On July 19, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) will consider a motion to suspend all work and collaboration with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) until the UTSU drops its lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandra Hudson.
The motion was put forward by RSU President Susanne Nyaga over claims that the ongoing lawsuit is ‘anti-Black’ and contributes to anti-Black racism.
“As an individual board member I put forward this motion based on multiple concerns about the conduct of UTSU, however, specifically recognizing the way in which anti-Black racism is apparent in the court case that the UTSU is currently pursuing against Sandy Hudson,” Nyaga wrote in an email to The Varsity. “I cannot stand by and support a union that acts in an anti-Black manner.”
The UTSU began pursuing a lawsuit for civil fraud against Hudson as well as the union’s former President Yolen Bollo-Kamara and Vice-President Internal Cameron Wathey in 2015. The lawsuit occurred in response to a termination agreement signed by all three executives that ended Hudson’s employment and allegedly entitled her to $247,726.40 — approximately 10 per cent of the UTSU’s operating budget that year. The UTSU alleges that Hudson had also recorded 1,974.5 hours of overtime work in a single entry, requisitioning $9,782.24. The UTSU is seeking $277,000 plus damages from Hudson.
“If this motion gets passed I hope it pushes UTSU to drop the lawsuit against Sandy Hudson and also work towards supporting the Black student [sic] they represent rather than tokenizing, silencing or potentially harming them,” said Nyaga.
In response to Nyaga’s motion, UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh said that the UTSU sent a letter to the RSU’s Board of Directors denying allegations of anti-Black racism.
“The claim that the decision to sue Ms. Hudson was motivated by anti-Black racism is false,” Singh said, quoting from the letter. “The UTSU is and has always been motivated exclusively by a desire to reclaim the $277,508.62 that [allegedly] was, we believe, wrongly taken… We have consistently urged that all parties to this dispute be treated with respect and with dignity—without exception.”
In an email to The Varsity, Singh wrote that the UTSU does not and will not “deny the RSU’s right to boycott the UTSU, but a decision on the manner should only come when all of the decision makers have fair and equal access to the relevant information.”
“The RSU and the UTSU have been partners for years,” said Singh. “That partnership should not be brought to an end.”
The RSU and UTSU have previously collaborated on various initiatives, holding an electoral reform town hall in 2016, as well as signing a letter to the Canadian Federation of Students criticizing its lack of transparency.
But this is not the first time the RSU and UTSU have had disagreements, either. In 2016, the UTSU condemned the RSU for restructuring that laid off two employees.
Nyaga claims to have supported the UTSU’s condemnation at the time.
“Now the tables have turned and the UTSU is doing some things that are unfair, including laying off workers, so it is time for us to step up and hold them accountable,” she said.
“Through cutting off ties [to the UTSU] we would be telling Black Ryerson students that their lives matter and that we will refuse to work with people who behave in an anti-Black manner.”
The UTSU has been publicly accused of being anti-Black for their lawsuit against Hudson on numerous occasions. In 2016, The Black Liberation Collective called for a boycott of the UTSU and an end to the lawsuit after the UTSU had settled legal disputes with Bollo-Kamara and Wathey in January and February respectively; in June 2017, BLMTO co-founder Rodney Diverlus called the UTSU lawsuit “anti-blackness masking itself.”
Update: this article has been updated to clarify that the UTSU is seeking $277,000 plus damages from Hudson.