Op-ed: Students should counter concerns with the CFS and other student unions with dedicated action

We must unite to resist corruption in student governance

Op-ed: Students should counter concerns with the CFS and other student unions with dedicated action

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) has become more powerful through its close affiliation with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and its Ontario component. Allegations regarding the close connections between UTMSU elected students, employees, and the CFS have been detrimental to the union’s operations and are characteristic of the anti-CFS student movement.

Former Simon Fraser University student Titus Gregory’s essay “Solidarity for Their Own Good: Self-Determination and the Canadian Federation of Students,” published in 2010, is a work that still informs the anti-CFS movement today. Gregory argues, albeit amid critiques by a CFS legal counsel that are included in the document, that the CFS and its member locals are controlled by unelected, non-student staff members who ultimately undermine student democracy.

While Gregory’s argument cannot be proven with certainty, it portrays democracy in Canadian student government as a mere illusion where students’ ability to use their democratic voice is set up to fail — a situation which students should seek to ameliorate and prevent.

While such an argument can be useful in designing policy measures to avoid domination by unelected, non-student actors, in excess it can lead to nihilism and despair. This hopelessness is mirrored in the perception that the only recourse is through costly legal action, as opposed to student government democracy.

A way forward is to gather and report on evidence to test whether perceived cliques within the UTMSU are contributing to severe issues with union democracy. This would not only need to be done through student journalism, but also by a movement of students actively pushing for democratic reforms on a multi-year basis.

If there is indeed a regime in UTMSU that has been in power for years, the institutional knowledge they would have accumulated over their tenures would allow them to run circles around lone students or short-term slates.

For instance, take the case of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Resistance, a coalition of student groups that was dedicated to opposing corruption in the SFUO until the SFUO’s dismantlement and replacement by the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) through a student referendum in 2019.

It took University of Ottawa students four years to stop SFUO corruption, and in the end the university administration stepped in and organized the deciding referendum instead of having it run by the SFUO’s democratic processes.

Post-SFUO, the UOSU now finds itself with a considerable amount of independence, with its constitution sporting a clause that makes it very difficult to enter into an agreement that cannot be terminated by a vote of its board of directors. This would include a referendum to join the CFS.

If UTMSU students take action and confirm that the UTMSU’s membership in the CFS is contributing to the union’s democratic issues, they can start to seek separation, as daunting as such a campaign may seem.

If issues like those with the SFUO are found in the UTMSU, improving the situation could also take years. However, the case of the SFUO shows that change is possible.

As a witness of and participant in what I would now term as the “UOSU Revolution,” I would say that spending years advocating for improvements to student union democracy is worth it.

Even if the reforms are not enacted before you graduate, if you have a group of students striving for change year after year, you can pass on the knowledge you have gained so your successors have a solid foundation for organizing. The same goes for students in any of the University of Toronto’s student governments.

Organize collectively, resist, and do not be afraid.

Justin Patrick recently graduated with a Master of Political Science from UTSG. He served as the Internal Commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union from January to April 2019. He was a Governance and Policy Analyst at the University of Toronto Students’ Union from June to September 2019.

Divisional court strikes down Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative

YFS, CFS–O, UTGSU win legal challenge against postsecondary ministry

Divisional court strikes down Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative

In a unanimous decision, the Divisional Court of Ontario ruled in favour of student groups in a legal challenge over the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — a directive from the province’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) that allowed students to opt out of certain incidental fees. The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) announced today that its legal challenge of the SCI was successful, deeming the mandate unlawful.

In its application for judicial review, filed on May 24, the CFS–O and the York Federation of Students (YFS) claim that the MTCU breached the legal principles of procedural fairness and natural justice by failing to meaningfully consult student groups on the SCI. 

The YFS and the CFS–O, represented by Goldblatt Partners LLP, and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) as an intervenor, represented by Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, argued in front of the Divisional Court in October that the ministry was overstepping its authority in its implementation of the SCI and alleged that the initiative was specifically designed to target student associations.

The CFS–O also released a statement, saying: “Today the Ontario Divisional Court has confirmed what students already knew: The Student Choice Initiative is unlawful, and the Ford government acted beyond their authority.” Kayla Weiler, Ontario representative of the CFS, continues: “Doug Ford’s attempt to wipe out students’ unions under the guise of giving students ‘choice’ has been exposed for what it really was: an attempt to silence his opposition.”

The Varsity has reached out to the MTCU for comment.

This story is developing, more to come. 

Editor’s Note (November 21, 7:24pm): This article has been updated to reflect the UTGSU’s role and representation in the legal challenge, and the Ontario CFS’ statement.

UTSU AGM 2019: Opt-out rates and finances, mental health, CFS

Union announces average fall semester opt-out rate of 23.6 per cent for non-essential UTSU fees

UTSU AGM 2019: Opt-out rates and finances, mental health, CFS

“As of right now, the [University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)] is performing stronger than ever,” said UTSU President Joshua Bowman at its 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30 at the Innis Town Hall. During his presidential address, Bowman listed out achievements, like the First Year Council and the union’s various lobbying efforts. 

However, the conversation at this year’s AGM centred on other matters: UTSU finances in the wake of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI); student mental health; and leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

UTSU finances, clubs, and the SCI

Under the SCI — the provincial mandate to Ontario universities and colleges to provide an opt-out option for certain incidental fees — a portion of the UTSU’s fees were deemed “non-essential,” while others remained mandatory for all members of the union.

In his presidential address, Bowman unveiled the fall semester opt-out rates for the non-essential UTSU fees:

The Advocacy, Training and Development fund, which has a fee of $0.19, saw an opt-out rate of 21.9 per cent.

Bikechain, a non-profit cycling organization with a $0.54 fee, saw an opt-out rate of 25.4 per cent.

The Blue Sky Solar Racing Car design team, which has a fee of $0.13, saw an opt-out rate of 27.1 per cent.

The CFS, which has a fee of $8.21, saw an opt-out rate of 26.6 per cent.

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 23.7 per cent.

The Centre for Women and Trans People, which has a fee of $1.50, saw an opt-out rate of 25 per cent.

The Cinema Studies Students’ Union, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 27.6 per cent, although it’s worth mentioning that the UTSU is not its only source of funding.

Dollars for Daycare, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 25.4 per cent.

Downtown Legal Services, which has a fee of $3.29, saw an opt-out rate of 19.4 per cent, though the UTSU is not its only source of income.

Food Security for Students, which has a fee of $0.15, saw an opt-out rate of 21.2 per cent.

Foster Parents Plan, which has a fee of $0.05, saw an opt-out rate of 24.4 per cent.

Health initiatives in Developing Countries, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 22.7 per cent.

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans people of the University of Toronto, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 25.8 per cent.

UTSU Orientation, which has a fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 22.7 per cent.

The scholarships and bursaries fee, which is $0.16, had an opt-out rate of 15.8 per cent.

The Sexual Education and Peer Counselling Centre, which has a fee of $0.25, saw an opt-out rate of 23.1 per cent.

The UTSU’s Clubs Funding and Resource Bank fund, which has a fee of $2.00, saw an opt-out rate of 20.9 per cent.

Students for Barrier-Free Access, which has a fee of $1.00, saw an opt-out rate of 23.7 per cent.

The University of Toronto Aerospace Team, which has a fee of $2.77, saw an opt-out rate of 27.1 per cent.

And finally, the University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network, which has an incidental fee of $0.50, saw an opt-out rate of 23.2 per cent.

The overall average opt-out rate was 23.6 per cent. Bowman told The Varsity that “any percentage of students opting out of our fees is… not great.”

During the executive Q&A session, Vice-President, Student Life Ameera Karim noted that two funding regimes had been added to the UTSU’s funding structure for campus organizations, including the abolition of automatic renewal of funding and a new semesterly funding application. Karim maintained that these changes were necessitated by the SCI.

Another point of contention arose around the UTSU’s guidelines for recognition and funding of clubs, with students questioning whether groups with ties to the Chinese government or anti-abortion student groups are eligible. While Karim’s answer indirectly referenced the fact that student groups that threaten student safety would not be recognized, Bowman — following a direct question from a student — clarified: “We will not recognize Students for Life.”

The UTSU’s operating budget

Former UTSU President Anne Boucher challenged the UTSU on its delay in posting an operating budget for the year. Bowman pointed to the SCI in response, emphasizing the lack of precedent and the resulting difficulties in financial planning. 

While a preliminary budget does exist, Bowman felt it wasn’t appropriate to post or approve a budget without knowing the UTSU’s opt-out rates. With the confirmation of the rates at the AGM, the budget will pass through the executive committee to be approved at the next UTSU Board of Directors meeting on November 17. 

Approximately 87 per cent of the UTSU’s budget was deemed essential under the provincial guidelines, with the remaining designated as non-essential. Bowman noted that the remaining non-essential budget is directed at “people-facing” initiatives, which indicates that those formulating the guidelines “don’t understand what campus life is all about.” 

Some substantial changes made in light of the SCI include cuts to club funding, student aid, and orientation. However, Bowman added that the UTSU would work to ensure that cuts to student aid would not impact those most reliant on the funds. 

Mental health concerns

In a discussion on the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, Bowman expressed his disappointment with the task force’s operations thus far. He further noted that its four student members have not been present at recent consultations with U of T community members.

Vice-President, Operations Arjun Kaul echoed this sentiment, commenting that “the mental health task force… has been extremely uncooperative” and has only reached out to the UTSU once. When questioned regarding whether the UTSU should develop a committee to hold the task force accountable to its mandate, Kaul asserted that the UTSU’s resources would be more effectively used toward new independent initiatives.

U of T Ombudsperson Dr. Ellen Hodnett’s comments at the October 24 Governing Council meeting — which defended the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP) and accused student activists of unfairly using campus deaths to criticize the policy — were raised repeatedly on the questioning floor. Campus groups, including the UTSU, have expressed outrage and called on Hodnett to issue a public apology. 

Kaul highlighted the lack of consultation involved in developing the UMLAP as well as the policy’s inappropriate nature: “I do believe that there are cases where it would be the student’s best interest to be removed from their studies, but it’s an inherently devoid-of-logic question to pair that with mental health.”

Questioning CFS membership

Vice-President, External Affairs Lucas Granger claimed that the UTSU executive team cannot initiate a referendum with union resources to leave the CFS, in response to a question from Ilya Bañares. Rather, that responsibility resides with student members. A petition to call on decertification must be signed by 15 per cent of the UTSU’s members in order for an exit referendum to occur.

Bowman told The Varsity that, speaking as an individual, if a member were to initiate such a referendum, he would be in support. 

With files from Hannah Carty and Andy Takagi

Disclosure: Ilya Bañares is The Varsity’s managing online editor and attended the AGM as a voting member.

Editor’s Note (November 12, 4:25 pm): This article has been updated to reflect that signatures from 15 per cent of the UTSU’s members, rather than 20 per cent, are needed for a referendum to leave the CFS to occur.

Court proceedings begin for lawsuit against Ontario government on SCI

CFS–Ontario, York student union argue SCI lacks legal basis, justices to give decision at later date

Court proceedings begin for lawsuit against Ontario government on SCI

Earlier today, the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the York Federation of Students (YFS) concluded the first hearing in their court proceedings against the Ontario government on the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), with the justices choosing to deliver a decision at a later date. The case launched against the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) argues that the government overstepped their authority by enacting the SCI.

The SCI requires Ontario postsecondary institutions to allow students the option to opt out of certain incidental fees that are deemed “non-essential.” At U of T, the CFS–O’s fees were deemed non-essential. 

The CFS–O and YFS launched their application in the Divisional Court, a branch of the Superior Court of Justice and the main judicial channel to review government action in Ontario. If this case fails to come to a final conclusion at this level of the judicial system, it can be appealed before the Court of Appeal of Ontario — with the next highest court being the Supreme Court of Canada.

In its application for judicial review, filed on May 24, the CFS–O and YFS claim that the MTCU breached the legal principles of procedural fairness and natural justice by failing to meaningfully consult student groups on the SCI. 

The Honourable Justices Harriet E. Sachs, David L. Corbett, and Lise G. Favreau heard the oral arguments of all parties involved in the legal battle; however, they chose to render a decision at a later date, possibly after the U of T winter opt-out period begins on November 1.

The applicants

Lawyers representing the CFS–O and YFS argued that the MTCU not only lacked the authority to impose the SCI on universities, but also alleged that the province intentionally structured the policy to target student associations. 

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union joined the legal challenge as interveners. Their representatives gave a brief supporting argument. 

In the midst of intense scrutiny from the judges, student groups asserted that the SCI interfered with the autonomy of universities. They asserted that the MTCU has no statutory authority to impose the SCI on agreements between the university and student groups — citing historical and legal precedent for the autonomy of universities and student unions.

The Minister’s operational jurisdiction is set out in the MTCU Act, the content of which CFS–O and YFS claim provides no authority for the province, specifically Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet, to force universities to comply with the SCI. 

In addition to a host of concerns about the way the SCI has changed the funding and future operations of student associations, these groups see Ford as having a personal animus against them. In a fundraising letter sent to Progressive Conservative party supporters, Ford wrote that student unions are engaged in “crazy Marxist nonsense.” While there was some debate about the admissibility of Ford’s campaign letter, the court decided to hear all arguments first.

The applicants point to the letter as evidence that the SCI isn’t truly aiming to give students a choice, but rather to “marginalize and silence student groups which are perceived as critics of the governing party,” as they wrote in their application for judicial review.

The respondents

Lawyers representing the MTCU argued that the SCI is about promoting choice. The respondents also noted that the SCI is reflective of the overarching policy of this provincial government which deals with “affordability, accountability, … transparency, … autonomy, and freedom of choice.”

Addressing whether the SCI constitutes an overextension of power, the respondents said that the government is “interested in making the postsecondary experience affordable for everyone,” and that they are entitled to a degree of influence over these institutions.

The respondents faced a slew of questions from the bench, including an inquiry into why the government would present the SCI as a tool to promote affordability while simultaneously cutting student aid and reducing funding for organizations that defend student accessibility, “all in the name of financial accessibility for students.”

The respondents further explained that the SCI focuses on incidental fees itself, not on the specific student associations. This was in response to the applicants’ assertion that the categorization of essential and non-essential fees was arbitrary and unfairly targeted toward student associations. They also noted that some student association fees may be declared essential, and that the government did provide notice to student organizations. 

The government’s counsel claimed that notice was given to student organizations regarding the SCI on January 17 and that a period of questions and answers followed this notice.

In closing remarks, the applicants responded that January 17 was the same day the SCI was announced to the public and that the memo to student associations merely asked if groups had any questions regarding the policy. 

B’nai Brith Canada, an organization committed to “defend[ing] the State of Israel…[and] combatting antisemitism,” according to their website, supported the respondents in the hearing. They believe that the SCI is “measured” and “balanced.”

The organization has been an outspoken critic of the CFS for its endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a campaign that calls for sanctions against Israel in response to alleged human rights abuses in Palestine.

Responses to the Hearing

The Varsity caught up with Kayla Weiler, National Executive Representative for the CFS–O, to ask about how a delayed judicial decision might affect campuses, especially as student associations may have to contend with another semester of reduced funding. 

Weiler said that in regards to the fall semester’s opt-out period, “there was still a lot of confusion between administration, student unions, student organizations, and the students as their members… I think we’re going to see more of that happen in the winter semester.”

The MTCU wrote to The Varsity that since the courts have not issued their ruling it would be inappropriate for them to comment at this time.

The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.

The story is developing, more to come.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata elected Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson

Plans to put pressure on governments, move away from lobbying

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata elected Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson

Current University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President Felipe Nagata has been elected to be the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) chairperson beginning on June 1. He will be replacing CFS–O chairperson Nour Alideeb, who has held this position for two consecutive terms and was also a former UTMSU president during the 2016–2017 school year.

In this election, registered delegates were sent on behalf of each local to vote, with one local counting as one vote. Nagata ran uncontested for the position.

Nagata told The Varsity in an email that he plans to “unite students across the province” and pressure local and federal governments to “prioritize education.”

“Building capacity and bringing students together will be crucial in the fight for a more accessible post secondary education because it will be more efficient and impactful with one unified voice. There are many ways to do this like sending letters to local MPPs and rallying students to skills development and coalition building,” wrote Nagata.

Nagata’s election comes at a hectic time in Ontario student politics, with the Ford government’s controversial decision to cut tuition by 10 per cent, cut student grants, and add opt-out options to formerly mandatory non-tuition fees.

With the Ford government in power, Nagata plans to scale back on government lobbying, especially with a government that he sees as having little concern for student input.

“I want to spend the next year supporting students in developing a mobilization strategy. With the help of student unions and other groups on campus, we can focus on educating and mobilizing to create a sense of unity for the scary times we have ahead.”

Aside from the provincial government, Nagata also has his eye on the upcoming federal election.

“I want to make sure that every party has education on their platform. I wish to partake in a campaign to increase not only the student voter turn-out but also voter literacy.”

Nagata called this “an essential piece” in showing the government that students “have a weight and voice.”

Alideeb, the current CFS–O chairperson, is graduating from U of T this year but plans to continue her life in student politics.

“Even though I’m graduating and I won’t be an elected representative anymore, I’m still going to fight for a free and accessible post-secondary education,” she wrote to The Varsity.

“Especially with the recent government announcement, I feel like it’s my responsibility as a prospective graduate student, older sibling and citizen to continue this work. So where it will take me, I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited about this new chapter in my life.”

The Breakdown: A look into the Canadian Federation of Students’ National General Meeting agenda

NGM to address mental health, Israel-Palestine conflict, budgetary concerns

The Breakdown: A look into the Canadian Federation of Students’ National General Meeting agenda

Motions from the National Executives and various student unions are on the agenda for the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) 37th National General Meeting (NGM) on November 16.

The CFS represents 64 postsecondary student unions across Canada, including five at U of T: the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Scarborough Campus Student Union, the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, and the Graduate Students’ Union.

The organization’s goals are to lobby for university and college students at the provincial and federal level and to create accessible postsecondary education.

The organization has a marred history with the UTSU — in 2017, half of the union’s executives signed a statement supporting decertification from the CFS. Following that, last year’s UTSU hired students in a campaign to hold a referendum on membership in the federation. The current UTSU executive team was also elected on a platform supporting a referendum on membership.

Aftermath of BC unions expulsions

After expelling 12 student unions from British Columbia in June over a membership fees disagreement, a motion by the National Executives seeks to submit budget amendments and to hold a smaller June NGM. The proposed NGM would be a two-day meeting with a maximum of one delegate registration per local. Recent NGMs occurred across four days with multiple delegate registration/s per local.

The motion cite the expulsion of the BC unions as the cause of a “new financial reality.”

In addition to the fact that the June NGM plenary adopted a budget with expenses for only one general meeting, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act also prohibits the exclusion of the June NGM leading the National Executives to seek such changes.

Another special motion seeks to change the bylaws to allow for the election of constituency representatives at the upcoming NGM.

Adding votes

A motion from the College of the North Atlantic Students’ Union (CNASU) proposes splitting up the union’s one vote into four, citing the fact that it has 17 campuses each with different “needs and views.”

The votes would be given to Eastern CNASU, Central CNASU, Western CNASU, and Labrador CNASU.

They point to examples of other schools in Newfoundland and Labrador doing this as precedence.

$1,000 to political podcast

In a motion proposed by the now-expelled Selkirk College Students’ Union and the UTMSU, the CFS would donate $1,000 to a podcast co-hosted by Nora Loreto.

Loreto, as mentioned in the motion, made controversial tweets following the deaths of Humboldt Bronco hockey players in April.

The motion reads, “Without questioning the tragedy of the death of the amateur hockey players or the support for their families, independent journalist and former Federation activist Nora Loreto made an arguably innocuous comment about the radicalized, gendered nature of grief.”

The motion further gives the “highly sophisticated political attack due to her straight forward assessment of the nature of public discourse regarding grief” as reasoning for the $1,000 donation.

The Sandy & Nora Talk Politics podcast is co-hosted by Sandra Hudson, the former UTSU Executive Director who settled a lawsuit with the union last year.

Mental health policies

A motion submitted by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design calls for the CFS to adopt a policy that supports the provision and funding of mental health services for students by universities. The motion specifically opposes any institution’s use of a mandatory leave of absence policy, particularly ones that would force students to leave residence.   

Since June, U of T has implemented a controversial mandated leave of absence policy that places students on a non-punitive leave if their mental health is deemed to be negatively affecting their grades, or is considered a danger to themselves or others.

Condemnation of the occupation of Palestine

Citing university institutions that invest in weapons manufacturers supporting what it calls “War Crimes globally and within Israel,” the York Federation of Students submitted a motion for the CFS to oppose the “ongoing occupation of Palestine.”

The motion calls for the CFS to support “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions [campaigns].”

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

UTSU reveals Student Commons opening delayed again to April 2019

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

Students took full advantage of a question period at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting, asking the executives about topics ranging from the operations of the Student Commons to the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Immediately prior to question period, UTSU President Anne Boucher delivered her presidential address. Boucher reflected on the tumultuous relationship the union has had with its constituency in the past, citing, in particular, how 95 per cent of engineering students voted to leave the UTSU in 2013.

She stressed that the UTSU is focused on building strong financial relationships and wants “to be the best UTSU possible in absolute terms rather than relative ones.”

Following Boucher’s address, the floor was opened up to questions from members.

Canadian Federation of Students

Joshua Bowman, Academic Director for Social Sciences, asked about the executives’ campaign promise to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student association representing over 70 post-secondary student associations across the country.

Boucher said that, through her personal experience with the CFS, she feels that there is no room for internal change in the organization. In the past, she has been a strong supporter of leaving the CFS.

In response to another question from Bowman about You Decide — a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the CFS — Boucher stated that the UTSU is not actively collecting signatures for a referendum, and added that any petitions are independent of the UTSU.

Student Commons

In one of the more notable parts of the AGM, Vice President, Operations Tyler Biswurm revealed that the opening date for the Student Commons has been pushed back — again — from January 2019 to April 2019.

The Students Commons is a proposed student-run centre at UTSG that is 11 years in the making. The building was originally scheduled to open in September 2018 but was delayed to January 2019 over the summer.

Biswurm gave similar reasons for this delay as he did for the last one, saying that the building’s age as well as contracting complications have caused problems in the renovation process.

On this point, member Tom Yun asked about reports that The Newspaper, an independent campus publication, had been denied office space in the Commons.

Former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel responded that despite covering issues relating to U of T, The Newspaper does not have status within the university. As such, the UTSU made the decision to prioritize U of T clubs.

Boucher assured the union’s membership that other student groups that were promised space in the Student Commons were told about the delay and have spaces elsewhere until the opening.

Other questions

New College Student Council President Madison Hönig raised a concern about a lack of preparedness during orientation, specifically regarding students’ access to water.

Hönig said that the UTSU did not provide a sufficient supply of water to students, which posed a health problem on Parade Day, as it was especially hot.

In response, UTSU Vice President, Student Life Yolanda Alfaro acknowledged that they were not prepared for the extreme heat. Alfaro stated that more needed to be done in creating contingency plans for unexpected events like weather.

Following that, Arts and Science Students’ Union President Haseeb Hassaan asked about who was taking on the responsibilities of the UTSU’s General Manager (GM) position, which has been vacant since mid-July.

Boucher responded that the union has brought in Memmel to help with financial management while the UTSU searches for a new GM, which they hope to have by mid-November.

Explaining the rationale behind Memmel’s hire, Boucher acknowledged that “people tend to jump to certain conspiracies,” but that “when you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization… it’s a good resource to have.”

“It’s unfair to assume that having a presence of someone who has been a past executive would be something that is worth discussing,” she added.

With regard to the empty GM position, 2018 UTSU Junior Orientation Coordinator Dhvani Ramanujam asked about who was handling the union’s human resources concerns. When Biswurm responded that he and Boucher were filling the role, Ramanujam asked if it was a conflict of interest that the person who handles paycheques also handles complaints.

Biswurm responded that he did not think it was a conflict of interest. He said he believes it is the “default arrangement” in other employment contexts, as “the boss telling you how to do your job is also the person who signs your cheques.”

However, Biswurm acknowledged that there were gaps that he and Boucher could not fill, which is why the UTSU is aiming to hire a GM soon.

Near the end of the question period, a student asked the executives if they would endorse a college for the U of T Memes for True 🅱lue Teens meme bracket, a competition in a Facebook group that is pitting the university’s colleges and faculties against each other.

Boucher responded that while “there is not an official UTSU take on the war going on… my heart is in engineering.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

 

Disclosure: Tom Yun is The Varsity’s former Managing Online Editor (2017–2018) and News Editor (2016–2017).

 

Editor’s Note (December 13, 5:18 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Boucher about the UTSU being the best in absolute terms rather than relative ones.

Canadian Federation of Students’ closing plenary debates hidden bank account, U of T mandatory leave policy

Meeting declines to release full audit report, condemns mandated leave

Canadian Federation of Students’ closing plenary debates hidden bank account, U of T mandatory leave policy

The Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National General Meeting (NGM) on June 9–12 ended with a six-hour closing plenary that succeeded in going through a two-year backlog of motions. During the plenary, members voted against releasing an audit report, rejected online voting, and passed a motion to condemn the proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy at U of T.

The CFS is a national student organization that represents almost 80 member local student unions across Canada, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students at the University of Toronto (APUS). Its goals are to lobby for accessible postsecondary education and advance student interests.

Indigenous perspectives

Prior to the plenary, Phyllis McKenna — a delegate from the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) and Chair of the Circle of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Students at the CFS — criticized the lack of Indigenous students at the Federation. McKenna called on the CFS to “do better,” saying that “silence is violence. We all know that.”

CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah told The Varsity afterward that he is “fully in support” of McKenna’s statements.

“I think the CFS isn’t perfect. That being said, we do a lot of great things, and I think we’re striving and recognizing some of our shortfalls, and that’s the kind of transparent organization that we’re fostering moving forward,” said Zachariah.

Budget review and audit of hidden bank account

The plenary included a report from the budget committee. CFS National Treasurer Peyton Veitch said that, during the committee meeting, delegates were able to take a look at the audited statements and the budget for the upcoming year. Of note in the report was that student unions voted to reduce the number of meetings from twice to once yearly.

Also on the agenda was a contentious motion regarding details of a hidden bank account that was revealed by the CFS in 2014, but the details of which only emerged in 2017. A summary of the account showed that an unauthorized total of $263,052.80 in deposits and $262,776.13 in withdrawals were made between July 2010 and December 2014. The motion proposed releasing the full forensic review of the account.

During the discussion on the motion, Veitch said that if the report were released, confidentiality would not be guaranteed, even with an in camera session of the member locals. As such, releasing the full forensic review would open the federation up to litigation, according to Veitch.

Munib Sajjad, Executive Director of the UTMSU, said that Veitch had done a thorough job with the report and the handling of the hidden account, encouraging members to defeat the motion.

Soon after, the question was called and the motion failed.

“I think what members appreciate is the fact that the National Executive has done its due diligence to initiate a forensic review of the accounting question,” Veitch told The Varsity after the plenary. “The fact that individuals associated with that account are no longer employed by the federation and were held to account for their actions, and that a summary report of that forensic review has been made available to all members at the past several general meetings now.”

The summary of the forensic review discloses that there were five recipients of the unauthorized disbursements — “two of whom, are former employees of the Federation, a further individual, one law firm and a consulting company” — although the summary does not say who they are.

“I think people have been satisfied with that level of disclosure, recognizing that providing the forensic review report in full would actually put the federation in a position of legal liability,” added Veitch. “I think people are now ready to turn the page on that issue. They know that due diligence was done.”

Mandated leave of absence policy

One of the last items on the agenda was an emergency motion brought forth by the SCSU, asking members to condemn the proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy at U of T. SCSU Vice-President External Hana Syed spoke on the motion, mentioning that it had been signed on by all five CFS locals at U of T. Syed called the proposed policy “an infringement on human rights.”

Many other locals supported the motion, including the Mount Saint Vincent University Students’ Union and CESAR. During her speech, Amanda Lin, Vice-President Services and Finance of CESAR, passionately spoke against the proposed policy, saying, “I am my own person. I have autonomy. I know myself best.”

An amendment to the motion was also introduced, asking the National Executive to pen an open letter to the U of T administration to express their opposition to the policy, with space for member locals to sign on. Both the amendment and the motion itself passed.

Postmortem

Once the closing plenary had ended, CFS Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell told The Varsity that she believed that “it was a really productive decision-making space.”

“We saw delegates coming together, discussing motions, sharing diverse perspectives, and ultimately making decisions with a strong feeling that the majority of students felt represented,” she added.

Zachariah echoed Kiddell’s statements, saying that “this is one of the best meetings we’ve had in four years.”

UTSU delegate and former UTSU Vice-President Operations Daman Singh later told The Varsity, “I think it was the worst of the five experiences that I’ve had,” referring to previous NGMs he had attended.

Singh was particularly unhappy with the fact that the question was called on “almost every substantial motion.”

According to the rules of order that govern CFS meetings, calling the question can be done by any member at any time during the debate, and it means that members must immediately vote on whether they want to end the debate and vote on the motion.

All of the calls to question passed because, according to Singh, “There are so few schools left after BC was expelled that are actively seeking reform.”

In response to dissatisfaction expressed by members like Singh, Veitch said that “in a democratic organization, people disagree about the outcome of decisions. That’s fine. That’s why we have the structure that we do. It allows for people to express their disagreement or their support for motions in a productive way.”

“I think it’s a very convenient argument when you’re on the winning side to say, well, we have 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the votes — this is just democracy,” responded Singh. “I don’t think the Federation leadership actually believes that. I think that’s a clever talking point; I think it’s a sexy talking point, but I don’t think that coincides with their beliefs, and if it does, that’s kind of disappointing.”

The Varsity has reached out to the APUS, SCSU, UTGSU, and UTMSU for comment.