Slates take divergent marketing paths

Hello goes for online, 1UofT prioritizes physical campaign materials

Slates take divergent marketing paths

Promotional material costs a good deal of money; in order to pay for these advertisements, the UTSU reimburses candidates for their expenses up to a maximum amount dependent on the proportion of votes the candidates receive.

Setting the caps

The UTSU determines the allotment of funds according to the percentage of votes a candidate wins. Candidates who obtain between 15 and 100 per cent of the vote are eligible to claim money based on the highest funding bracket.

Executive candidates, of whom there are seven, may claim up to $1,200 each. The five academic director candidates, eight college director candidates, and eight professional faculties director candidates are allotted $100 each, with at-large candidates permitted up to $300 each. 

The maximum possible combined total for the team is $11,100.

“We have to acknowledge the fact that many students feel disengaged with the UTSU. It’s been a recurring theme this past week and a half. Many students don’t know what the UTSU is or what it does,” said Jasmine Wong Denike, president-elect from the Hello UofT slate.

“Elections aren’t just about the candidates running, we are also creating awareness and points of engagement with the UTSU. In elections, students can have a voice in how the UTSU is run and, by voting, can create a UTSU that they would actually want to see,” Denike added.

Overall campaign expenses

“We’ve been conservative in our spending and have only spent what we believe was necessary to create awareness about Hello UofT while informing students about the 2016 Elections,” said Denike. “We have exclusively spent our available funds on promotional materials. In total we estimate that we have spend about 60 per cent of our ‘available maximum funds’ on the campaign in total.”

Denike claims that Hello UofT stayed “well under [their] maximum available funds” and have saved money on the campaign, spending a total of $7,361. 

According to 1UofT presidential candidate Madina Siddiqui, her slate spent “just over $3,000 on their campaign.”

“We were well below the campaign expense limit,” Siddiqui said. “We need financial accommodation and we didn’t want to risk not qualifying for reimbursement so we spent a lot less than the limit.”

Where did the money go?

Both slates used online promotion strategies that included videos, websites, and social media platforms.

“As all of us are full-time students, we really didn’t have much of a budget for promotional materials,” said Siddiqui, who added that her team spent the “bare minimum” on their campaign website in order to conserve funds.

Denike said that Hello UofT put most of their energy into Facebook and Instagram advertisements. “Our online presence was crucial in engaging students, as our Hello UofT Facebook page garnered over 1,300 likes by the end of the campaign,” she said.

Hello UofT’s promotional videos included shots of UTM and St. George, several seconds of which were shot using a drone. There was also a scene filmed in a subway station, which, if classified as a commercial project, would result in Hello UofT needing to apply for a permit to film. 

Denike does not consider the videos to be commercial projects in a monetary sense.  She clarified that Hello UofT asked a TTC supervisor if they could film inside the station. “They allowed us to film briefly,” Denike said.

Denike declined to give the name of Hello UofT’s videographer, nor to reveal the exact cost of the video, citing respect for the privacy of their freelance work.

Despite the quality of their videos, Denike stated that Hello UofT did not sacrifice anything to accommodate the expense of the videos. “We re-channeled most of our resources to online campaigning because of the removal of in-person campaigning to students during voting days,” Denike explained.

1UofT took a different approach, preferring to build their website and shoot their videos with volunteers. “Our video was filmed by fellow U of T students and I love them! We didn’t have access to a production team or equipment but I think our videos are personal and show all of us for who we are in real life,” said Siddiqui.

Unlike Hello UofT, 1UofT used most of its funds to expand its physical presence. “Most of the money was spent on print materials, like banners, posters and flyers which help make the election accessible to students on campus,” said Siddiqui.

BC students clash with CFS

Vancouver Community College demands transparency, accountability from federation

BC students clash with CFS

A recent letter acquired by The Varsity from Sara Bigler, chairperson of the Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College (SUVCC), to Bilan Arte, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), reveals that the SUVCC is not participating in the activities of the CFS, on the grounds that the CFS’ national executive is working in contempt of its membership. 

A number of CFS member locals in BC share the SUVCC’s concerns regarding the CFS. 

SUVCC and the CFS

Correspondence between the SUVCC and the CFS national executives dates back to May 2015, when the SUVCC’s executive director Samantha Walsh wrote to CFS executives — including Arte, national treasurer Anna Dubinski, and former national chairperson Jessica McCorrmick.

Walsh wrote that SUVCC believed the executives undermined the credibility and validity of the federation due to union busting and side-deals to which some CFS employees had allegedly been subjected.

“From what I understand, the employees of the Federation raised these concerns because their work was being contracted to outside companies, that the management officials were making deals with some employees that circumvented the union (side-deals), and that there was a threat to the integrity of union representation itself,” said Bigler. 

According to Bigler, the CFS’ national executive has not responded to questions about the federation’s labour relations.

“In the last month, employees of the Canadian Federation of Students who spoke out against this mistreatment have been terminated,” Bigler said.

In June 2015, Samantha Walsh wrote to the CFS national executive after the proxy vote at the National Aboriginal Caucus meeting was not recognized. Even though the proxy was accepted at the beginning of the meeting, it was denied on the last day of the meeting — a move that Bigler suggests was an effort to prevent the re-election of Simka Marshall as the national executive representative.

“As the debate about proxy voting progressed, chief electoral officer Bourque said that some students’ unions had been told that they could not send proxies. Despite requests for proof of this, none was provided,”  Bigler said. “Christine Bourque is a staff person of CFS-Ontario, and there should be no reason she would have communicated with students’ unions outside of Ontario about the National Aboriginal Caucus meeting beforehand to discuss voting.”

The SUVCC have tried contacting the CFS national executive in pursuit of answers to their numerous concerns but have yet to receive a direct response. They, along with other member unions, are currently assessing their CFS membership status.

“We are committed to working with other students on fighting for lower tuition fees, against rising student debt, and in solidarity for social justice. It is our judgement that the Canadian Federation of Students is leaving this fight, not the other way around,” said Bigler.

CFS-BC and CFS

At the Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) of the CFS’ British Columbia branch (CFS-BC), now named the British Columbia Federation of Students’ (BCFS) in August 2015, member locals voted to censure the national executive — specifically Arte and Dubinski.

Based on Arte’s alleged union busting and engagement in election fraud at the June National Aboriginal Caucus meeting, CFS-BC found she “ has consistently failed to uphold the values of the Canadian Federation of Students.”

Dubinski was censured on the claims that she allegedly  secured nation-wide International Student Identity Card (ISIC) discounts, fired employees of the federation without the authority to do so, failed to maintain up-to-date financial records, and refused to provide financial information to BC Representative Jenelle Davies she required to fulfill her duties.

Davies, who was attempting to determine debts owing to the CFS and CFS-Services by CFS-Ontario, has been refused a breakdown of debts. However, under the provisions of the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, it is unlawful to withhold this information from a director.

“At the 67th Semi-annual National General Meeting, the budget committee was shown draft financial statements for 2014 that showed over $600,000 in receivables being written off as bad debts. BC delegates in the committee asked for a list of the debts but the Treasurer, Anna Dubinski, claimed not to know which debts made up the amount. I have been asking for that breakdown for the ten months since, but Dubinski has refused to provide me with the information,” said Davies.

“Instead of answering my questions, providing me and my member locals with the information we had requested, and allowing me access to the financial records, they chose to bypass me and communicate directly with my constituents, portraying my concerns as groundless,” she added.

At the meeting, CFS-BC also demanded the resignation of Arte and Dubinski; recognition of the election of Aboriginal Students’ Representative Tl’ehskwiisimka Marshall and Women’s Representative Shayli Robinson; public acknowledgement that the directors of the CFS were aware of the use of funds not represented in the annual audited financial statements; and removal of Jessica McCormick and Toby Whitfield from the payroll of the CFS.

“Although, officially, Whitfield remains on staff with CFS-Ontario in Toronto, he has actually lived and worked in Ottawa full-time since January 2015 and even has his own office in the CFS National Office. Among other things, he manages the other employees and the finances of both CFS and its sister organization, CFS-Services but officially has no status within either organization,” Davies said.

The Report of the Executive Committee from the same SAGM details CFS-BC’s frustration with leadership within the CFS, citing an instance where BC representatives were excluded from a national executive meeting in 2014 and their concerns about the settlement equated to Concordia University were not taken into consideration. 

The report states that, during the previous SAGM in June 2015, BC’s delegates from each member union walked out of the general meeting after experiencing bullying and unwarranted attacks. 

“The walkout followed a specific incident in the closing plenary in which a BC delegate was asking a legitimate question of the National Chairperson, during the scheduled question period of the National Executive. Before she could even finish her question, a large portion of Ontario delegates shouted her down,” Davies said.

A letter from October 2015 from the CFS-BC to the national executive expresses the BC member local unions’ concern about the “lack of leadership and lack of accountability among the at-large members of the National Executive, and the inability or unwillingness of the National Executive to uphold its responsibilities and execute its authority.”

The letter goes on to cite the failures of the national executive regarding membership organizing financial management, internal communication, legal affairs, and democratic decision making. 

Bilan Arte and Anna Dubinski declined to respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Correction (April 5, 2016, 3:39 pm): an earlier version of this article stated that the SUVCC does not recognize its membership with the CFS. This is incorrect; the SUVCC is refusing to participate in the activities of the federation and not rejecting its membership status. 

279 demerit points issued during UTSU elections

123 points repealed

279 demerit points issued during UTSU elections

Both Hello UofT and 1UofT slates received multiple demerit points throughout the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election campaign before appeals. 1UofT garnered 188 demerit points and Hello UofT received 91.

Demerit points are a possible consequence of violations of the Elections Procedures Code (EPC). Students may file a grievance with the chief returning officer (CRO) if they believe a candidate has broken the election procedure.

The CRO, Daniel Gladstone, reviews the validity of the complaints and issues rulings. If a candidate is found to have broken election procedure, the CRO will issue a number of demerit points depending on the severity of the violation.

If an executive candidate reaches 35 demerit points, they are disqualified from participating in the election. This maximum is 30 for at-large director candidates and 20 for all other director candidates.

The CRO issued 16 rulings on complaints made throughout the campaign period, six of which were appealed and sent to the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC). The ERC has the power to hear appeals and uphold or overturn the CRO’s decisions as it sees fit.

Alessia Rodríguez, independent candidate for vice president, campus life, was not the subject of any complaints and did not receive any demerit points at during the campaign.

1UofT received significantly more demerit points than Hello UofT; each executive candidate for 1UofT was awarded between 22 and 28 points.

Non-English promotion

Circulating online campaign materials in a language other than English without a translation was a violation that the 1UofT slate committed. The EPC requires any campaign materials not in English to have an “accurate English translation that appears in equal stature and size.” The EPC also requires the translation to be notarized.

The CRO issued a total of 12 demerit points to 1UofT as a result of three different rulings involving non-English campaign materials. During the campaign period, The Varsity reported on one such blog in simplified Chinese, urging students to vote for 1UofT candidates.

Additionally, the CRO found that 1UofT had violated electoral procedure by having an “unauthorized campaigner” managing their Instagram account. The account belonged to Guled Arale, an employee of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, former vice president, external at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, and the treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. An investigation determined that Arale is not a UTSU member; each member of 1UofT received three demerit points.

The slate appealed the decision and the ERC overturned the CRO’s ruling, revoking the demerit points on the grounds that “the events established show an unintentional error not made with the intent to break the elections code.” Madina Siddiqui, presidential candidate for 1UofT, did not respond to requests for comment.

With the exception of Jasmine Wong Denike, president-elect, and Ryan Gomes, vice president, professional faculties-elect, Hello UofT’s executive candidates ultimately received zero demerit points.

Denike and Gomes obtained one and six points, respectively.

Denike, Andre Fast — vice president, external candidate with the 1UofT — and Malkeet Sandhu — vice president, equity candidate with 1UofT — each received a handful of demerit points relating to improper placement of campaign materials. Among these violations were posters placed on top of another candidate’s poster, or within one foot of another’s posters.

Fast received the highest number of demerit points — 27 by the end of the campaign. This figure was reduced to 25 after the appeals process. Fast did not respond to a request for comment.

Appeals heard

There was one significant violation which affected all members of the Hello UofT slate. The CRO issued each candidate with three demerit points for pre-campaigning, which is forbidden under the EPC. The pre-campaigning allegedly took place in the form of Hello UofT’s Facebook page. The CRO ruled that “having these material present before the campaign period afforded the Hello UofT an unfair advantage.”

Hello UofT appealed the CRO’s decision. Given that the online content was invisible to anyone who was not a page administrator  the ruling was overturned.

Individually, Gomes received six demerit points for “intentional misrepresentation of fact.” In a recorded conversation between Gomes and a volunteer campaigning for 1UofT, Gomes allegedly suggested that he was unaffiliated with the Hello UofT slate. The CRO penalized Gomes for noncompliance with the “spirit of [the] elections.”

Gomes appealed the CRO’s decision to the ERC, which upheld the ruling.

The recording was used as evidence in support of the allegation that the 1UofT slate participated in an act of “gross misrepresentation of fact.” In his ruling, the CRO issued eight demerit points to the entire slate, but declined to state which facts were misrepresented.

“The severity of these charges warranted much consideration on the part of the CRO. Because the CRO does not wish to further propagate these misrepresentations of fact, the CRO is omitting the details of this conversation,” read part of the CRO’s ruling.

“I believe that Hello UofT campaigned very fairly and followed the rules set by the [EPC],” said Denike. “I’m incredibly proud of my team and I don’t think I would have done anything any differently.”

When asked about some of the potential primary causes for procedure violations, Denike suggested that many violations “are due to small errors made during postering or campaigning.”

“The demerit point system exists to maintain a clean atmosphere during campaigning, and not there to be abused,” Denike commented. “The system is also in place to avoid people spreading lies, rumors or other malicious behaviors to tarnish the reputation of other candidate’s.”

“It’s important that people remember that although this system exists, people still get hurt, and that has a much more lasting impact than any number would,” she added.

With files from Rachel Chen & Tom Yun

Correction (March 29, 2016, 5:59 pm): An earlier version of this article stated that Ryan Gomes was found guilty of gross misrepresentation of facts. He was actually found guilty of intentional misrepresentation of facts, which is a different and less serious offence. The Varsity regrets the error.

UTSU members say ‘Hello’ to new executive

Hello UofT wins all executive positions except for vice president, internal & services

UTSU members say ‘Hello’ to new executive

Hello UofT took all but one of the executive positions in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections. Competing against them were the 1UofT slate and one independent candidate for vice president, campus life.

Both slates campaigned for improvements to services such as the UTSU’s health and dental plan and U of T’s health and wellness services. All candidates agreed that they would work towards creating a safer and more inclusive campus should they be elected. According to president-elect Jasmine Wong Denike from Hello UofT, her immediate goal is to spearhead tuition fee caps, as the deadline for their expiration in 2017 nears.

Election results and statistics

Of the 50,113 eligible voters, a total of 4,871 votes were cast. Voter turnout was 9.7 per cent, which was a 3.3 per cent drop from last year’s 13 per cent turnout.

Denike is currently the union’s vice president, external. She emerged victorious with 2,000 votes, while 1UofT’s Madina Siddiqui received 1,540 votes.

Shawn Williams ran for vice president, university affairs with Hello UofT and was elected to the position with 1,822 votes. 1UofT’s Andy Edem, who was formerly an independent candidate, received 1,432 votes.

Hello UofT’s Farah Noori will fill the vice president, equity role. Noori received 1,728 votes to 1UofT’s Malkeet Sandhu’s 1,307 votes.

Shahin Imtiaz of Hello UofT will serve as the next vice president, campus life, with 1,489 voters ranking her as their first choice. 1UofT’s Lera Nwineh placed second and received 1,070 votes, while independent candidate and current vice president, campus life Alessia Rodríguez placed third with 834 votes. This is the first time that the vice president, campus life has been an elected position.

Ryan Gomes, the current UTSU vice president, internal & services, ran with Hello UofT to be the first-ever president, professional faculties. Gomes’ 553 votes put him ahead of Charlotte Mengxi Shen, who managed to secure 319 votes.

The contest for the position of vice president, external was the closest of any of the races. Hello UofT’s Lucinda Qu narrowly defeated Andre Fast of 1UofT by a margin of 18 votes, winning 1,648 votes to Fast’s 1,630.

1UofT candidate Carina Zhang won vice president, internal & services by 37 votes over Hello UofT’s Mathias Memmel. Zhang received 1,777 votes to Memmel’s 1,740 votes and was the only 1UofT member to win an executive position.

The UTSU’s Elections Procedures Code (EPC) states executive candidate elections that result in a victory by a margin of up to 50 votes will automatically be recounted.

The abstention rate for executive candidate elections ranged between 27 and 38 per cent.

Voting methods

Only three paper ballots were cast; two of those ballots were test ballots. Online voting was offered in person at a polling station, meaning paper ballots had to be specifically requested.

Vere-Marie Khan, chair of the Elections & Referenda Committee, stated that paper ballots were heavily underused due to the advent of online voting.

“[We] made every effort to ensure that laptops at our polling stations were as accessible as possible,” Khan said. “I think the future of paper ballots is that there is none.”
Khan hopes that paper ballots will become obsolete. “Personally, I am glad for this step as paper ballots are sustainably not feasible and are an additional cost factor to the union (therefore students as well),” she said.

This was also the first time that the UTSU elections were conducted using the single-transferable vote, a voting system in which voters rank candidates by order of preference. Prior to this year, the elections used the first-past-the-post system.

The campaign period

The 10 day campaign period saw numerous controversies and a spate of demerit points issued to both slates, much the same as in previous UTSU elections. The in-person campaign period was shorter this year than in previous years, and reforms to the EPC banned in-person campaigning on voting days. Candidates were still permitted to campaign online.

There were a total of 16 rulings by the chief returning officer (CRO) and six rulings by the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC).

During the executive debate, Edem misgendered Williams. Edem immediately offered an apology, which Williams found to be unsatisfactory, calling it “long and mostly devoid of substance” in a public Facebook post. Four days after the debate, 1UofT released a statement in response.

Moving forward

Despite the mixed executive, Denike does not believe the election of Zhang will be an issue for the new team.

“Carina, like the rest of us, ran because she wants to make U of T better,” Denike said. “Anyone putting themselves forward for a position like this, on a student union executive, needs to be prepared to work under any circumstance… I hope to get the chance to talk with her about what she wants to accomplish and hopefully find ways to incorporate that into our vision as well.”

“I also want to ensure that all of the executives are comfortable and ready to get to work. This would include having a proper transition from their predecessors, being prepared for the kind of year they have ahead, and knowing that we’re a team,” said Denike.

“We’re all so proud of Carina! She worked so hard and we could not imagine anyone better for the role of VP internal,” said Siddiqui. “I look forward to working with her in this new role and all of the great things that she will do this year,” she added.

This is not the first time that the UTSU elections have produced a mixed executive. In 2014, Pierre Harfouche, who ran for vice president, university affairs, was the only elected executive candidate from team Unite. Harfouche ultimately resigned in the following November.

“Slates don’t exist anymore,” Denike said. “We’re here because students voted for us to be here, and that’s what matters. We should be listening to what they have to say — if we’re doing a good or awful job — and being prepared to prioritize the representation of marginalized groups on campus who may feel ostracized by not only their peers, but the UTSU. Mending that relationship is one of my top priorities.”

Unite UTM sweeps UTMSU elections

CRO issues spate of demerit points across the board

Unite UTM sweeps UTMSU elections

After a hotly-contested campaign that saw four slates and several independent presidential candidates, the Unite UTM slate swept the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections and won every executive position by huge margins.

Voting took place on March 8, 9, and 10, with the 10 day campaign period concluding on the last day of voting.

The unofficial results were posted on UTMSU’s Facebook page on March 14. For each executive election, there were between 51 and 60 spoiled ballots and between 60 and 98 abstentions.

“My team and I were anxiously waiting for the results and when we found out that our entire slate claimed all the executive positions we were humbled, excited and grateful,” said Unite UTM presidential candidate Nour Alideeb. “We ran a strong campaign and I couldn’t be happier and more grateful to the rest of my team and dedicated volunteers who worked day in and day out to make this all happen.”

Alideeb, who is the current vice president, university affairs, was elected as president with 1717 votes, well ahead of UTM Focus candidate Ridwan Olow’s 479. Her platform includes ethical divestment, nap spaces on campus, and combatting tuition and fee increases. “Our main purpose is to unite the campus to work on the issues we all care about,” Alideeb explained. Independent candidate Andrew Williams followed with 369 votes.

Jackie Zhao, who is also the president of the Chinese Undergraduate Association, received 1,811 votes to become the next vice president, internal & services. Zhao, who received more votes than any other candidate for any position, wants to establish an emergency food plan fund, bring more lockers to campus, and create a bursary for international students.

Hoda Khan, who ran with UTM Focus, received 554 votes; EnvisionUTM candidate Adil Isaac Abrahim placed third, receiving 457 votes.

For vice president, university affairs & academics, Vanessa Demello emerged victorious with 1,808 votes.

Demello, who is an executive with The Psychology Association of Undergraduate Students at Erindale and a former orientation leader, wants to bring improved mental health services on campus. UTM Focus’ Menna Elnaka received only 467 votes, followed closely by UTM Awaken candidate Ryan Persaud’s 438 votes.

Marise Hopkins, who is the coordinator for UTMSU’s World University Services Chapter (WUSC) and chair of the WUSC local committee, will serve as vice president, external, after winning 1,612 votes. Hopkins’s platform includes heated shuttle bus shelters as well as healthier and more affordable food on campus. UTM Focus candidate Kamal M. Ali placed second with 636 votes — more votes than any other executive candidate who did not run with Unite. Amanee Nasseredine, who ran with Envision, came in third with 457 votes.

After receiving 1,732 votes, Maleeha Baig was elected as vice president, equity. Baig is the president of the Muslim Students’ Association and was previously the president of the local chapter of Amnesty International.

Baig plans to combat misogyny and build a consent-culture on campus, while lobbying for more racialized mental health counselors. Envision UTM’s Falhad Mohamoud and Focus UTM’s Farishta Amanullah followed, receiving 552 and 471 votes, respectively.

Controversies and demerit points

The rulings of the chief returning officer (CRO) and the Elections and Referenda Committee (EARC) were posted to the “Wall of Transparency” located in the Davis building and are not available online.

During the EARC meeting on March 3, UTM Focus, UTM Awaken, and Envision UTM appealed the policy that allowed non-UTM students to participate in the campaign. As a result, the EARC approved an amendment to prohibit non-UTM students from campaigning for a slate and only allow them to help in a “supporting role.”

Independent presidential candidate Ibrahim Bouteraa received 10 demerit points for reportedly campaigning in a library. Bouteraa told The Varsity that this was after a video of him passing a stack of flyers to a volunteer in the library was posted to Snapchat. “I did not know what I did is considered campaigning, but I accept the fault and have not appealed the decision,” he said.

Williams allegedly received 20 demerit points for not sending a list of volunteers and not using the pre-written recycling message on his flyers. The Medium reported that Williams’ flyers included a similar message but needed to be identical. Williams’ total demerit points were 25; it is unclear how he accrued the other five demerit points.

The CRO issued UTM Focus 10 demerit points after a non-arm’s length party reportedly “harassed and slander[ed] candidates from another Slate on multiple occasions.” The EARC eventually overturned the ruling.

All four slates also received five demerit points following allegations of at least one candidate or volunteer from each slate accessing their UTMSU email accounts.

The UTMSU’s Elections Procedure Code forbids board members, staff, volunteers, and committee members who are campaigning from accessing their UTMSU email addresses or other UTMSU resources.

“The allegations were false,” said Alideeb, explaining that she gave access to her email address to UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe when she took her leave of absence.

Alideeb also claimed that the her demerit points were removed. As of March 16, the Wall of Transparency had not been updated to reflect this. 

Ali, who is the director at the UTM Athletic Council (UTMAC), was issued five demerit points for allegedly collecting nomination signatures at the UTMAC office. The CRO considered this an unfair advantage, as he had access to a location that others would not have had. Ali’s demerit points, however, were changed to “pending,” with no clear reason as to why.

At press time, the CRO has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Controversies punctuate UTSU executive debate

Candidates face off in first debate-style election forum

Controversies punctuate UTSU executive debate

Wednesday, March 16, marked a first for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU): a candidates debate for their annual elections. This year, students competing for executive positions debated one another about various student issues.

Candidates were called up by position to give opening statements, followed by two questions from a panel comprised of the editors-in-chief of The Varsity, The Newspaper, and The Medium, followed by questions from the audience.

Questions pertaining to campus activism, such as efforts by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and the Black Students’ Association, as well as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, were raised.

Civil fraud suit

In a post-debate interview, The Varsity asked both presidential candidates whether they would continue the legal action initiated last year against two former UTSU executives and a former executive director. 

Jasmine Wong Denike, presidential candidate for Hello UofT, began by praising the activism that Sandra Hudson, the former UTSU executive director named in the suit, has done and continues to do. Hudson is a founding member of Black Lives Matter-Toronto and is involved with the BLC.

Denike said that if elected president, she would have a fiduciary responsibility to UTSU members.

“If there’s money that is unaccounted for, it’s very, very important that the UTSU investigate that,” Denike said, adding that she would review the entire case and ensure that it is handled equitably and respectfully. “It’s very important that we aren’t trying to make things more difficult for anybody. We aren’t, we just want to ensure that students are properly represented and students aren’t losing things that they should have.”

Madina Siddiqui, 1UofT’s presidential candidate, said that she would communicate with the UTSU’s lawyers to determine the best course of action. “Honestly, I am not Harvey Specter or Mike Ross,” Siddiqui said. “I’m not a lawyer, but if elected I will sit down and talk to the lawyers and figure out the best possible solution for students and make sure that students don’t get hurt and that way we don’t waste students’ money.”

Canadian Federation of Students

A question from the panel addressed the presidential candidates’ stances on the UTSU’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which has long been a topic of contention.

“To be honest with you, I don’t really have a personal opinion,” Siddiqui said. “If students don’t like it, we can talk about it. It’s whatever students need and want and it’s their opinion [that matters],” she added. 

Denike has worked with the CFS throughout the year as the UTSU’s vice president, external. She told the audience that she has had the opportunity this year to learn about the CFS’ strengths and weaknesses. 

“So my personal stance on the CFS is that they do a lot of amazing activism work… there’s no doubt about the amount of change that they’ve managed to help implement for students across the country,” Denike said, adding that she directed her focus to whether students are getting the most out of the CFS. 

“It’s also important to focus on what students want, and it’s also important to focus on whether or not U of T students are getting everything that they can be getting out of the CFS… if those students aren’t getting what approximately $750,000 a year is giving them, then I’m open to discussing that with students and keeping that line of communication open with the CFS as well,” Denike stated.

In 2015, the UTSU paid $769,218 in fees to the CFS, a figure that stood at $752,227 in 2014.

Activism

The Varsity asked the vice president, equity candidates whether they intended to promote the BDS movement. 

Malkeet Sandhu, candidate with 1UofT, said that she would mobilise and support the work of Palestinian activists. “At the end of the day, what Palestinians are going through is unjust, that can’t be denied,” she said. 

“However, there is a lot more to solving this issue than just passing a motion at an [Annual General Meeting]. I believe that there’s already [sic] countless Palestinian activists on campus and we need to support them and we need to do this by mobilizing with them on the ground through rallies and protests,” Sandhu said.

Farah Noori, Hello UofT’s equity candidate, came out in support of the BDS movement in her platform and acknowledged the challenges of gaining momentum at U of T.

“I would push it through ethical divestment just because I feel like that won’t necessarily make you take a specific stance on it, it’s legitimately about human rights violations,” she said. “We could support the Palestinian people through that.”

Sania Khan, current UTSU vice president, equity and advocate for the BDS movement, did not find either of the responses satisfactory and rephrased the question that The Varsity had posed to the candidates. “I’m going to rephrase a question… only because I feel that the responses were sub-par and vague and not congruent to both of your platforms,” Khan said at the debate.

Khan asked what the candidates were going to do to strengthen the BDS movement as a human rights movement.   

In a post-debate interview with The Varsity, Noori attributed her rushed response to the BDS question to her anxiety. “The debate was something I was dreading for [sic] since the start of becoming a candidate. I honestly just went in and I couldn’t even process myself thinking, there was just a lot of anxiety that I was dealing with at that moment,” she said. 

Noori later told the moderators that the format of the debate was not necessarily accommodating for all students, herself included. “Hopefully if I’m elected, that’s something I would want to reformat,” Noori said.

Hello UofT’s Lucinda Qu and 1UofT’s Andre Fast are both running for the position of vice president, external. The panel asked the candidates whether the UTSU should take a stance on issues of global importance. 

Qu responded that she would strive to represent students in this regard. “We should do whatever our membership thinks we should do,” she said. “If they want activism, we should be activists. If they want us to be more impartial, we should be impartial. We serve the students.”

Qu’s team distanced themselves from Qu’s remarks in a statement published on Hello UofT’s Facebook page later that night. “The Hello UofT team wants to stress that populist claims such as this one do not accurately reflect the views of our team. We believe that in order for equity work to happen successfully, the voices of marginalized minorities must be prioritized in discussion,” part of the statement read.   

Fast stated that the UTSU should take stances on global issues. He indicated the UTSU’s past involvement in the movement to divest from fossil fuels and encouraging engagement with politics around the time of the federal election as examples of where the UTSU has taken a stance.

“I agree [we] should represent what students at U of T want,” Fast said. “We’re a part of a global community, and global issues such as climate change impact us too.”

Both candidates raised the issue of affordable education, arguing for lower or eliminated tuition fees.

“When education is unaffordable it means it’s inaccessible to a lot of people and I think that is definitely the role of the UTSU,” said Fast. Qu suggested she would participate in active lobbying to increase affordability. 

Personal conflicts

Siddiqui and Denike also fielded questions that targeted their individual behaviours.

Hashim Yussuf, a UTM representative on the UTSU’s Board of Directors and organizer with the BLC, criticized Denike for being on a union that slashed funding for the Black Students’ Association, yet still choose to appear at the BLC’s March 15 demonstration on U of T’s birthday. 

“Showing up to a rally, especially during election period, is not enough, it’s almost nothing, practically,” Denike said. “If I were to be elected, I would love to be building and creating spaces of support, and building a framework that can assist the Black Liberation Collective and any other students on campus who want to be able to fight for their rights.”

Siddiqui came under fire for her remarks at the UTSU AGM held in November 2015, in which she accused several members of the current UTSU executive of being inebriated at work.

Siddiqui declined to comment on the matter and said she would rather focus on student issues. “This is not about personal issues or anything like that… I want to talk about and focus on student issues,” she said.

The debate between candidates for the position of vice president, university affairs, saw Hello UofT’s Shawn Williams and Andy Edem of 1UofT face off.

Mid-way through the debate, Edem misgendered Williams, despite both of them introducing themselves with their names and pronouns. Edem immediately apologized. “First of all I have to make an apology to you, I’m really sorry. I try as much as possible to use appropriate pronouns or the pronoun that somebody actually prefers, but we’re all human and sometimes we make slip-ups and this is one, so I thank you for calling that out,” Edem said.

Late on Sunday March 20, 1UofT released a statement in which they reiterated their apology to Williams.

Both candidates were asked how they would lobby the university administration in favour of students. Edem said that the role of vice president, university affairs should not only be about mobilizing students, but also about “being able to analyze policies and see where they don’t benefit students,” and then approach the administration accordingly. 

Williams’ answer was focused on “actively engaging with students so that we know what it is that students want, what their needs are, and how they want us to go about addressing these needs.” Williams advocated working with administration effectively to ensure that both sides were appeased and avoiding an antagonistic relationship between the students and the administration. 

Each candidate put forward plans to clearly and effectively work with the administration for the betterment of student life at U of T. 

During the vice president, internal & services debate, Hello UofT candidate Mathias Memmel asked for an anonymous twitter account to stop posting disparaging remarks about members of 1UofT. “Whoever is @Real1UofT on Twitter… it’s not cool to slander other people, especially the opposition. I don’t appreciate that, so please stop,” Memmel said.

Internal & services, professional faculties, campus life

Memmel debated 1UofT’s with Carina Zhang. Both candidates discussed their plans for the union’s budget.

“I want to introduce participatory budgeting, not only to improve transparency, but in wanting you to be part of the decision, and inviting you to be part of the process,” said Zhang. She wants to create more job opportunities for students and more international student scholarships and internships.

Memmel talked about the resources that could be channelled into improving mental health services. “There’s a lot of promises that have been made in the last five years about how we’re going to improve CAPS and how we’re going to make these changes, and I haven’t seen any results,” he said.

“We have a plan to cover the full cost of a student’s counselling sessions with a psychologist and up to 20 of those per year… and with our network with our new health and dental provider, we can make this happen,” Memmel said.

For the new position of vice president, professional faculties, Ryan Gomes of the Hello UofT slate faced Charlotte Mengxi Shen from the 1UofT slate.

Gomes is the current vice president, internal & services of the UTSU. He began his opening statement by outlining the history of bad blood between the UTSU and U of T’s 11 professional faculties and emphasized that communication between them and the vice president, professional faculties is important in order to address the needs of both sides.

“I know that the vp profac needs to sit down with every profac, determine what key issues they are facing and support them,” Gomes said.

Gomes also touched upon the issue of tuition and the implications specific to professional faculty students.

Mengxhi Shen began by stating that she wants to expand job opportunities for students. “If I get elected, I want to focus more on working with campus groups to bring more job fairs for other profac students.”

She also discussed wanting to facilitate the exam deferral process. “I also want to work with University of Toronto administration to be more accessible and easier for students, so in profacs like engineering, if a student defers one final exam they might have to stay for an extra year just because something happened in their lives. And that’s not fair,” she said.

Other areas of importance for Mengxi Shen are the lack of UTSU events for professional faculties other than engineering and the lack of study spaces specifically for professional faculty students.

There are three candidates vying for the vice president, campus life position: Shahin Imtiaz of Hello UofT, Lera Nwineh of 1UofT, and Alessia Rodríguez, who is the current vice president, campus life and is running independently. The idea of fostering a sense of belonging at U of T was central to all three candidates’ discussions. 

Imtiaz mentioned the creation of a new campus life app to better reach out to students; Nwineh wants UofT students to have more “positive experiences” through events, and Rodríguez argued for an increase in face-to-face communication.   

Many candidates interviewed by The Varsity immediately following the debate’s conclusion felt that both they and their opponents performed well at the debates.

Rodríguez mentioned how “it is very hard to say what I want to say in 30 seconds.” In his interview, Nwineh said he wished he had talked more about “how I want to improve the student experience.”

Voting takes place in person and online between March 22 and 24.

Disclosure: Shahin Imtiaz is a former associate science editor at The Varsity.

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UTSU SGM fails to meet quorum

Meeting proceeds in a ‘town hall’ style

UTSU SGM fails to meet quorum

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Special General Meeting (SGM) became an informal town hall-style gathering on Januray 28 after the meeting failed to reach its required quorum attendance. In order to be quorate, the January 28 meeting needed at least 150 members in the room carrying a minimum of 350 votes via proxy. 

With a total of 178 votes at the meeting, the SGM did not proceed. The motions that were on the agenda will be forwarded to the UTSU’s Board of Directors and will be voted on by the board at a later date.

UTSU president Ben Coleman blamed the low attendance on poor weather and the fact that “there is no existential crisis,” referring to the efforts to pass a legally compliant board structure at the two previous general meetings. 

Motions set for the agenda included items on computerized voting, paper ballots, an accessible computer lab, an endorsement and donation to the Black Lives Matter movement, and an expression of solidarity  with the Cape Breton University Students’ Union. Some notable discussions surrounded examination of the UTSU’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and ethical divestment.

BDS and ethical divestment 

The ethical divestment motion moved by second-year University College student Aidan Swirsky calls for opposition to investment of U of T funds in any company profiting from unethical practices regardless of where the company is, or where violations take place. 

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement attended the meeting in support of the motion. Unlike BDS, however, Swirsky’s motion does not specify a specific regional conflict or particular population, electing to target the university’s investments in corporations complicit in human rights violations more broadly.

BDS is a movement to end human rights violations in Palestine, targeting companies and governments that contribute to such abuse. 

Swirsky, who is a vocal opponent of BDS, drew distinctions between his motion and the BDS movement. He told The Varsity in January that “BDS promotes the academic and cultural blanket boycott of a singular country, Israel, while simultaneously espousing a demand that would lead to the destruction of said country.” 

In a joint statement to The Varsity, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and the Graduate Students’ Union BDS Committee (U of T Divest) said they have long called on U of T to divest from such companies. They claim the motion supports their campaign calling on the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation to divest its holdings in Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for the businesses contributions to Israel’s national defense infrastructure.. According to these two groups, these companies profit from violations of Palestinian rights through Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

However, SAIA and U of T Divest still expressed concerns with the motion, saying that the scope of the motion may be too narrow to be effective. 

“We are concerned that the motion’s vague and ambiguous language undermines its utility since it is not possible to effectively conduct human rights advocacy without naming those who are committing the rights violations and explicitly affirming solidarity with those whose rights are being violated,” the statement said. “Also of concern is the erroneous reference to the ‘University Investment Funds Policy’, which only considers investment risk.” 

The Canadian Federation of Students 

First-year Victoria College students Stephanie Spagnuolo and Carleigh Campbell moved a motion to continue the committee struck earlier this year to investigate the relationship between the UTSU and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Their motion would strike the committee each year with the mandate of considering ending the UTSU’s membership with the organization.    

The CFS is a national student advocacy group comprised of member student unions. It also has various provincial branches. The UTSU has been a member of the CFS since 2002. In 2013, several divisions at U of T held referenda to divert fees from the UTSU to their respective student councils, citing the union’s membership of the CFS among the main reasons for their desire to leave the UTSU.   

Spagnuolo and Campbell argued in the text of their motion that the CFS “is inefficient and borderline undemocratic,” and “does not adequately represent the students of the University of Toronto.” 

“[We] believe there are merits to a broad national student union, principles of good and responsible government dictates that we should continue to critically examine our relationships with this broader movement,” Spagnuolo and Campbell said. “The first responsibility of this union must be to its membership.”   

“The University of Toronto [Students’ Union] pays over $700,000 into this bureaucratic, staff-focused union structured from the top-down rather than from the bottom. We created this motion because we believe that there should be a committee to examine the relationship between the UTSU and the CFS. We have found many documented instances of the undemocratic behaviour of the CFS and student politicians over the CFS slate.”   

Members were divided on the topic and heated debate followed. Abdulla Omari, a UTSU director representing UTM, commented on the UTSU’s relationship with the CFS. 

“We look at it as a body that’s being overbearing, controlling, but again how does one make a national union with, I believe, over 100 members, and so many thousands of [individual] members — how does one keep all that working?” said Omari. “You can’t keep that working with a low pressure of control. I think it comes down to the fact that, when you’re looking at this, it’s your decision to leave if you want.” 

Elaborating on their earlier statements, Spagnuolo and Campbell remarked that the CFS’ governance structure and policies restrict access to democracy.   

“Students wishing to leave the CFS would need to collect 10,000 signatures on top of our stressful academics and student life, just to express what should be a basic democratic right,” they said.

They concluded by suggesting U of T students to try to get involved in their elected student body to hold them accountable where they see fit, and investigate where their fees go.