The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) recent settlement with former Executive Director Sandra Hudson has sparked criticism among UTSU and former UTSU officials.
At an Emergency Board of Directors meeting on October 10, four people voted against the confidential recommendation affirming the settlement between the union and Hudson. Among them were Vice-President External Anne Boucher, University College Director Aidan Swirsky, and Engineering Directors Andrew Sweeny and Chris Dryden.
Sweeny resigned in the wake of a majority vote to approve the settlement, stating that the settlement was “so disappointing” that he could not continue to support the UTSU. “Quite frankly, it was a poor deal, I don’t think we pushed hard enough,” he said. “At worst, we still would have done better in court.”
The motion passed 17–4 with one abstention. Only 22 of the 51 members of the board were present to vote.
Following the motion’s approval, Sweeny immediately motioned for the board to accept his resignation when the confidential recommendation was accepted. He said that, given the debate about the lawsuit during the UTSU elections in March, he felt “this settlement failed those who supported Demand Better based on this issue.”
Boucher said, “I voted the way I did because I ultimately felt it was in the best interest of the UTSU and our members… I do want to say that I genuinely believe people in the room had those same intentions.” Boucher also argued that the union needs to demonstrate that abusing access to students’ money is unacceptable.
Dryden, who ran with the Demand Better slate, said he was “disappointed in the outcome and how little we can reveal to the general membership due to legal reasons.” Dryden also acknowledged that he “completely understand[s] why the others voted the way they did.”
Mathias Memmel, President of the UTSU and the leader of the Demand Better slate, said he “understands” why Boucher, Dryden, Swirsky, and Sweeny voted against the settlement, but disagrees with their choice.
With regard to transparency, Memmel noted that the lawsuit was between Hudson and the Board of Directors. “The fact that the UTSU has 50,000 members, and obligations to those members, is legally irrelevant,” he said, adding that the desire for transparency is political and not legal.
“The settlement was the best of all possible options, including going to trial.” He said that the UTSU’s lawyer, who has worked on the case since the beginning, told them that “the settlement [would bring] more value to the UTSU than going to trial.”
“We’ve been guided throughout by a set of principles, one of which is doing what’s best for the organization, regardless of ideology and despite the political and personal cost,” Memmel said. “In that respect, we’ve kept our commitment to students.”
Memmel said that the terms of the settlement prevent the union from disclosing the amount returned, but that all funds received by the UTSU will be included in the 2017–2018 financial audit. The press release confirming the settlement noted that “Ms. Hudson has voluntarily agreed to repay a portion of the overtime payments,” but it made no reference to the $200,000 the union was seeking in punitive damages nor Hudson’s $300,000 counterclaim.
Hudson, according to the UTSU’s press release, acknowledges that the UTSU believes it had a reasonable basis to start a lawsuit. The statement says that “all parties believe that the lawsuit was not racially motivated” and “regret the acrimonious nature of these proceedings and inflammatory public comments made in and about them.”
Swirsky turned down The Varsity’s request for comment, citing the confidentiality of in camera discussions.