Ryerson Students For Life goes to court to get club status
TORONTO, December 18, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A Ryerson University pro-life student group went to court Friday to fight for official club status after Ryerson Students’ Union rejected their application in February 2015.
Calgary-based lawyer Carol Crosson argued before Ontario Superior Court Justice Elizabeth Stewart that RSU’s rejection of the Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR) request for club status violated the university’s policy to protect freedom of speech on campus.
She further asserted that the RSU’s decision denying the pro-life group official recognition was an “abuse of discretion,” a “breach of the principle of natural justice against bias,” and that RSU acted with “improper intentions” and “bad faith.”
RSU’s lawyers Alexi Wood and Jennifer Saville argued that official club status is a privilege, not a right, and that the pro-life group suffered no adverse consequences by being denied club status.
The RSU has “no contractual obligation, if a group of people get together” to recognize them as a club, argued Wood. “The RSU has discretion to decide what will become a student group.”
However, SFLR’s vice-president Carter Grant, one of the applicants in the case and a third-year business student, told LifeSiteNews that without official club status, the 30-member pro-life group won’t receive much-needed funding.
Nor can it book venues for events. In fact, it could be seen as “illegally taking a room,” and ousted at the last minute, Grant told LifeSiteNews, noting that SFLR was left scrambling last spring, when another group took over the room SFLR planned to use for a debate on abortion. (After pleading with facilities personnel, SFLR found another venue to host the event, which drew 45 people.)
RSU’s Student Group Committee rejected SFLR’s application in October 2014, and the RSU board of directors upheld the decision on appeal in February 2015.
RSL President Rejean Hoilett emailed SFLR after the October 2014 decision, stating only that the students’ union “opposes … groups, meetings, or events that promote misogynist views towards woman and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault.”
Evidently, that wording is from a March 2013 RSU policy on women’s issues.
Crosson argued that the SFLR was never told how it violates that policy, nor did RSU provide any other rationale for its decision.
“These students were not treated equally,” she said. The RSU has to “play fair. That’s not playing fair.”
Crosson conceded that the Charter of Freedoms does not apply to the RSU, which is a private organization, but she emphasized that Ryerson University’s policy upholds free speech.
Justice Stewart reserved her decision and Crosson said she expects that it could take up to three months for a ruling.
Grant told LifeSiteNews that SFLR’s mandate is to provide “pregnancy support” on campus. He said one of the group’s executive members had been helped during her pregnancy by a pro-life group at Queen’s University. “We recognize how difficult it can be,” he said.
Another SFLR mandate is to educate students. Grant says his group has gone “clip-boarding” – approaching students to ask their views – several times and he estimates that 95 percent of the students so approached are in favor of a pro-life group on campus.
Teresa Mervar, a fourth-year child and youth care student and an applicant for SFLR in the case, noted that the RSU has been determined in its opposition. “I was surprised we had to take it this far,” she told LifeSiteNews.
Crosson has been retained full-time by the newly formed legal arm of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) and this is one of several freedom of expression cases she’s working on, CCBR’s Nicholas McLeod told LifeSiteNews.
“It’s a novel case,” Crosson told LifeSiteNews, because it involves the question of the court’s jurisdiction over student unions' associations, and the somewhat Byzantine issues of corporate law.
Meanwhile, at RSU’s semi-annual general meeting on November 30, student Jackie Mlotek introduced a motion to curtail “hate speech,” which she said was directed “at a pro-life group that recently tried to mobilize on campus and a men’s issue group” according to Grant’s affidavit.
Although there were insufficient numbers for a quorum to vote on the motion at that meeting, the hate speech motion will be on the agenda for the RSU’s annual general meeting this spring.