Former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson sought additional $100,000 in damages during lawsuit

Hudson filed claim against UTSU, President Mathias Memmel during lawsuit, alleging breach of confidentiality

Former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson sought additional $100,000 in damages during lawsuit

Former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Director Sandra Hudson filed a lawsuit claiming $100,000 in damages against the union and its President Mathias Memmel while legal proceedings for a previous lawsuit filed against her were still taking place. Hudson alleged that the UTSU and Memmel breached a mediation agreement after Memmel disclosed information about the then-ongoing lawsuit at an April 29, 2017 Board of Directors meeting.

The UTSU’s lawsuit against Hudson, which was settled in October 2017, alleged civil fraud.

Hudson’s statement of claim, filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on May 31, 2017, states that the two parties attended a mandatory mediation on October 6, 2016, after which the UTSU, Hudson, and other attendees signed a mediation agreement. Memmel, at the time serving as UTSU Vice-President Internal and Services, signed the Mediation Agreement on his own behalf.

This agreement contained a “confidentiality provision,” which states, “All written and oral communications made in the course of mediation will be treated as confidential and without prejudice.” All those who signed the mediation agreement were bound by the confidentiality provision, including Memmel.

At an April 29, 2017 Board of Directors meeting, a motion was passed to discuss whether or not to drop the union’s lawsuit against Hudson. Members of the Black Liberation Collective were present in the room to protest the lawsuit. When Memmel’s efforts to move the meeting in camera were met with protests, Memmel publicly went into detail about the lawsuit after consulting with the UTSU’s legal counsel, Andrew Monkhouse.

Hudson’s statement of claim alleges that Memmel breached the confidentiality provision in the mediation agreement when speaking in support of continuing the lawsuit. “In so doing, Memmel referred to the [UTSU’s allegations], and then proceeded to make selective disclosure of confidential discussions and offers allegedly made at the mediation… notwithstanding that members of the public were present and that the Meeting was being video recorded.”

The statement of claim further alleges that the information disclosed by Memmel was “highly prejudicial” to Hudson, and that Memmel tried to make it appear as though Hudson had committed the misconduct for which she was being sued.

“The malicious, high-handed, arrogant and outrageous conduct of the Memmel [sic] and UTSU warrants an award of punitive damages to ensure that they are appropriately deterred from such conduct in the future,” continues Hudson’s statement of claim.

The UTSU and Memmel, as joint defendants, filed a statement of defence in which Memmel denied having disclosed confidential discussions. The statement of defence states that the information disclosed at the meeting was in reference to non-confidential negotiations and therefore not protected by the mediation agreement.

The statement of defence further claims that Memmel’s answers to questions “were a direct result of a major protest, which was organized and encouraged by Ms. Hudson for the purpose of putting pressure on the UTSU executive regarding her other lawsuit.” The statement calls Hudson’s alleged encouragement of others to ask questions and subsequent decision to sue based on the answers to questions “inappropriate.”

“It’s always been our position that all of Hudson’s various claims were and are baseless, and that was clear from the start,” said UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh. “They didn’t factor into our decision to settle, and they’ve all been resolved to our satisfaction.” Singh added that Memmel recused himself from negotiations and did not personally contribute to the union’s decision to settle or the terms around the settlement.

The Varsity has reached out to Hudson for comment.

Op-ed: Building a student centre

The poorly managed Student Commons project has the potential to bankrupt the UTSU — but we’re working on a plan to fix it

Op-ed: Building a student centre

The Student Commons is opening next year. If you don’t know what that means, you’re not alone — and even if you are not aware of what the Student Commons is, you’re paying for it.

Ten years ago, in the fall of 2007, students voted to let the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) build a student centre. They even voted to pay for it themselves, by way of a new UTSU fee that has now grown to $10.24 per semester. At the time, students were promised a 600-seat auditorium, three restaurants, and office space for campus groups. The building would be in a central location on Devonshire Place, and it would be under the complete control of students — or, rather, of the UTSU. Most of those goals were never realistic.

The university ultimately gave the Devonshire plot to the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, and the Student Commons was forced to relocate to College Street. The original business plan was discarded and never replaced, and work on the project continued without regard for the financial sustainability of the UTSU. Nonetheless, in April of 2015, the UTSU went ahead and signed a binding agreement with the university, outlining the operational arrangements between the university and the UTSU, operating costs, financial controls, and a management structure. At that point, the project could no longer be stopped.

In June 2016, we calculated the cost of operating the Student Commons for the first time. In the process, we discovered that the Student Commons levy wouldn’t even come close to keeping the building, and ultimately the UTSU itself, afloat. If nothing were done, we were facing a deficit of approximately $500,000 in 2018–2019 and a carried-forward deficit of $3.8 million by the 2027 academic year. Bankruptcy became a real possibility.

So, where are we now?

We’ve spent the last 18 months coming up with a plan to save both the Student Commons and the UTSU, and we’re doing well. If it had been possible to cancel the project, we would have, but the UTSU is contractually obligated to press on — for better or for worse. The people who decided to spend millions of dollars on the mere idea of a student centre have long since left the UTSU. Still, there’s no turning back.

On a day-to-day basis, the Student Commons project doesn’t excite me; it frustrates me. We shouldn’t be in this situation. When the student union at the University of British Columbia decided to build a new student centre, they provided detailed plans before they asked students to commit. The UTSU did no such thing. Needless to say, students aren’t getting what they voted for in 2007.

However, while the Student Commons really does threaten the existence of the UTSU, it’s also a great opportunity. Students voted for a student centre, and the fact that they’re getting one is a good thing. Even if the building that’s opening next fall isn’t the building that was promised, it can still make campus better. There’s a need for accessible, 24-hour space for clubs and students, and the Student Commons will provide that. It will also create more space for clubs and other campus groups. There won’t be a 600-seat auditorium, and it will take the better part of a year to get the building up and running, but the end result will still be a student centre where St. George students can innovate and conduct research, study and learn, attend and organize events, and access student-facing services. Everything else aside, that’s a big deal.

The next step is to show students the mysterious ‘plan’ that we’ve been working on since last summer. That will happen early in 2018. Then, we’ll start rolling out the new programming, and it will finally be safe to get excited about the project again. There really is light at the end of this very long tunnel — the age of the dumpster fire is over. 

Mathias Memmel is a student at University College studying Computer Science and Political Science. He is the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

In conversation with Mathias Memmel

The UTSU President talks Hudson lawsuit, the decision behind service cuts, and personal ambitions

In conversation with Mathias Memmel

Mathias Memmel is the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), a student society that represents 50,000 students and whose total assets tend to hover roughly around $7 million each year. Having previously served as the President of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association and Vice-President Internal at the UTSU, Memmel is no stranger to student politics. The Varsity spoke to him about the job so far and the year ahead.

The Varsity: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Mathias Memmel: So, both my parents immigrated to Canada: my dad when he was a kid, my mother as an adult. I have parents who definitely supported me a lot. My time was very music focused. My high school had about 500 kids, and those are students who were bussed in from a geographical area of about half an hour in all directions, so not a large place. Rural southwestern Ontario. Near Goderich, north of London, which is a fantastic place to grow up.

Then I applied to university. I could not actually figure out what I was going to do so I applied for commerce here, political science at a bunch of places, also music schools — and then I got into U of T with a pretty generous scholarship. So my parents were like, ‘Oh yeah you should go to music school,’ which is the opposite thing of what every parent ever says, so that was fantastic.

The Faculty of Music was very small. My program was the voice performance stream. I actually missed doing math. So I started taking computer science classes as my electives, but I could never get enough priority in my enrollment category to actually progress and take upper year computer science classes. I eventually started another degree in computer science and political science and pursued them simultaneously, so I’ve since graduated from music and I still have like seven credits left for the other degree.

TV: When did you start at the UTSU?

MM: 2015. It was my third year. I was president that year at the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association. That year was the last year where the [CFS-backed slate] won at the UTSU. That year there was an attempt to do a restructuring of the board, which would’ve essentially eliminated the principle of proportional representation at the board level. The only reason why I picked up on it was because the UTSU at the time had said that they’d consulted the Faculty of Music undergrads about it and so that’s when I lost my temper. So, that’s why I got involved.

I came to the [Annual General Meeting]. I got up there and probably yelled, and probably looked ridiculous, and that was my first encounter with the UTSU. Then at that point I had decided I was running for the UTSU Director seat at Music. I wound up running on the Brighter slate.

TV: What did you do after that? How did you end up being President?

MM: I ran [for election]; I was actually uncontested, so I didn’t actually have to run in the election because no one at the Faculty of Music had interest in the UTSU, [at least] at the time. I was on the board for a year. Then I ran for VP Internal. I came onto the Hello slate. I was involved in the planning early on.

It was a very frustrating election in terms of the team dynamic, and that spilled over into the year, but I think we learned a lot about how to organize ourselves. It was a year where there was no agreement on core principles amongst the executives about how we would come to decisions. I had really no intention of running again. I basically fought the whole thing until about November.

TV: What changed your mind?

MM: Daman, [the current VP Internal], spent a lot of time convincing me. I think that’s what actually did it in the end. In part, it was the Student Commons, because that project is so indicative of people not making decisions for principled reasons. The idea of starting to build a student centre without having gone to survey the members to see if it’s something they actually want. It’s offensive that someone would conceive of a project like that at the time. I felt like I potentially had the skills and the energy to fix that building and that project and that’s what got me around.

TV: What are your top three priorities for this year?

MM: I think on a very high level, we have to fix the Commons project. We’ve got an operating business plan that is nearing completion. We’re going to do some student engagement. We started out last year but the piece that we’re missing right now is, what do students actually want from a student centre?

After fixing the Commons comes a 10 year strategy. So, we have to look at what the UTSU is on a 10-year timeline. What do our levy increases look like? Where are the points where potentially new services can be introduced?

We’re starting a service called the Help Desk, and the idea is that it acts like a U of T concierge. [If] you don’t know where to go, you talk to the help desk. It’s online, it’s got a chat function, it intersects with the social media, and there’s a physical version here. It’s basically a customer management system and I think the outcome is going to be really positive.

TV: Regarding the Student Commons, what do you believe are its main problems?

MM: The biggest problem with the Student Commons agreement is that essentially we’re billed for the utility cost, and we’re also billed for additional rent. If it had been me doing the negotiations, I would’ve wanted rent and utility costs to be covered by the capital cost levy as opposed to the operating cost levy.

TV: How are you planning on funding it?

MM: There’s quite a significant shortfall. We’re going to be pulling some money from the operating budget and the UTSU profit. We do need funding relief from the university itself. We’ve redesigned some of the plans to have greater rental [value] to external partners. We’re also looking at the university providing tutorial spaces and class spaces or potentially even having a university office or department within the building.

TV: Regarding the Hudson lawsuit, why did you decide to propose and eventually pass a motion to rescind [a second legal opinion]?

MM: Strictly as fiduciaries, our responsibility is to seek legal opinions when we don’t have enough information to guide our course of action and so, with our current [attorney] who is very good, I certainly didn’t feel — and the board obviously didn’t feel ­­— that there was a lack of information that would require an additional legal perspective in order for them to make a decision about the case.

TV: Why did the motion to seek a second legal opinion pass initially?

MM: I think essentially members of the board were uninformed about the case, and rightfully so, because they had just become directors that day and weren’t given the opportunity to hear from the legal councils.

TV: Were they pressured by the Black Liberation Collective?

MM: I think that’s how the members of the board felt.

TV: In your opinion, what mistakes did the 2014–15 executives do that led to the Hudson lawsuit?

MM: We talked a lot about this in the campaign, about the importance of the student union being actually run by students, and that presents itself. The decision-making power, the authority, and the ability to become informed must rely on students, and I think that the thing with the 2014–15 executives was that at the time, the UTSU was really not run by the executives. The UTSU in its current state is very much run by the executives. I’m not saying that there aren’t avoidable mistakes that come with that, but I think that fundamentally the UTSU is no longer treated as anyone’s pet project who’s not a student. If you’re not in a position to question people who are older than you and have been around the institution for longer, and [if] the culture in which you can do that isn’t there, then that’s when mistakes like this happen because you’re disempowered.

TV: What do you think of the CFS?

MM: It’s terrible. It’s an organization that has no interest in partnerships or present policy alternatives, and all they want to do is stand outside of buildings and scream through megaphones without any dialogue or conversation. That’s been our experience with them. We know that they have interfered with the UTSU election; we have proof of it, and so, the sooner we can get out of there, the better.

TV: What steps have you taken toward discontinuing the UTSU’s membership?

MM: My understanding is that YouDecide is continuing this year. They’re doing well with their signature collection.

TV: Is Daman Singh’s prior affiliation to YouDecide a conflict of interest at all?

MM: No, not in my opinion. I mean Daman was heavily involved with the campaign last year when he was a member and a non-executive, but he didn’t benefit financially from YouDecide, so there’s no conflict of interest.

TV: Why did you [choose to lay-off full-time UTSU staff] Vita Carlino and Maria Galvez?

MM: The Board approved a reduction in services based on a recommendation that the executives put forward related to the Student Commons and the UTSU’s financial position more broadly.

TV: How are you planning to replace the services provided by Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator who were laid off?

MM: The services aren’t going to be replaced. Students had five options before to contact someone about the health and dental plan. We have an online chat service, we have a call center, there’s an email service, they can stop by the front desk here, and then they could also email health@utsu.ca. We just eliminated the health@utsu.ca. So, there’s five ways people could previously interact with the plan and now there are four. Instead of contacting the VP Campus Life or the Coordinator, they can just contact the VP Campus Life now.

TV: What was the most enjoyable course you’ve taken at U of T?

MM: I took a course with Victor Falkenheim. It’s POL215, Politics and Transformations of the Asia-Pacific. He’s one of those professors who are so old school, but at the same time he’s so adoring of the fact that he’s teaching. I think that in the context of it being such a small lecture, I really enjoyed that course.

TV: What would you say to someone who wants to run for President of the UTSU?

MM: The one thing that I would like people running for UTSU to know is that, while it looks like you’re doing advocacy work all the time, the idea that everything you do is student-facing is a myth. The distance between the perception of what this is and what it actually is [is] quite far. Most of this is managerial, so if you’re going to run, or when people are voting, they should vote for someone who has managerial experience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.