After weeks of the Ryerson Student Union spending scandal unfolding, the RSU board has decided to impeach RSU President Ram Ganesh. The impeachment followed several audits and investigations including the investigation done by the Rhino Party, a slate of Ryerson students who ran against Ganesh for the union last year. Their investigation included several screenshots, which they verified, raising further questions.
Some of the screenshots also show purchases on the RSU credit card consisting of alcohol and various other partying paraphernalia two days before Ganesh and Vice President Savreen Gosal hosted a massive, free alcohol “project X party” (Project Salman x Ram).
Another screenshot shows a July 18th email sent from Dharshini Jay, the union’s financial controller, to the entire RSU staff and executive from. The email asked the executive to provide credit card statements on any account belonging to “myself, Ram or Savreen”. This is compelling evidence that that every single member of the RSU was made aware that Ram and Savreen owned student union credit cards, in direct violation of the RSU financial policy.
Ganesh was to speak to a public board of directors] meeting on February 1 to reconcile the $250,000 of expenses accumulated on the RSU credit card, but failed to show up. Now, the union is undergoing an audit into a larger $700,000 of suspicious expenses. These expenses included charges from gas stations, Toronto nightclubs, Partycity, restaurants, the Rec Room, CasinoRama, and more.
Unfortunately, student bodies have a poor history when it comes to managing the money they levy through mandatory student fees. That gives the Ontario Government a solid justification for implementing the Student Choice Initiative. With accountability scandals from the current RSU spending allegations and similar ones from the University of Ottawa, students are rightly fed up.
Student unions have also become excessively politicized and hostile institutions to anyone who values freedom of speech or holds different beliefs. For example, the Canadian Federation of Students adopted the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel in November 2018, a campaign that is considered controversial among students who as a result should not be obligated to support it through mandatory student fees.
Student groups should be able to prove that they can stand on their own two legs, Grants are not what ultimately sustains student clubs, but rather leadership and shared purpose is what keeps people coming back. As Sam Routley writes in the Varsity, University of Toronto’s student newspaper, “in facing the possibility of losing funds, student groups will make a greater attempt to align to student needs, thereby increasing accountability and democratic legitimacy.”
The RSU Spending scandal raises more questions not only about the RSU executives but the bigger issue of the lack of accountability within student governing bodies across Canada. Students are right in demanding accountability and reform after the fact a scandal has broken, but we shouldn't let the scandal happen to begin with.
While the Ontario Government’s student choice initiative is a start, students across Canada must seriously demand that their representatives have accountability and transparency procedures in place as well as take ownership in how their student unions conduct themselves.