Ryerson men’s issues group takes student union to court after being denied club status
April 12, 2016
TORONTO: The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has once again denied club status to a student group seeking to discuss issues and views on campus that RSU executives disagree with.
The Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society (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.
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.
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.
RSU’s own policies recognize and support student rights to freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression and association on campus. Nevertheless, on January 26, 2016, the RSU Board of Directors voted to reject MIAS’ appeal.
In his sworn affidavit filed on Tuesday April 5, MIAS president Kevin Ariola states:
As members and executives of MIAS and students of Ryerson University, we feel excluded from the Ryerson community. The allegations levelled against us by RSU have caused us to be ostracized by fellow students and have sabotaged our confidence and desire to engage with our fellow students. We feel marginalized and discriminated against by RSU simply because we want to host discussions about issues affecting men and boys.
In its court application against RSU, MIAS seeks 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 is 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 seeks 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.
The Justice Centre is acting on behalf of MIAS in this court application. Justice Centre staff lawyer Marty Moore explains: “Student union executives are not entitled to discriminate against students or groups whose expression they disagree with. Yet, students at Ryerson are forced to take their student union to court in order to have their fundamental rights and freedoms – which the student union itself recognizes – respected on campus.”