Former U of Windsor president takes student association to court

The past two years have seen two Ontario university students take their student associations to court, one being the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), and more recently, the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance (UWSA).   

UWSA president Larissa Howlett was removed from her position in May, after allegedly breaching the student alliance’s bylaws and policies by firing its general manager, Nicole Morell, and hiring an interim manager.

According to a public statement by the UWSA, Howlett did not have the proper authority to fire Morell.

The UWSA’s Board of Directors unanimously passed a motion to remove Howlett after an eight-hour meeting, citing a lack of transparency on her part and committing multiple violations of their bylaws and policies. 

Howlett disputed the decision and filed an injunction to the Ontario Superior Court, calling the decision to remove her from her position “a wrongful termination,” according to the Windsor Star.

Similarly, Ashley Courchene was disqualified from his elected position as CUSA vice-president (student services) over allegations of electoral violations in May 2016.

Courchene disputed the decision and took CUSA to court, where a judge ruled that Courchene would be re-instated to his elected position.

According to Bruce Feldthusen, a University of Ottawa law professor, when student associations make contracts with student employees, they are bound by both federal and provincial law.

As a result, he said any action the student government takes that has serious consequences for an individual, such as terminating employment or removal from office, must be procedurally fair and within the student association’s bylaws.

“Courts can and do adjudicate on whether the procedural protections have been breached,” Feldthusen said.

He added if the student government breaches its own bylaws and this adversely affects an individual, the aggrieved party is entitled to ask the court to make a decision.

But taking student issues to court can have a negative impact on the student body.

Ahmed El Okla, second-year a biochemistry and biomedical studies student at the University of Windsor, said taking student issues to court inflates the problem at hand and makes student politics “ridiculous.”

He added that the dispute within the UWSA shouldn’t go to court because if it does, “there’d be a case like this every day.”

But, if Howlett’s opinions and actions went against the university, El Okla said she should be “kicked out.”

Karli Routhier, a second-year criminology student at Carleton, said she agreed with El Olka and added that student associations being taken to court is an unnecessary use of the justice system.

“It slows the legal process of more important issues, though it does depend on the issue within the student association,” she said.

Photo credits: Trevor Swann