The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) denied club status to a student group seeking to discuss issues and views on campus that RSU executives disagree with.
The Men’s Issues Awareness Society at Ryerson (MIAS) is a student group established in 2015 by students at Ryerson “to host discussions and bring social awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school.” Nearly half of MIAS’ members are women.
On October 19, 2015, MIAS submitted its application to RSU for recognition as a student group. At a meeting with RSU’s Student Group Committee on October 26, RSU told MIAS that there was no need for a men’s issues group. RSU took the position that other groups like the Women and Trans Collective were already addressing many of the issues MIAS sought to focus on. Further, RSU claimed that men have “systemic privilege,” and that a group focused on men’s issues would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe”.
On October 27, 2015, MIAS was informed that its application for club status had been rejected. MIAS immediately appealed the decision, making numerous changes to its constitution to answer concerns the RSU had listed. These amendments expressly stated MIAS’ pre-existing commitments to remain independent of any external control, to reject all forms of violence and hate speech, to take all precautions for safety at any group functions, and to provide a safe place for discussions free of fear for personal safety. Nevertheless, on January 26, 2016, the RSU Board of Directors voted to reject MIAS’ appeal.
As a result of RSU’s decision to deny club status, MIAS is excluded from RSU club services such as funding, advertising, event approval services, and free room and facility bookings, even though MIAS members are required to pay fees to RSU. RSU has recognized over 80 other student groups, ranging from ideological and religious clubs to shared ethnic and hobby clubs. Without student group recognition, MIAS has been forced to hold events off campus, because they cannot afford to book event rooms on campus. This has made it very difficult for the group to engage with their peers and attract new members.
The Justice Centre filed a court application against RSU on behalf of MIAS. In the court application, MIAS sought a declaration that the decision of the RSU to deny their application for student group recognition (i) was contrary to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, (ii) was tainted by a closed mind and bias, and (iii) was not made in good faith; that it exceeds RSU’s jurisdiction and is contrary to RSU’s own policies and rules; and that it was unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental common law values and the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to respect Ryerson University students’ freedom of expression and freedom of association. This court application further sought an order prohibiting RSU from limiting access to its services and other resources on account of the thoughts, beliefs, opinions, expressions or associations of students or student groups.
On January 17, 2017, the Justice Centre questioned current RSU President, Obaid Ullah, and Kevin Arriola was questioned by RSU’s counsel. On February 7, 2017, the application against the Ryerson Students’ Union was consolidated with the cases against UTMSU and the Student Association at Durham College and UOIT (both described below). All three cases were heard together in Toronto, January 24, 2018. A decision was released February 26, 2018, with the court dismissing all three challenges.