From Pittsburgh to Toronto, antisemitism must be challenged

A Jewish U of T student reflects on the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the need for anti-fascist mobilization

From Pittsburgh to Toronto, antisemitism must be challenged

I grew up inside a synagogue. I went to services every week on Saturday, and on every holiday. It was where my parents announced my name when I was born. It was where I had my bat mitzvah. It’s where I said the kaddish — or mourning prayer — after the death of loved ones.

It wasn’t just a physical place either. It was a space of community in every sense of the word — a place where people celebrated and grieved and prayed and remembered and laughed and ate bagels and sang and loved. It was very similar to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were recently murdered — including a U of T alum — and six were injured.

In the immediate aftermath, I felt a sudden fear consume me. What if this had been my hometown synagogue, the one where I teach Hebrew School on Sundays, or any of the ones where my family and friends attend? The horrifying truth is that none of these spaces are immune to the spread of violence and antisemitism that reached its horrifying peak on Saturday.

This attack, in all of its terror and violence, is the natural conclusion of the seeds of violence, hatred, antisemitism, and racism that have been nurtured over the past few years. It’s been nurtured by the US president, whose history of antisemitism and stoking of white supremacy has allowed this tragedy to occur. But don’t think for a second that this is merely an American phenomenon. Antisemitism, white supremacism, and racism are alive and well right here in Toronto — and right here on campus.

The votes of 3.4 per cent of voters in the recent Toronto municipal election resulted in a third-place finish for Faith Goldy — 25,667 Torontonians wanted an unabashed racist and white supremacist in charge. This was a candidate who appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast, defended protesters in Charlottesville who chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and uttered the Fourteen Words — an antisemitic, white supremacist slogan.

During the Ontario elections, over two million voters decided to cast votes for Doug Ford, ignoring his long history of bigoted and misogynistic comments and use of antisemitic Jewish stereotypes.

On campus, it is impossible to forget the posters circulating around campus last year with the white nationalist slogan “It’s Okay to Be White.” It is impossible to forget when swastikas were found drawn on various parts of campus.

And it is impossible to forget the controversies with the infamous group, Students in Support of Free Speech. The group held a rally in support of the Proud Boys, whose founder has propagated antisemitism, and claimed ignorance when a noted Canadian white supremacist attended that rally.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the Munk Debates decided to include Steve Bannon as a speaker. Bannon, among many other things, is one of the founders of Breitbart News, which has faced criticism for promoting racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic materials during his tenure.  

When I say that we need to take a stand against white supremacy, racism, and antisemitism and organize anti-fascist movements, I sometimes find myself greeted with questions. Why does it matter what someone says at a rally or posts online? What about free speech?

Here’s why it matters: because every time we excuse it, every time we ignore it, every time we pretend it doesn’t matter, it grows a little bigger. It festers and sprouts until it reaches the inevitable conclusion: Pittsburgh.

It matters because, for me and for everyone else belonging to a marginalized group, this is not politics. This is not an abstract debate or a theoretical inquiry. This is life. This is the safety of my family. This is my continued existence as a Jew.

The attacked synagogue’s name, Tree of Life, is a reference to a quote from the Book of Proverbs in the Torah: “It is a tree of life to all those grasp to it, and all of its supporters are happy.” I still believe that we can build a tree of life, of healing, and of love. Let us water that tree instead.

And let us not forget the eleven victims. Zichron l’bracha. May their memory be a blessing.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year Women and Gender Studies and English student at University College.

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

A resolution was passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) condemning the Ontario government’s campus freedom of speech mandate.

The mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities develop free speech policies by January 1. The policy also stipulates that student group compliance with the mandate is a condition for ongoing financial support.

While U of T has had a freedom of speech policy since 1992, there has been no official confirmation from the Ford government on whether the university’s policies meet the provincial mandate.

The AGM resolution, moved by Jack Rising — a member of the club Socialist Fightback U of T — proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the Ford government’s mandate or any law that stems from it.

Describing the mandate as “Orwellian,” the motion also called for the UTSU to demand that U of T not implement any policies deterring freedom of speech.

The resolution was amended by UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman. The amendment, which passed, eliminated the second half of the original resolution, so that the final motion condemned the provincial free speech mandate but did not call for the UTSU to urge action from U of T.

The passed motion puts the UTSU “on record as opposing the Ontario government’s anti-democratic ‘free speech on campus’ mandate” and preemptively refuses participation in the implementation of the mandate at U of T.

In an interview with The Varsity, Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, explained his concerns about Ford’s policy, specifically calling it “an anti-protest law.”

His fear is that students who actively protest could be expelled under the mandate and that right-wing groups would not face repercussions due to the fact that “Doug Ford has connections to these people.”

Swinarton believes the free speech mandate targets left-wing students who protest right-wing or controversial political figures like Faith Goldy or Jordan Peterson.

Goldy is a white nationalist who commonly repeats white supremacist language and has adopted far-right conspiracy theories. Peterson is a controversial U of T psychology professor who went viral through YouTube lectures speaking out against political correctness and later refused to use preferred trans and non-binary gender pronouns.

The Varsity reached out to the U of T Campus Conservatives for comment on the union’s rejection of the free speech mandate. The U of T Campus Conservatives is officially affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The group’s president, Matthew Campbell, asked, “How about [the UTSU] reject provincial funding and subsidies for the university? How about every U of T student [who is] a UTSU member reject the subsidy that the provincial government provides the University of Toronto?

“They’re a fucking joke, Campbell said. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” The Campus Conservatives were not present at the AGM to speak in favour of the campus free speech mandate.

After the AGM, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern to The Varsity about the wider effects that Ford’s policy could have on the university and the UTSU.

“Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this an ideal stance worth the complete elimination of our entire revenue stream? I don’t know the answer to that.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty,  Ann Marie Elpa, and Josie Kao

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Long debates on free speech, policy proposals dominate

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Lengthy debates surrounding free speech, policy proposals, and union operations dominated the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30.

The meeting ran overtime until 10:20 pm despite losing quorum at 9:52 pm. According to the UTSU’s bylaws, at least 50 people must be physically present in the room for the AGM to run, which was not the case in the final portion of the meeting.

However, a member in the room pointed out that the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act states that as long as quorum is present at the beginning of a meeting, it can continue even if it is not present throughout.

As such, Speaker Eric Bryce ruled that the meeting could continue despite not having enough people in the room.

Before losing quorum

Before the meeting lost quorum, the AGM covered the majority of the items on the agenda, starting with a presidential address and question period to UTSU executives.

Members asked a range of questions, notably about the Student Commons’ opening and operations, as well as the UTSU’s stance on the Canadian Federation of Students.

Following the question period, members voted to pass the UTSU’s 2018 audited financial statements. Notably, the union reported a surplus of $492,887, up from $23,521 in 2017.

“This is the largest surplus the UTSU’s run in recent memory,” said Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm. He credited layoffs, a repatriation of fees from a defunct student group, investments, and “better financial practices.”

The UTSU also voted to continue to use Sloan Partners LLP as its auditors for the second year in a row.

Following that, the meeting then moved on to changes to the Elections Procedure Code, with members voting to officially ban slates in UTSU elections.

This was followed by a vote to support endorsing the separation of the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes in favour.

A separation would allow the UTMSU to provide services currently offered by the UTSU, such as a health and dental plan, as well as conduct their own advocacy efforts. The UTSU would also be allowed to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU.

Following a short recess, the AGM then had a lengthy discussion on a motion submitted by a member which called on the UTSU to oppose Premier Doug Ford’s mandate that all universities develop and enforce free speech policies.

The item was brought forward by Jack Rising from the club Socialist Fightback U of T. It called the provincial government’s policy “a direct attack on the time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience on campus” and urged the UTSU to take a stance.

After a long debate and some proposed amendments, the resolution was passed.

After losing quorum

In the last major portion of the meeting, members debated at length about a proposal made by Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin to allow members to vote on procedural and operation policies at the AGM.

Biswurm and UTSU President Anne Boucher brought up concerns over letting members vote on policy, saying that not everyone who attends AGMs arrives with good intentions.

Although the meeting lost quorum in the middle of the debate, the controversial resolution was passed with no amendments.

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

A resolution was passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) condemning the Ontario government’s campus freedom of speech mandate.

The mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities develop free speech policies by January 1. The policy also stipulates that student group compliance with the mandate is a condition for ongoing financial support.

While U of T has had a freedom of speech policy since 1992, there has been no official confirmation from the Ford government on whether the university’s policies meet the provincial mandate.

The AGM resolution, moved by Jack Rising — a member of the club Socialist Fightback U of T — proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the Ford government’s mandate or any law that stems from it.

Describing the mandate as “Orwellian,” the motion also called for the UTSU to demand that U of T not implement any policies deterring freedom of speech.

The resolution was amended by UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman. The amendment, which passed, eliminated the second half of the original resolution, so that the final motion condemned the provincial free speech mandate but did not call for the UTSU to urge action from U of T.

The passed motion puts the UTSU “on record as opposing the Ontario government’s anti-democratic ‘free speech on campus’ mandate” and preemptively refuses participation in the implementation of the mandate at U of T.

In an interview with The Varsity, Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, explained his concerns about Ford’s policy, specifically calling it “an anti-protest law.”

His fear is that students who actively protest could be expelled under the mandate and that right-wing groups would not face repercussions due to the fact that “Doug Ford has connections to these people.”

Swinarton believes the free speech mandate targets left-wing students who protest right-wing or controversial political figures like Faith Goldy or Jordan Peterson.

Goldy is a white nationalist who commonly repeats white supremacist language and has adopted far-right conspiracy theories. Peterson is a controversial U of T psychology professor who went viral through YouTube lectures speaking out against political correctness and later refused to use preferred trans and non-binary gender pronouns.

The Varsity reached out to the U of T Campus Conservatives for comment on the union’s rejection of the free speech mandate. The U of T Campus Conservatives is officially affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The group’s president, Matthew Campbell, asked, “How about [the UTSU] reject provincial funding and subsidies for the university? How about every U of T student [who is] a UTSU member reject the subsidy that the provincial government provides the University of Toronto?

“They’re a fucking joke, Campbell said. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” The Campus Conservatives were not present at the AGM to speak in favour of the campus free speech mandate.

After the AGM, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern to The Varsity about the wider effects that Ford’s policy could have on the university and the UTSU.

“Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this an ideal stance worth the complete elimination of our entire revenue stream? I don’t know the answer to that.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, and Josie Kao

UTSU AGM 2018: Students endorse UTMSU, UTSU separation

Motion passes unanimously with 222 votes

UTSU AGM 2018: Students endorse UTMSU, UTSU separation

Members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted to endorse separation from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) at the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30. The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes.

The move comes after a lengthy negotiations process that began in January and culminated in the UTSU Board of Directors endorsing separation in September. The vote at the AGM was for members to show their approval of the endorsement, which would allow the unions to begin the formal process of separating.

UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah supported the separation, citing issues regarding campus representation.

Specifically, he pointed to a perceived lack of support on the health and dental plan — which is administered by the UTSU — as well as on what the UTMSU saw to be a lack of solidarity on the controversial University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy passed in June.

However, Abdullah added that it would still be possible for the two unions to work together after separation.

“When it comes to banding together for issues, I don’t believe you need a contract to work together,” said Abdullah.

UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm spoke to The Varsity on the next steps of formal separation and the overall financial implications, specifically an $82,800 loss in yearly revenue from UTM students until 2023.

“We’ve talked to the university about [its] role in it and so we’re putting in every effort that we can to make sure this, in an operational sense, goes smoothly,” said Biswurm.

The UTSU and the UTMSU signed an Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) on April 30, 2008. UTSU President Anne Boucher claimed that students from both the UTSU and UTMSU criticized the decision to sign the AMA at the time, as it was agreed upon during the last day of the fiscal period with little time for discussion.

The UTSU has experienced a similar separation in the past with regards to the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, which left the UTSU’s predecessor, the Students’ Administrative Council, in 2004.

Once the separation is finalized, the UTMSU’s health and dental plan will no longer be under the UTSU, meaning that it would have to find a new plan under a different health care provider. The student union will also no longer have to sign an agreement to work alongside the UTSU and would be able to conduct its own advocacy efforts.

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

Future union elections can no longer have cross-campaigning

UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has banned the existence of slates in its elections following a lengthy debate at its Annual General Meeting on October 30.

Slates are defined groups of candidates running together, often sharing branding and platforms, and have been a staple in UTSU elections.

The amendment to the Election Procedure Code detailed that no candidate will be allowed to campaign for another candidate, that no campaign material would solicit votes for multiple candidates, and that any cross-campaigning would be limited only to elections governed by the code.

UTSU President Anne Boucher spoke in favour of banning slates, saying that although there were pros, such as having a clearer vision and a more discernible platform, there were also cons, such as voters not having a clear sense of who they are electing.

“Having seen both sides, I can definitely say that I prefer having independent candidates run,” Boucher later said in an interview with The Varsity. “I think it offers them a lot more opportunity to give a fuller picture of who they are.”

Boucher ran in the 2017 elections as an independent candidate for Vice-President External, and in the 2018 elections as the presidential contender for the Compass slate.

She also noted the importance of knowing who people are voting for. “You can’t just base it off of a very catchy two- [or] three-point slate platform,” she said.

Mathias Memmel, former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor, noted at the meeting that there was frustration around the culture of slates in student politics. He claimed that the most popular idea to hate at U of T is the slate system itself.

Slates have long been a fixture in UTSU student politics. In the 2017 elections, there were three full slates — Demand Better, We The Students, and Reboot U of T — as well as the partial slate of Whomst’d’ve. In the 2016 elections there were two slates — Hello U of T and 1UofT.

— With files from Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

UTSU AGM 2018: Members now allowed to change bylaws, policies at AGMs

Resolution approved after much debate

UTSU AGM 2018: Members now allowed to change bylaws, policies at AGMs

At the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM), a member-submitted resolution was passed that amends the union’s bylaws to allow members to directly vote on member-submitted operational and procedural policy changes.

The motion, submitted by Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin, removes the bylaw that requires all policies and procedures to go through the UTSU’s Governance Committee.

This means that members are now allowed to vote on procedural and operation policies through a majority at the AGM. Procedural policies can now be adopted, rescinded, or passed at the AGM with a three-quarters majority, and operational procedures with a simple majority.

Discussion on the motion was heavily focused on the political implications of the policy. Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern over the makeup of attendees at AGMs, saying, “We’re all insiders here, every single one of us. The normal person does not care about the UTSU.”

An amendment was introduced by Biswurm’s predecessor and former Vice-President Internal Daman Singh that would change the policy to refer all policy proposals to the next Board or UTSU meeting.

Singh’s amendment was further amended by former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel, who sought to allow members that submit policies to be allowed speaking rights in all levels of governance.

While Memmel’s amendment to Singh’s amendment passed, the overall amendment failed in a tie vote, meaning that neither passed.

Singh also called for a recount of the UTSU members in attendance right before the vote to pass Grondin’s resolution. This was to ensure that the AGM still met quorum, meaning that at least 50 members had to be physically in the room.

While the room did not have 50 members physically present, one member cited language from the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act that allows resolutions to be voted on as long as quorum was met at the beginning of the meeting, which the speaker used as reasoning to continue the AGM.

As such, the motion was able to proceed to a vote, and the inquorate members voted to pass it.

In an interview with The Varsity, Biswurm said that he believed the assembly was wrong to vote on the resolution without quorum.

“I would say everybody’s decision to sort of defer to the will of the assembly that didn’t meet those requirements was wrong.”

In a statement to The Varsity, Grondin emphasized the need for accountability and accessibility within the UTSU. He described the old bylaws as “problematic,” and said that he hopes the new resolution will allow members to feel “a sense of belonging and empowerment.”

On the issue of quorum, Grondin felt that it was unfortunate the resolution didn’t pass with the bylaw-intended number of members in the room.

“I think there’s a reason that a membership of 50,000 cannot get 50 people into a room for its AGM, and this stems from students not feeling empowered or invested in the UTSU. Even without quorum in the space at the time, this motion introduced a new power to our members that they did not have before, which I think is a great step.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, and Adam A. Lam

Update (November 8, 5:38 pm): This story has been updated to include comment from Grondin.

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

UTSU reveals Student Commons opening delayed again to April 2019

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

Students took full advantage of a question period at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting, asking the executives about topics ranging from the operations of the Student Commons to the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Immediately prior to question period, UTSU President Anne Boucher delivered her presidential address. Boucher reflected on the tumultuous relationship the union has had with its constituency in the past, citing, in particular, how 95 per cent of engineering students voted to leave the UTSU in 2013.

She stressed that the UTSU is focused on building strong financial relationships and wants “to be the best UTSU possible in absolute terms rather than relative ones.”

Following Boucher’s address, the floor was opened up to questions from members.

Canadian Federation of Students

Joshua Bowman, Academic Director for Social Sciences, asked about the executives’ campaign promise to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student association representing over 70 post-secondary student associations across the country.

Boucher said that, through her personal experience with the CFS, she feels that there is no room for internal change in the organization. In the past, she has been a strong supporter of leaving the CFS.

In response to another question from Bowman about You Decide — a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the CFS — Boucher stated that the UTSU is not actively collecting signatures for a referendum, and added that any petitions are independent of the UTSU.

Student Commons

In one of the more notable parts of the AGM, Vice President, Operations Tyler Biswurm revealed that the opening date for the Student Commons has been pushed back — again — from January 2019 to April 2019.

The Students Commons is a proposed student-run centre at UTSG that is 11 years in the making. The building was originally scheduled to open in September 2018 but was delayed to January 2019 over the summer.

Biswurm gave similar reasons for this delay as he did for the last one, saying that the building’s age as well as contracting complications have caused problems in the renovation process.

On this point, member Tom Yun asked about reports that The Newspaper, an independent campus publication, had been denied office space in the Commons.

Former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel responded that despite covering issues relating to U of T, The Newspaper does not have status within the university. As such, the UTSU made the decision to prioritize U of T clubs.

Boucher assured the union’s membership that other student groups that were promised space in the Student Commons were told about the delay and have spaces elsewhere until the opening.

Other questions

New College Student Council President Madison Hönig raised a concern about a lack of preparedness during orientation, specifically regarding students’ access to water.

Hönig said that the UTSU did not provide a sufficient supply of water to students, which posed a health problem on Parade Day, as it was especially hot.

In response, UTSU Vice President, Student Life Yolanda Alfaro acknowledged that they were not prepared for the extreme heat. Alfaro stated that more needed to be done in creating contingency plans for unexpected events like weather.

Following that, Arts and Science Students’ Union President Haseeb Hassaan asked about who was taking on the responsibilities of the UTSU’s General Manager (GM) position, which has been vacant since mid-July.

Boucher responded that the union has brought in Memmel to help with financial management while the UTSU searches for a new GM, which they hope to have by mid-November.

Explaining the rationale behind Memmel’s hire, Boucher acknowledged that “people tend to jump to certain conspiracies,” but that “when you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization… it’s a good resource to have.”

“It’s unfair to assume that having a presence of someone who has been a past executive would be something that is worth discussing,” she added.

With regard to the empty GM position, 2018 UTSU Junior Orientation Coordinator Dhvani Ramanujam asked about who was handling the union’s human resources concerns. When Biswurm responded that he and Boucher were filling the role, Ramanujam asked if it was a conflict of interest that the person who handles paycheques also handles complaints.

Biswurm responded that he did not think it was a conflict of interest. He said he believes it is the “default arrangement” in other employment contexts, as “the boss telling you how to do your job is also the person who signs your cheques.”

However, Biswurm acknowledged that there were gaps that he and Boucher could not fill, which is why the UTSU is aiming to hire a GM soon.

Near the end of the question period, a student asked the executives if they would endorse a college for the U of T Memes for True 🅱lue Teens meme bracket, a competition in a Facebook group that is pitting the university’s colleges and faculties against each other.

Boucher responded that while “there is not an official UTSU take on the war going on… my heart is in engineering.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

 

Disclosure: Tom Yun is The Varsity’s former Managing Online Editor (2017–2018) and News Editor (2016–2017).

 

Editor’s Note (December 13, 5:18 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Boucher about the UTSU being the best in absolute terms rather than relative ones.