By Gloria Bacci
For most of the year, Sarah Landau clocked about 15 hours each week working at the Ryerson Women’s Centre as events co-ordinator.
Today, she is banned from its premises. On Monday, RSU President Rebecca Rose told Landau that the union had banned her from all RSU and community service group offices.
The ban came as a response to a grievance filed against the RSU by CUPE 1281 on behalf of an RSU employee. The employee alleged that he or she was being harassed by Landau. The employee, who is not a student, felt the RSU didn’t uphold its duty to protect its staff. The complaint was based on e-mails sent to the staff member by Landau, and Landau’s allegedly harassing conduct at the International Women’s Day event last Saturday.
These allegations surfaced the week after Landau’s resignation from the Women’s Centre. Rose said Landau’s e-mails criticized the complainant’s work and character. “People are completely free to criticize the RSU… that’s natural and needed in the university environment,” Rose said.
“When it comes to publicly criticizing unionized staff, that’s where we draw the line.”
Landau does not believe her e-mails were harassing. “The way they define harassment is very broad. Apparently saying that someone’s behaviour is rude and that they are unapproachable is harassment,” she said. Landau gave her notice on March 6. Her reasons for leaving were both academic and personal. She said her grades have suffered this semester, and she has experienced a great deal of job-related stress due to ongoing conflicts with the RSU.
One of her major concerns was the lack of autonomy of the Women’s Centre, which is one of five community service groups funded by the RSU. “The RSU has its hand in everything we do. We’re supposed to be an autonomous community service group. Funding does not equal control,” she said. “We’re the Women’s Centre, not the anti-war/anti-occupation centre… We can not only hold events that confirm (to) one type of politics,” she said.
RyePride education and campaigns co-ordinator Jessica Miller agrees with Landau’s concerns about the autonomy of community service groups. “I have for quite a while realized that we are not autonomous,” she said. Rose said she doesn’t think Landau understands the structure of the RSU or the groups.
“Community service groups are the only bodies within the RSU that are not or cannot be directed to do anything by the board or the executive,” she said.
Landau said she faced opposition in early February when she suggested that Irshad Manji speak at an event co-sponsored by the Women’s Centre and the Muslim Students Association at Ryerson. Manji is a feminist Muslim activist whose views on the Israel and Palestinian conflict have been known to spark controversy.
Landau said the most vocal detractor was the staff member who filed the grievance. “It was a 20-minute conversation of trying to make me feel stupid and inadequate,” Landau said. “It was uncomfortable, tense and not a safe space to engage in healthy, honest dialogue.” Rose disagrees with Landau’s account of the incident. “There was never a case where we refuse to bring anyone on campus or refuse to let the Women’s Centre bring anyone on campus,” she said.
Rose said she would have met with Landau to discuss her concerns, had Landau asked. Landau said communication has been a long-standing problem between her and the RSU. This issue came to a head at the end of last week, during her e-mail correspondence with the staff member who filed the grievance. Landau’s last official day of work was supposed to be this Monday. However, she was told via e-mail that other than a shift on March 10, “there was no need to take on additional tasks for the Centre.”
Landau said she found this statement vague and sent an e-mail asking for clarification. She didn’t get a response, and assumed it meant she was not welcome to work at the International Women’s Fair event on March 11. Landau attended the fair as a spectator. She and a friend from outside the university wore T-shirts printed with the phrases, “I support an autonomous women’s centre,” “stop Canadian Federation of Students and RSU propaganda,” and “freedom of speech.”
Rose said her major concern was not Landau’s T-shirt. She objected to Landau publicly criticizing the employee who filed the grievance, she said. But Landau does not believe her conduct on Saturday was out of line. RyePride’s Miller thought the incident was indicative of a bigger issue.
“There’s an attempt to shut down Sarah’s voice,” she said. “The RSU presents itself as challenging the government, the university… but if they can’t be challenged, there’s a disconnect in what they’re saying.”