By Brennan Doherty
In January, the on-campus Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) threatened to sue the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) if they rejected the group’s appeal for official club status. No paperwork has been filed, but one lawyer says the controversial group may have a case.
“I can say that there are grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code that will preclude discrimination on the basis of gender, which will include both male and female [discrimination],” said Ray Ai, an employment and human rights lawyer based in Toronto.
Ai isn’t suggesting MIAS will win the case, but says it could go to court.
The group calls itself “a space for Ryerson students and affiliates to discuss the issues facing men and boys today” — namely suicide rates, child custody and fatherlessness. The Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE), an off-campus men’s issues group has supported Kevin Arriola, MIAS’s president, in his fight with the RSU. They bemoaned the RSU’s resistance to the group in a post last December, calling for donations to support “a groundbreaking discrimination against men case.”
The RSU has consistently rejected the group on the grounds that a men’s issues group — in the manner of CAFE, which they consider a hate group — would violate their women’s issues policy. Arriola originally promised the RSU that he would not associate with CAFE.
Ai said as long as MIAS’s message doesn’t slip into criminal hate speech, they may be able to present a case that the RSU is discriminating against their ideas — especially if they focus on issues like fatherlessness and male suicide rates.
“I would almost be certain that those issues would not constitute hate speech,” he said.
But a win by MIAS in court could hinge on the ruling of another student group denied status by the RSU — the pro-life Students For Life At Ryerson (SFLR). They were rejected in Fall 2014 because SFLR’s mandate went against their women’s issues policy favouring reproductive and bodily autonomy. In December 2015, SFLR filed a lawsuit against the RSU claiming the union acted “with improper intentions and bad faith,” according to SFLR’s lawyer, Carol Crosson. Both sides first attended court Dec. 18 — a ruling is expected within a few months.
Both cases revolve around a perceived violation of the RSU’s women’s issues policy, and the belief this would make Ryerson’s campus unsafe for female students and faculty. The RSU in both instances sees student group ratification as a privilege subject to the discretion of the board of governors.
The wording used in CAFE’s fundraising post states, “It’s time to stand up to the repeated efforts to block men’s issues discussions on campus.” This strikes the same free-speech chord as LifeSite’s story on SFLR. “Crosson … emphasized that Ryerson University’s policy upholds free speech.”
Crosson admitted that the RSU is not bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ section on discrimination in quite the same way. They are a private organization that enforces which student groups get club funding.
CAFE mentors men’s issues groups across Ontario — their president, Justin Trottier, advocated for the University of Toronto’s Men’s Issues Awareness Society. He said a lawsuit to ratify the student group would be long and costly.
“There’s a reason why, in four years of having lots of shenanigans happen at various universities, I have never advised going the legal route,” he said. Despite this, he’s offering Arriola financial and legal support should MIAS wish to sue. He’s so far evaded questions about how far along the lawsuit is — but he has confirmed that CAFE has access to a lawyer, and that donations are nonetheless still needed if any lawsuit should go forward. Either way, he said that the decision is entirely up to Arriola.
Arriola had no comment on whether MIAS was considering a lawsuit until their “plans are finalized,” he said. “Stay tuned, we will be announcing soon.”