The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has released the identity of the student leading the advocating committee for the Ontario Public Research Group (OPIRG) referendum, who until recently had remained anonymous. Christopher Dryden is the sole member of the advocating committee to vote ‘Yes’ to removing the OPIRG levy.

Dryden is a second-year Computer Engineering student who currently serves as the the Engineering Director on the UTSU Board of Directors. Over the past few months, he has led other students to bring forward the petition for a referendum on OPIRG’s levy.

According to Dryden, he is the only member of the committee because “there’s been a history of [individuals] personally going after people in campaigns and referendum of these sorts. The other people involved in the campaign weren’t comfortable with that.”

Dryden clarified that there have been 15–20 people who have been dedicated to the petition.

Dryden explained that the petition began approximately two months ago. “It was a really weird timeline in terms of [submitting a petition for referendum]; you could submit the petition question, but it had to be approved by the ERC [Elections and Referenda Committee] before I could start collecting signatures,” said Dryden. “But, the problem was, with the timeline that was set out, [there] was a large gap between when I could submit the petition and when the ERC got it. And by the time the ERC approved it, it was pretty much the last day that you can collect [signatures].”

Dryden said that the ‘Yes’ campaign collected the 250 required signatures from members of the UTSU over the course of just 12 hours. “It was a really crazy effort… but with overwhelming support we got it done really fast.”

Dryden did not contact OPIRG during the time he was creating the petition, saying that “the majority of the members [creating the petition] were aware of the activities that OPIRG runs… We best believed that it wouldn’t be of the best of interest if… we essentially notified them [of the petition].”

However, Dryden stated, “I think in retrospect, there’s a lot of things that you can’t really determine without asking them directly; certain aspects of their funding and budget aren’t publicly known… What would have been a better approach would have been to find a way to confront them about their budget… in an earlier meeting earlier in the year. But, with the timeline of the petition process, that really was not viable.”

Dryden explained his platform for the ‘Yes’ campaign in a recent op-ed for The Varsity.

Iris Robin, a former board member of OPIRG-Toronto, and U of T alumnus, expressed some of their opinions regarding the referendum.

“I think it’s important to note that it’s a part of OPIRG’s mandate to help specifically marginalized communities,” said Robin, dismissing the notion that OPIRG does not affect a wide range of undergraduates at the St. George campus.  

Robin clarified this point in a tweet that said, “As a student at U of T, I was happy to pay into services that I didn’t use. I supported Bike Chain, even though I don’t own a bike. I supported the Blue Sky Solar Racing team, even though I’m not an engineer. I believe that these are good things to fund.”

They further suggested on Twitter that, consequently, “This leap straight to the defunding movement suggests that this campaign isn’t about serving the interests of students or helping OPIRG run more effectively; it’s a move to kick a left-wing group that connects marginalised people to resources at U of T, off campus.”

Voting period for the referendum began on November 20 and will end on November 22. Of over 39,000 students who pay the UTSU’s OPIRG levy, a quorum of 7.5 per cent, or roughly over 2,900 students, must be met for the results to be binding.

OPIRG deferred to their previous statements to The Varsity and an op-ed to explain their platform.

Disclosure: Iris Robin was The Varsity’s News Editor from May 2015 to April 2016.