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SCSU WGM 2021: Motion to revoke BDS endorsement fails after contentious debate

Motions for equity training, sustainability committee pass
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The meeting featured a discussion on the BDS movement. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
The meeting featured a discussion on the BDS movement. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

On March 25, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) held its winter general meeting (WGM) over Zoom. 

The main item that the members debated was a motion for the SCSU to no longer endorse the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which failed after a lengthy discussion.

Other items included the implementation of a sustainability committee, equity and diversity training for SCSU board members, and raising SCSU executives’ eligible course load from 1.0 full course equivalent (FCE) to 1.5 to accommodate international students. 

Discussion of BDS motion

UTSC Jewish Student Life (JSL) Co-President Maxwell Fine put forward a motion that the SCSU “no longer endorse the [BDS] brand” or “boycott racialised and anti-oppressive student organizations… that fall under groups boycotted by BDS.” 

The BDS movement is an attempt to economically pressure Israel to change its policies toward Palestine, including occupation of its territories. Critics of the movement characterize it as antisemitic, though proponents distinguish between the state of Israel and discrimination against Jewish people. 

It also called for the SCSU Policy and By-laws Committee and vice-president equity to review all future motions to ensure that they are not in violation of the SCSU’s equity policies. The motion also suggested that the SCSU present similar amendments to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) for adoption.

A UTSC student spoke against the motion, claiming that “the solution is attempting yet again to silence Palestinian suffrage through imposing a blatant Zionist agenda.”

Fine then clarified the motion’s intent, responding, “The oppression [of] Palestinians by the Israeli state is horrible, and we should stand with them. [The] motion doesn’t say we’re against that… we don’t need to support BDS to boycott Israel.”

SCSU President Sarah Abdillahi spoke against the motion, claiming that the clause that suggests the SCSU present amendments to the CFS and UTGSU was irrelevant.

“The SCSU cannot be mandated to present any formal recommendations or amendments to the [UTGSU]… [It has its] own constitution [and its] own internal procedure,” Abdillahi explained.

One student, who identified as Jewish, said “I feel that by passing this motion you are saying that the emotions of Jewish students at Scarborough, who by the way, [are a] very small minority, will be forever ignored when it comes to everything.”

Ultimately, Fine’s motion failed to pass.

SCSU equity training motion

The JSL also submitted a motion that called for SCSU executives to “undergo equity and diversity training by a resource of the choosing of racialized and persecuted minority student groups, such as Jewish students” within 45 days if a group submits a request for training to the vice-president equity.

SCSU Vice-President Academics and University Affairs Lubaba Gemma requested to remove the clause that read that the SCSU would not be able to decide on the organization doing the training.

“[The] SCSU board and the executive team undergo a variety of equity and anti-oppression training throughout our terms. Often, the trading material would have been developed over the course of many years of research,” Gemma said. “The SCSU should reserve [its] right and authority in selecting organizations to be trained on based on that research, as we have in the past.”

Abdillahi requested that the 45-day timeframe requirement be amended to three months, claiming that 45 days to research an organization might end with an unsatisfactory result. Abdillahi also listed cost as a factor for why the SCSU needed more time for training.

“Since [the SCSU] is spending student fees on these trainings, we have to make sure that each and every one of the board members are present, and the staff members are present, and that they’re attending these trainings that we are paying for, and it requires a high level of coordination between everybody,” Abdillahi said.

When Fine argued that the SCSU did not need to conduct much research “when they are given organization names by the people who requested it,” Abdillahi cited assignments, family duties, and the pandemic as reasons why the SCSU would not be able to conduct this research sooner. 

Both amendments and the motion passed.

Sustainability committee

Abdillahi motivated a motion to implement a sustainability committee at the SCSU, consisting of the president, vice-president campus life, vice-president equity, vice-president operations, two directors appointed by the SCSU board, two at-large students as voting members, and two non-voting members.

Director of Physical & Environmental Sciences Michael Clement also suggested adding a representative from the U of T tri-campus student group, University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network (UTERN).

“At least have a UTERN member there to guide the SCSU to make actual concrete goals, make actual changes, not just fancy lettering, fancy words,” Clement suggested.

Clement’s amendments passed, and Abdillahi’s motion passed unanimously. 

Electoral equity for international students

Abdillahi also introduced a motion to raise the number of credits SCSU executives can take per semester from 1.0 to 1.5 FCEs.

While motivating the motion, Abdillahi claimed that there are numerous student unions that did not include the restriction in their bylaws, calling the restriction “very inequitable.”

“International students… according to their student visa status, are obligated to take three or more courses to maintain their student status in Canada,” Abdillahi mentioned. “[This clause] is also very limiting for those [student executives] who have to maintain their full-time student status, and not be in… situations related to either [the Ontario Student Assistance Program] restrictions or financial positions.”

Gemma also spoke in favour of the motion, adding, “It’s really vital that we do have those voices represented on the executive committee of the SCSU, particularly to identify the lived experiences of international students.”

The motion passed unanimously.