Two Ryerson Student Union executives were suspended amid a spending spree scandal, handing Ontario Premier Doug Ford fresh material as he targets student services on campuses.
Unexplained credit card purchases in student union president Ram Ganesh’s name, totalling thousands of dollars, were obtained and first confirmed by The Eyeopener, the independent student newspaper where I’m a news editor.
The alleged final damage: expenditures of about $250,000 over eight months. It remains unclear what purchases were legitimate and what the balance of the credit card bill is.
The money the RSU spent came directly from Ryerson students’ fees, which quickly became a talking point for Ford, who has moved to decrease funding for student services.
First read aloud January 24, at a board of directors meeting, the statements show a multitude of purchases from restaurants, clubs, sporting goods shops and hotels. In particular, the RSU seemed to have a fondness for the LCBO, spending $97.20 at a location in Toronto and then $168.40 at a location in Orillia—all within the span of two days.
“Pretty much any staff member that needs to make a purchase...they come, they grab the card, they make the purchase," said Ganesh at the January 24 meeting.
Other notable purchases included $2,280.89 to Toronto nightclub EFS, $1,375.21 to a sporting goods store, $696.90 on an Airbnb and $3,053.88 to Credit Risk Management Canada, a company which provide debt recovery solutions, among other services.
A full-time undergraduate student currently pays around $130 dollars to the RSU each year. In total, the RSU received about $2.4 million in membership fees during the 2016-2017 school year.
It was alleged by a board director that RSU’s spending has amassed over $250,000, but this number has not been confirmed as we have only seen a sliver of the statements.
“[I’m] disappointed that they were released without any context or explanation,” Ganesh told The Eyeopener on January 24.
In the aftermath of the allegations, the RSU’s vice-president of equity released a statement on Facebook alleging that Ganesh had pressured her and the other executives to contact board members and instruct them to skip the meeting on January 24. This prevented the meeting from getting quorum and the motion brought forward by student groups director Maklane deWever, demanding financial transparency, could not be passed.
The financial controller has set a deadline for February 1 for the RSU executive to submit their receipts and reconcile their finances. An emergency board meeting is scheduled for the same day.
“I’m going to tell you right now, that the way I see it…is that [by] not following the bylaws, they are not spending responsibly,” said deWever.
The Eyeopener confirmed that the majority of the RSU executives voted to suspend Ganesh and vice-president operations Savreen Gosal in a private meeting on January 25. According to the vice-president education Salman Faruqi, it has been requested that Gosal and Ganesh do not enter their offices or use their work computers.
There is nothing within the RSU bylaws regarding the power to suspend the executive. Several board members have since alleged that executive’s vote to suspend is illegitimate and should have been brought before the board of directors for approval.
All of this first started in May 2018, when the new RSU executives fired their general manager, Sid Naidu, on their first day in office.
Naidu was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the union, as well as all financial operations. He also held one of two corporate credit cards.
With the general manager gone, the $20,000 card was up for grabs. According to Ganesh, this card was then split into two cards. One card of $10,000 went to himself and the other $10,000 card went to Gosal.
The possession of these cards directly contravened the union’s financial policies, which stated that only the general manager and the union’s financial controller were allowed corporate credit cards.
“I personally don’t think it does [break policy],” Ganesh said in an interview with VICE on January 21. “We weren’t aware we had to take this to the [board].”
The board is responsible for “property and business” of the RSU, including its finances. As per the union’s bylaws, the vice-president operations is responsible for presenting a quarterly financial report to the board.
The union is currently in their third quarter and no financial reports have been presented and according to their financial controller, no finances have been reconciled since the start of their term.
The RSU’s alleged mismanagement of funds comes at a time wherein the Ford government has announced they will be allowing an opt-out for ancillary fees. These are the additional funds added on top of students’ tuition for campus services like students’ unions and ahem, campus newspapers.
The move has been criticized as a de facto cut to student services.
In a tweet, Doug Ford addressed the union’s credit card statements, saying “that’s why we’re giving students the power to choose.”
The CBC reported earlier this week that Ford met with controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson last fall. The YouTube star has famously battled with the campus paper and left-leaning students at his school.
Follow Emma on Twitter.