Ryerson Students' Union under pressure to explain 'baffling' $250K credit card bill

The heads of the Ryerson Students' Union have been given one week to explain approximately $250,000 in credit card spending, which critics say includes numerous questionable expenditures over an eight-month period.

Credit card statement includes purchases at the LCBO, a shisha lounge and Casino Rama

Ram Ganesh is the president of the Ryerson Student Union. The union heads are being asked to account for around $250,000 in credit card spending. (Provided by The Eyeopener)

The heads of the Ryerson Students' Union have been given one week to explain approximately $250,000 in credit card spending, which critics say includes numerous questionable expenditures over an eight-month period.

The charges and photos of the credit card statements were first reported by The Eyeopener, Ryerson University's student newspaper.

The credit card statement, which is addressed to student union president Ram Ganesh, includes purchases at LCBO locations, a shisha lounge and a credit risk company in Stratford, Ont.

'The whole thing is just incredibly sad," said student groups director Maklane deWever, who claims to have seen the credit card bill after months of badgering the union to divulge its financial statements.

CBC Toronto has not seen the statement.

The expenditures allegedly date back to May 2018, when Ganesh began his term as president.

Ganesh and vice president Savreen Gosal took over the student union's credit card and began using it themselves, according to reporting by The Eyeopener.

From left, Raneem Alozzi, Sherina Harris and Emma Sandri first reported on the spending irregularities for Ryerson's student newspaper, The Eyeopener. (CBC)

"The executives shouldn't be able to have their own credit card; all of the purchases should need to be approved," said news editor Sherina Harris.

The financial statements must now be reconciled by Feb. 1, according to a deadline handed down by the student union's financial controller. Ganesh agreed to the date during a union meeting on Thursday evening.

"We're going to meet our deadline of Feb. 1 to hand in our reconciliations to give the students a more wholesome picture of the current financial standings," he said, according to reporting by The Eyeopener.

Ganesh and the members of the student union executive did not respond to calls or emails from CBC Toronto.

Union spent money at LCBO, Casino Rama

While the credit card purchases have not been proven to be illegitimate, union members and school reporters say there have been a number of concerning developments since the current leadership group took office.

Ganesh fired the union's former general manager, The Eyeopener has reported, which allowed him and Gosal to take control of the credit card account.

The union went on to use the card for purchases at an LCBO and at Casino Rama restaurant in Orillia, Ont., an expense which appeared on the statement just days after the board held a private meeting in the town.

"It's things like that that kind of made us question, are these purchases going towards students or are they just for the board members?" said Harris.

Photos of the credit card statement obtained by The Eyeopener show multiple LCBO purchases. (The Eyeopener)

DeWever said he too began wondering about possible wrongdoing after the student union failed to release its quarterly financial statements in late 2018.

The current executive term seems to be marred by "pieces that didn't fit together," he said.

"Since then a lot of things didn't really add up." 

'A lot of red flags'

Rodney Diverlus, who served as student union president in 2013, said the spending allegations raise serious concerns about transparency and integrity.

"The ability for executives to be spending upwards of $200,000 in discretionary funds is appalling, it's baffling," Diverlus told CBC Toronto.

During his term as president, Diverlus said the union had an approximately $2,000 limit on discretionary spending, and that all other purchases would have to be approved by multiple executives. The student union rarely used a credit card for purchases, according to Diverlus.

Rodney Diverlus served as Ryerson Student Union president in 2013. He said the spending allegations are 'appalling' and 'baffling.' (Ryerson University)

A $250,000 credit card bill raises "a lot of red flags," he said.

Diverlus explained that the union's multi-million dollar budget includes spending on staff, events and supplies. He said that spending would have to be included in detailed public reporting, which the current union executives have not yet provided.

"I think that students should demand a more detailed breakdown from their students union executive and the students union executives should feel compelled to provide that," Diverlus said.

He's also calling on the union to perform an external audit of its finances in order to determine if the money was improperly spent or recorded.