Jennifer Scharf is a yoga instructor who had delivered a free class to students at the University of Ottawa for the past seven years that was cancelled this year due to a complaint that yoga constitutes “cultural appropriation.” Errol McGihon/Ottawa Sun

With the suspension of a free yoga class for University of Ottawa students attracting international scrutiny, student leaders are backing away from comments that the class was shelved over “cultural issues” with yoga.

As first reported by the Sun, the Student Federation decided to suspend the program, with SFUO president Romeo Ahimakin stating Friday their desire to make the program “better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces …

“We are trying to have those sessions done in a way in which students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects (of yoga) come from, so that these sessions are done in a respectful manner.”

In a statement on Facebook, the SFUO say the Sun report was a “misrepresentation” of its true motivations, and suggest declining attendance was the real culprit, saying, “We wanted to ensure that students’ money and resources was being used in a responsible and efficient way.”

The statement adds, “There were some real concerns about how yoga was not meeting the mandate of the centre, and serving the needs of students … with physical disabilities and mobility issues.”

The university’s Centre for Students with Disabilities had sponsored the class since 2008, which was attended by as many as 60 students, according to the instructor, both with and without disabilities. The CSD has disputed that number in a separate posting on its Facebook page.

The SFUO is also distancing itself from statements made in a lengthy email exchange between a CSD staff member, an official with the SFUO, and the yoga instructor, Jennifer Scharf, saying the statements in it are “outdated and have led to a lot of miscommunication about our program.”

The content of that email exchange — with a CSD staffer telling the instructor her class is being suspended over “cultural issues” with yoga — is consistent with the official statement provided Friday by Ahimakin, which the SFUO president said was drafted “after consultation with staff members of the CSD.”

The issue of declining attendance appears did not appear in the email exchange, nor in the initial SFUO statement, and was made Wednesday, days after the SFUO found itself at the centre of international controversy.

After issuing its official statement Friday, the SFUO did not respond to multiple requests for interviews, nor to requests to clarify its position.