UTGSU commissioner resigns ahead of impeachment vote

Third UTGSU commissioner to resign, two executive positions remain empty
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Academics and Funding Commissioner for Divisions 3 and 4, Ryder Whittaker, has resigned prior to a scheduled vote on February 27 for his impeachment. He is the third commissioner to resign this year. This resignation leaves two of the seven UTGSU executive positions vacant.

Earlier in November, the UTGSU External Commissioner, Maryssa Barras, resigned amidst controversy surrounding Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward Campaign. Barras was not replaced, and her position remains vacant.

Branden Rizzuto announced this past September that he would be leaving the Executive Committee in November 2019. His position was filled by Sophie McGibbon-Gardner, who at the time was the Academics and Funding Commissioner for Divisions 3 and 4. She was in turn replaced by Whittaker.

The discussion surrounding Whittaker’s reprimand and impeachment was done in camera, meaning a closed session of General Council that media and guests are not allowed to attend. However, he spoke to The Varsity afterward about the circumstances surrounding his resignation.

“This whole thing was a huge misunderstanding,” explained Whittaker, who alleges that discussions of his impeachment were all triggered by a photo he took at an executives’ meeting.

One executive commissioner objected to their photo being taken and, despite apologizing, Whittaker says tensions escalated and that the other executives decided to reprimand him. Whittaker was banned from the UTGSU’s workspaces, and his responsibilities were given to other executives. A motion was also made to start the process of impeachment, but Whittaker resigned before discussions began.

Whittaker had hoped that an apology and a commitment to work together with the other executives would be preferable over impeachment: “They really left me no other choice,” he said.

The Varsity reached out to the UTGSU for comment on this topic, but could not independently verify the details of Whittaker’s impeachment discussion as it occurred in camera. The Executive Committee declined to speak on the subject because the discussion had happened in a closed session of the council. The committee referred only to the motion in the public meeting minutes, in which the council moved to impeach Whittaker “for the reasons of concerns about safety as raised at the February 13th, 2020 council meeting and for the violations of the Equity Statement.”

The UTGSU also declined to comment as to how the union and the executives will operate, despite the fact that two executive positions are unfilled.

However, the Executive Committee did comment on how the honoraria of the empty executive positions would be divided — $2,584 a month from both positions will be split among the remaining five executives, according to their workload.   

UTGSU elections will begin March 9 and end on March 20. Despite an incumbent-dominated election last year, this year has seen a number of new candidates — however, the position of finance commissioner has no candidates for the 2020 elections. Whittaker will not be running for re-election, though current executives Adam Hill and Lwanga Musisi, the Internal Commissioner and Governance Commissioner, respectively, are up as candidates.

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