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CAUT asking court to make Laurentian accountable for public funds

Now a year since Laurentian University's bid for creditor protection, the unprecedented crisis remains tied up in court as CAUT and other stakeholders seek answers about how an Ontario post-secondary institution wound up on the verge of bankruptcy.

The latest legal salvo -- a motion known as a "Speaker's warrant" passed in December by the Ontario Legislative Assembly to force Laurentian to release relevant financial documents by Feb. 1 -- wound up in a Superior Court hearing on January 18, with the University's lawyers arguing the order would cause "irreparable harm" to the institution as it restructures. The court had already turned aside the provincial auditor general's request for the documents, which the University claims are protected by solicitor-client privilege.  

CAUT General Counsel Sarah Godwin told the Court that CAUT supports the Speakers' warrant. "We are concerned about the lack of financial and governance transparency," she said. "Laurentian must be accountable for the public funds it has received.”

In court, Charles Sinclair, counsel for the Laurentian University Faculty Association, also backed the Speaker's warrant. "This is of great concern to LUFA and its members, who have suffered a lot in this process, and who have a profound interest in finding out what happened to put Laurentian in this position [and] seeing to it that this never happens again."

On February 1, 2021, Laurentian filed for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and subsequently laid off almost 200 faculty and staff. Under the legislation, existing and future legal proceedings against the university are stayed or suspended, including grievances and collective agreement issues.

The various parties agreed to a mediator on February 5, 2021. Through the court process, Laurentian has since secured bridge financing loans to continue operations, sought an extension of the stay order, and obtained permission to resume fall/winter programs.

The University, LUFA and the Laurentian University Staff Association have agreed to cost-cutting measures, including changes to the pension plan and term sheets that establish the basis of a new collective agreement. Laurentian also unilaterally severed its relationship with its three federated universities, including the University of Sudbury, that resulted in further job losses.

The crisis exploded after years of funding cuts and questionable spending, while the University publicly claimed successive balanced budgets, as the CAUT Bulletin reported last year. “We kept asking for proof of the financial crisis for nearly a year, which the Administration refused to provide," LUFA president Fabrice Colin said last spring.