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UTGSU members vote to reject CRCSS’ recommendations on BDS caucus

UTGSU condemns university's interference into union autonomy; union fee at risk without action by March 1
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The UTGSU office. RUESHEN AKSOV/THE VARSITY
The UTGSU office. RUESHEN AKSOV/THE VARSITY

Members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) voted to reject the recommendations of the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS) on its Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Caucus at its General Council meeting on February 16. 

Following criticism for using mandatory student fees toward the caucus and the BDS movement, the CRCSS made several recommendations in a ruling earlier this month, following four complaints against the caucus. The recommendations included that the UTGSU should make the fee for the caucus refundable. The CRCSS also ruled that the caucus had broken the UTGSU’s own Anti-Discrimination Policy on the grounds of discrimination based on nationality.

According to the decision letter, if the UTGSU does not provide the CRCSS a summary of how it intends to fulfill the panel’s recommendations by March 1, its fees could be withheld. The letter outlining the CRCSS’ recommendations reads, “It is the expectation of the Panel that UTGSU will fully consider the recommendations below and act upon them without recommending to the Vice-President and Provost that fees be withheld.” It does not provide any further information on what will happen if the union does not comply by March 1.

The BDS movement attempts to economically pressure the state of Israel into changing its policies toward Palestine, including its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Critics accuse the movement of being anti-Semitic, though proponents dispute this characterization. 

Motion condemning interference 

During the discussion of the CRCSS ruling, Lwanga Musisi, University Governance Commissioner, put forward a motion to condemn the interference of the university into the democratic processes of the union. The motion dictated that the general council “[reject] the interference of the University of Toronto through the use of the CRCSS” and gave support to the executive committee “to prevent further interference with the autonomy of the UTGSU.” 

Musisi claimed, “The UTGSU has never recognized the CRCSS since it was created because the university cannot and should not overturn decisions made by our membership.” He added, “As a student union, we are completely separate from the university.”

“Let us not be intimidated by the CRCSS or any body like them,” Musisi said. “If and when they push, rest assured they will find us prepared, and we will crush them.”

Several council members also spoke in favour of the motion, citing student autonomy and belief in the democratic practices that enabled the formation of the BDS Caucus. 

Opposition to motion, motion passes 

Other members spoke against the motion, arguing that the UTGSU is not a separate body from U of T and expressing concern that the UTGSU’s fees could be withheld if it does not comply with the recommendations of the ruling. 

Chaim Katz, council member and the student who brought the complaint forward to the CRCSS panel, spoke against Musisi’s motion, claiming that the BDS Caucus has been found to discriminate against students based on nationality, particularly Jewish and Israeli students. Katz added that he had asked the executives to send the full CRCSS report, along with a draft motion he wanted to put forward in the meeting package, but neither of those materials were sent out. 

After much debate, Musisi’s motion carried with oppositions and abstentions.

The UTGSU executives wrote to The Varsity in an email that, at the council meeting, they “asked for the support of the General Council as we prepared our response to the CRCSS, a body formed to undermine student union autonomy and the collective decision making power held by our members.”

“We are confident that this issue can be resolved without the loss of our fees.”