt to refute accusations of harassment.

The recording at no time shows the faces of Bartlett, Diverlus or the student, but they can be heard speaking.

“I’m just going to ask my question,” Diverlus says, before chiding Bartlett for firing Massa.

“You should really think about people’s lives before you try to ruin them, first of all,” she says. “And think about what you as a white woman is doing to a black Muslim woman by ruining her position and saying it is reconstructing. You should really think about that. You should really ask your VP equity who stands for this and really think about what this means for someone like,” at which point the next word is difficult to make out.

Diverlus, who considers Massa a close friend, told The Ryersonian she approached Bartlett as a concerned student. “I have been very emotional about the fact that a black Muslim woman’s job has been removed,” Diverlus said. “I went to talk to the executives the same way people used to talk to me to me all the time when I was VP equity.”

RSU presidential candidate Pascale Diverlus says she did not harass Bartlett. She said she was approaching the president, "the same way people used to talk to me all the time" when she was VP equity. (RyersonianTV)

RSU presidential candidate Pascale Diverlus says she did not harass Bartlett. She said she was approaching the president, “the same way people used to talk to me all the time” when she was vice-president of equity. (RyersonianTV)

There is no indication the firings were based on race or religion.

Diverlus said security never confronted her about the incident, and said she did not harass Bartlett. She remained in the building from 5:30 p.m. until 9:15 p.m., serving on a panel in the Thomas Lounge, which started near the time the confrontation occurred.

Those sharing Diverlus’s video — which has been viewed more than 8,000 times — have used the hashtag #IStandWithGilary.

Bartlett’s post has since been shared by other RSU executives and students, several adding the hashtag‪ #‎IStandWithMyPresident‬.

Diverlus said the RSU executives’ Facebook posts are an attempt to vilify her.

“I think it’s very easy to label certain people as angry, as harassment or anything like that, but rarely are we ever talking about why a person is actually angry,” Diverlus said.

“It is so easy to divert attention away from what is actually at hand, but let’s look at why I’m so emotional about this, what’s actually going on inside that building. This is something that’s happening to a person’s entire family, and I really want folks to think about that.”

With files from Latifa Abdin and Steven Goetz

Watch the RyersonianTV’s Friday special broadcast on the issue below.

Watch the full interview with Pascale Diverlus.

Watch the full interview with Andrea Bartlett.


  1. What a disturbing abuse of power. This conduct is disgusting. No notice or severance provided, and instead a friend and former co-worker of the president was hired for a new position they created to make other positions obsolete? Where is the accountability?

  2. It’s ironic that “Andrea Bee” is invoking the ‘safe space’ language that so many administrators use in order to hide behind their wrongful deeds. They violate labour standards, and then claim that a reasonable discussion that employees engage in with them — and which requires them to and account for what they’ve done is harassment. So typical. I’d like to see people put an end to this ‘safety’ jargon – and soon!

  3. She was also a raging anti-Semite so good riddance lol

  4. Fired during her during materinity leave. Time to vote the sexists out.

  5. the TSU this year has been very sketchy and scatterbrain. It seems as though all they have done so far is spend all of our money on drake and have no care in the world for equity and social issues.Students voted for change but I don’t think this type of leadership is what they wanted. I hope this will open people’s eyes to the poor ways in which the executives in the RSU are serving us. Very sorry to see this happen to Gilary #IStandWithGilary

  6. Yup slap the race/religion card there and let the ultra liberal social justice warriors “take care” of the situation acting like thugs.

  7. When I voted for the current RSU execs last year, I imagined they would be less corrupt then the previous execs and would create more opportunities for students to be involved with campus initiatives instead of provoking immature behavior from all sides. This is really sad to witness as a fellow student.

  8. no that’s cool just remove my comment because you disagree.

    **** The Ryersonian will not approve messages that are potentially libelous ****

  9. Totally immature, childish, and petty. They hire their friends and then stab long-time employees in the back. The previous exec was never my favourite, but this team seems downright rotten. I hope the students remember this come voting time.

  10. i think president is right and there should be action taken against who harassed her

    • Elephantintheroom says:

      Andrea accusing someone of harassment is equally harmful as the claim of harassment. Andrea is just distracting from the fact that she fired a new mother before the holidays.

      • Elephantintheroom says:

        Falsely accusing of harassment*

        • I know you’re not a lawyer, and neither am I, but according to the Ontario Human Right’s Commission:

          Harassment is defined in subsection 10(1) of the Code as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”

          Vexatious: “causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry:”

          This was harassment, plain and simple. Diverlus and her partner were asked to leave, they did not. They were also confrontational and intimidating. The kissing of the teeth at the end of the video kind of seals the deal on that.

  11. Ryerson Alumni says:

    Gilary hates Jews. When she was at school she openly advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Israel. I am sure that’s not why she was fired, but it certainly doesn’t help her cause.

  12. There are better ways of dealing with this, the whole thing. Pascale, if you wanted anything constructive to come out of it, you should have arranged a meeting. At 5:30, storming into an offence, guns blaring probably caught Andrea off guard and feeling threatened. I don’t think Andrea thought consciously “let me fire this black Muslim woman!” and this is a really heavy subject, no one wants to be accused of this. On the other hand, I hope the RSU continues in due process, working a proper severance package for Gilary as she is supporting her family. Pascale, you win in that everyone’s thinking about this…it is sad, but its not the end. The new position had existed before, and I think the current RSU is entitled to a structure that fits their needs operationally. However, they do have work ahead of them and apart of that is being more aware of what they are doing and how it is impacting lives and equity on campus. We need to stop vilifying Andrea, and focus on what needs to be done for Gilary moving forward. Pascale, is out of the conversation. This is between Andrea and Gilary and I hope that Andrea took Pascale’s sentiments to heart moving forward.

    • Elephantintheroom says:

      Did you even watch the video? Andrea vilified herself but her disgusting actions.

    • Arrange a meeting? To say 3 sentences? She’s president of the RSU not president of the USA, people can’t walk to her office and talk to her in a civil manner? Pascale was not the angry black woman Andrea claimed she was. The video shows that Bartlett is a liar and manipulator.

  13. We need a new "Public Servant" says:

    1. Are Patricia Campagna, Ted Rogers’ Law & Business administrator and Natasha Campagna related? Mother & daughter, perhaps? Says here Andrea & Natasha are friends. I wonder how Natasha may have gotten the job. Was this job made available to all? How many applied/were interviewed or considered for the position? Appalling.

    2. So RSU is facing budget constraints, yet they fired, and then hired…?

    3. Andrea is such a drama queen who cries when people try to seek answers she obviously can’t validate.

    I hope that these students explore their legal options and Ryerson students see that this “public servant” is really only serving herself and her “team”.

  14. University is not a safe space grow up

  15. Let’s be honest, the RSU has been an oligarchical institution for years now with a small group of people deciding who runs the place.

    I’ve worked with the RSU in the past, and while I believe at heart most of them are nice people, they were extremely cold and distant to outsiders and absolutely immovable to the idea of change. It was just a super clique-y and uncomfortable atmosphere to be around.

    That apparently seems to be changing, and some are uncomfortable with the fact that they, like just about anyone else with a job, are now expendable.

    From personal experience I have to say that Pascale’s claim that anyone can just waltz in to see an exec without an appointment is how they typically do things is not true. She obviously was used to operating on a different level than your typical student (and no shade, — but the little talked about fact that her brother used to be president–) but that wasn’t the reality for most people.

    If somehow her firing is due to race/religion, or in violation of the law then I support Gilary exercising her legal rights available to her, but people get laid off all the time, and confronting Andrea in her office without an appointment and with another person is a low blow by Pascale. I’m not sure what exactly it was meant to accomplish other than making it seem like Andrea is some horrible racist who willfully fired Gilary because of her race or religion.

  16. Total Abuse of power. Andrea, if you’re reading this, I hope you get fired.

  17. Looks like very few commentors read the article or have the ability to take on an objective perspective free of emotional bias.

    “The independent external review team was not provided with information about the individual employees who served in the EDCO role and was only asked to consider the RSU’s organizational structure.”

    An independant, external review panel was able to discern these positions are redundant and unnecessary. Whether you love or hate Andrea doesn’t matter. If an outside team can identify where huge swaths of funding are being squandered, you as the leader of a financially troubled organization have the obligation to make cuts.

    The emotional argument that she is a new mother or that this action was taken due to her race/religion is ludicrous. The panel that conceived the idea of cutting these jobs didn’t even know the people who held them to begin with.

  18. Why was the job posting not made public? Why did Dina or Gilary – or anyone else – not have a chance to apply for the GM position? RSU just wanted to get its friends in the office. Clear bias, and disturbing to be honest. And they’re gonna get themselves sued for a stunt like this – no notice? No severence?
    Good fucking luck, TSU. You’re about to get your ass handed to you. And the students are going to pay for it, yet again.

  19. I have to wonder why Diverlus, who wasn’t even fired and honestly has nothing to do with the situation at all is suddenly in the middle of this situation and giving interviews. She is bitter that she lost the election and now taking it out on Andrea and would not be surprised if she planned to leverage the situation for another election bid.

    Considering she and the administration that was voted out come from the school of “let’s close our eyes and ears and yell white privilege until our problems go away” it’s not at all surprising she would bring up race and religion which is absurd. Her tone was threatening and calling security was the right thing to do to deescalate the situation.

  20. “I’ve worked with the RSU in the past, and while I believe at heart most of them are nice people, they were extremely cold and distant to outsiders and absolutely immovable to the idea of change. It was just a super clique-y and uncomfortable atmosphere to be around.”

    Sounds a whole like Corporate America!

  21. Andrea Bee is certainly hiding under the cloak of “safe spaces” after she vilified and made a false accusation against a black woman. Tell me if racism and colonialism still doesn’t exist?

    Doesn’t this look like the days of Jim Crow and the constant false accusations made by white women in order to get the black slaves lynched?

  22. Firing someone on maternity leave? Weak. Now onto race/religion, who knows? From my experience, yes it happens and is evident through Canadian constructs of social/workplace hierarchy. Maybe if it were a white woman I bet that president wouldn’t have done that. I hope she gets fired regardless because someone who’s worked with Ryerson for years and then has a baby… Why the f would you fire them?

    Verdict: Sexist to the burden of woman’s reproductive system, and doesn’t make sense to fire someone who contributed the Ryerson community since 2007 so… could be racist.

  23. I question if many of the people complaining about this have ever held a real job in their life.

    Sorry folks welcome to the real world. People are laid off from their positions all the time. This happens regardless of your religion, sex, or whether you’re a single mom supporting 10 children. When people are laid off there is a social system in place to assist you until you are able to find another job. I don’t believe we are privy to the actual severance and notice period that was given but there are strict laws governing that as well.

    That being said I’m not sure the “EDOC” is a secure position in any way. It appears fairly specialized with no discernible benefit. What students should be asking is were they ever consulted on having this position created in the first place?

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