Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

Executives report on mental health advocacy, freeze honoraria in anticipation of funding cuts

Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

An investigatory committee was commissioned by the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to evaluate the integrity of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA) elections, during a UTGSU General Council meeting on April 23.

The committee’s mandate is to assess whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution, following the alleged firing of its Chief Returning Officer (CRO), according to a GSU member at the meeting. The CRO is responsible for overseeing elections.

Five council members volunteered to join the committee, which is authorized to assess the possible constitutional violation until June 1.

According to a UTGSU representative who spoke at the meeting, the committee lacks the power to compel testimony through subpoena. However, it does have the ability to interview witnesses willing to testify, review meeting minutes of the OISE GSA, and present an assessment to the Council on whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution.

In an email to The Varsity, the OISE GSA Executive wrote that they “never had doubts about the integrity of following the elections process as outlined by [their] Constitution.”

The Executive noted that their elections had not begun by the time of the General Council meeting when these allegations of election fraud were brought forward, and that they are following regulations set by its Constitution to “re-set the Elections process.”

The UTGSU Executive Committee verified that the committee was struck before having a chance to “invite and receive a statement by the [OISE GSA] Executive and Council,” but also wrote that it believed it would be “inappropriate for the UTGSU Executive to ask the OISE GSA for a statement prior to the striking of the committee, as this would have constituted the beginning of an investigation.”

UTGSU executives also report on advocacy work towards expanding mental health services

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal also reported on work by the executive team on responding to U of T’s mental health crisis.

Jaimungal spoke on the launch of the first webpage specific for U of T graduate students to access mental health resources, which has received 5,000 visits so far. She also reported on the addition of a graduate-specific accessibility counselor at the School of Graduate Studies, as well as the expansion of a bursary to allow part-time professional students access to U of T gyms over the summer.

UTGSU executives further vote to freeze honoraria increases, following cuts due to Student Choice Initiative

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto also introduced a motion drafted by the executives to freeze their own honoraria.

Rizzuto explained that the executive honoraria has been tied to a CUPE 3902, Unit 1 Collective Agreement, which has caused the executive honoraria to rise with increases of Teaching Assistant wages. CUPE 3902 is a union for U of T education workers.

The honoraria were slated to increase by two per cent the following year. However, in anticipation of funding cuts to the UTGSU as a result of the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative, the executives introduced the motion to cancel the raise and freeze their honoraria.

The motion passed in a vote by members of the General Council.

UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Censure resulted from alleged violation of equity statement

UTGSU Council member censured following discussion on mental health

Tensions flared regarding mental health services and infringements of decorum during a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council meeting on March 26. What began as a discussion on the UTGSU’s Health and Dental Plan resulted in the official censure of a student union representative.

Debate on mental health occurs during discussion on approval of Health and Dental Plan

As the UTGSU began proceedings to approve their new Health and Dental Plan, Ben Hjorth, a proxy representative for the Comparative Literature Student Union, moved to delay the confirmation. He hoped that delaying the plan’s approval would give the union more time to lobby for the expansion of mental health services coverage.

The current UTGSU insurance plan provides $500 per year of coverage for mental health services administered by psychologists, licensed psychotherapists, or counselors with a master’s degree in social work.

Hjorth said that the provided coverage for mental health services was inadequate, so he recommended that the union delay the approval of the insurance plan. He believed this would be an effective way to leverage U of T administration and thus allow the union to expand mental health coverage in the plan.

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto spoke strongly against delaying the plan’s approval, saying that he did not believe that tabling the motion would be “the most efficient way to put pressure on the university.”

Rizzuto also said that a delay may put the insurance plan at risk, since it could result in prolonged negotiations with the U of T administration. This could ultimately lead to the insurance plan failing to be passed by the end of U of T’s governing cycle.

“What you’re asking for is basically to restart what we’ve done this year,” said Rizzuto.

In an email to The Varsity, the Executive Committee, which includes Rizzuto, wrote that it has seen increased claims through the Health and Dental Plan over the last three years, resulting in increased premiums. The Committee went on to write that the “burden of [expanding] mental health resources for students lies with University of Toronto administration and should not be met by increasing out of pocket costs for our members.”

“We agree that current access to mental health resources for U of T graduate students is inadequate, but [we] do not believe that the solution to this problem is to increase the Health and Dental Plan premiums and subsequently force larger fees on already financially impoverished graduate students.”

The Committee declined to comment in response to a request by The Varsity for justification for the claim that delaying approval of the plan would endanger the following year’s coverage.

The General Council ultimately voted to approve the Health and Dental plan, voting down Hjorth’s motion to table the plan’s approval.

UTGSU General Council member later censured for alleged equity statement violation

During the discussion on delaying the approval of the insurance plan, Hjorth spoke out of turn multiple times. These incidents violated Bourinot’s Rules of Order, which govern UTGSU General Council meetings.

Hjorth specifically interrupted Rizzuto with an out-of-order objection while Rizzuto was explaining his belief that delaying the approval of the insurance plan would risk the plan entirely.

Later, Hjorth requested to make a “point of order.” The Chair did not immediately address Hjorth’s point. In response, Hjorth sharply asked whether the Chair was purposefully ignoring him. The Chair then requested Hjorth to respect decorum.

Hjorth’s responses prompted an executive to request Hjorth to be conscious of his tone of voice when addressing the UTGSU’s staff. Hjorth said loudly that this was “not a point of order.” The executive agreed that this was a point of privilege, then repeated her request for Hjorth to settle down.

At the end of the meeting, after Hjorth had left, Internal Commissioner-elect Adam Hill moved to officially censure Hjorth, noting Hjorth’s alleged misconduct in the minutes.

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal added that she believed Hjorth’s actions were in violation of the meeting’s equity statement, since they were out of decorum and infringed on members’ abilities to speak in an inclusive environment.

The UTGSU Executive Committee, which includes Jaimungal, declined to comment on a question by The Varsity on what specific parts of the equity statement Hjorth violated.

Jaimungal recommended to the Chair that should future violations occur, Hjorth should be “asked to leave immediately.”

Addressing his censure, Hjorth wrote to The Varsity, “I will admit that these discussions got heated at times, but tone-policing should always raise at least an eyebrow, particularly when it is lead by those who have been called out.”

He further wrote that he believed discussion on his censure acted as a distraction from addressing the union’s limited mental health coverage in its insurance plan.

Hjorth added that the intention behind his actions was to hold UTGSU representatives accountable “for what they do as much as for what they fail to do.” He continued, “I’ll try to do it a little more politely, so that we can stop having these kinds of petty discussions and move on to debating what’s really important.”

Graduate Students’ Union elects new Internal Commissioner, grants temporary unconditional media access

Approval of draft financial statements proves contentious, quorum for special meeting lowered

Graduate Students’ Union elects new Internal Commissioner, grants temporary unconditional media access

Media access and the organization’s financial transparency were major topics of discussion at the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s (UTGSU) General Council meeting on January 22.

Political Science student appointed new Internal Commissioner

The General Council voted to elect Justin Patrick, a first-year master’s candidate in the Department of Political Science, as the UTGSU’s new Internal Commissioner (IC). The move comes after the previous IC, Lynne Alexandrova, was pushed out of office at a November 26 council meeting. The Executive Committee alleged that she had not been fulfilling her duties.

According to UTGSU executives, Alexandrova did not circulate a report on her ongoing activities before an executive meeting on October 16, in contradiction of the organization’s bylaws. Alexandrova told The Varsitylast year that she had released her report before the November 15 meeting.

Following Alexandrova’s removal, UTGSU Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras was appointed interim IC until the January by-election. Barras also served as the chair of the January 22 meeting, following the resignation of previous chair Evan Rosevear due to academic commitments.

Patrick ran against Nicholas Lindsay, a first-year master’s student in the Faculty of Information. Following short speeches, in which Lindsay promised to support the incumbent executives, and Patrick campaigned on making “sure the students see us as legitimate,” the initial vote resulted in a tie. After a re-vote was conducted, Patrick was announced the winner.

Earlier in the meeting, UTGSU executives read a statement on recent events involving Alexandrova. The executives alleged that Alexandrova continued to use office keys to access resources and engage in “confrontation” with student union staff members, despite having been removed from office. Furthermore, they alleged that Alexandrova had contacted a law firm asking to procure its services, and that they felt it was their “fiduciary duty” to inform the General Council of this, although no charges were incurred as the law firm contacted the UTGSU for verification.

In response, Alexandrova said she had returned the keys “very, very gently” after the November 26 council meeting and had emailed people to inform them of the change in office. Alexandrova asked executives for more details on the alleged “confrontation,” but staff members declined to comment in public because it was a human resources issue. Alexandrova said that the only person she recalled encountering in the office was UTGSU Executive Director David Eaton, but she was cut off by the speaker and executives after this statement.

General Council votes to grant media temporary unconditional access to meetings

Media policy was another major point of discussion at the council meeting. Although it was a separate agenda item, it became a topic of debate at the start of the meeting because members of The Varsity had to be seated by the meeting’s chair, then granted speaking rights by the council.

Separate motions were also passed to allow The Varsity to photograph and live tweet the events of the meeting, both of which were subject to debate.

This comes after Varsity reporters were kicked out of the UTGSU’s December General Council meeting for live tweeting the events of the meeting at the direction of their editors, contradicting a ruling from the chair against live tweeting.

The Varsity was granted permission to photograph the events of the evening, as long as members present were able to opt out of having their image published. Debate on photography touched on whether or not members of the Executive Committee are considered public officials. Although members of the Executive Committee are elected by the membership of the UTGSU, which comprises around 18,000 students, the union is a private corporation.

The General Council was presented with eight options for a media policy, each proposing varying degrees of access to UTGSU meetings.

There was also the potential of including punitive measures in the media policy, which would ban individual representatives of a media organization, or the media organization itself, for a period of one year, should they violate the terms of the media policy.

The Varsity’s Editor-in-Chief, Jack Denton, along with other General Council members, spoke in favour of the unconditional access option, noting that The Varsity has systems in place for adjudicating complaints about its coverage should they arise.

After debate, a motion was passed to recommend the unconditional access policy for further development by the union, and for this recommendation to temporarily govern media access at the next General Council meeting on February 26.

After failed AGM, council changes quorum for special meeting

Another item on the agenda was a bylaw amendment that would reduce the quorum for a special meeting of the union.

The UTGSU is required to hold a special meeting to present its draft financial statements for the 2017–2018 fiscal year to its membership, following a failure to do so at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 3. Statements were also not made available to the membership with the proper notice of 13 days prior to the meeting.

In a “letter of accountability” published on December 6, the Executive Committee stated, “Due to the reallocation of duties among the UTGSU’s Executive and Staff in the weeks leading up to the AGM, gaps in oversight created failures in upholding our responsibilities to the General Membership, and we hold ourselves directly accountable.”

During the General Council meeting immediately following the December 3 AGM, Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto had said that the failure put the student union at risk of defaulting to the university. The executives have since confirmed that the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has accepted the 2017–2018 financial audit. Rizzuto said at the January 22 meeting that although there will be no financial impact if the union does not present its financial statements to the membership, it will be doing so at the special meeting in order to avoid contravening its own bylaws.

The proposed amendment would have reduced the number of members necessary to hold a special meeting from 300 members to 100, the same as the quorum for AGMs. The motion was amended to change the number from 100 members to 150, and was then passed.

Disclosure: Justin Patrick has previously written for The Varsity.

No functionality without accountability

The UTGSU suffers from insider culture, financial mismanagement, and hostility with the media

No functionality without accountability

At the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Executive Committee election for the 2018–2019 academic year, Internal Commissioner-elect Lynne Alexandrova expressed that her priority was “building together a top-level policy-guided and funding guaranteed mutually supportive tri-campus community.”

This commitment, in line with the UTGSU’s broader mandate to “advocate for increased graduate student representation and act as a voice for students,” has been unsuccessful. Made conspicuous at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) last month, the UTGSU is an increasingly unaccountable and inefficient organization.

A culture of insiders

For several years, the UTGSU has been under the control of a small circle of stubborn insiders. While not illegitimate, their democratic mandate is shaky. During the 2018 Executive Committee election, only two out of six positions were contested and several incumbents remained in their positions. This shows an unengaged and apathetic electorate.

As I have discussed before, lack of participation is a problem that faces all student governments. However, unlike the UTGSU, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, for all of its shortcomings, can at least conduct competitive elections, and has executive turnovers and productive meetings.

Alexandrova was removed from her position in late November by the UTGSU General Council after her office was vacated. Although her statements should be taken with a grain of salt, Alexandrova suggested that her removal corresponded with a culture that, as a Varsity article notes, “supported returning executives without room for outside or ‘different’ perspectives.”

Regardless of the substance of these allegations, this demonstrates an executive that, although not necessarily self-serving, avoids internal criticism and new ways of thinking. The problem, however, is that these governance principles are clearly broken. The lack of student involvement enables an environment that allows the executive to get away with not being entirely accountable, despite not being secretive. This has produced a broken and poorly managed organization, expressed most starkly through its financial situation.

Financial mismanagement

The issue does not stem from debt or threat of bankruptcy, but a failure to provide a draft report of financial statements to its members in time for the AGM. This led to a failure to pass the statements, leaving the union at risk of financial default. Although it is not entirely clear why or how this could have occurred, the situation reflects a sense of tiredness within the organization, such that it cannot provide robust and efficient internal functionality. Avoiding financial default should be one of the top priorities for any representative organization.

In addition to mismanagement, the UTGSU appears to lack democratic transparency and legitimacy. Members were unable to see, evaluate, and express their viewpoints on how their association spends their money.

The AGM subsequently lost any sense of productivity. It was reduced to logistics and, as a result, many of the attendees gave up, expressing a profound level of frustration. The meeting lost quorum and was adjourned with very little having been done and the organization’s future in question.

Lack of external accountability

The adjourned AGM gave way to the General Council meeting. The organization has also seemingly hid from external transparency there: the presence of the student press at both the AGM and the General Council proved contentious. Reporters from The Varsity, who were there to cover the meetings, were barred from taking photos or live-tweeting the event. Under the direction of editors, the reporters live-tweeted anyway. When discovered, The Varsity’s reporters were asked to leave, meaning that the outcomes of the General Council meeting, including the future of the organization, are left unclear to the public.

In some cases, sensitive information can justify confidentiality, which could have informed the union’s decision on this matter. However, this cannot be said for the AGM. The AGM acts primarily as the way in which the executive maintains a link of accountability to the people it represents, who themselves can communicate their will for the organization’s decisions.

The media, while not necessarily a ‘member’ in the strict sense, plays a crucial part in this process. The unconditional reporting of the student press is an established custom of student union meetings, and disregard for it suggests that there is something to hide from the public, especially when put in connection with other issues of accountability at the union.

The need for new faces

For any representative institution, accountability is necessary to perform the function it has been tasked to do, otherwise, it will fail as an organization. The UTGSU has fallen into this trap and risks failing the students it ought to represent.

Together, an insider culture, an uncertain financial situation, and a strained relationship with student journalists point to a systematically unaccountable and broken dynamic — one that the current leadership does not seem willing to change.

The UTGSU needs a much more engaged electorate and democratic governing culture, which can be brought first and foremost through new faces in its leadership. This can be supplemented by regular and competitive elections to avoid another broken culture.

Sam Routley is a fourth-year Political Science, Philosophy, and History student. He is The Varsity’s UTSG Campus Politics Columnist.

Editor’s Note (January 14, 5:00 pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Alexandrova was removed from office at the UTGSU AGM; in fact, her office was vacated on November 26 by the General Council. A previous version of this article also stated that the union has not posted documents from its December meeting — this is because those documents must be ratified at the General Council meeting later this month.

Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

Alexandrova voted out of office, Executive-at-Large to take up duties until by-election

Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council pushed out Internal Commissioner (IC) Lynne Alexandrova at a meeting on November 26 after a vote to vacate the office of the IC.

The duties of the IC will be taken up by Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras until a by-election in January.

Citing Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws, the Executive Committee sent notice to Alexandrova that there were suspicions that she was not properly fulfilling her duties as Internal Commissioner in October.

In contradiction of the bylaws, Alexandrova did not circulate a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16, where the executive brought its concerns to her, although she told The Varsity that she had done so before the November 15 meeting. At the same October meeting, the Executive Committee resolved to hire a mediator to “address Executive Committee team dynamics and communication issues.”

A month later, at an executive meeting on November 15, Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto motioned on behalf of the Committee to hold an irregular meeting of the General Council on November 26, and to vote on the vacation of the IC position at that meeting, citing a failure of Alexandrova to fulfil her duties.

All members of the Executive Committee voted to pass the motion, except for Alexandrova who was absent due to an illness.

In an interview with The Varsity, Alexandrova contended that she was not given sufficient warning that this meeting would occur and did not have sufficient strength to “stand up to ungrounded anxieties causing confrontational measures.”

She believes that, had she attended the meeting, she might have stopped the Executive Committee from invoking Article 9.

The Executive Committee, in a statement to The Varsity, claimed that the decision to hold a vote on the IC’s office did not result from the explicit intention to vacate the office. Ultimately, the General Council and Board of Directors made the final decision on the matter.

Tensions had been growing between Alexandrova and other members of the Executive Committee for some time. Alexandrova alleged that she was ignored or avoided by other executives throughout her term and blamed a structural conflict between her own “pedagogical paradigm” and the existing culture among UTGSU executives as cause for the strained relationship — specifically, a culture that supported returning executives without room for outside or “different” perspectives.

Alexandrova claimed that the Executive Committee was out of order in using Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws to hold a vote on vacating her now former office because she was not properly notified that she was not fulfilling her duties.

The bylaws require that the executive accused be allowed a platform to address the rest of the Executive Committee, and while this occured at the October 16 executive meeting, Alexandrova contended that she was not clearly informed that the Executive Committee sought to address her performance as IC at this meeting.

While accused of failure to adequately perform her duties, Alexandrova wrote to The Varsity that she sought to add “some creative, content contribution… [to] encourage content discussion about what the Union’s leadership should be about, and the Union.”

She continued that she believes the vote to vacate her position is part of a larger deconstruction of the IC position that has been ongoing for years, and that the UTGSU “might reach a point where student-elected executives don’t matter” — this is in reference to what Alexandrova saw as encroachment of the staff members, including the Executive Director, on the duties of the IC and the “corporatization” of the UTGSU.

Editor’s note (December 3, 3:34 pm): This article originally stated that former UTGSU Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova circulated a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16 at which the executive brought its concerns to her. In fact, she did not. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s note (December 3, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated with additional context on the motion passed by the Executive Committee on November 15 to hold an additional meeting and vote on the vacation of the Internal Commissioner position on November 26.

Internal disagreements arise at UTGSU General Council meeting

Lynne Alexandrova removed as chair of committee, prevented from giving report

Internal disagreements arise at UTGSU General Council meeting

Tensions rose at a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council meeting on November 20 when Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova was prevented from giving a report on the Policy and Operations Committee. The reasoning given was that she had been removed as chair of the committee.

The General Council is the main governing body of the UTGSU, composed of representatives from each of the course unions that make up the union’s constituency. Consisting of seven commissioners, the Executive Committee is the executive governing body of the union, implementing policy and pursuing goals set by the council. The Internal Commissioner is usually the Chair of the Policy and Operations Committee.

During the meeting, Finance Commissioner Brandon Rizzuto pointed out that because Alexandrova is no longer chair, it would be out of order for her to present a report on the committee. The point was carried by the speaker of the meeting.

Alexandrova officially objected to the decision on the grounds of accessibility, saying that she had wished to continue her “experiment in student governance.”

Executive Director David Eaton addressed Alexandrova’s concerns, saying that another meeting to be held on November 26 would specifically discuss the vacancy of the Internal Commissioner position.

On the agenda for the irregular meeting next week are items “3. Executive Committee – Vacation of Internal Commissioner (in camera)” and “4. Executive Vacancy (contingent upon outcome of item 3).”

In a statement to The Varsity, Alexandrova expressed her passion for restructuring the UTGSU.

“[If] the proposed re-distribution of [Internal Commissioner] duties gets legalized by Council on Monday, that would legalize the [Internal Commissioner] position erosion for the past couple of years that I’ve tried to slow down as benevolently as possible.”

The council also voted to donate $1,000 to the OISE Decolonizing Conference, ratified Moses Cook as Vice-Chair of the Board of Appeals, and filled vacancies in the Elections and Referenda Committee, Women and Trans People Caucus, and Professional Graduate Student Caucus.

Candidate disqualified for UTGSU elections

Ratification for internal commissioner results postponed to next meeting

Candidate disqualified for UTGSU elections

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) elections took place between March 8 and March 10; the report of the chief returning officer (CRO), Rajesh Sankat, was presented during the union’s general council meeting on March 29.

According to Sankat’s report, OISE student Caitlin Campisi, who was standing for re-election as the sole candidate for the position, was disqualified after receiving 15 demerit points for “unsanctioned use of union resources,” 30 points for two instances of “abuse of position or status,” and 35 for “failure to comply with the spirit and purpose of the election,” after the CRO received concerns over the candidate’s behavior.

After Campisi appealed the CRO’s decisions to the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), the 35 demerit points for “failure to comply with the spirit and purpose of the election” were overturned. Nevertheless, Campisi had a total of 45 demerit points, putting her well over the 35 point limit before disqualification, as stipulated in the Elections and Referenda Code.

“I believe the amount of demerit points issued are disproportionate to the alleged infraction and should not have resulted in disqualification,” Campisi told The Varsity.

The report did not divulge the details of the alleged infractions or the investigative process, and Sankat declined to comment further.

“Unfortunately I can’t really share details regarding the demerit points/behaviour that lead to the disqualification. These details are confidential amongst the parties involved and it would therefore be inappropriate — not to mention cause undue harm on the candidate’s reputation – if they were divulged publicly. Hope you can understand,” Sankat said in an email to The Varsity.

During the presentation of the report at the general council meeting, Campisi also raised concerns over Sankat’s involvement in the appeals process.

“You just mentioned that you were not involved in the appeals process,” Campisi told Sankat. “When I went to meet with the appeals committee, you were there and you did speak, and it was only at my insistence that you left.”

Sankat responded that he was simply present to “open the meeting” and left upon Campisi’s request. “I was not in the room at all in the discussion for the ERC. Any sort of bearing that I head would have been previous consultation with me. I think that’s pretty transparent here,” said Sankat.

A council member moved a motion to establish a board of appeals, which would give candidates a second chance to appeal their demerit points. After much debate on policy and procedure, the council voted to refer this motion to the Policy and Operations Committee.

Campisi spoke in favour of a second appeals stage and told the council that she wants a chance to appeal the ERC’s decision. “I am asking you, I am saying clearly for the record, I would like to appeal this ruling,” she asserted. “I do not believe it has been democratic, open, or accessible to all members, and I am asking you to simply give me the chance to do that.

A board of appeals was proposed in previous council meetings. A motion for a board of appeals by-law was set and discussed at the April 2014 meeting but was ultimately removed. The matter was also brought up at the June 2014 meeting, but the quorum was lost before it could be discussed. It was further tabled in September, as the union discussed the possibility of incorporation under the Ontario Not-for-profit Corporations Act.

“No good policy that is developed should be applied retroactively — this applies a new standard to past actions and sets incredibly poor precedent. Instead, policy should be forward looking and developed with care and research (much like the original Board of Appeals Policy was),” said Brad Evoy, a former executive with the UTGSU.

After the council amended the motion, all the results were ratified with the exception of the internal commissioner results, giving Campisi a chance to potentially file appeals.

‘Our Struggles Unite’

UofT Divest hosts twelfth annual Israeli Apartheid Week

‘Our Struggles Unite’

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) theme was Our Struggles Unite, which was chosen in order to emphasize the relationship between different liberation movements.

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s (UTGSU) Divestment Ad-Hoc Committee, also known as UofT Divest, collaborated with Reclaim Turtle Island, the Black Liberation Collective, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) as hosts.

“Israeli Apartheid Week is a set of events to highlight the settler colonial project and apartheid system of governance in Israel and Palestine that deliberately discriminates, displaces and kills Palestinians,” said Omar Sirri, an organizer with UofT Divest.

The events, which ran between March 8 and 10, aimed to raise awareness of U of T’s investment in companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Hewlett-Packard, which profit from the apartheid.

UofT Divest and SAIA have been tabling in the weeks leading up to the events in order to acquaint U of T students and faculty members with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), a topic that is central to IAW. 

BDS is a global movement against Israel that Palestinian civil society organizations initiated in 2005. The movement calls for the end of occupation of all Arab lands, the fundamental right of return for and reclaiming of properties for Palestinian refugees, and the dismantling of the Israeli apartheid wall. The wall is estimated to span 700 kilometres in length and runs through occupied Palestinian land.

New York-based spoken word artist and writer Remi Kanazi performed on the first day of IAW and spoke at a panel called Freedom is a Constant Struggle, alongside Reclaim Turtle Island activist Amanda Lickers.  Both speakers discussed the differences between settlement and occupation.

Organizers of the events discussed recent BDS victories, such as the British multinational security services company G4S announcing that it would sell its Israeli subsidiary which has become “reputationally damaging.” 

UofT Divest also highlighted the setbacks that come with planning such an event in light of McGill University’s BDS endorsement motion’s narrow defeat. McGill undergraduate student union’s general assembly passed the motion but failed to ratify it in an online vote. 

Prime Minister Trudeau has voiced his condemnation of the BDS movement citing it as “a new form of anti-Semitism.”

“It is remarkable that despite being elected on a progressive platform to end the politics of fear and censorship, the prime minister sees it fit to condemn a movement that stands for human rights and international law,” said Sirri, adding, “BDS is gaining more support and momentum in spite of these attacks.”

Last week, over 125 U of T faculty members signed a petition in support of UofT Divest’s call to boycott the Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Hewlett Packard for their role in international human rights violations.

Correction (March 16, 2016): An earlier version of this article misstated that British multinational  firm, G4S had ceased providing security for oil pipelines and mining projects, as well as participating in the prison-industrial complex.