Almost 15 per cent of sitting UTSU board members resigned or deemed resigned in the past year

Seven out of 48 board members effectively resigned, decrease from previous years

Almost 15 per cent of sitting UTSU board members resigned or deemed resigned in the past year

According to attendance records supplied by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), out of the 48 sitting members on the UTSU Board of Directors, four have resigned, while three have been deemed to have abandoned office in accordance with UTSU bylaws in the past year. This amounts to almost 15 per cent of sitting members, a decrease from The Varsity’s 2018 analysis, when a third of members missed enough meetings to effectively abandon office. Six members have been replaced, and one position remains vacant.

Board members who handed in their resignations include Trinity College Director Arunoshi Singh, Victoria College Director Thomas Siddall, Applied Science & Engineering Director Eran Vijayakumar, and Architecture and Visual Studies Director Jennille Neal.

Life Sciences Director Honesty Senese, Transitional Year Programme Director Valerie Dawe, and Professional Faculties at-Large Director Hasma Habibiy were all deemed to have abandoned their office.

The union’s bylaw 10, section 2 outlines the criteria for abandonment of office for a Division I or II director as “deemed to have delivered their resignation, confirmed by a simple majority vote of the Board” when directors have failed to send their regrets for two missed meetings, or failed to attend three consecutive meetings, or any four meetings, regardless of sent regrets. If a director is unable to attend a meeting, they must send regrets to the speaker within 48 hours of receiving the agenda. Directors receive an excused absence if they cannot attend due to academic obligations, work, or religious observations, among others. Otherwise, they are deemed absent.

Board members were marked present about 58 per cent of the time. About 33.3 per cent of absences were unexcused. Directors sent regrets for 18.7 per cent of absences, and 41.8 per cent of absences were excused.

In total, there have been 11 meetings of the UTSU Board of Directors since June of 2019. This includes eight regular scheduled meetings, three of which took place over the summer, as well as an emergency meeting, the Annual General Meeting, and the Special General Meeting.

A resignation by a director can be blocked if a simple majority of the Board of Directors votes against the motion. Instead, the director is put on probation for the next two meetings. Directors can speak for five minutes in their own defence or submit a one-page statement to the board.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman called the increase in attendance from previous years a “step in the right direction,” attributing the increased attendance to the elimination of slates. Writing to The Varsity, Bowman expressed his belief that directors sought their positions outside of the support of a collective slate, and thus “have their own reasons for participating in the UTSU at this level. They are here because they want to be, not because a slate or a Presidential candidate told them to.”

On the enforcement of bylaw 10 and attendance at meetings, Bowman wrote that the policy’s implementation has “been equal parts accountable and empathetic. We encourage elected members to attend all meetings, but understand when life gets in the way.” He also emphasized that meetings are scheduled around the majority of availability among directors, who are “made aware immediately and informed of the procedure” when in danger of contravening the union’s bylaws.

“As a Director last year, I remember a lack of information being made available for Board members. We didn’t know what Bylaw X was until it was essentially too late,” wrote Bowman.

Crediting last year’s Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm’s attendance formula for clarity in the processes and guidelines of the bylaw, Bowman wrote that directors were informed of the criteria for abandonment of office from the beginning. “I am happy that our attendance is increasing, but I will truly be satisfied when our elections are contested and seats aren’t left vacant.”

UTSU Special General Meeting: external and university affairs executive positions merged

New full-time vice-president public and university affairs position to focus on advocacy

UTSU Special General Meeting: external and university affairs executive positions merged

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its Special General Meeting on February 12, addressing the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs positions to form a new vice-president public and university affairs executive position.

The main item on the agenda was bylaw amendments, featuring the executive positions merger and the removal of committees from the bylaws.

The meeting was called to order at 6:16 pm, after waiting over an hour for the meeting to meet the required quorum of 50 members.

Vice-president public and university affairs position

The main change in the bylaws was the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs roles, which are currently part-time positions at 25 hours per week. The new role will be called vice-president public and university affairs, and will be a full-time position, at 40 hours per week. Joshua Bowman, President of the UTSU, noted that the current system can result in an “armchair advocacy apparatus,” whereby people who hold a position can advocate “whenever it’s convenient” for them. By having one role dedicated to advocacy, the UTSU hopes to bring more focus to its advocacy work.

Alexa Ballis, President of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, spoke against the change, expressing that she was “worried that combining these portfolios would overload the new position,” and that certain aspects of advocacy work could end up overlooked.

Vice-President External Affairs Lucas Granger and Vice-President, University Affairs Avani Singh both spoke in favour of the change.

“I’m so strongly in favor of this,” said Granger. He added that there is “a lot of redundancy within the work that can be done between what are considered the two major advocacy portfolios,” and that he often has to work with the university’s government relations department, crossing the lines between the two current positions.

Singh echoed Granger’s points about redundancy, and said that she felt that the change would actually make the position more accessible. In her experience, her role often requires more than 25 hours per week to complete adequately, and that therefore people might have incorrect expectations going into it. If the weekly hours of the new position are increased to 40, the role will have a more accurate expectation and be compensated more accurately, according to Singh. The bylaw change to merge the two roles passed, and will be in effect for the upcoming 2020 election.

Committee bylaws, advocacy initiatives addressed

The UTSU hoped that the removal of specific committee mentions in the bylaws could provide more flexibility for committee purposes and for the creation of permanent committees in the future. “If we want to create a new committee to match the needs of students, we can,” said Bowman.

The change would allow for ad hoc committees, such as the mental health ad hoc committee, to become permanent more easily. Currently, ad hoc committees cease to exist after the term in which created.

In response to a question about combining the work of the mental health committee with an existing committee, both Bowman and Vice-President Operations Arjun Kaul defended the idea of a separate mental health committee. The bylaw change to remove committee mentions from the bylaws passed.

Following the debate over the bylaw changes, the meeting took a recess, but lost quorum during it. Bowman motioned to suspend the rules so that the meeting could continue discussions minuted.

After the vote to suspend the rules passed, Bowman gave his address, highlighting recent and upcoming initiatives of the UTSU. 

To address the particularly low voter turnout in the 2019 executive elections, the UTSU plans to launch a get out the vote campaign for the first time in several years. This will include setting up tables around campus on the last day of the voting period, where students will be able to vote using a UTSU laptop.

The nomination period for the 2020 UTSU elections will open on March 2 and will run until March 13.

Bowman also announced a health and dental referendum that will be on the ballot for the spring UTSU elections “largely with the purpose of restoring mental health coverage to the previous rate it was at last year,” before changes to the OHIP prompted a decrease in coverage.

Lastly, Bowman touched on the recent reforms made to the UTSU’s student aid program which doubled the amount given by the UTSU in awards from $10,000 two years prior, to over $20,000 in the past four months. The increase in funding will go to new bursaries such as an accessibility bursary and a health and wellness bursary, among others.

Opinion: The Ryerson-RSU split undermines student union autonomy, faith in institutions

Unions should be reformed by the students, not universities

Opinion: The Ryerson-RSU split undermines student union autonomy, faith in institutions

In light of Ryerson University’s split with the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) late last month over their mismanagement of funds over the past two years, it’s natural that some people may begin to doubt the ability of student unions to advocate for student rights.

When student representatives spend an alleged $250,000 in student funds on things like drinks at the Rec Room, even the most indifferent students will start to take notice of what that may mean for their wallets. It’s not just Ryerson students that should be concerned; other universities, like our own, can learn from the fallout between Ryerson and the RSU. Universities should have a vested interest in maintaining accountability within their own student unions, should learn from Ryerson’s actions, and recognize that reformation is a preferable choice to cutting ties.

The act of splitting from the RSU inevitably has certain implications for Ryerson University as well. After all, I personally didn’t pay much attention to the difference between the union and the university and I don’t think the average student does either. Perhaps that conflation is justified; unions do have a large impact on campus atmosphere and environment, which is a considerable factor when deciding where to continue your education.

If both of these bodies are connected — at least in the minds of their clients — then the university should want to keep student unions accountable.

Ultimately, there are a number of ways in which the actions of a student union represents its university to students and the rest of the world. Student unions are partially funded by student fees, but in the eyes of a student, these fees often become just another cost of university, lumped together with all the others. As a result, student unions don’t just harm their own reputation when they mismanage funds, they also harm that of their university.

When dealing with mismanaged student unions, the rationale of a prospective student may be that a different school will provide a better experience — one without any concerns of financial foul play.

This is one of the possible reasons for why Ryerson University terminated its agreement with the RSU. The decision was framed as a response to the university’s “‘lost confidence’ in the RSU’s ability to serve and represent students.” In other words, it was an attempt to punish and hold the union accountable for its actions in an admittedly drastic way.

However, the incentive that prompts universities to interfere in the first place is also the very reason they should attempt to improve student unions and not dismantle them: reputation. Student unions offer a range of different services that aim to make campus life more enjoyable for students, and are often important in making people feel safe and comfortable on campus, which can be a deciding factor when choosing a school.

How those services are provided without student unions is unclear.

Case in point, Ryerson University didn’t mention what would happen to the seven Equity Service Centres that the RSU provides on campus. The university did, however, mention that it will continue to offer these vital programs to students, though, it has yet to actually provide an outline for this.

Ryerson has encouraged students to create a new student union, but building all of the infrastructure from scratch seems like a significantly harder task than trying to fix the current one.

Whether these arguments would hold up if this were to happen at U of T is questionable. The issue becomes a lot more personal when it’s your own funds being mismanaged, and your own rights being misrepresented. I’m sure my sense of disappointment, betrayal, and resentment would be considerably stronger if the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was under fire.

That being said, I’m still not sure if I would agree with a stance of disbandment. Despite scandals and issues, student unions are still there to represent student rights and act as a proper counterbalance to the university.

In fact, we can compare this situation to the Sandra Hudson lawsuit that spanned from 2015–2018. Hudson, alongside two other UTSU executives were accused of civil fraud when Hudson was fired from the union by those two other executives, and parted from the union with a $277,726.40 severance package. The union responded with a lawsuit that was ultimately settled in court, and released the 2017–2018 financial audit as planned, maintaining the level of transparency that they claim to value.

If the university had felt that the UTSU couldn’t reform or handle its own problems, then I would’ve expected them to act. But in this case, any interference would’ve been misguided given the controversial nature of the lawsuit and the fact that there were already other student bodies, like the The Varsity‘s coverage, paying attention to the union’s actions. The university didn’t take any drastic action in favour of, or against the union, but the situation still resolved itself and as such, the union is free to keep on providing services and reforming in whatever way that it deems fit.

Ryerson’s choice to cut off its student union seems abrupt since there were other easier and more logical ways the situation could have been handled to hold the RSU accountable. Forcing a student union to offer forensic audits and implement reforms is the system by which we expect autonomous bodies to keep each other accountable — what we don’t expect is for them to get rid of opposing bodies they don’t like.

Marta Anielska is a first year Social Sciences student at University College.

UTGSU Annual General Meeting addresses safety concerns, debates legitimacy of BDS committee

Motion to condemn Jewish Defense League passed, financial statements approved

UTGSU Annual General Meeting addresses safety concerns, debates legitimacy of BDS committee

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) was readjourned on January 27 after failing to meet quorum on December 5. It addressed a number of motions pertaining to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, including a motion by the committee to ban the Jewish Defense League (JDL) from campus and a motion by a member to oppose the BDS committee altogether.

The wider BDS movement lobbies corporations, universities, and local governments to sanction the Israeli government and boycott Israeli goods to protest the country’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Some critics of BDS argue that the movement aims to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty, while others characterize the movement and its leadership as anti-Semitic. Previously, the UTGSU Executive Committee was accused of anti-Semitism when it was hesitant to participate in Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward campaign — which aimed to bring kosher food options to campus — on the grounds that the group was pro-Israel. This subsequently led to the resignation of External Commissioner Maryssa Barras, a position which has yet to be filled.

Members of the BDS committee explained that the JDL, which the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has called an “anti-Muslim group on the extreme fringe of the Jewish community,” has disrupted BDS events in the past, and remains a safety threat to members of the committee.

As an indicator of the JDL’s threat level, BDS committee members highlighted an instance of violence by the JDL against individuals protesting a November 20 event which featured Israeli Defense Force reservists at York University.

The JDL had put out a call to disrupt the UTGSU AGM; however, no such disruptions took place.

A motion was passed at the meeting that stated that the “UTGSU membership condemns the JDL violence against York University student protestors and their allies on November 20,” and moved that the UTGSU membership put out a call to the U of T administration to ban JDL from campus.

An attempt by a member to amend the motion to not specify JDL, but rather oppose “all terrorist organizations” from campus was rejected by the membership.

The meeting began with a controversial motion by the Chair, Jeremy Rothschild, to strike the discussion on anti-Semitism; the discussion on BD; and the discussion on sanctions, divestment, or boycotts, from the agenda due to the fact that the meeting fell on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He said that members should not have to “relive what their families [experienced] and the sort of discussions that surround the question of anti-Semitism on campus.”

Rothschild felt that the membership as a collective should have the right to decide whether it wanted to engage in such discussions on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The membership rejected Rothschild’s motion to strike the motions, and thus they were kept on the agenda.

However, by the time the AGM arrived at the member’s motion opposing the BDS committee, only six minutes remained in the UTGSU’s booked time for the room. Chaim Katz, the mover, briefly explained his motion, noting that, “This is an opportunity to maintain a stance, of being active in human rights support, but not only singling out the Jewish state,” before the meeting was adjourned.

Internal Commissioner Adam Hill told The Varsity that the unaddressed motions can only be revisited at the next UTGSU AGM. The meeting also saw the UTGSU’s financial statements passed and next auditor approved by the membership.

Op-ed: The city balances its budget on the backs of students

UTSU VP External on the postsecondary metropass fare increase and the growing disconnect between students and the city

Op-ed: The city balances its budget on the backs of students

It is hard to hide from the fact that the City of Toronto is facing an ever-increasing crisis of affordability right now. This crisis is affecting everything you could possibly need — rent, food, transit, and more.

Toronto City Council knows this. But some members of City Council seem to barely care.

In fact, highlighting student concerns around members of City Council feels futile. They either have no idea about it, no idea how their actions have impacted it, or no desire to fix their mistakes.

I’m going to focus on something that could be perceived as incredibly ‘minor’ in the grand scheme of things — postsecondary student transit costs. Students at U of T have a sordid history when it comes to negotiating lower transit costs, twice failing to pass referendums that would have introduced the UPass and greatly benefitted student transit across the city.

Unfortunately, the City of Toronto saw the UPass as their solution to a larger problem of affordable transit for students, and really hasn’t considered anything else since then. This is despite the fact that the Post-Secondary Student Metropass is only available to full-time students, and that many students don’t commute enough to warrant the already high cost of the pass.

After University of Toronto Students’ Union members first rejected UPass in 2008, the City of Toronto introduced the Post-Secondary Student Metropass the following year in order to ensure that full-time students from various institutions received some form of discount to use the TTC.

In recent years, City Council has approached public policy through the means of austerity, service cuts, and cancellations of necessary projects. Due to budget constraints, the City  of Toronto cannot be in a deficit, and as such some services increase in price every budget cycle.

This year they chose students to be their victim. Specifically, the 2020 TTC Operating Budget singled out the Post-Secondary Student Metropass, raising the price from $122.45 to $128.15. This may seem like a measly sum of an extra $5.70 per month, but think clearly about the implications of this. This increase is proportionally larger than any other TTC increase that has been proposed this cycle. Additionally, the rising cost of living in Toronto continues to push students and other residents into substandard, illegal, or dangerous housing situations.

City Council has the power to levy various increases in other areas too, from a revival of the $60 vehicle registration tax — which would generate over $55 million — to minor increases in the property tax that amount to the cost of a few coffees per year. Funnily enough, City Council generally rejects these proposals, but is fine asking students to pay an extra $68.40 per year to use our public transit system.

These actions are despite a motion that was passed by City Council in consultation with Councillor Mike Layton and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam to begin a study on the reduction of postsecondary student fares on the TTC in October. This change also prompted me to reach out to Councillor Josh Matlow, who has started a petition against unjustifiable increases in student transit prices in response to this increase.

Students have been viewed as temporary fixtures of neighbourhoods across Toronto, often changing where they reside year by year. Increases in transit costs force students to make tough decisions about where they live. On one hand, a student may choose to live with their family, or in a location further from school to save money on rent. On the other hand, they may decide to live close to campus despite the skyrocketing costs of living downtown, including the rising cost of their commute.

For some students, the financial benefits of living further from campus can be suddenly outweighed by the new cost of their commute. The question becomes whether it is worth commuting. While rent remains high, increasing transit costs may no longer justify time spent commuting. These decisions can lead students into the hands of predatory landlords who promise cheaper rent downtown, but often leave very little protection for their residents.

So let’s be real. The City of Toronto’s actions tell students that they don’t matter, that our voices aren’t heard, and that they see us as ‘temporary’ residents of the city, so who can blame us for taking actions that they City of Toronto deems unacceptable? It is no wonder that in 2017, 40 per cent of students surveyed responded that they dodge fares on public transit, or that students live in substandard or outright dangerous situations which could lead to preventable tragedies.

It is time for City Council to get their act together — listen to students and actually consider our situations when creating widespread policies.

We need to make our voices heard as well — attend community meetings, email city planners, go to City Council, do deputations. Speak on the issues that you care about, otherwise City Council will remain ignorant to our concerns. We aren’t just temporary residents. We are the future of this city, and if Toronto wants to retain the talent and experience of its students, they need to make it worthwhile for us to stay.

Lucas Granger is a fourth-year student at Innis College studying History and Urban Studies. He is the Vice-President, External Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

Disclaimer: Lucas is a candidate running for Governing Council Constituency 1 – Full-time Arts and Science students.

SCSU AGM 2019: Controversial motion to limit executive terms voted down

Questions on whether motion would remove president from office, procedural confusion dominate meeting

SCSU AGM 2019: Controversial motion to limit executive terms voted down

The 2019 Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 27 got off to an exciting start with the introduction of two emergency motions. It ended anticlimactically when a room booking issue meant the meeting could not be extended beyond 9:00 pm, thus leaving many items unaddressed.

Members only had time to debate one motion, which proposed preventing executives from serving more than one term — a rule which could have potentially removed current President Chemi Lhamo from her position had it not been voted down. Other motions, including ones that called for solidarity with Hong Kong, implementing online voting, and discussing SCSU pay were all left unaddressed.

Electoral Equity Act

The Electoral Equity Act, which sought to limit the number of terms executives could serve in their undergraduate degree to one, proved to be a controversial motion.

After it was moved, long lines formed behind both microphones, and a member motioned to call the question, which would immediately stop the debate and trigger an automatic vote on the motion.

A member who opposed the call to question, however, was found to be using another individual’s voting card, which had 25 proxy votes. This prompted calls for a revote wherein the opposition still prevailed. The question was not called, and discussion on the act continued.

In the discussion that followed, a member pointed out that the language of the motion, which specifies that it take effect “immediately,” might call into question the legitimacy of Lhamo’s position, since she served as Vice-President Equity in the previous academic year. After another member successfully called the question, the membership voted down the motion.

In an interview after the meeting, the mover of the motion, Annie Sahagian, explained that the intention was not to remove Lhamo from office. Referencing this interpretation of the motion, she said, “I was going to amend that.” However, there was not enough time to do so as the question was called.

The intended aim of the Electoral Equity Act was to encourage “student engagement, involvement and participation within SCSU,” explained Sahagian.

Sahagian is the sister of Carly Sahagian, the current Vice-President Academics and University Affairs. However, both parties say they did not collaborate on the motion, pointing out that this motion would prevent Carly from running for another term as well. Carly, along with Vice-President External Chaman Bukhari, were the only two executives to vote in favour of the motion. Vice-President Operations Ray Alibux abstained from voting, and the remaining three executives, including Lhamo, voted against the motion.

Emergency motion on Hong Kong protests

Shortly after the meeting was called to order and before the discussion on the Electoral Equity Act, Lhamo proposed an emergency motion be added to the end of the agenda. The motion, entitled “Student Solidarity for Hong Kong,” included resolutions to work with U of T to research “harassment within academic institutions of students who speak out against injustices” and to investigate “the pressure on students who are being instructed, manipulated or coerced into taking action by foreign influences.”

Lhamo told The Varsity that the investigation aspect of the motion seeks to protect international Chinese students from pressures by foreign influences, which she claimed the university was hesitant to do. The motion also calls for the SCSU to create a Lennon Wall on campus.

Lhamo also hopes this motion goes beyond the protests in Hong Kong, recalling the threats she faced and continues to receive, many with anti-Tibet sentiments since she is a vocal supporter of Tibetan sovereignty. She noted that she never received a report explaining the threats she faced, despite announcements that police had begun inquiries.

“I would hate to see that universities and external entities behave the way they did with me to any other students.”

Procedural hiccups

The night’s agenda saw two emergency motions, several re-arrangements, and an obscure order from Robert’s Rules. These hiccups were cut short at 9:00 pm, despite attempts to extend the meeting to 11:00 pm.

Alibux introduced the second emergency motion of the night, following Lhamo’s Hong Kong motion, which would commit the union to implement online voting. Alibux’s motivation to the chair for this being an emergency was two-fold: the climate crisis and a previous miscommunication within the team that prevented this motion from going onto the agenda.

The chair ruled against him, citing the timeliness required for an emergency motion, at which point Alibux challenged the chair, with the membership voting in his favour to contravene the chair’s ruling and allow the motion onto the agenda.

The agenda’s re-arrangement was crucial in deciding the few motions that the membership would get to debate during the AGM — members raced to add new orders to the motions until the question was called and the agenda for the night was passed. The AGM saw the membership address one member-submitted motion — Sahagian’s — before being brought to an abrupt end by a member calling for the order of the day, requiring the membership to conform to the agenda, which meant that the meeting was over at 9:00 pm. Despite Alibux’s attempt to challenge the chair’s ruling in this matter, the room had only been booked until 9:00 pm, and the meeting could not be extended.

Among the motions that weren’t addressed at the meeting were pay bumps for executives, pay for SCSU board directors to attend meetings, and a motion alleging that the union is undermining its commitments to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Israel movement — one which cited an Israeli flag in Bukhari’s office as an example of such action from within the union.

UTMSU AGM 2019: Funding cuts, campus initiatives, policies in discussion

President Atif Abdullah passes motion to increase activism on OSAP cuts

UTMSU AGM 2019: Funding cuts, campus initiatives, policies in discussion

Funding cuts from the provincial government and ideas on how to resist them took centre stage at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 27 in the Maanjiwe nendamowinan building. It was the union’s first AGM after splitting from the University of Toronto Students’ Union last year.

Presidential address

“I actually realized that we had quite a long year full of ups and downs, and a lot of different things happened, some positive, unfortunately some negative as well,” said UTMSU President Atif Abdullah, beginning his address. “I say that because there were many challenges that deeply affected our community here,” he added, going on to talk about the cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the mental health crisis.

He discussed several policies and initiatives that the UTMSU has worked on in the past year, including the course retake policy that was implemented in May and the pilot implementation of self-assigned sick notes over the summer. According to Abdullah, a new printing service that will allow students to print from their personal devices will become available next semester.

Some UTMSU-run initiatives, like the Food Centre and the Duck Stop, which is the convenience store on campus, have been well-received by the UTM community. According to Abdullah, the Food Centre serves over 150 students per month, and the Duck Stop has sold over 77,000 items in the past year.

Abdullah also submitted a motion to the agenda which was dubbed the “Student Action Motion.” It proposed that the UTMSU explore options for increasing activism regarding the cuts to OSAP, including “rallies, marches, sit-ins and strikes.” Abdullah called a walk-out earlier in the year a success, with “historic numbers for UTM.” While speaking on the motion, he commented that the UTMSU wants to hear the thoughts of its membership before going forward with any forms of protest. The motion passed. 

Abdullah spoke at the UTM Campus Council on November 20 concerning the mental health crisis. During the meeting, Abdullah brought up recommendations on behalf of the UTMSU. These included conducting a review of campus police’s policies for dealing with mental health crises, and addressing the long wait times for students to access mental health resources on campus.

Financial statements

According to the financial statements, the cost of orientation doubled from last year, due to inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018. The costs associated with the Blind Duck Pub also increased, as renovations in the Temporary Food Court continued throughout 2018 and 2019. The Blind Duck Pub was also open for longer hours to accommodate students during construction.

Starting in September, full-time UTM students received health and dental care through Green Shield Canada. “Now that UTM students are in charge of their own health and dental plan, at the end of this first year we can actually look at some of the records and track what usage students have been doing, and based on that, we can either increase some of the benefits and offset that by decreasing what students actually don’t need and don’t want to use,” said Abdullah in an interview with The Varsity. He went on to call the new health and dental plan “a positive change.”

Vice-President Internal Sara Malhotra submitted the motion to approve Yale and Partners LLC as the auditors for the UTMSU and the Blind Duck Pub. The motion was seconded and passed.

Member-submitted motions

There were two member-submitted motions. The first moved to offer billiard tables for free instead of $1.75. The motion was amended to have the cost absorbed by the Blind Duck, and passed. The second motion proposed to have the Blind Duck open on weekends. The motion was amended to move that the UTMSU explore the possibility of keeping it open on weekends, and it passed as well. 

Recent criticisms

Two days before the UTMSU’s AGM, an editorial was published in The Medium criticizing the union for having close ties to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), alleging that this relationship compromises the UTMSU’s autonomy.

“Do we support a lot of the work that CFS does? Yes, because it is for students and it’s a benefit for students — fighting for accessible tuition [and] against the Student Choice Initiative… [are things] that… we see eye-to-eye with the CFS in,” said Abdullah.

“However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t criticize the CFS or [consider] where it could do better because everyone can do better.”

The UTMSU’s current Executive Director, Nour Alideeb, served as chairperson for CFS–Ontario for the past two years, a fact the editorial scrutinized. It also criticized her hiring, as she is married to the previous UTMSU executive director, presenting it as an example of “nepotism.” Abdullah defended Alideeb, noting that she was hired for her experience, particularly for progressive initiatives that she helped pass and her track record in building relationships with the administration.

Editor’s Note (December 4, 3:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that orientation expenses rose from inviting Tory Lanez for a concert in September 2018, not Sean Paul in 2019. 

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.