The 2013 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) will not include a motion to approve the agenda.
“Last year, members were denied the opportunity to scrutinize our audit when the agenda failed,” said UTSU president Munib Sajjad about the 2012 AGM, which ended abruptly after students voted down the agenda half an hour into the meeting. “There is a process to voice dissent, and we encourage opposing voices. Denying a discussion altogether takes that opportunity away and wastes significant time, effort and money.”
“[The vote on the agenda has] been there invariably, year after year,” said Vip Vigneswaran, a Woodsworth College student, who noticed that there was no motion to approve the agenda on the notice of the meeting posted on the UTSU website. “I asked Cam Wathey [vice-president, internal and services], as to why it wasn’t up there…he said it was a mistake that it appeared last year.”
Jeremy Settler, organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) of Ontario, confirmed that there is no rule or procedure in place to enforce a vote on the agenda for any members of the federation. “It’s up to the local student union bylaws and procedures. It’s not a set format… It’s up to each individual students’ union,” he said. Sajjad agreed, saying that the move is intended to allow students to discuss more relevant issues.
Despite Wathey alleging that the vote on the agenda was a motion included in the 2012 AGM because of a mistake, the 2011 AGM package also shows that a motion to approve the agenda was included. Past records of University of Toronto Scarborough and University of Toronto Mississauga students’ unions, as well as those of the CFS, show that their general meetings include motions to vote on the agendas.
While the UTSU may have no obligation to include the agenda vote in its AGM, representatives of student groups at the university see the removal of the vote on the agenda as a means to sidestep student involvement.
“I am deeply concerned by the change in procedure, considering the complete lack of transparency from the UTSU with respect to any sort of justification for this move,” said Jelena Savic, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC).
“They wanted to stop students from sending a message,” said Pierre Harfouche, one of two engineering representatives on the UTSU’s board of directors. “They found just another way to stop students from voicing their opinion.”
Harfouche said issues such as fee diversion and online voting are past examples of items that the UTSU did not want to discuss until it was forced by the university. Harfouche had proposed three motions to be added to the AGM: two on the Student Societies Summit and one related to fee diversion. All were ruled out of order by the UTSU board of directors and not added to the AGM.
Sajjad said the motions were ruled out of order because of procedure. “Two of them, if passed, would force the UTSU to contravene its own bylaws, which is illegal.”
“They consistently deny students the opportunity to voice their concern if those concerns are not on topic that the UTSU currently wants to engage in,” argued Harfouche. “The motion to adopt the agenda…it is no longer there because it was just another way for students to speak out against you [the UTSU] and you don’t want that to happen.”
Aside from limiting dissent, Savic says there a number of reasons why students should be able to vote down the agenda. She contends that a number of motions on the 2013 AGM — such as the vote on the UTSU complying with the Canada not-for-profit corporations act — are not appropriate for the AGM. The student body was not consulted about these changes and information was not provided as to what it will mean if the motion is adopted.
“Effectively, we are expected to vote on something that we know nothing about. This motion expects that students will act as a rubber stamp, in the midst of summit discussions. I would vote wholeheartedly against the approval of the agenda — if I had a choice,” said Savic.
While the UTSU has limited the ability of students to shut down the AGM as they did last year, Vigneswaran says that will not stop students from speaking their minds.
The UTSU AGM is scheduled for November 27 at 6:00 PM.
Correction Monday, 25 November 2013:
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Vip Vigneswaran as a Victoria College director on the UTSU board of directors. Vigneswaran is a Woodsworth College student.