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Court sends Victoria University, tenants back to arbitration

Decision forms most recent development in Victoria University’s legal dispute with commercial tenants

Court sends Victoria University, tenants back to arbitration

[dropcap]V[/dropcap]ictoria University has been embroiled in legal disputes for years with the tenants of the land it owns in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood. The most recent development is a decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissing appeals by both Victoria University and its tenants on a 2014 Superior Court decision. The 2014 decision called for the parties to return to the same arbitral panel that had previously overseen its rent reset negotiations in 2010.

Victoria University has been involved in two 100-year lease agreements since 1960 with Revenue Properties Company Limited and GE Canada Real Estate Equity Holding Company for 131 and 151 Bloor Street West, respectively.

While Victoria University owns the land, the brick-and-mortar is owned by the tenants. Both properties are the site of luxury retail and office spaces on the Bloor Street West corridor in downtown Toronto. The building at 131 Bloor Street West — commonly known as The Colonnade — also houses rental apartments.

Rent resets, land valuation disputes

The leases for the properties were fixed for a 30-year period, after which point, they were subject to a rent reset and the terms of leases had to be renegotiated.

The first rent reset occurred in 1990: Victoria University and the tenants disagreed on how a fair market value of the land should be assessed. The dispute could not be worked out in arbitration and was forwarded to the Divisional Court.

Revenue Properties argued that the fair market value of the property should take into account the existing building on the land and the constraints of the lease. This would have valued 131 Bloor Street West at $31,597,704 and 151 Bloor Street West at $27,733,772.

Victoria University’s view was that the valuation should treat the land as vacant and unencumbered by the lease, as it was when the lease was first signed in 1960. The appraised values would have been $54,134,046 and $17,027,010 for 131 and 151 Bloor Street West, respectively.

In 1993, the court ruled that the free market value was to be based on “what a seller and buyer, each knowledgeable and willing, would pay on the open market,” and that the lands should be “valued as if vacant,” but at the same time, not unencumbered by the constraints of the lease agreement. The properties at 131 Bloor Street West and 151 Bloor Street West were then valued at a free market value of $46,308,334 and $14,579,010 respectively. The decision also opened the door to another rent reset in 20 years.

A second rent reset occurred in 2010 and yet again, the parties could not agree on the valuation of the property.

Since the first reset, the provincial government enacted the Condominium Act, 1998, which allowed condominiums to be developed on leasehold properties, such as the Bloor Street West properties.

At the time of the lease agreement in 1960, condominiums were not yet a common fixture in Ontario. According to the rules set out in the Condominium Act, 1967, which previously governed their construction, condominiums were permitted to be built only on freehold property, meaning that they could not be constructed on lands that were subject to a lease.

An arbitral panel for a 2010 rent reset negotiation concluded that the value of the lands should be based on “development of a mixed-use commercial-retail and freehold condominium project.” The panel’s decision led to the rent for one of the properties being reset at approximately four times the previous amount.

Revenue Properties and GE Canada appealed this decision to the Superior Court.

The Superior Court judge determined that the panel had “erred in law” by choosing to value the lands based on potential freehold condominium development and transferred the issue back to the same panel for reconsideration. Both Victoria University and the property tenants appealed the decision.

Victoria University had asked that the initial decision resulting in a rent increase be restored, whereas GE Canada and Revenue Properties requested that the dispute be referred to a new arbitral panel.

The Court of Appeals dismissed both appeals, and the dispute was remitted back to the same arbitration panel.

Victoria University’s properties

In 2008, Morguard Corporation acquired Revenue Properties Company Limited and in 2013, Slate Asset Management bought GE Canada’s Toronto properties. Morguard and Slate could not be reached for comment. Neither Morguard nor Slate are named in the court documents.

Victoria University declined to comment on the lawsuits. Ray deSouza, Bursar of Victoria University, told The Varsity, “We cannot comment at this point as the matter is before the courts.”

The 131 and 151 Bloor Street West locations are not the only leased-out properties owned by Victoria University. The institution also owns the land to the McKinsey & Company building on 110 Charles Street West and an under-construction condominium at 8 St. Thomas Street.

These properties, as well as the Bloor Street West properties, have been the subject of scrutiny in other legal contexts as well. In June, a City of Toronto staff report revealed that Victoria University had allegedly avoided paying millions of dollars in property taxes on these lands, due to an oversight in the Victoria University Act. Unlike most universities in Ontario, the institution is exempt from paying taxes on leased properties regardless of whether or not they are being used for educational purposes.

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

Letter criticizes CFS structure, calls for reform

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is one of the 10 signatories of an open letter to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) criticizing the federation’s structure and what they call a lack of transparency.

In addition to the UTSU, the signatories include the Carleton University Students’ Association, the Cape Breton University Students’ Association, the Ryerson Students’ Union, the Laurentian University Students’ General Association, the University of Regina Students’ Union, the Kwantlen Student Association, the Lakehead Students’ Union, the University of British Columbia Students’ Union Okanogan, and the OCAD Students’ Union.

The concerns that the letter highlights include the availability of the meeting minutes, bylaws, policies, and financial information; the “overly burdensome” defederation process, the power of the CFS staff, the “closed, exclusive nature of general meetings;” and the “lack of space for dissent and for constructive criticism.”

The 10 student associations plan to pass reform motions at the CFS Annual General Meeting in November. “Our motivation for these reforms comes from a desire to strengthen student organizations in Canada to be truly representative and to further reflect the will of our members,” reads a portion of the letter.

Despite the criticisms, the 10 member locals say that they remain committed to the CFS’s principles and support “the existence of a progressive student movement that advances the interests of all students.”

The UTSU had been a member of the CFS since 2003 and is listed under Local 98. Student activist unaffiliated with the UTSU executive have launched a petition campaign called You Decide UofT in an attempt to have a referendum on continued membership with the CFS.

This story is developing, more to come.

Journal from recently rediscovered HMS Terror kept at Rare Book Library

Ship was part of Franklin Expedition through Canadian Arctic

Journal from recently rediscovered HMS Terror kept at Rare Book Library

The HMS Terror was found in Nunavut Bay on the morning of September 12, 2016. The ship was one of two vessels that became lost in the Franklin Expedition, a British voyage into the arctic that departed in 1845.

The ship was lost after becoming stuck in ice along with HMS Erebus. The expedition was undertaken in the hope of finding a Northwest Passage through the Arctic to China.

Lieutenant Owen Stanley of the British Royal Navy kept a journal detailing his personal experiences on HMS Terror. The journal has been housed at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library since 1971.

Stanley was the surveyor on the HMS Terror on an 1836 expedition, nine years before the Northwest passage expedition. A book of his watercolours from the voyage is also kept at the Rare Book Library.

In his journal, Stanley recounts the crew’s experience of becoming stuck in ice in the Arctic, where the ship remained for 10 months before breaking free. He is very detailed in his accounts of those 10 months and how the crew survived, not knowing if they would ever return to England.

Stanley discusses the crew’s relationship with the local Inuit community, which was mostly based on trade. He writes about the crew having a costume party aboard the ship to pass the time. He even made a watercolour painting of the event, depicting men dressed in furs and dresses, captioned “Arctic amusements.” He was also able to construct an “observatory” from his equipment and create a revolving roof using a sail from the ship.

Stanley also explains how to anchor a ship into the ice to keep it from drifting off. However, the ice itself can drift, causing the ship to end up far away from where it had originally stopped. No one knows how or why the HMS Terror remained lost for so long, but this could be an explanation as to why it was so hard to find.

Stanley’s journal cuts off in what seems to be the middle of a sentence, before he can address how the ship was able to become free. We do know that the ship made it back from that voyage safe and sound though, from a watercolour painting Stanley made of the ship sailing back to England.

Ontario ombudsman reports 182 complaints received about universities

Ombudsman’s university oversight began in January

Ontario ombudsman reports 182 complaints received about universities

Since the Ontario ombudsman gained jurisdiction to investigate universities, 182 complaints have been made in this area, ranging from issues of student services to academic processes.

The ombudsman began taking complaints about universities in January of this year. Of these complaints, approximately 75 per cent of them have already been closed. Colleges are also under the oversight of the ombudsman and have been for 40 years.

Cases that the ombudsman has worked on have involved academic appeals, fees, employment issues, safety and security, and student services.

Ashley Bursey, Manager of Communications at the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario, mentions that their goal is to “resolve complaints at the lowest level possible, usually through shuttle diplomacy or informal discussion with the organization in question.”

The ombudsman, a position currently held by Paul Dubé, is tasked with investigating complaints from the public about Ontario government services, while retaining an arm’s-length distance from the government.

The ombudsman works as a last resort option in solving university issues and advises all complaints to be dealt with by their university’s own procedures first.

Complaints can be made online through the ombudsman’s website. If the ombudsman notices a trend in a certain type of complaint, they are able to launch investigations — this has not yet happened with respect to universities.

Like most ombudsman offices around the world, the Ontario ombudsman is able to make recommendations, but their judgment is not binding.

Bursey mentions, “The track record of our office is that most of the ombudsman’s recommendations are accepted and implemented…. We do follow up on all recommendations that are accepted to ensure they are implemented.”

UC building renovations well underway

Construction of the building expected to end by September 2018

UC building renovations well underway

Since the passing of the University College Literary & Athletic Society’s (UC Lit) revitalization referendum, work on the UC building has progressed, with the Junior Common Room (JCR) reopening at the beginning of the year.

“The JCR went through some extensive updates to some of its main attributes this summer!” UC Lit President Ramsey Andary told The Varsity. “The floor was completely redone with a fresh new wood that matches the colour of the walls along with multiple in-ground outlets scattered all over, the couches and pillows were re-upholstered with durable leather, the tables were sanded and redone and the walls of the offices were all repainted.”

Other upcoming changes include adding more accessible entrances throughout the college, including a central elevator for the building. Renovations are also expected to bring a third floor café, an East Hall library, a reading room in West Hall, a conference centre in Croft Chapter House, and improvements to the UC quad.

“Historically, the university library used to be located in East Hall. Bringing it back as part of the revitalizations allows students to make more regular use of the beautiful room,” said Andary. “West Hall will also get more usage through its renewed role as a multi-purpose reading room. The hidden gem that is usually discovered only during Fireball, UC room 376, will get a café that we hope to make as popular as our current coffee hub Diabolos’,” said Andary.

The extensive renovations to the building are set to begin in the spring of 2017 and are expected to be completed in September 2018.

The UC Lit council has yet to make the decision on whether to operate the café in UC 376 themselves or to have UC Food Services run it. The council holds the right of first refusal to operate the café as it has done with its student-run coffee shop Diabolos’, located in the JCR.

Diabolos’, which had in the past experienced financial and operational difficulties, reopened in January 2015 after having been shut down for a couple of months.

Andary tells The Varsity that since its re-opening, the student-run coffee shop has been doing well.

“The key changes to its business structure, its operations, and its image were important in creating a financially sustainable system. We were lucky to have a talented team, manager, and administration to make this happen.”

The referendum approving the building revitalization levy had previously failed to reach a two-thirds majority in 2014.

The passing of the referendum earlier this year was seen to be a big move and Andary believes that the successes of the renovation would not have been possible without the support of the students within the UC community.

“I think it has really been the support of the students ever since the referendum that has sparked the overall excitement of the community to the great changes happening to our beloved college. Seeing the new JCR filling itself with life has just made students all the more eager to experience a revitalized UC,” said Andary.

Stats Canada report shows 2.8 per cent increase in average undergraduate tuition nationwide

Tuition in Ontario remains the highest in the country

Stats Canada report shows 2.8 per cent increase in average undergraduate tuition nationwide

Statistics Canada has released a report detailing tuition increases across the country.

According to the report, the average cost of university tuition for undergraduate students has increased by 2.8 per cent for the 2016–17 academic year in comparison to the year prior. Statistics Canada also reported a rise in “compulsory student fees,” including athletic and student association costs.

The report further revealed that engineering programs saw the highest rise in tuition costs from an average of $7,511 to $7,825 — a 4.2 per cent increase. Pharmaceutical studies, on the other hand, was the only subject that saw a decrease in tuition rates, with costs falling 18.4 per cent this academic year as compared to the previous year.

Other than pharmacy programs, however, tuition fees across all subject disciplines have increased.

Throughout Canada, tuition fees for international undergraduate students rose 5.6 per cent for the 2016–17 academic year, with average annual tuition costs at $23,589.

Tuition fees for graduate students also rose across all disciplines. MBA programs remained the most expensive, with tuition fees averaging $27,574.

The statistics also indicate a wide disparity between the average costs of tuition across Canada’s provinces. Ontario has the highest tuition costs, with average annual fees of $8,114, in comparison to Newfoundland & Labrador’s $2,759.

Newfoundland and Labrador still enjoys the lowest tuition costs in the country on account of the provincial government’s ‘tuition freeze’ policy.

Persistent increases in Canadian tuition fees over the years continue to present a unique financial challenge to university students across the country.

Fusion Radio seeks 200 per cent levy increase in referendum

Scarborough Campus radio station hopes to bring back over-the-air broadcasting

Fusion Radio seeks 200 per cent levy increase in referendum

Scarborough Campus Community Radio (SCCR), also known as Fusion Radio, is asking UTSC students to vote ‘Yes’ on a referendum that would nearly triple its current levy.

The radio station is seeking to increase its student levy amount by $8 — from $4.85 to $12.85. Voting will be available on September 30 and October 3 at the Bladen Wing Atrium from 10:00 pm to 5:00 pm for UTSC students. If passed, the proposed changes will come into effect during the 2017 summer term.

Fusion Radio is a 24/7 online radio network for UTSC students. The station hosts various student-led shows in addition to organizing events around UTSC throughout the year.

If the proposed student levy is passed, the new money would go towards a significant expansion project planned for the station.

According to an online statement made by Fusion Radio, the expansion project would “bring over-the-air broadcasting back to UTSC, as well as increase the quality and accessibility of a range of services that we provide for the university, campus groups, and students.”

Both UTSG and UTM currently have terrestrial radio stations. At UTSG, CIUT has its studio in the Hart House map room and broadcasts on 89.5 FM. CFRE operates at UTM and broadcasts on 91.9 FM.

Other possible changes include “increas[ing] the reputation of UTSC by offering industry quality radio, media production, and networking services to its students” as well as an opportunity to “provide necessary capital to invest in opportunities that will benefit and engage the campus and community such as celebrity talent for events/concerts.”

Chief Returning Officer of the Referendum Ayman Ali also commented on the changes that would result if the fee-increase passed, saying in an email to The Varsity that it “is needed to allow for over-the-air broadcasting expansion and to achieve the goal of having a legitimate campus radio station at the University of Toronto Scarborough, which both the Mississauga and St. George campuses already have.”

The Varsity spoke to the President of Fusion Radio, Ramisa Tasfia, who stressed the importance of the network on campus, saying: “Fusion Radio is Scarborough’s Source for Sound. For many years, student clubs and associations have turned to Fusion Radio to set-up and coordinate sound for events across and outside of campus. This includes but is not limited to providing speakers, working with DJs, renting equipment, setting up lights, and promotions.”

Tasfia also added that the referendum is crucial to the success of Fusion Radio, especially for “future generations.”

There is no definitive quorum for this vote because neither the SCCR by-laws nor the University of Toronto’s Student Society regulations have specific requirements for voter turnout.

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President Jessica Kirk declined to endorse a vote in favour or against the referendum questions: “SCSU supports the opportunity students will have to exercise their democratic rights to vote. It is important for students to know that their vote will directly impact the fees all students at UTSC will ultimately have to pay, should there be a majority ‘Yes’ vote.”

“It’s up to students at UTSC to decide whether or not Fusion Radio’s services warrant a 200% fee increase,” Kirk added.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article spelled the names Ramisa Tasfia and Ayman Ali incorrectly. The Varsity regrets the error.

You Decide UofT optimistic about collecting almost 10,000 signatures

Campaign for referendum on UTSU’s membership in the CFS endorsed by EngSoc, UC Lit, SMCSU

You Decide UofT optimistic about collecting almost 10,000 signatures

The students who are attempting to obtain the nearly 10,000 signatures required to launch a referendum on the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) say they are confident that they will reach their goal.

The You Decide UofT campaign was launched in early September in an attempt to secure the signatures — which are equal to 20 per cent of the CFS Local 98 membership —  to prompt the referendum as required by the CFS bylaws.

Though the 10,000 signatures target is lofty, You Decide UofT believes it is feasible with help from divisional student societies.

The UTSU has been a local member association of the CFS since 2003 under CFS Local 98, which only includes full-time undergraduates at UTSG.

In an email to The Varsity, You Decide UofT representative Daman Singh recognizes the challenge that collecting a high number of signatures will pose. “Our team is extremely committed and enthusiastic about this campaign and we feel that this commitment will translate into success,” he said.

You Decide UofT plans on collecting signatures by collaborating with college and faculty student unions, course unions, and clubs “to host ‘petition stations’ in their common spaces and offices.”

“We also have various volunteers circulating petitions around campus attempting to speak to the students who may otherwise fall through the cracks,” he added.

Singh noted that campus “response thus far has been fairly positive.” He stated that both the University of Toronto Engineering Society (EngSoc) and the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) have formally endorsed the campaign, and the campaign has been “overwhelmed with how excited students have been to help out.”

Since The Varsity spoke with Singh, the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit) — on which Singh serves as Vice-President — also endorsed You Decide.

The campaign organizers have varying levels of involvement in large-scale mobilization campaigns. “While some of our members come from past successful campaigns, such as Hello UofT and Brighter UofT, other members are entirely new faces to the realm of campus politics,” Singh explained.

When asked about any challenges the You Decide campaign has faced thus far, Singh cited the logistical difficulties of launching such a large-scale campaign and keeping track of the volume of signatures rather than any sort of on campus opposition: “When you have so many people in so many places collecting signatures, it can be very difficult to maintain a good idea of where you’re at.”

The CFS has also indicated that it will have a presence on campus this semester; the federation was present during some of the Orientation Week festivities and told The Varsity that it intends on continuing its activism.