After years of closed-door negotiations, three months of mediation and two injunction hearings, it feels like the MacHall ownership dispute has been going on forever. But in the grand scheme of things, this is just the beginning.
The University of Calgary and its Students’ Union went to court again on Friday, June 3. The SU seeks an injunction to retain control of MacHall under the current 1999 License of Occupation, Operation and Management Agreement (LOOMA) for the duration of the ongoing lawsuit over the building’s ownership. This was the second of two injunction hearings this semester, as the first ran over time.
The first hearing on May 5 was an event. Student officials from across the province came down to the Calgary Courts Centre to watch it play out. Students and community members alike live-tweeted the proceedings. The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations issued a formal statement. The three-hour hearing was standing-room only. A reporter from an outlet other than the Gauntlet was even there.
Things were finally happening. The U of C was ready for an epic and exciting legal battle.
And then the hearing ran out of time and was adjourned until June 3.
Last week’s reconvened hearing was a more subdued affair. Members of the University of Alberta Students’ Union still drove down from Edmonton to support our SU. But everyone had a seat. Twitter was nearly silent. And by the time the judge announced she would give her written decision on the injunction at the end of June, a weary tone had taken over spectators of the proceedings. Again, things were extended — just like the mediation before, and the closed-door negotiations before that.
To be clear, this isn’t even the actual lawsuit. At this rate, the actual lawsuit could take upwards of a decade. And as we go on, interest will only wane. The MacHall lawsuit was big news in October — now, it’s background noise.
It’s good that the SU decided to sue the university. The lawsuit brought years of closed-door negotiations to the surface and set a finite date on sorting out ownership of MacHall. Unfortunately, that finite date is very far away.
Our legal system is not fast, nor is it designed to be. Large-scale legal disputes like this play out over years. SU president Stephan Guscott said he expects the MacHall ownership case to last five to 10 years.
At this rate, Guscott won’t be an undergraduate student at the U of C when this is sorted out. Neither will I, or anyone who’s currently a student here. Four generations of SU elected officials have been involved since the start of closed-door negotiations over MacHall ownership. The lawsuit is figuring to follow the same path and beyond.
The pent-up excitement surrounding the court case could only last so long. It’s easy to get excited about the first court date. But by the time the seventh rolls around, only SU officials, university administration and navel-gazing student journalists will give a damn.
University students have pretty short attention spans, especially when it feels like nothing is happening — which, to be fair, is the case right now.
The kind of excitement built up in the fall around this legal debate is unsustainable, and the decline in interest in the two injunction hearings is proof of that.
At the end of June, we’ll find out if the SU retains control of the building for the duration of the lawsuit — and at this rate, that’s going to be a hell of a long time.
Melanie Woods, Gauntlet Editorial Board