UTSU settles legal dispute with former vice president, internal & services

Sandra Hudson only remaining defendant in lawsuit pertaining to alleged unlawful payments

UTSU settles legal dispute with former vice president, internal & services

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has ended its legal dispute with former vice president, internal and services, Cameron Wathey.

Wathey, along with Yolen Bollo-Kamara, former UTSU president, and Sandra Hudson, former executive director of the UTSU, was sued by the UTSU in September 2015; the union’s claim alleged that  fraudulent severance payouts were made to Hudson as part of her termination agreement in April 2015. Bollo-Kamara and the UTSU reached a settlement in January, 2016, which included a signed affidavit from Bollo-Kamara.

The UTSU Executive Committee issued a public statement on April 27, announcing that the board of directors had approved a settlement with Wathey on February 28. The terms of the settlement have been made confidential. The settlement includes an affidavit signed by Wathey, which was made public alongside the statement by the UTSU.

“The testimony received from Wathey as part of the settlement helps our case, which means things are moving along fairly and expediently,” said outgoing UTSU president Ben Coleman in an emailed statement to The Varsity.

In his affidavit, Wathey states that he relied on his understanding that the termination agreement was approved by the UTSU’s legal counsel and Hudson’s legal counsel, despite having concerns. The affidavit also stated that Wathey did not financially benefit from the arrangement.

“Hudson prepared a termination agreement and indicated that it had been approved by UTSU legal counsel, DLA Piper, as well as her own lawyer,” reads a portion of Wathey’s affidavit. DLA Piper has denied advising Hudson on the termination agreement.

Hudson was allegedly issued a total of $247,726.40, a figure equivalent to approximately 10 per cent of the union’s budget. The UTSU alleges that this included 1,974.5 overtime hours that were recorded in a single entry in April 2015. The union also alleges that Hudson deliberately wiped confidential information from the UTSU’s computers.

The UTSU is continuing its lawsuit against Hudson and is seeking the money that was allegedly improperly issued to Hudson, as well as $200,000 in damages.

In December 2015, Hudson countersued the UTSU for $300,000 in damages. Hudson’s counterclaim stated that her termination was to avoid strife with the union’s incoming executives, and that the union violated a non-disparagement and confidentiality clause that was part of Hudson’s termination agreement.

“[T]he UTSU is still primarily seeking mediation or arbitration as a resolution to this matter,” reads a portion of the UTSU’s statement. “Although Ms. Hudson has yet to agree to a binding arbitration in this matter, we are continuing to seek these procedures to prevent an expensive and adversarial trial.”

UTSU board structure confirmed at Special General Meeting

Long journey to legal compliance comes to a close

UTSU board structure confirmed at Special General Meeting

After more than two years and three general meetings, the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) journey to ratify a new Board of Directors structure has finally concluded. With 2,076 votes in favour, 44 opposed, and one abstention, a modified version of the board structure proposal submitted by Arts & Science director Khrystyna Zhuk and University College director Daman Singh was ratified at the UTSU’s Special General Meeting (SGM), otherwise called AGM Part 2, on Wednesday November 18.

The final board structure preserves proportional representation for colleges and professional faculties. However, these directors will now be elected internally by their respective divisions. Additionally, the Arts & Science at-large directorships have been replaced by six program directors. The position of vice-president professional faculties has been created and the vice-president campus life is now an elected position.

A long road to CNCA-compliance

As a federally incorporated not-for-profit organization, the UTSU had to change its board structure in order to comply with the new regulations outlined under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA). The CNCA replaced the Canada Corporations Act, which previously governed the UTSU.

The UTSU’s first attempt to approve a CNCA-compliant board structure proposal was at the October 2014 AGM. There was only one proposal on the agenda, and details of the proposal included the elimination of college-based directors, instead granting representation to colleges via a committee, and the introduction of directors tasked to represent issues facing various marginalized groups. The controversial proposal ultimately failed to meet the two-thirds requirement during the vote to ratify.

This year’s AGM, held on October 7, saw two competing board proposals: one moved by Zhuk and seconded by Singh; the other moved by former UTSU vice-president external Grayce Slobodian. The Zhuk/Singh proposal included the preservation of all directors representing colleges and faculties. Various student societies as well as the UTSU Board of Directors also endorsed the proposal.

Slobodian’s proposal would have reduced the number of directors for each college and professional faculty to one, while increasing the number of UTM directors to eight and implementing ‘constituency directors’ to represent marginalized groups.

During the meeting, the Zhuk/Singh proposal beat Slobodian’s proposal in the board structure election, but did not meet the two-thirds majority at the time of ratification.  A modified version of the Zhuk/Singh proposal was brought back for consideration at the November 18 SGM. The modifications included amendments that were moved from the floor at the October 7 AGM. There are now seven ‘general equity’ directors, after Jades Swadron, organizer with the Trans Inclusivity Project, amended the proposal on the floor of the AGM to include a poverty sub-commission and an additional director to chair it.

One last amendment

Former Computer Science Student Union president Jonathan Webb moved an amendment during the November 18 SGM. Webb’s amendment replaced the two Arts & Science at-large directors with directors representing each of the six programs under the Faculty of Arts & Science (humanities, social science, life science, computer science, physical and mathematical science, and Rotman commerce).

“So, when you’re in first year, it’s based on your enrollment category. Whenever you apply, they ask you what you want to study and each of those come to one of six enrollment pools,” explained Webb. “And then, past that, every single degree is dumped into one of these buckets. If you’re taking a major or specialist in one of these degrees, the plan is that you’ll be able to vote for them.” Webb clarified that the specific details on how these directors will operate still needed addressed by the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee.

Some students, however, opposed Webb’s amendment. Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) executive Natalie Petra said that the program directors would duplicate the representation that the ASSU already offers. “Right now, this amendment is creating double representation,” said Petra during the SGM. Petra also explained that the ASSU liaises with the UTSU vice-president university affairs and talked about the work that the course unions do.

“I don’t think that the spirit of the motion is bad. I do think that we need to consider that some people have different types of representation and want different things out of their union. But there already is a union for this. We don’t have to duplicate that representation and we don’t have to create that power imbalance towards Arts & Science students on the UTSU board of directors.”

However, Webb disagreed. He told The Varsity, “I think that these seats do nothing but to compliment the [ASSU]. The same argument being made against the academic seats could be said against the Arts & Science at-large seats. They effectively serve the same purpose. We’re just dividing them up differently right now.” Ultimately, Webb’s amendment passed with 1,088 votes in favour, 182 opposed, and 942 abstentions.

Petra was disappointed by the outcome. “Personally myself as an ASSU executive, I’m disappointed that that amendment passed and it shows me that ASSU has a lot more work to do in terms of informing students what we’re doing, in terms of advocacy.”

Reactions

Many students left the SGM feeling relieved that the seemingly endless debate over board structures was finally over.

“I think happy is the best way to phrase it that we finally, finally got this through,” Zhuk said upon being asked how she felt after the meeting. “There’s been so much work put into this, it’s been eight months now I think that we’ve been working on this proposal, consulting with groups, doing all of this work, to finally have it pass — absolute relief.”

Webb echoed Zhuk’s sentiments. “I think the most important thing above all — ignoring my amendment — was that the over board of directors [structure] being passed,” he said. “Had my motion failed, I would have still voted for the overall motion. It was important that we got that passed. It’s important that we got compliant by-laws.”

UTSU president Ben Coleman told The Varsity that the union would be able to focus more on advocacy with the board structure debate now out of the way. 

“There is a bunch of stuff on my wish list, like having more events that are targeted towards commuters, expanding our social justice and equity work, having more accountability cafes, so more informal spaces so students can talk to us. A lot of that kind of got pushed to the back burner because we had to get this done so now we can think about that.”

This article has been updated from a previous version.

UTSU AGM 2015 Part 2 Live Blog

Follow along at #UTSUAGM15

UTSU AGM Part 2 Live 2015

Coming at you live from the UTSU AGM. Join in via Twitter with #utsuagm15 or contribute below.

UTSU Board votes down vp campus life hiring report

Irregularities of CRO's report also discussed during eight-hour board of directors meeting

UTSU Board votes down vp campus life hiring report

The latest meeting of the University of Toronto Student’s Union (UTSU) board of directors this June contained the introduction of two controversial motions; the approval of the report on the new hiring procedure for the vp campus life, and a motion to accept the CRO report for the recent UTSU elections.

Motion to approve report on hiring procedure

At the board’s last meeting, Akshan Bansal was hired as the new vp campus life. The decision was made following several changes to the original hiring procedure — controversy had arisen from the number of outgoing union executives on the initial hiring committee.

At the June meeting, a motion was put forward to approve the report on the changes to the hiring process. The approval of the report would acknowledge that the decisions made at the last board meeting — during which the changes were introduced — were valid and constitutional. However, the result of the vote was insufficient to pass the motion.

“I felt satisfied that the motion to approve the report failed. Although it was related purely to the procedure, it made sense solely on that basis for the board to reject the report,” stated Ryan Gomes, vice president internal & services.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Vere-Marie Khan, vice president university affairs, who explained, “the failure of the motion is an indicator that majority of the board finds that there was a problem in the way [the hiring of the vp campus life] was conducted and eventually upheld… I believe it is a message from our board that we should ensure that all problems or concerns that they have with any process we do should be investigated and revisited to the best of our ability.”

Problematic hiring process

According to Gomes and Khan, the central issue with the hiring process was inaccessibility; both expressed that the timing and location of the hiring meeting — which was held at UTM — as well as the technical difficulties associated with the electronic communications, led to a disproportionately low number of board members in attendance.

“To elect an executive who will be on equal footing as other execs who have been elected across both campuses, I feel that the vast majority of the board should be present. Without many board members being present, some colleges or divisions wouldn’t have a say in their selection as their representatives would be absent, and I don’t think that’s appropriate in the slightest,” Gomes stated.

Allegations of executive misconduct

In addition to dissent regarding the hiring procedure, allegations of misconduct on behalf of Bansal were also brought forward. However, further discussion was ruled out of order, with UTSU president Ben Coleman stating that the executive review committee would deal with allegations against the conduct of the executives.

“I believe [the allegations] should have been allowed to be discussed, but as it was ruled out of order. I believe we should wait for our internal processes (ie. the executive review committee) to begin its own proceedings and bring those allegations to light in due course,” Gomes said.

Coleman emphasized that the motion to approve the report on the hiring procedure is not a means to alter the hiring of Bansal, but rather a means of validating the hiring process.

Stephen Warner, a Victoria College board director, who opened the discussion on the vp campus life allegations, explained that “Procedurally, the failure of the motion is simply symbolic; the chair stated at the meeting that failing the motion did not reverse the decision of appointing the vp campus life. I think that the failure of the motion should be a warning bell to the executive and to the executive review committee that there are confidence issues from many members of the board regarding [Bansal].”

There is the possibility of a motion to impeach Bansal — it would be introduced at the board’s next meeting on July 12.

CRO report on recent elections

The other report that received criticism during the meeting was from the out-going CRO of the recent elections.

At the onset of the discussion, Coleman amended the motion to recognize the inaccuracy and error in reporting the numbers of votes, referring the report to the elections and referenda committee for review. The motion passed as such.

“This is not a great report,” Coleman said, and went on to explain that the voting numbers in the report do not include paper ballots, but instead only online votes.

Worryingly, two sets of numbers in the report did not match with the online vote numbers, with their percentages adding up to over 100 per cent, a figure that is impossible given the system used.

Gomes noted his dissatisfaction with the report, stating, “I personally don’t feel there are any merits to this report — it feels like it was thrown together haphazardly and does not reflect the depth and thought-out reasoning that would be expected from such a report.”

There were several attempts by the UTSU executives to get in touch with the CRO, but Gomes explained that they were unsuccessful.

The follow-up to the report will be a review by the elections and referenda committee. However, Gomes feels that the recommendations offered in the CRO’s report are “highly problematic.” “…particularly the ones about arms-length parties,” he said, adding, “I don’t think they’re particularly useful — in fact, I think they could even be destructive, given the issues regarding online sites giving teams demerit points even though they weren’t connected to them in any way. Personally, I don’t think the ERC will implement any of them.”

Gomes does, however, plan on introducing a requirement to the elections & referenda committee that the CRO must submit a report that meets certain standards before they receive pay or are considered to have completed their term, in hopes of subverting similar problems in future.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article made reference to an UTSU elections review committee in error. The body in question is the elections and referenda committee. This article has been updated to reflect the change. 

The problem with “Pass-now, amend-later”

A flawed strategy for Bill C-51 and the UTSU board structure proposal

The problem with “Pass-now, amend-later”

The Conservatives’ Bill C-51 made it through the House of Commons last week with Liberal support, despite the bill’s many worrying infringements on Canadians’ civil liberties. Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau has recognized that the bill is problematic, but said he was going to support it in order to avoid the Conservative Party making “political hay” out of it — whatever that means.

The idea, apparently, is that while the bill is dangerous and intrusive, it is better to pass it now and simply amend it later. In spite of all the Liberal party’s failings, surrounding this bill, at least they recognized that they were willingly playing with fire and image politics.

Still, there’s something truly disheartening about a political leader effectively admitting to the failure of Canada’s democratic process. The strategy of “pass-now, amend-later” represents how detached the realm of formal politics is from the actual real-life consequences of policy. It is a failure of democracy when we can plainly see our leaders choosing to ignore a policy’s practical effects in favour of their own interests. It shows us that our elected representatives, who ask us to trust them, are acting in bad faith.

The issues of “political hay” and the “pass-now, amend-later” strategy were also reflected at U of T this past year at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the board restructuring vote. Student representatives managed to consistently opt in favour of looking and sounding like real politicians, instead of making sound policy choices.

Whether you saw the proposed board structure as a good idea or a bad one, it’s worth recognizing that a huge portion of the UTSU’s members, and their elected representatives, thought it needed more work. Amendments after amendments were suggested, even alternative board proposals. Over and over, it was clear that something was not quite right — yet, no substantial amendments took place.

Instead, the “pass-now, amend later” argument kept coming up.  Sure, this structure isn’t the best, but we can always change it when some member of the union creates some alternative ideas, and we really need to just vote on it now and be done with.

This argument surfaced frequently, despite clear backlash in one particularly remarkable example. A member of the board of directors, only five minutes into the debate, tried to motion to end all conversation about the bill and just go right to a vote. The logic was that, somewhere along the line, someone would deal with the problems in the structure — pass-now, amend-later.

The fact is that when we are engaging with politics on any level, there has to be an active effort to bridge the gap between a formal party, or organization’s, politics, and the real world of real policies and their all-too-real effects. This is not idealism: it’s necessity.

If we are going to trust our representatives to act in good faith, this gap needs to close, regardless of whether the politicians in question are party leaders or student representatives. That politicians are so comfortable ignoring the electorate, and their needs, in favour of image-saving politicking should worry us; it should inspire us to demand necessary change.

Alex Verman is a fourth-year student at New College studying political science.

Online voting raises questions about spoiled ballots, anomalous votes

Investigation into online voting a possibility

Online voting raises questions about spoiled ballots, anomalous votes

Following a divisive and months long debate, October of 2013 saw the implementation of an online voting option in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. This year, the union’s Board of Directors noted an anomaly with the online voting, as well as drawing attention to the high number of spoiled ballots.

At the meeting of the Board of Directors on April 15, then-Engineering director Paolo Piguing said that he was concerned about the number of spoiled ballots, to which then-executive director Sandra Hudson responded that a high number of online spoiled ballots is common when the switch from paper to online ballots occurs.

The online results yielded an anomaly; ZiJian Yang, chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee, said that there were around 200 votes recorded as submitted within one second after online polls opened, which he says is “physically impossible under natural circumstances.”

Yang said that he considers the 200 votes “highly suspicious” and that the matter merits examination. “Whether it’s a system error of the voting company, or the product of other forces at work, it should be investigated nevertheless,” he adds.

Ben Coleman, UTSU president, says that he would support such an investigation, as long as there was a reasonable justification for the expense. Coleman believes that the SimplyVoting system provides a receipt with an anonymous code that can be used to check against a publically available list of results.

“I’m not sure why this hasn’t been implemented for UTSU elections, and I think it’s our responsibility to look into those things as we plan for the Fall election,” Coleman says.

“We should review the voting system anyway, because some concerns brought up by students two years ago when I was a board member, such as using out-dated SSL encryption, haven’t been fixed by updates,” says Coleman.

The UTSU president suggested reviewing the system in terms of its cost effectiveness for features provided. Coleman also hinted at adopting a policy regarding scrutinising online ballots. “Given that we’ve had a couple years with online voting, I think we should have the operational experience to be able to introduce [a policy],” he added.

Students identify “toxic” election environment

Concerns include harassment online, in-person 

Students identify “toxic” election environment

Students took to social media to vent their frustrations and share their experiences regarding safe spaces during the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election period. Candidates wrote about instances of racism, online harassment, or in-person aggression while on the campaign trail.

Celia Wandio, an independent candidate who originally ran with Change UofT for an Arts & Science at-large director position, recalls a specific incident when she was campaigning with other members of the Change slate, in which a few students started an argument that she describes as “toxic and offensive.”

Wandio notes that “their attacks somehow ventured to severe sexism and transphobia, making the space incredibly unsafe.”

Wandio says that she also had negative experiences with students who did not like the incumbent candidates with whom she ran. “Folks who I approached who were not fans of the ‘incumbents’ were at best dismissive, at worst rude and offensive. People went as far as to mock and question my integrity and my work on addressing sexual violence as a result of my slate affiliation,” Wandio shares.

These experiences left Wandio exhausted and barely able to campaign during the second week of the campaign period. “The toxicity and pressure I’d experienced in the first week triggered my social anxiety so I felt physically incapable of approaching people, scared of how they might react,” she says.

Wandio states that her experiences are not unique, adding that “the toxic election environment, a result of negative experiences and personal conflicts compounding over years, combined with the expectation to spend practically every free second campaigning during a busy two weeks of the semester, leads to burnout for a lot of people.”

Ben Coleman, UTSU president, echoes Wandio’s sentiments and states that he heard about issues on social media platforms U of T Confessions and the U of T subreddit that concerned him.

The CRO gave all members of the Brighter UofT slate demerit points for non-arms-length third parties allegedly posting “bullying, harassing, and libellous” content.

“We tried to do our best to promote constructive and respectful engagement in the election as much as we could,” Coleman says.

Slate system a barrier to campaign funding according to candidates

Bulk purchasing and group discounts reduce costs

Slate system a barrier to campaign funding according to candidates

Ryan Schwenger, an independent director candidate for the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, was disqualified after submitting his campaign expenses. The Chief Returning Officer (CRO) found that Schwenger had spent $11 over the $100 limit for director candidates. According to Schwenger, he informed the printer that his budget was $100 and that expenses were calculated before adding tax.

Schwenger states, that because he has roughly $50 worth of undistributed campaign material in his possession, won his election with 77 per cent of the vote, as well as for the reason that he does not consider himself directly at fault for the incurred taxes, he believes his disqualification was unjustified. Although he supports respecting policies, Schwenger distinguishes between the letter — and spirit — of the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) under which he was disqualified.

“The Code is intended to be read and interpreted in a manner which best serves the interest of the Union’s Members,” Schwenger says of the Elections and Referenda Committee’s decision to uphold the CRO’s decision to disqualify him. “My faculty’s members are now being represented by someone that they didn’t elect.”

Schwenger cites the slate system as the source of his financial difficulties in the election. Speculating, Schwenger suggests that if he had run with a slate — rather than independently — the costs of printing campaign material would have been significantly less expensive.

“The slating system definitely gives you an advantage through bulk purchasing discounts, which is not fair,” says Ben Coleman, the president of the UTSU. He adds that Brighter UofT’s Board of Directors’ candidates’ posters cost half as much as the independent candidates’ posters.

ZiJian Yang, the chair of the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), says that he is aware of the concerns surrounding the cost of campaigning and the maximum spending limits imposed on candidates. Yang states that there are grants available that are accessible to all candidates. “The rules around the grants are quite stringent, so that we will not encounter cases where candidates disappear with the grant,” he says.

In terms of the maximum spending limit, Yang said that he is amenable to policy change that would alter the limit’s exact sum; however, he acknowledges that: “lines still must be drawn. Even if the limit for board members is raised to $200, if they spent $201 then that would still instantly disqualify them.”