University ordered to pay affected employees $400 each
The union representing Ryerson’s full-time faculty has won a grievance against the university after a warrantless search and seizure of faculty mail at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM).
In May 2019, about 45 mailboxes at the TRSM were searched by Ryerson security officers who turned over the seized letters to Toronto police.
An arbitrator’s ruling says that the search was conducted following a series of anonymous letters sent to TRSM faculty. The letters contained alleged hate mail and harassment towards a senior academic official at Ryerson.
In a ruling released Sept. 17, arbitrator Kevin Burkett found that the university breached the privacy rights of members of the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA). The search of mailboxes and seizure of mail in absence of a warrant was deemed unjustifiable. Ryerson is directed to pay $400 in damages to each affected faculty member.
“Here there are multiple affected faculty members, each of whom has had his/her reasonable expectation of privacy violated by the university in a way that would necessarily diminish the trust that both cements and enhances an employment/academic relationship based upon academic freedom,” said Burkett in his ruling.
“The events of the past several months have underscored the need for the university to be vigilant in protecting the privacy of all members of the university, and to avoid allowing Ryerson security to be co-opted by police,” said Jesmen Mendoza, the RFA’s grievance officer in an email to members of the RFA on Sept. 22.
After the senior academic official—who isn’t named—expressed concern for her physical safety, Ryerson security contacted Toronto police. Police requested that the letters be retrieved and Ryerson security officers were directed to open the locked faculty mailboxes and provide police with the letters retrieved.
Burkett said it is his view that Toronto police breached members’ Charter rights by opening the seized mail. The right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure is under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In a letter to the RFA, the university said that they believed an “imminent threat” was at hand. The arbitration document said that the senior academic official had had two unexplained break-ins at her home and that an offending letter was thought to have been pushed under an office door at Ryerson. Burkett said that the opening of the mailboxes and retrieval of the letters was based on a genuine security concern.
According to the arbitration document, university operating procedure has been amended to prevent faculty mailboxes being opened without consent, a police warrant or other judicial authorization.
The RFA did not respond to the Ryersonian’s request for comment. In a brief email statement provided to the Ryersonian, the university said only:
“While the university had good intentions and was acting on a genuine security concern, Ryerson understands and respects the arbitrator’s decision. Following the incident, the university amended its internal operating procedures in response to matters such as these.”
Ryerson officials were not made available to answer other questions.
EDITOR’S NOTE (23/09/20): This story was updated to include a statement from Ryerson University.
With files from Josh Scott