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By Josh Wingrove

Nora Loreto, Ryerson Students’ Union vice-president education, has been named in a $425,000 defamation of character lawsuit filed by a Nipissing University Students’ Union staff member.

The civil suit, filed Dec. 27, 2006, by the Nipissing union general manager Todd Fearnley, named Loreto along with former NUSU president Kyle Marsh, vice-president external Kyra Knapp, the Canadian Federation of Students and the RSU as defendants.

The conflict between the parties began last November when two NUSU vice-presidents — Sean Feretycki and Brian Overholt — moved to remove Marsh.

The lawsuit alleges that Fearnley, an un-elected employee, cast a decisive vote in a 3-2 decision removing the president from power. The lawsuit charges that, in protest of Marsh’s removal, Loreto, Knapp and Marsh embarked on “a campaign specifically targeting Fearnley and contending that he has acted improperly, illegally and without authority.”

The three defendants were served with cease-and-desist notices in late November before the suit was filed a month later. The statement of claim, obtained by The Eyeopener, says that Fearnley acted by the rules and “at no time engaged in any improper conduct.” Marsh told the North Bay Nugget that the facts leading to his dismissal were misrepresented, and that the move “was about power and control.”

The student newspaper of North Bay’s Canadore College, The Claw, quoted a release that said Marsh was removed for “lateness for scheduled office hours, breach of finances and breach of duties of the president.”

Fearnley, Feretycki and Overholt declined to comment on the removal. “Todd and I will not be making any comment because issues surrounding Mr. Marsh’s initial appeal are being dealt with pursuant to the process set out by the university,” Fearnley’s lawyer, Ranjan Das, wrote in an e-mail.

Nipissing University isn’t intervening in the power-struggle. Marsh is appealing his dismissal to the NUSU. His removal caused waves around Ontario student unions.

Loreto, a two-term RSU executive and expected candidate in the upcoming presidential race, penned a Nov. 29 letter on behalf of the RSU advocating for Marsh’s reinstatement. Her letter, quoted in the lawsuit and alleged by Fearnley to be defamatory, says “Todd Fearnley, General Manager, had involvement that goes beyond what the scope of a students’ union general manager should be.

As a staff member, no General Manager should have voting rights within an organization with elected students at its helm.” The suit alleges the defendants solicited the support of students’ unions at Trent University, McGill University, York University, the University of Waterloo, and the Continuing Education Students Association of Ryerson.

The suit further charges the defendants “planned and collaborated amongst themselves to initiate a campaign, in the public forum, designed to damage and defame Fearnley,” while driving the campaign through Facebook.com. None of the suit’s allegations has been proven in court. On Nipissingyou.ca, a site created by Marsh after his dismissal, he outlines the path to his current position: out of office and facing a lawsuit. “I feel as though the reputation of NUSU has changed and the fallout may be irreparable,” Marsh wrote.

Fearnley has proposed the trial take place in Toronto. Loreto, Marsh and Knapp all declined comment when contacted by The Eyeopener. Loreto’s legal costs will be covered by the RSU, although Marsh and Knapp, still NUSU’s vice president external, were forced to secure representation at their own cost.

A trust fund was set up, with hopes for further donations, at a North Bay bank to cover their legal costs. Dozens showed up at a rally late last year, carrying placards reading, among other things, “I voted for Marsh, not Fearnley,” the Nugget reported.

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