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Students’ Union sues University of Calgary over ownership of MacHall

By Fabian Mayer, October 21 2015 —

The Students’ Union is suing the University of Calgary over the ownership of MacHall. The SU served the university with a statement of claim that aims to establish the SU as majority owners of the building on Oct. 21.

Both sides claim ownership of MacHall, citing clauses in various past agreements and documents as proof. In an Oct. 14 open letter, SU president Levi Nilson called on university president Elizabeth Cannon and Board of Governors chair Bonnie DuPont to intervene in the dispute.

Nilson said they decided to serve the lawsuit after an Oct. 19 public letter from DuPont reiterated that the university is unwilling to negotiate over the legal ownership of MacHall.

Nilson is confident the SU will win a legal battle.

“I think we have a really strong case,” Nilson said. “We’ve been waiting to be proven wrong for two years and we haven’t gotten anything.”

The university has until Nov. 9 to file a statement of defence with the Court of the Queen’s Bench. Provost Dru Marshall is the lead negotiator for the university. She has said the university has 50 years of documentation supporting its ownership claim, but has not provided either the Students’ Union or the Gauntlet with those documents. 

Nilson said he would be surprised if the university actually had such evidence.

“We’ll see what their statement of defence has. We’re still willing to talk about ownership anytime, even though we’ve served them,” Nilson said. “We hope it encourages them to show those 50 years of documentation they’re always talking about.”

Marshall is disappointed with the SU’s decision to pursue legal action.

“The university’s priority has always been to create a great experience for all students on campus and we want MacHall to continue to be a focal point of that experience,” Marshall said in a statement released Oct. 21. The university will not provide further comments on the dispute while the matter is before the courts.

The SU took their ongoing MacHall dispute with university administration public in September after an initial negotiating session went poorly. The two sides exchanged open letters since then, but have not returned to the negotiating table.

While Nilson is still hopeful the dispute can be settled out of court, he believes the SU currently has no choice but to sue.

“We’ve exhausted all [options] over the last two and a half years. We’ve done literally all we can,” Nilson said.

University administration believes the 1999 operating agreement that identifies the university as the sole owners of MacHall substantiates their claim, while the SU points to the original 1969 building agreement that gives them 55 per cent ownership of the building.

MacHall is the student centre at the U of C, and the revenue generated by the building’s tenants is currently allocated by the SU to student services. They claim to have invested over $19 million into the building over the past 60 years. Nilson said the SU is not willing to give up on ownership because of these investments.

“It’s what students deserve and I think it would be a shame and a huge disservice to students if it wasn’t something we pursued,” Nilson said.

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