The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) announced that they have filed a legal claim against Ryerson University in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week.
The RSU issued a statement last Tuesday saying that they are seeking $2.7 million in damages for breach of contract, the release of student fees withheld by Ryerson, $100,000 in punitive damages, a declaration acknowledging the university is in breach with their operating agreement with the student union, and their legal fees.
Ryerson terminated their 1986 Operating Agreement with the RSU on Jan. 24. The RSU is no longer recognized as the official student government representing Ryerson students.
Vice provost of students Jen McMillen issued a statement saying Ryerson “has lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for.”
McMillen’s statement cited the improper use of RSU funds by the 2018-19 RSU executive that Ryerson found out about in January 2019 as to why they cancelled their operating agreement. Former RSU president Ram Ganesh was impeached pending an investigation into overspending on the student union’s credit card account. The credit card statement, which had Ganesh’s name on it, had questionable large purchases at LCBO locations, a shisha lounge, and restaurants.
Ryerson had been trying to negotiate a new operating agreement with the RSU since February 2019. The RSU had ceased responding to Ryerson’s efforts to reach common ground.
RSU president Vanessa Henry said in a press conference last week that the student union is “asking the court to require the university to comply with their contractual obligation, which includes recognizing the RSU as elected student representation and remit all student fees to the RSU.”
“The renegotiation process was difficult. We were willing to make concessions, but not at the risk of jeopardizing our autonomy and ability to effectively advocate for students,” said Henry.
She said that the RSU was “hours away” from sending the new draft of their operating agreement when they were given notice from Ryerson about their termination.
She added that since the release of Ryerson’s statement, the university has refused to allow the RSU’s academic co-ordinator to represent students accused of academic misconduct and has prohibited the RSU’s senate representative from attending meetings.
“We are no longer just defending the RSU, we are setting precedent for student voices throughout Ontario and across Canada. The administration has tried to silence students. We will not be silenced,” she said.
“We as the RSU will not let over 50 years of history be destroyed. The university has denied our request to release funds and has advised us that they will no longer be returning to the renegotiating table.”
The RSU held a blackout demonstration on Thursday because of the operating agreement being terminated. Student services and the Equity Service Centres were closed.
The RSU under Henry’s leadership has been accused of failing to meet promises to disclose finances since last year’s expense scandal and not changing problems within the RSU.
Ryerson has 20 days to respond to the legal claim as of Jan. 28.