During its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 29, 2023, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) passed a motion “in support of Palestinian liberation and the end of the occupation in Gaza.” The motion included an amendment that the union adopt “[a] ‘pro-Palestine stance’ that extends to all clubs and services funded by the UTMSU.”
So what does this mean for clubs? The motion’s language has since stirred some controversy amongst students, who raised concerns about whether the UTMSU will withhold funding from clubs that take a more pro-Israel stance or who opt not to take a stance. The union has yet to clarify how it will implement the motion.
“A little bit vague”
At the AGM, students voted on a motion requiring the union to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and “stand in support for the Palestinian people.” During the discussion period, one student proposed an amendment that the union take a general “pro-Palestine stance” that would extend to “all clubs and services funded by the UTMSU.”
The motion did not specify whether it aimed to influence clubs’ stances or funding. When asked, the student clarified that the amendment should apply to clubs that had “anything relevant to do with this clause,” noting that it would not apply to non-political clubs.
During the meeting, another student raised objections about how the amendment would impact clubs with connections to specific departments, such as course unions. “By putting this in, you’re essentially blanketing us all and removing our right to actually have a proper discussion,” they said.
UTMSU Executive Director Felipe Jiyudim Nagata clarified during the meeting that the UTMSU can’t mandate clubs to take certain stances but can withhold funding or recognition from them. He raised the example of the UTMSU stopping funding anti-abortion clubs after the union adopted an official pro-choice stance.
Nagata asked the student who initially proposed the pro-Palestine amendment to clarify their intentions about how this would affect clubs funded by the UTMSU. The student stated that they intentionally kept the motion “a little bit vague.”
Hillel U of T condemns the motion
In a statement posted on its Instagram on January 10, Hillel U of T — the U of T branch of the North American Jewish campus organization — voiced concerns about the union’s decision to adopt this position, pointing out it could potentially compel funded student clubs to adopt a pro-Palestine stance or risk losing funding.
The organization asserted that the passage of such a motion by a student governance body amid “a time of unprecedented antisemitism” was “unacceptable and dangerous.” Hillel U of T additionally wrote that it condemns “[the] UTMSU’s obsession with demonizing Jewish students and their allies on campus.” Hillel UofT has criticized the UTMSU in the past for its statement in the wake of October 7, alleging that it showed a “lack of care” for Jewish students.
In response to the motion, Hillel U of T announced that it planned to speak with the university administration, urging them to take decisive action to prevent the UTMSU from “abusing their podium.”
One UTM student from two clubs spoke to The Varsity about the UTMSU’s motion, although they requested to stay anonymous because of fears for their safety on campus.
They told The Varsity that they believed, “morally speaking, [the amendment] is undemocratic.” The student pointed out that any attempt to force clubs to adopt a specific political stance, claim goes against the spirit of Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom from compelled association — that is, from being forced to become part of an organization.
The student also cited the UTMSU’s own mission statement, which upholds the rights of individuals regardless of their personal or political beliefs and condemns acts of discrimination based on ethnic or national origin. They argued that the motion contradicted these principles by potentially infringing on the autonomy of student clubs.
The student raised questions about the enforcement of the motion and its consequences for clubs that choose not to take a stance. They also brought up worries about the potential repercussions for clubs that opt not to take a stance on the current violence in Gaza, highlighting the lack of clarity about potential consequences for student organizations in the motion. “[Is the UTMSU] mandating all clubs to take a stance that condemns Israel?” they questioned.
The UTMSU has not responded to The Varsity’s repeated requests to clarify the motion’s ambiguity and how the union will implement the motion.