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Melanie Woods

University of Calgary turns down SU “olive branch” with MacHall court injunction set for Thursday

By Scott Strasser and Melanie Woods, May 3 2016 —

Hostilities between the University of Calgary Students’ Union and administration continue as the May 5 injunction hearing on the operation of MacHall rapidly approaches.

If passed, the injunction will allow the SU to retain control and operation of MacHall under the current terms of the 1999 License of Occupation, Operating and Management Agreement (LOOMA) for the duration of the ongoing lawsuit with university administration over the building’s ownership.

SU president Stephan Guscott said the SU extended an “olive branch” proposed agreement to university president Elizabeth Cannon on May 2 as a last-minute effort at a truce. He said the university’s legal team declined the offer late Monday night.

“I was trying to see if there was any way we could return to a deal we discussed in mediation,” Guscott said. “Unfortunately, the university was unwilling to engage in a discussion.”

Guscott said he received a notice from U of C vice-president facilities Bart Becker on April 29 informing the SU to hand in their keys to the building by 5:00 p.m. on May 6, when the extended LOOMA is set to expire. Becker sent a letter to third-party MacHall tenants on April 21, informing them that future rent cheques would be payable to the university as of May 6.

U of C senior director of strategic communications Scott Donaldson said if the university assumes management of MacHall, the building will remain fully open and operational. He said the SU would continue to run all businesses they currently operate in MacHall and collect the revenues.

“The university is committed to working with the SU to continue to support student programs and services in MacHall through the utilization of net proceeds received from third-party tenants,” said Donaldson in a statement.

Closed-door negotiations to replace the current 1999 operating agreement began over three years ago. Attempts to reach an agreement stalled in September 2015 after disagreements over which party owned the building were made public. In October 2015, the SU sued the university for majority ownership of Machall.

University administration filed their statement of defence in November, announcing their plan to assume control of MacHall’s operations when the operating agreement expired on Dec. 9, 2015.

The SU and administration agreed to enter third-party mediation on Dec. 4, 2015 — just hours before the court was set to rule on an injunction allowing the SU to retain operation of the building for the duration of the lawsuit.

The original mediation period began on Jan. 18, 2016. After multiple extensions, it ended on April 15 with neither side coming to an agreement.

Donaldson’s statement said the university was disappointed the two parties could not resolve their issues or reach an agreement to maintain the SU’s management of MacHall through mediation.

Guscott expects the lawsuit to extend for upwards of 5–10 years.

“I don’t think we’ll reach an agreement with the current administration,” he said.

Outgoing SU vice-president operations and finance Sarah Pousette said in late February that the union had already spent $150,000–$175,000 in legal fees on the dispute. In March, the SU approved the creation of a $500,000 “MacHall defence fund” to continue funding the dispute.

Guscott said the only winners in a lengthy legal battle “would be the lawyers.”

“Both sides have acknowledged that going to court is not good,” Guscott said. “It’s not good for the university and it’ll damage the reputation of the university. But I’m not willing to give up the rights that students have paid for, that alumni have paid for.”

The injunction hearing will take place Thursday, May 5 at 2:00 p.m. at the Calgary Courts Centre.

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