The judge overseeing the insolvency of Laurentian University has given the troubled school a few more months to come up with a plan to emerge from creditor protection.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz also ruled that Laurentian doesn’t have to meet the Feb. 1 deadline set by the Ontario legislature with a rare “speaker’s warrant” to hand over certain records the university has refused to disclose to the auditor general.
In a written ruling, Morawetz agrees with Laurentian that this could cause the Sudbury school “irreparable harm.”
But he also says there is a “fundamental question” about the balance of power between government and the justice system that is still unanswered.
“The question as to whether the Legislative Assembly can compel the production of such information or whether this goes beyond the scope of parliamentary privilege is a serious issue that has not been addressed in any reported decision,” Morawetz writes.
The chief justice suggests a hearing on these questions be held in February or March, not too long after the Feb. 1 deadline set by Queen’s Park.
“It is a serious issue which should be determined before it becomes a moot point,” the decision reads.
The provincial government has yet to issue a response to the court decision.
During a court hearing Thursday morning, Morawetz granted Laurentian’s request to extend the process under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) until May 31.
But Morawetz warned that it has now been a year since the university declared insolvency and wants to see some progress in the next few months.
“The filing is almost a year old,” he told the court
“It’s time to get going and get towards a plan.”
D.J. Miller, the lawyer representing Laurentian, said some plans will be cemented in the near future, but others are “longer term.”
She also told the court that university resources are “extremely thin and stretched” which has become a “critical concern.”
“A lot of external assistance has been required to move forward in a lot of respects,” Miller said.
Danielle Stampley, the lawyer for the Laurentian University Staff Union, said she’d like to see a “running total” of the restructuring costs, including professional fees paid in relation to the court battle with the auditor general.
The court also heard from Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, arguing that Laurentian University now be required to respond to freedom of information requests.
Lawyer Linda Chen says the stay granted a year ago was “never intended to be indefinite, given that it was unprecedented in nature.”
The university’s unions agreed, with Laurentian University Faculty Association lawyer Charlie Sinclair suggesting it’s time for more “transparency and openness.”
He also said that since only four information requests have been filed and put are on hold during this stay that lifting it “won’t be an overwhelming challenge” for the university.
However, Laurentian’s lawyer D. J. Miller suggested the low number of requests suggests there isn’t a need to alter “the status quo.”
Chief Justice Morawetz said he will consider that issue at a future hearing.