Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 16, 2013.
The Students’ Union officially filed a judicial review against the University of Alberta Friday afternoon to appeal changes made to Lister Hall over the summer.
Six months have passed since the university announced unilateral changes to the student residence, and the window for this particular legal action was set to close Sunday, prompting the SU executives to execute a plan that had been bounced around since the beginning of the dispute.
“From the very beginning, we’ve wanted to work with (the university) to find the best solution. The manner in which this all came about, obviously, is not optimal — and going to (judicial review) is not the best solution, either — but at this point we just wanted to make sure we keep all our options open,” said Students’ Union Vice-President (Student Life) Saadiq Sumar.
“We’re trying to make lemonade out of really terrible lemons, and I think that really speaks to why we felt like (the judicial review) … was almost forced upon us.”
Legal action is the latest in a long line of attempts by the SU to get the university to back down from its decision to implement changes, which included changes to the staffing structure and alcohol policy. Negotiations have petered out and no compromise is in sight, according to Sumar.
“I think, in certain areas, we’ve actually gone backwards,” he admitted, when asked what headway the SU has made over the past six months.
“We continue to be optimistic about the university’s ability to resolve this as an internal issue, as opposed to taking this to the court and having the court decide on it.”
The judicial review means the Court of Queen’s Bench will look over the case and decide whether the U of A violated its own policies and rules in order to make the changes to Lister.
For a judicial review, the applicant — in this case, the Students’ Union — needs to prove how the public body — the university — made a mistake.
SU Law Councillor Mario Babic expressed concerns in November that the SU executive had not properly presented facts to Students’ Council.
At the time, he said although there may have been justified grounds for the pursuit of a judicial review, those grounds were not elucidated to Council.
However, Babic told The Gateway in an email interview this week that, after a cursory reading of the documents, he believes the Students’ Union has a strong argument.
“It is not a baseless claim by any means. I look forward to getting some free time to delve into the documents fully as to improve my understanding of the entire situation,” he said.
Up until this week, the Students’ Union has kept quiet about considering a judicial review, which according to a November interview with SU President Colten Yamagishi was to protect the university and not shed a negative light on the situation.
That has changed, now that a review has been officially filed.
“We just wanted to make sure we were transparent about the whole situation … We wanted to make sure the admin wasn’t given carte blanche to abuse their power or suppress students,” Sumar explained.
“And it’s not just about Lister students … It’s about protecting all of our students, and making sure that the university doesn’t have the ability to just say, ‘We’re making these changes — deal with it.’”
Sumar said he has heard a lot of negativity from students in Lister in the six months since the changes took place.
He also said he has been made aware of numerous situations with students in Lister that have been handled poorly by Residence Services recently, although he clarified many of these situations are hearsay.
“It’s not really a good situation there. I don’t want to use the term ‘police state,’ because that has very negative connotations to it, but you see a few underlying characteristics of that type of situation,” he said.
“It just seems like what’s happening there is wrong. And I think the way in which we as the SU executive are reacting is not just necessarily to what is going on in Lister, but how that could expand over the entire campus.”
Although Sumar says the SU has not heard back from the university yet in regards to the judicial review, a statement obtained from U of A administration acknowledges the SU’s actions.
“The university has received the SU’s application for a judicial review and is reviewing it,” the statement read.
“We will not be discussing this further publicly as the matter is in litigation.”