Anti-abortion group faces off in court against UTMSU over club recognition

Court also hears cases against UOIT, Durham College, Ryerson students’ unions

Anti-abortion group faces off in court against UTMSU over club recognition

Three lawsuits involving student clubs suing students’ unions, alleging they were improperly denied funding, were heard by Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell on January 24 at Osgoode Hall. The eight-hour-long hearing included the suit against the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) by three members of UTM Students for Life (UTMSFL).

UTMSFL is an anti-abortion student group that filed a suit against the UTMSU in January 2016. Diane Zettel, Cameron Grant, and Chad Hagel are the three UTMSFL members listed as the applicants of the lawsuit.

The court simultaneously held hearings for two similar lawsuits. Speak for the Weak, another anti-abortion group at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), is suing the Student Association of Durham College and UOIT, while the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) faces a suit from members of the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society.

Marty Moore is the lawyer representing the three clubs and is a staff lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), a non-profit advocacy organization tasked with “defend[ing] the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education,” according to its mission statement. It has also represented Trinity Western University in its lawsuit against the Law Society of Upper Canada.

The UTMSU and RSU are being jointly represented by Alexi Wood and Jennifer Saville of St. Lawrence Barristers LLP. Woods and Saville previously represented the RSU in Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union, 2015, another case involving a anti-abortion student club denied recognition from its student union. The judge sided with the RSU in that case.

Legal questions             

While defending the clubs, Moore spoke of the close relationship between student unions and the publicly funded universities to which they are attached.

“If the University of Toronto Students’ Union decided to adopt the Bahá’í Faith and expressly made it a part of its documents in accordance to its letters patent, I think we would understand that its relationship with the publicly funded institution would begin to have to jeopardy there,” argued Moore. “The reality is that public institutions and the common law, which applies to public institutions, should take into account the fundamental values that apply on that campus.”

“[These are] not the arguments that I’m putting forward today, but I do recognize that that is one of the possible approaches that a court could take,” said Moore. He cited Rakowski v. Malagerio, 2007, a case also presided over by Perell, in which it was decided courts had the authority to intervene in student union policies.

Saville told the judge that student unions are private corporations, regardless of the fact that they operate on public university campuses, citing the Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union case, where the judge ruled that student unions aren’t subject to public law. Wood expanded on this, adding that all UTMSU members, including those involved in the UTMSFL, had the right to vote on or run for the UTMSU Board of Directors and shape the union’s policies if they disagreed with them.

Perell responded, “There are some things where democracy is not the answer. Hitler got elected, with due process.”

UTMSFL’s case

Moore forewent any allegations of ideological bias; the crux of his submission was the allegation that the three unions went against their own policies and bylaws.

The UTMSFL members allege that the UTMSU informed them that the club would not be granted official club status due to its anti-abortion stance. In his submission, Moore told the judge that the UTMSU subsequently changed its reasoning and attempted to deny the club for technical violations. It is alleged that the UTMSU told the club, which only had three executive members, that it needed four executives in order to qualify for official club status and that it had to amend its constitution to be compliant with the UTMSU’s requirements and elect a fourth executive at a general meeting.

“[Then-UTMSU Vice-President Campus Life Russ Adade] kept on coming up with new requirements, including, at the end, ‘I have to be present at your meeting when you vote.’ The applicants said, ‘Fine, come to our meeting. We’ll do a re-vote. We’ll re-enact our constitutional amendments,’” Moore told the judge.

The applicants also allege that Adade brought five people who were not members of UTMSFL to attend the meeting and vote against the election of the fourth executive.

Wood pointed out that in cross-examination, Adade denied allegations of stacking the deck at that meeting and actually tried his best to help UTMSFL meet the UTSMU’s requirements to qualify for clubs funding.

“We have an affidavit from Mr. Adade, who says he doesn’t do that, and we asked him on cross and he denied it on cross. He said that these members attended on their own,” Wood told the judge. “They had come to him, they had talked to him about [UTMSFL] and he said, ‘If you have issues with [UTMSFL], go to the meeting on the 23rd and talk to [UTMSFL] there.’”

Wood also told the judge that UTMSU-recognized clubs are required to be open to all UTMSU members and that all UTMSU members can therefore vote in the club elections. The only exception, Wood said, is if the club lays out different voting rights in its constitution. “[UTMSFL] did not put into their constitution any restrictions on who could vote,” she continued.

According to Wood, Adade sent an email to UTMSFL after the general meeting, explaining the next steps and expressing willingness to continue working with the club to get its club status approved. The student union board then received an email from Moore saying that UTMSFL was commencing legal proceedings.

It is unknown when the court will reach a decision, although the decision for Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union came out nearly 10 months after the hearing.

Facts first, suspicions second

Re: “UTSU votes against seeking second legal opinion on Hudson lawsuit”

Facts first, suspicions second

The UTSU has decided against seeking a second legal opinion on the lawsuit involving former executive Sandy Hudson. The vote was prompted by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), who demanded that the UTSU seek legal advice on the proceedings from a lawyer who identifies as Black.

Outcries against alleged racism toward Hudson have sparked much debate over her case. Some, like the BLC, perceive the lawsuit to be race-motivated, and by extension, anti-Black. Contrary to this perception, however, the UTSU made the right decision in light of the facts.

There have been many allegations of racism against Hudson, but there is no actual evidence to support them. No proof of discrimination against Hudson has been brought forward — neither within the lawsuit itself nor in general on the part of the UTSU.

Lacking this proof, there is no basis for seeking another legal opinion. Putting funding toward rectifying unsubstantiated allegations is not an effective use of student resources, especially given the extremely high costs associated with legal help. Additionally, involving a second lawyer only brings unneeded complication to the lawsuit. Although some might argue that hiring a Black lawyer would counteract the UTSU’s alleged racial bias, if that bias has not been shown to exist, there is nothing to counteract.

This already complicated lawsuit will not benefit from additional layers of analysis based on unfounded suspicion. The focus should be on the facts of the case itself; only then can matters be effectively resolved.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

The Breakdown: The UTSU’s lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandy Hudson

The history, the controversy, and what to expect

The Breakdown: The UTSU’s lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandy Hudson

In September 2015, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) began a lawsuit against its former President Yolen Bollo-Kamara, former Vice-President, Internal and Services Cameron Wathey, and former Executive Director Sandra Hudson. Since then, the story has taken a number of twists and turns.

The Legal History

The original statement of claim provided by the UTSU alleges that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey had “breached their fiduciary duty” by authorizing 2,589.5 hours of overtime pay for Hudson, that the three had “conspired to commit civil fraud,” and that their actions “constituted civil fraud” as the authorization of Hudson’s overtime pay entitled her to $247,726.40 as part of her severance package, despite the fact that Hudson had never claimed any overtime hours in the time she worked there. The claim also asks for $200,000 from the defendants for “punitive damages.”

Hudson’s position as Executive Director of the UTSU was terminated in April 2015, around the time Bollo-Kamara and Wathey’s terms as UTSU executives were coming to a close. The statement of claim alleged that Hudson was unhappy with the newly-elected Executive Committee and that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey agreed to dismiss Hudson. Wathey ran for President with the Change U of T slate and was defeated by Brighter U of T.

Hudson’s statement of defence, filed in November 2015, states that she was “subject to inappropriate conduct and unwelcome comments from UTSU directors. Some of the comments were in relation to Hudson’s perceived sexual orientation, gender, and race.”

Hudson also alleged that members of Brighter UofT conspired “to treat Hudson harshly” in order to “humiliate her,” while planning to terminate her employment that upcoming September. These claims have been refuted by members of the UTSU, including former President Ben Coleman.

Bollo-Kamara and Wathey filed their notices to defend in October 2015, and the UTSU was notified in November 2015 that Hudson intended to counter-sue the union for $300,000 in damages.

Hudson claimed that she had frequently worked overtime hours without filing those overtime hours. Additionally, she stated that the new executive would create a hostile work environment for her, and that it had violated the non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses of the termination. The UTSU denied this claim.

The UTSU settled its claim out of court with Bollo-Kamara in January 2016 and later did the same with Wathey. Both individuals signed affidavits stating that Hudson told them she had received advice from the UTSU’s legal representation at the time, DLA Piper, regarding her termination agreement.

A joint statement by Bollo-Kamara and the UTSU said that Hudson was able to convince Bollo-Kamara to sign her overtime cheques as a result of their close relationship. In his affidavit, Wathey said he relied on his understanding that the termination agreement was approved by the UTSU’s legal counsel and Hudson’s legal counsel. Both affidavits stated that Bollo-Kamara and Wathey did not financially benefit from the agreement.

On January 3, 2017, the UTSU amended its statement of claim against Hudson, the only remaining defendant from the original civil suit. The amendment alleged that Hudson operated the e-mail account operationsutsu@gmail.com, by which she forwarded all e-mails from UTSU accounts like executivedirector@utsu.ca. This meant that Hudson would have had access to confidential UTSU e-mails, which the amended statement describes as “a breach of her contract and the minutes of settlement she is seeking to uphold.”

The amended statement of claim also states that this information is sufficient to support Hudson’s termination “without contractual or statutory notice or severance payment,” meaning the UTSU would not have to pay the severance it allegedly owed Hudson.

The controversy

In October 2016, the U of T chapter of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) staged a protest at the UTSU offices, claiming that Hudson is entitled to a severance payment and that the UTSU is racist for continuing the lawsuit. The BLC posted banners across the entrance to the UTSU building and entered the building to read a 3000-word statement outlining their claims that the UTSU is anti-Black.

The past few months have seen many UTSU board meetings disrupted by protests, with members of the BLC disrupting meetings in order to chant and share sentiments about Hudson.

A motion passed at the April 29, 2017 UTSU Board of Directors meeting that required the UTSU to seek a second legal opinion on their lawsuit. The motion stipulated that the second opinion must be sought from a lawyer who will “identify as Black, practice employment law, and have a background in equity work,” and that the BLC must be engaged in the selection process.

At the July 20, 2017 Board of Directors meeting, though, a motion to rescind the prior motion requiring the UTSU to seek a second legal opinion was proposed. This resulted in further protests from the BLC.

The UTSU and Hudson are heading to court on October 23 for a summary trial.

The UTSU should listen, know when to stand its ground

Resolving recent board meeting disputes requires communication and principled decision making

The UTSU should listen, know when to stand its ground

On April 29, 2017, members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2017-2018 Board of Directors were welcomed into their new roles with protest. At the board’s transition meeting, members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), alongside supporters of CUPE 1281 and the ‘Save our Services, Support our Staff’ campaign, protested the UTSU’s ongoing lawsuit against Sandra Hudson, former UTSU Executive Director and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO). 

The BLC claims that the UTSU’s continuation of the lawsuit against Hudson perpetuates anti-Black racism and that the ongoing legal proceedings have inflicted serious harm on Hudson’s public image.

In the midst of this conflict, the UTSU must take a balanced approach to dealing with the unrest it currently faces. Such a balance requires cooperating with and listening to disgruntled students while simultaneously taking a principled stance that protects students’ interests.

The magnitude of students’ dissatisfaction can be attributed to the UTSU’s past ineffectiveness at listening to and collaborating with dissenting voices. Board meetings have been held during times that were inviable for many students, while other meetings have prohibited livestreams, preventing students who could not attend from seeing the events that transpired. In November of 2016, the UTSU hosted a poorly-publicized Anti-Black Racism Town Hall, which Black students did not attend, drawing criticism from the BLC.

The BLC is not the only group to critique the union lately, either. Supporters of CUPE 1282 and the ‘Save our services, Support our staff’ campaign have also been highly critical of the UTSU over proposed cuts to services. These groups have substantial strength in numbers and the potential to influence newer members of the UTSU board.

As these groups gain strength, it is in the best interest of the UTSU to listen to them.

The UTSU must foster an ongoing dialogue between the union and its members, and any issues that arise should be addressed properly and in a timely manner.

Regarding what transpired at the transition meeting, it is encouraging that UTSU President Mathias Memmel — after voting to give speaking rights to everyone in the room — encouraged the board to listen to the protesters that were speaking. Although the protesters mocked him for this, it was a necessary step in trying to bridge the divide between the opposing groups. Suppressing dissenting speech only gives more ammunition to those trying to oppose you.

However, while the UTSU must listen to these groups, it must also stick to its principles and prioritize the best interests of students. Being open to dissenting views and taking strong stances are certainly not mutually exclusive, but it is still important to recognize that sometimes there is nothing you can do about disagreement.

It is difficult for the union to compromise with the #ImWithSandy campaign given that the campaigns primary goal is for the union to drop the lawsuit. What the UTSU should do instead is work to better define and communicate the reasoning behind the lawsuit, ensuring that it is transparent in its motive in order to gain further support and traction. Communication is key, and the actions taken by Memmel at the board meeting are only a first step. The UTSU must present the facts of the case to the student body and do so without engaging in the character assassination of Hudson — a method achievable by separating the good that Hudson has done within student life circles and BLMTO from the allegations of financial fraud that have been made against her.

Moreover, the UTSU can effectively foster dialogue with Black students by reaching out to other organizations and student groups on campus like the Black Students Association and the Black Ties Association.

Communication is just as important internally as externally; individual UTSU board members should not feel pressured into adopting certain political positions or stances, and should act and engage in conversation in a manner that is congruent with their roles as student representatives.

The problems that the UTSU will face in the coming year are not going to be easy to solve — but by keeping a line of communication open while sticking to its principles, the union can save itself from further unrest.


Haseeb Hassaan is an incoming fourth-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science. He is a former Associate Executive Vice-President of the UTSU, and a current Arts and Science Students’ Union executive. The views expressed here are his own.