Vanessa Henry: ‘This situation has left us with no alternative but to take legal action’
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has filed a claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice asking the court to require the university to recognize the RSU as an elected student representative and “remit all student fees (to) the RSU.”
According to the statement of claim, obtained by the Ryersonian, the RSU is asking for $2.7 million from the university. Included in that amount is $100,000 for “aggravated and punitive damages.”
Ryerson University terminated its operating agreement with the RSU on Jan. 24. Jen McMillen, vice-provost, students, told the Ryersonian that the university had “lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance.”
In January 2019, The Eyeopener reported that credit card statements under the names of the RSU’s president and vice-president operations showed purchases totalling thousands in food, alcohol, clothing and entertainment.
In the statement of claim, the RSU says it has suffered and continues to suffer damages from Ryerson’s actions and omissions. “The full extent of RSU’s damages are unknown to the RSU and require a full accounting of the student fees and H&D [health and dental] plan fees collected by Ryerson.”
In the statement, the RSU claims that despite its demands, Ryerson has refused to remit approximately $608,752.34 “plus an unknown amount” of the 2018-2019 student fees. The union considers the university withholding student fees “unlawful” and a breach of the university’s contractual obligations under the 1986 operating agreement, according to the statement.
The statement of claim also says that Ryerson has not told the union how many students paid into the health and dental plan, meaning the union does not know if the portion of the 2019-2020 health and dental plan fees released to it was adequate.
The RSU says that as a direct result of Ryerson’s action, it has been required to pay for the health and dental plan out of its own funds in order to ensure that “students are able to access vital medical care, treatments and prescriptions.”
In the statement the RSU says it is unlikely that union will be able to continue operating and that as a result of Ryerson’s actions, they risk: shutting down the six equity service centres; defaulting on the health and dental plan, resulting in students being denied coverage for “vital medical care, treatments and prescriptions;” defaulting on contracts with third party vendors; laying off RSU employees and being unable to advocate for students.
The RSU is asking that the university be ordered to release all withheld student fees and any accumulated interest, in accordance with the 1986 operating agreement. It also wants the university to state it is in breach of the 1986 operating agreement and declare that the 1986 agreement is a “perpetual contract.”
In the statement of claim, the RSU says Ryerson’s termination of the 1986 agreement is unlawful and there’s no provision that “allows Ryerson to terminate the agreement, unilaterally or otherwise.”
A copy of the 1986 operating agreement obtained by the Ryersonian does not include a clause about termination. However, it is not clear whether Ryerson could have had other legal grounds to terminate the agreement.
RSU president Vanessa Henry made the announcement about the lawsuit at an update to student groups Tuesday morning.
“This situation has left us with no alternative but to take legal action,” she said, adding that the RSU was “hours away” from sending the university a new draft of the agreement on Friday, when the university issued its announcement.
Since the university announced that it no longer recognizes the RSU, Henry said José González, the RSU student issues and advocacy co-ordinator, has not been permitted to represent students at misconduct hearings.
Henry said that over the past year, the RSU has had to deplete its resources so that it could continue to “provide essential services to students in order to remain operational.”
To highlight what campus will look like next year if the RSU ceases to exist, the union will be hosting a blackout demonstration on Thursday. Student services and equity services are expected to be shut down.
“Students will witness the impact of Ryerson University’s decision to not recognize the Ryerson Students’ Union,” Henry said of the blackout demonstration.
The RSU will still hold its planned 2020 general election, according to two statements released by the union after Ryerson terminated the operating agreement. During Tuesday’s press conference, Henry said the union is encouraging students to “create change” by attending the Feb. 3 RSU semi-annual general meeting and by participating in the upcoming elections.
Ryerson University has 20 days to respond to the claim as of Jan. 28.
The Ryersonian has reached out to the university for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.