The lawsuit between the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and three members of UTM Students for Life (UTMSFL) has concluded, with the court ruling in favour of the union.
The case was heard before Justice Paul Perell at Osgoode Hall on January 24 alongside two similar cases involving campus clubs suing student unions at Ryerson, UOIT, and Durham College. Perell also ruled in favour of the other student unions in their respective cases.
UTMSFL is an anti-abortion club that was refused club recognition from the UTMSU. Three students from the club — Diane Zettel, Cameron Grant, and Chad Hagel — commenced legal proceedings against the union in January 2016. They allege that the union first denied the club official status because of its stance against abortion, then subsequently changed its reasoning, telling the club that its constitution had to be compliant with the union’s guidelines for clubs.
The club members also allege that when it attempted to hold a general meeting to vote to amend its constitution, then-UTMSU Vice-President Campus Life Russ Adade sabotaged the meeting by bringing five non-members to vote against the constitutional amendments.
The counsel for the UTMSU submitted to the court that the five individuals attended the meeting on their own accord and that Adade reached out to UTMSFL after the general meeting, expressing his willingness to continue helping the club gain official status.
Justice Perell expressed sympathy for the UTMSFL members’ frustrations, but called their decision to take the matter to court an “overreaction.”
Perell also contended that the club “has lost very little, if anything, from not being an official club on campus” and disagreed with the notion that the club’s freedom of expression was violated, as it continues to operate on campus.
“SFL probably gained more publicity and support for its cause by the denial of official club status than it would garner by being a Union Club,” wrote Perell.
Despite ruling in favour of the union, Perell wrote that the UTMSU mismanaged UTMSFL’s application for club recognition and attributed its failure to recognize UTMSFL to the union’s “incompetence” rather than bad faith and conspiracy.
Perell also wrote that the five individuals who were not members of UTMSFL should not have been allowed to vote at the general meeting, saying, “They did not believe in SFL’s values, and it would have been deceitful for them to apply to be SFL members, which they did not do,” but agreed with the UTMSU that Adade acted in good faith.
Responding to Perell’s characterization that the lawsuit was an overreaction, Hagel, who is the President of UTMSFL, told The Varsity in an email statement, “We are a little perturbed at the strength of the judge’s comments, but we are not deterred.” Hagel expressed disappointment at the result. He believes it is unlikely that the club would try to apply for official club status again under his leadership, even though that option is still open.
This disappointment was also echoed by Marty Moore, who is a staff lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and the legal counsel for UTMSFL. Moore, in an email statement to The Varsity, repeatedly noted that a part UTMSU’s mission statement is “To safeguard the individual rights of the student, regardless of… personal or political beliefs.” The mission statement is contained in the union’s Constitution and Bylaws.
“The Court seemed to inaccurately view campus club status as primarily about money, and not about permitting a free and equal forum for the exchange of information and ideas,” said Moore.
The JCCF, in a press release, stated that the student clubs are considering appealing the decision.
The Varsity has reached out to UTMSU President Salma Fakhry and Executive Director Munib Sajjad for comment.