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Gélinas ‘dismayed ... suspicious’ of Laurentian’s ongoing effort to fight Speaker’s warrant

‘This is the full power of a legislative assembly against a tiny weeny little transfer payment agency called a university … This is David and Goliath, except that David is not going to win, for Goliath will win,’ says Nickel Belt MPP

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas said her feelings range from “sad to dismayed to suspicious” with regards to Laurentian University seeking a legal method to evade a Speaker’s warrant issued against LU last month.

Counsel for Laurentian are asking the court for a stay of the Speaker’s warrant

That warrant orders Laurentian president Robert Haché and Claude Lacroix, who’s now the former president of the university’s board of governors, to release a long list of documents, including privileged documents, by Feb. 1.

If the documents are not handed over, Haché and Lacroix could possibly face punishment, including imprisonment. 

Laurentian University, which declared insolvency in early 2021, continues to undergo restructuring under the Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (or CCAA for short).

The stay Laurentian is asking for is “pending a determination of whether their issuance fell within the scope and extent of the Legislative Assembly’s parliamentary privilege, or further order of the Court.”

Alternatively, Laurentian is asking for “advice and directions from the Court on how the University should comply with the Speaker’s warrants, given the existing court orders and the CCAA restructuring process.”

A date for a hearing on the matter has not yet been set.

Gélinas said there is no doubt that Laurentian “has no choice but to comply” with the Speaker’s warrant — only the third issued in the history of Ontario’s legislature — “and we will win, and they will lose.”

“This is the full power of a legislative assembly against a tiny weeny little transfer payment agency called ‘a university’,” she said. “Like this is David and Goliath, except that David is not going to win, for Goliath will win.”

As of the end of August, Laurentian had already spent close to $10 million on legal and other fees related to its insolvency restructuring. As of next month, that figure is expected to be close to $20 million.

“I don’t understand why they keep spending good money after bad fighting the legislative assembly, when the legislative assembly has all the powers, we have a right to access the documents,” Gélinas said. 

In the meantime, there continues to be “bad faith” surrounding Laurentian in the community.

Gélinas said the university is “too important to fail,” and “we have to shed the light” to let people know what went wrong.

“Were there mistakes that were done? What went wrong that Laurentian felt that it had to use the CCAA process?” she said. “How do we make sure it never happens again? All of those questions will have to be answered in order for people to regain trust in Laurentian. 

“Without the support of our community Laurentian will never be able to try again. And they're not going to have that support unless you give people answers to the questions that they've been asking since February.”

Laurentian’s latest request of the courts has its roots in a dispute between Laurentian and Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Laurentian is refusing to provide Lysyk with privileged documents as she conducts a value-for-money audit of the university.

She was tasked with the value-for-money audit this past spring by the Ontario legislature’s Standing Committee of Public Accounts (of which Gélinas is a member) in the wake of Laurentian’s insolvency.

The matter was heard by the courts in December, and Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz reserved his decision, which as of this article’s publication, has yet to be released.

The Ontario legislature then issued a rare Speaker’s warrant last month at the behest of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts. As stated above, it requires Laurentian to release the list of requested documents by Feb. 1.

Laurentian had offered to release some privileged documents to the legislature, but not everything that was asked for, a situation Public Accounts committee members say is unacceptable.