Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

U of T welcomed 19,187 international students last year

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

Amid a rising international student population, student unions and the seven colleges are expanding their representation on campus and creating services catered to those demographics. The Varsity reached out to several student unions and college governments for a roundup of international student representation on campus.

UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union does not have a specific committee geared toward international students. However, it does have positions which serve the international student population, such as Vice-President Student Life and Vice-President Equity.

UTGSU

The International Students’ Caucus (ISC) at the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) aims to address the interests and concerns regarding international graduate students.

The caucus hosts social, academic, and professional workshops and meetings concerning governance and policy changes within the university community and the city at large.

“The ISC is a group under the UTGSU [that] mainly serves international students’ interests, including academic success, social interaction, and networking,” reads a statement on its website.

“Meetings will be held monthly and will focus on the needs of the caucus’ members and the needs of all international graduate students including social interaction, networking, and potential changes in programming and/or governance at the university, city, and/or provincial levels.”

The ISC’s elected positions include the chair, who oversees the caucus as a whole, and the UTGSU Executive Liaison.

UTMSU

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) represents over 13,500 students across the UTM, with 20 per cent of students being international. While the UTMSU does not have a specific position or caucus dedicated to international students, they do provide several services.

“We endeavour to ensure that the rights of all students are respected, provide cost-saving services, programs and events, and represent the voices of part-time undergraduate students across the University and to all levels of government,” reads a statement on their website. “We are fundamentally committed to the principle of access to education for all.”

The UTMSU also has several campaigns in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) regarding international student issues, including Fight for Fees, Fairness for International Students, and OHIP for International Students.

SCSU

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) currently does not have a specific levy or caucus dedicated to international students; however, it has positions aimed toward serving the needs of domestic and international students alike on campus, such as Vice-President Campus Life and Vice-President Equity.

SCSU also provides specific services in partnership with the CFS for international students including the International Student Identity Card, which provides students with exclusive discounts such as airfare and entertainment.

Innis College

The Innis College student body provides a number of resources and services made available to international students. The Innis Residence Council has six positions for Junior International House Representatives who work alongside Senior House Representatives to coordinate events and foster a sense of involvement. An International Transition Advisor is also available on campus.

New College

New College houses the International Foundation Program, which provides conditional acceptance to international students whose English proficiency scores do not meet direct entrance requirements. The program guarantees admission to the Faculty of Arts & Science or the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering upon completion.

Madison Hönig, New College Student Council President, told The Varsity, “At New College, international students make up an important part of our student population. We are lucky to house the International Foundation Program (IFP) at New College. As such, we do have an International Foundation Program Representative to advocate for these students.”

“Additionally, we work closely with the New College Residence Council and the main governance structures within the College to ensure that international students are being advocated for and included in our programming, academic initiatives and support at New College,” continued Hönig. “We are working to see that international student representation and advocacy is considered within the portfolios of all of our members.”

University College

University College’s International Student Advisor aims to provide academic and personal resources to International students through their sUCcess Centre. Appointments can be made to meet with an advisor.

Victoria College

Victoria College International Students Association (VISA) is a levy funded by the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council that aims to support the needs and interests of international students at Victoria College.

VISA is used to host social, academic, and professional events throughout the year and also funds a mentorship program for incoming students.

“Our program offered help to students from all backgrounds, in which the mentor would be providing both academic and moral support to the students transitioning into the new university environment, through a two-hour session every two weeks,” reads a statement from the mentorship program’s website.

Woodsworth College

The International Students Director under the Woodsworth College Student Association (WCSA) is the representative for international students at Woodsworth College. The International Students Director also coordinates events hosted by the association catered to international students.

“With this role, I hope to connect with not only incoming international students but also upper year students to bridge the gap between them. I look forward to continuing with some of the events introduced by last year’s director as well as introducing a few new ones,” reads a statement on its website from from Leslie Mutoni, WCSA’s International Students Director.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the university welcomed over 19,187 international students from across 163 countries and regions, mainly from China, India, the United States, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and student societies at St. Michael’s College and Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

The Breakdown: What happens if the UTSU and the UTMSU separate

UTSU projects roughly $82,800 loss in yearly revenue from UTM students until 2023

The Breakdown: What happens if the UTSU and the UTMSU separate

A University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) committee has recommended that the organization terminate its membership agreement with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

Lucas Granger, a member of the Ad Hoc Negotiations Committee, presented the recommendation at the UTSU’s August 15 board meeting.

“It’s really serious, and I want everyone to think about that, because it’s a big move in the way the UTSU is structured,” said Granger.

That recommendation is “contingent on expected negotiation results,” said UTSU President Anne Boucher at the board meeting. Both Boucher and UTMSU President Felipe Nagata declined to comment on the specifics of these expected results.

The agreement, effective since April 30, 2008, was a bid to “co-ordinate and streamline resources” of the UTSU and UTMSU. But on January 25, 2018, the UTMSU and the UTSU began talks to renegotiate the agreement, jointly citing a need for the UTMSU to secure greater independence in governance and to better represent UTM’s student body.

The goal of the talks was not to rip up the agreement, but to “strengthen the contract,” said then-UTMSU President Salma Fakhry. That sentiment was reinforced by then-UTSU President Mathias Memmel, who said that the UTSU was “cautiously optimistic that the current agreement can be amended to the satisfaction of both parties.”

But by February, the UTSU and UTMSU released an identical announcement that “the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement,” and that they “have agreed to hold a vote on whether or not to terminate the agreement.” If the agreement is terminated, UTM students will no longer be represented by the UTSU.

Talks stalled, so the previous executives agreed to leave further negotiations “to the new executive teams [of 2018–2019] should they choose to continue.”

The new 2018–2019 UTMSU executives first met with their board on April 27, and the new UTSU executives first met with their board on April 28. The Ad Hoc Negotiations Committee within the UTSU, chaired by Boucher, first met on July 20 to secure an agreement. The committee met a second time on July 27 to discuss the financial impact of a potential separation and to issue a recommendation.

Joshua Grondin, UTSU Vice-President University Affairs, estimated that the UTSU could expect a revenue decrease of $82,000 per year from a loss of UTM student revenue.

Where does the money come from?

UTM students pay one fee and three levies to the UTSU each year, according to the Membership Agreement. The UTSU then transfers the entirety of the UTM students’ portion of both the UTSU Daycare Levy and the UTSU World University Service of Canada Levy to the UTMSU, along with 75 per cent of the UTSU Orientation Levy and 85 per cent of the UTSU Society/Membership fees. The UTSU retains the remainder of the funds.

Where does this money go?

The UTSU has budgeted the remaining 15 per cent portion of the UTSU Society/Membership Fees, which amount to around $82,800 per year, for event-running and advocacy work.

Grondin said at the July 27 committee meeting that this advocacy work includes UTSU representation on behalf of UTM, since the 2008 agreement prohibits the UTMSU from representing itself in campus-wide negotiations, such as with Governing Council.

In the 2017–2018 period, the UTSU earned $1,950,508.62 in total revenue and gains. The non-remitted revenue from UTM students accounts for 4.2 per cent of that.

Boucher further projects that lost UTM student fees would result in a sub-10 per cent reduction of revenue that the UTSU would expect to receive in 2022.

In response to Boucher’s projection, Granger said that “it’s not that much of an impact,” to which Boucher agreed, adding that “the numbers are more positive than would have been anticipated.”

How will the UTSU make up for lost revenue?

The UTSU plans to cut spending to “pursue efficiencies,” with Boucher vowing that she “would never be able to responsibly make cuts to its advocacy, services, or programming that could contribute significantly to campus life.”

The UTSU also plans to request donations from alumni, as well as to increase cash inflow by opening for-profit services run by the UTSU’s commercial subsidiary, which include renting conference spaces and running a café. Finally, the UTSU is considering an increase in the UTSU levy to offset the loss in revenue.

What are the benefits of a UTSU-UTMSU separation?

For the UTSU, a separation would allow the UTSU to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU and vice versa, which is currently prohibited by the agreement.

According to Boucher, the UTMSU would receive increased freedom in governance and increased revenue from UTM students, enabling it to offer services that it could not operate before. Nagata did not discuss any benefits to the UTMSU from a separation.

How would the separation be ratified?

The recommendation of the ad hoc committee is non-binding. One of two processes must be undertaken for a separation to occur.

The first is a three-quarters majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement in a joint meeting between the UTSU and UTMSU Board of Directors, followed by another three-quarters majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement at the Annual General Meeting between the UTSU and the UTMSU board members and executives.

The second option is a two-thirds majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement in a similar joint meeting, followed by a simple majority vote in a joint referendum.

UTSU recommends terminating membership agreement with UTMSU

Budget, failed motion also discussed at August board meetings

UTSU recommends terminating membership agreement with UTMSU

A University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) committee has recommended that the UTSU terminate its decade-old agreement with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The recommendation was announced at the UTSU’s Board of Directors meeting on August 15 and came after months of negotiations between the two student unions.

Following the August 15 meeting, an emergency UTSU board meeting was called on August 22 to discuss the UTSU’s 2018–2019 Operating Budget, which included large increases in areas such as office supplies and transportation. The jump in these line items was attributed to the upcoming opening of the Student Commons, which was recently delayed from Fall 2018 to January 2019.

The board meetings also saw some tension between board members and executives, with directors questioning late executive reports. In an unusual move, the board also voted down a motion presented by the executives, which proposed moving up the date of September by-elections.

Termination of UTMSU agreement

Since 2008, the UTSU and the UTMSU have been in an Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) that has linked the two groups in areas of governance and services. All UTM students belong to both unions, and the UTSU remits a portion of fees paid by those students back to the UTMSU.

Talks began in January 2018 to renegotiate the AMA, but they have apparently broken down since the UTSU’s Ad Hoc Negotiations Committee has formally recommended that the AMA “be terminated, contingent on expected negotiation results,” according to UTSU President Anne Boucher.

A termination of the agreement would mean a huge restructuring of how both unions function, changing everything from the makeup of their boards to the services that they provide. For instance, the UTMSU would be allowed to conduct its own advocacy work, which the current AMA does not permit.

2018–2019 budget

The August 22 emergency meeting was called to discuss the budget because the documents were released “too late for people to be able to review it in time,” according to UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin. The budget wasn’t released until a few hours before the meeting by Vice-President Internal Tyler Biswurm.

Notable increases include office supplies, which went up from $1,500 to $10,000, as well as a doubling in the budget for transportation from $5,000 to $10,000.

Biswurm said that the increase in office supplies reflect one-time costs due to the imminent move to the Student Commons building.

For transportation, Biswurm explained that the uptick was to fix mistakes in last year’s budget, which underestimated the cost of transportation and resulted in overspending by $2,483.25.

According to Biswurm, the discrepancy also happened because “transportation expenses that should have been charged to the Transportation account were mistakenly categorized” into the wrong accounts, such as for events and conferences.

Excerpt from UTSU 2018–2019 Operating Budget, released August 15, 2018. (Click to Expand)

Tension at board meeting

In a rare turn of events, a motion failed at the August 15 board meeting. The motion was to move the notice of the UTSU’s by-elections from September 20 to September 6.

Boucher explained that the motion “would have allowed students more time to consider running in the UTSU by-elections.” The positions available for running include those in Kinesiology, Theology, and Law, along with possible positions available due to the resignation of members.

But board members “pointed out that [September 6] may be too early for students to properly consider candidacy, and suggested the election period range be shortened in lieu,” wrote Boucher in a statement.

Innis College Director Lucas Granger wrote to The Varsity that he voted against the motion because releasing the by-elections notice “on the first day of classes leaves first-years specifically in the dark,” since the notice may be crowded out by other back-to-school announcements.

Also brought to issue at the meeting were the many missing Executive Reports, which is a summary of the month that each UTSU executive is mandated to present at board meetings.

Reports from Biswurm, Vice-President Equity Ammara Wasim, and Vice-President External Affairs Yuli Liu were all missing. Biswurm also did not submit his June Executive Report.

When asked by Granger why his reports were missing, Biswurm responded, “It has mostly to do with the fact that I’m bad at scheduling.”

Biswurm explained that he dedicated more time to writing the operating budget and apologized for not having his reports up.

“I figured if you want me I can give a verbal report but there is no written version. It’s not written at all; I would not be able to submit it now.”

The absence of reports was also raised by Academic Director of Social Sciences Joshua Bowman, who said at the meeting, “I’m concerned with the fact that I’m unaware of what the Vice-President Equity is doing, due to the fact that the Executive Report was not submitted.” Wasim responded that it was “done on time,” but her assistant did not submit it to Biswurm.

Bowman later wrote to The Varsity, “We as students consistently have to work with deadlines when handing in essays or submitting projects. Our elected Executive should be no exception, especially when acting on our behalf.”

In other business, the UTSU continues to leave two student positions on the CIUT 89.5 FM Board of Directors unfulfilled. CIUT is U of T’s campus radio station, and its board reserves two seats for UTSU appointees, which have been vacant since March 4.

This vacancy came after then-appointees, Boucher and former UTSU executive Stuart Norton, resigned, citing “antagony, intimidation, and dismissal” in response to their criticism of the CIUT’s handling of a “sexual harassment complaint” by CIUT host Jamaias DaCosta against a co-host. They also accused CIUT of an “undemocratic” elections process.

Justifying the continued vacation of the student positions, Boucher said that the voices of new appointees “were not something that [the CIUT] wanted to hear,” and she would not “feel comfortable sending a student into that situation.”

 

 

Controversial clubs deserve funding too

Having an unpopular opinion shouldn’t mean being denied student union recognition

Controversial clubs deserve funding too

At the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) debate on March 21, the candidates for Vice-President Campus Life — Yolanda Alfaro of the Compass slate and Spencer Robertson, who ran as an independent — were asked about their positions on the UTSU funding clubs that are considered ‘controversial.’ The example given was Students for Life, a pro-life group known for its graphic signs and forthright, provocative campus demonstrations.

Alfaro, who was ultimately elected to the position, gave what seemed like a perfectly sensible response. She insisted that, if a decision were made to deny funding, that decision would not be about discriminating against people’s beliefs, but rather it would have more to do with student safety.

The funding of pro-life groups on campus is an issue that has been brought before the courts. Earlier this year, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union was in court facing a lawsuit by three members of UTM Students for Life. Similar suits were brought by pro-life groups at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and a ‘men’s issues’ group at Ryerson University. Another lawsuit with a pro-life group was previously settled in favour of the Ryerson Students’ Union in 2016.

Even if the UTSU does not have a legal obligation to fund certain provocative, controversial, or unpopular clubs, it should adopt a policy that allows for a wide range of views to be supported as clubs on campus. This is the case even if those views are controversial or only held by a minority of students.

On its face, Alfaro’s response at the debate was the right one. She made the crucial distinction between groups that hold unpopular beliefs and groups that represent a threat to student safety. Groups that incite or threaten violence, or that have openly discriminatory or hateful agendas that target marginalized populations, should not get funding. The UTSU — and by extension, all students — should not be involved in sustaining those types of clubs on campus.

But when I reached out for Alfaro for comment, she blurred that distinction to the point of nonexistence. While she provided that her “stance is not quite directed towards controversial clubs, because not everyone would share the same idea of ‘controversial’ as me,” that caveat didn’t hold up. Of Students for Life, she said, “When demonstrations start happening on campus that can be triggering to folks who just want to feel safe walking to class, that’s where I disagree.”

Alfaro is implying that coming into contact with Students for Life can be damaging to students’ safety or wellbeing. Given that Students for Life poses no physical threat to safety, however, the source of concern stems from the group’s expression of its pro-life views, which are upsetting to many students.

Alfaro’s argument therefore blurs the crucial line between ‘controversial’ and ‘harmful,’ because it suggests that the articulation of a position itself can pose a threat to student safety if the view is offensive enough. While we need to be sensitive to the reality that some students may be adversely affected by a group like Students for Life, not recognizing or funding a group for that reason sets a dangerous precedent.

As long as the UTSU is in the business of supporting political and advocacy groups, being considered ‘controversial’ should not be a barrier to funding. First and foremost, there is the problem that Alfaro herself recognized: the UTSU should not be put in charge of deciding exactly what views students can handle being exposed to. Being the arbiter of political opinions on campus is beyond the VP’s job description, and giving the UTSU the ability to deny funding based on those opinions is incompatible with open discourse.

The perceived broad unpopularity of a group or the position it represents should not be a barrier to funding either. Even if the number of people who support Students for Life is dwarfed by the number of people who oppose it, that shouldn’t be a reason to deny the group funding. Broad support or interest is just not something we typically expect of our student clubs. There is already a minimum amount of popularity that a prospective club needs to have before it is recognized in the first place: the UTSU mandates that a club has a membership list of at least 30 people to qualify for even the minimum level of funding. Attracting interest that far exceeds the names on that list should simply not be a consideration as far as recognition or funding goes.

Finally, and most importantly, we ought to acknowledge that a diverse student body is bound to have a diverse set of beliefs, and that a wide variety of those beliefs ought to be given a platform even if many of us find some of those beliefs disagreeable.

It doesn’t help to pretend that abortion is no longer a contentious issue, either on campus or in Canadian society more broadly. Any issue so complex is bound to generate a huge array of differing views that goes way beyond the ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ dichotomy. And we can see in politics that the question is still open, even if we would prefer it settled: leaders of major parties in both the upcoming provincial and federal elections are known to have pro-life views and voting records.

Open and equal discourse is constructive discourse, and constructive discourse is a goal worth striving for. This means protecting the distinction between ‘harmful’ and ‘controversial.’ Clubs that threaten the physical safety of students are one thing. But ‘controversial’ is in the eye of the beholder, and we should make sure that there is room on campus for disagreeable and unpopular views, as well as for the students and clubs that promote them.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

Re: “Uncontested One UTM slate sweeps UTMSU executive elections”

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

According to the unofficial results of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections, held from March 20–22, 2018, the One UTM slate has won all five executive positions. Given that all executive candidates on the One UTM slate ran unopposed — a first in my three years at UTM — their victory was unsurprising.

The lack of opposition against One UTM discouraged me from voting during the elections, because their victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. Though I was approached to vote by both student volunteers as well as by members of One UTM, I still doubted whether my one vote would make a difference. I suspect many students had similar thoughts — the votes cast for each executive position was around 1,930 students, which accounts for approximately 13.5 per cent of over 14,000 students who represented by the UTMSU.

Though I agree with many of One UTM’s platform points, I still wish that there had been at least some competition, in the form of another slate or independent candidates, to allow for debate. Debating would allow the student body to see how exactly One UTM candidates would reach its goals, namely by exposing any flaws or inconsistencies in their claims or plans.

Hopefully future UTMSU elections will not be plagued by such a lack of competition.  For now, however, I look forward to seeing what changes One UTM will bring to UTM, and especially whether it will deliver on the promise of eliminating the $55 Student System Access fee that was central to its platform.

 

Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication.

The Breakdown: UTSU and UTMSU elections

What you need to know ahead of the campaign and voting period

The Breakdown: UTSU and UTMSU elections

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections campaign period will begin on March 19, with voting taking place from March 26–28.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections will run in a similar period, with campaigning set to begin on March 12 and the voting period falling between March 20 and 22.

Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about the upcoming elections.

What is the UTSU?

The UTSU represents all full-time undergraduate students at UTSG and UTM who have paid the membership fee of $18.76 per session. As the union represents around 50,000 students, this means that the UTSU receives well over $1 million in membership fees each year. In the 2017–2018 academic year, the revenue from student fees was projected to be $1,858,818.53.

Students also pay a variety of other fees to the UTSU, many of which are refundable. These include a $0.50 orientation fee, a $162.28 Health and Dental Plan fee, and a $10.24 fee for the Student Commons, which is set to increase in 2018–2019. In total, students pay $194.49 to the UTSU per semester, of which $163.28 is refundable.

The union uses its operating budget of over $3 million to advocate for students and provide services, such as “running the student health & dental insurance plan, funding campus clubs, and offering grants to students in need,” according to its website.

Recent advocacy campaigns of the UTSU include their initiative to create a Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) and its commitment to improve the proposed Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. The UTSU website also lists various campaigns, including food security, housing, and sexual violence.

The UTSU operates through an executive team of seven students as well as a 57-member board of directors. The Executive Committee consists of the President and six Vice-Presidents. A designate from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) also sits on the Executive Committee. The elected board members represent either a college, faculty, academic field, or the Transitional Year Programme.

What is the UTMSU?          

All undergraduate students at UTM are also represented through their own student union, the UTMSU. In the 2015–2016 academic year, full-time students paid a membership fee of $14.11 per session and part-time students paid $1.04 per session. The UTMSU received $2,565,974 in revenue during the 2016–2017 school year.

Representing over 13,000 students, the union’s mission includes safeguarding the rights of students, providing services and activities, and lobbying for student interests.

The UTMSU’s services include providing bursaries, running the Blind Duck Pub, and operating the UTM Food Centre, which provides for food insecure students.

UTMSU campaigns include Academic Advocacy, which seeks to help students accused of academic offenses; Know Your Rights!, which educates students on the rights they have; and No Means No, a campaign developed by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to fight against “sexual assault, acquaintance rape, and dating violence.”

The operations of the UTMSU are carried out by their elected 15-person Board of Directors and their elected six-person Executive Committee.

Key UTSU elections issues

The elections are sure to feature intriguing issues, board attendance and staff layoffs among them.

Attendance at Board of Directors meetings has been down this year, with an average attendance among directors of 49 per cent since November. It remains to be seen whether or not board restructuring to motivate higher attendance will play a role in the election.

The UTSU has also hired several Outreach Associates to assist with the You Decide campaign to leave the CFS. The CFS is a national organization that represents students’ unions across Canada, with provincial organizations such as CFS–Ontario, of which the UTSU is a member. Of late, the UTSU has been campaigning against the organization, which is where the You Decide campaign plays its role. Outreach Associates are responsible for collecting student signatures on a petition to defederate from the CFS. Last year, You Decide failed to reach the requisite amount and had to restart the petition. To hold the referendum, the petition must be signed by 20 per cent of students in the membership. Current UTSU President Mathias Memmel told The Varsity that the campaign is currently looking for 4,000 more signatures, which would exceed the requirement and provide a buffer.

The Student Commons, a project to create a building run by students to house student services and clubs, which has been in the works since 2007, is set to open its doors in September 2018. The project has put a strain on the UTSU’s finances, and the union will run deficits for the first five years after gaining occupancy of the building.

The extra expenses have motivated the UTSU to lay off staff such as the Health and Dental Coordinator and Clubs Coordinator, as well as to employ cost-saving measures to keep the union from going bankrupt. Memmel has said that the Student Commons financial plan must be followed with little to no deviation in order to keep the union afloat.

Of note, the election will feature a referendum for UTSG members to vote on a student U-Pass. The cost of a U-Pass could be as much as a mandatory $322.50 per semester, or $80.60 a month, depending on what is decided at a TTC board meeting on March 20.

The UTSU and UTMSU will also be renegotiating their membership agreement. UTMSU President Salma Fakhry told The Varsity in February that the goal of the UTMSU is to “strengthen the contract” between the two unions, as UTM students make up one fourth of the UTSU’s membership.

Anti-abortion group faces off in court against UTMSU over club recognition

Court also hears cases against UOIT, Durham College, Ryerson students’ unions

Anti-abortion group faces off in court against UTMSU over club recognition

Three lawsuits involving student clubs suing students’ unions, alleging they were improperly denied funding, were heard by Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell on January 24 at Osgoode Hall. The eight-hour-long hearing included the suit against the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) by three members of UTM Students for Life (UTMSFL).

UTMSFL is an anti-abortion student group that filed a suit against the UTMSU in January 2016. Diane Zettel, Cameron Grant, and Chad Hagel are the three UTMSFL members listed as the applicants of the lawsuit.

The court simultaneously held hearings for two similar lawsuits. Speak for the Weak, another anti-abortion group at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), is suing the Student Association of Durham College and UOIT, while the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) faces a suit from members of the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society.

Marty Moore is the lawyer representing the three clubs and is a staff lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), a non-profit advocacy organization tasked with “defend[ing] the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education,” according to its mission statement. It has also represented Trinity Western University in its lawsuit against the Law Society of Upper Canada.

The UTMSU and RSU are being jointly represented by Alexi Wood and Jennifer Saville of St. Lawrence Barristers LLP. Woods and Saville previously represented the RSU in Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union, 2015, another case involving a anti-abortion student club denied recognition from its student union. The judge sided with the RSU in that case.

Legal questions             

While defending the clubs, Moore spoke of the close relationship between student unions and the publicly funded universities to which they are attached.

“If the University of Toronto Students’ Union decided to adopt the Bahá’í Faith and expressly made it a part of its documents in accordance to its letters patent, I think we would understand that its relationship with the publicly funded institution would begin to have to jeopardy there,” argued Moore. “The reality is that public institutions and the common law, which applies to public institutions, should take into account the fundamental values that apply on that campus.”

“[These are] not the arguments that I’m putting forward today, but I do recognize that that is one of the possible approaches that a court could take,” said Moore. He cited Rakowski v. Malagerio, 2007, a case also presided over by Perell, in which it was decided courts had the authority to intervene in student union policies.

Saville told the judge that student unions are private corporations, regardless of the fact that they operate on public university campuses, citing the Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union case, where the judge ruled that student unions aren’t subject to public law. Wood expanded on this, adding that all UTMSU members, including those involved in the UTMSFL, had the right to vote on or run for the UTMSU Board of Directors and shape the union’s policies if they disagreed with them.

Perell responded, “There are some things where democracy is not the answer. Hitler got elected, with due process.”

UTMSFL’s case

Moore forewent any allegations of ideological bias; the crux of his submission was the allegation that the three unions went against their own policies and bylaws.

The UTMSFL members allege that the UTMSU informed them that the club would not be granted official club status due to its anti-abortion stance. In his submission, Moore told the judge that the UTMSU subsequently changed its reasoning and attempted to deny the club for technical violations. It is alleged that the UTMSU told the club, which only had three executive members, that it needed four executives in order to qualify for official club status and that it had to amend its constitution to be compliant with the UTMSU’s requirements and elect a fourth executive at a general meeting.

“[Then-UTMSU Vice-President Campus Life Russ Adade] kept on coming up with new requirements, including, at the end, ‘I have to be present at your meeting when you vote.’ The applicants said, ‘Fine, come to our meeting. We’ll do a re-vote. We’ll re-enact our constitutional amendments,’” Moore told the judge.

The applicants also allege that Adade brought five people who were not members of UTMSFL to attend the meeting and vote against the election of the fourth executive.

Wood pointed out that in cross-examination, Adade denied allegations of stacking the deck at that meeting and actually tried his best to help UTMSFL meet the UTSMU’s requirements to qualify for clubs funding.

“We have an affidavit from Mr. Adade, who says he doesn’t do that, and we asked him on cross and he denied it on cross. He said that these members attended on their own,” Wood told the judge. “They had come to him, they had talked to him about [UTMSFL] and he said, ‘If you have issues with [UTMSFL], go to the meeting on the 23rd and talk to [UTMSFL] there.’”

Wood also told the judge that UTMSU-recognized clubs are required to be open to all UTMSU members and that all UTMSU members can therefore vote in the club elections. The only exception, Wood said, is if the club lays out different voting rights in its constitution. “[UTMSFL] did not put into their constitution any restrictions on who could vote,” she continued.

According to Wood, Adade sent an email to UTMSFL after the general meeting, explaining the next steps and expressing willingness to continue working with the club to get its club status approved. The student union board then received an email from Moore saying that UTMSFL was commencing legal proceedings.

It is unknown when the court will reach a decision, although the decision for Grant v. Ryerson Students’ Union came out nearly 10 months after the hearing.

Bylaw amendments take centre stage at UTMSU AGM

Signature threshold to hold general meetings raised, grievance policy adopted

Bylaw amendments take centre stage at UTMSU AGM

Bylaw amendments were the main topics of discussion at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM), held on November 23 in the William G. Davis Building at UTM. Major changes included an increase to the number of signatures needed for calling a general meeting, as well as a new policy for how students can bring forward grievances they have against the union.

At the start of bylaw amendment discussions, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher motioned to externalize four of the proposed amendments, including the two mentioned above. The motion passed, which required those four to be discussed and voted on separately from other amendments. These discussions represented the bulk of the yearly meeting.

Signatures for general meetings

One of the amendments put forward increased the number of signatures required to call general meetings to five per cent of the UTMSU membership, which currently consists of over 13,000 students, making the new quorum approximately 650 students. The previous requirement was 250 students, and the original raise proposed in the amendment was 10 per cent of the membership, or 1,300 students.

During the discussions, Boucher voiced concerns that 10 per cent was too high, suggesting the number be changed instead to 500 signatures, or approximately four per cent of the membership.

After extensive debate, UTMSU President Salma Fakhry was the one to propose the successful motion of the number being lowered to 5 per cent as a compromise to the 10 per cent that was originally suggested, which she called a “standard” number.

Boucher responded by saying, “I just wanted to let the room know that the UTSU’s is only one per cent, so it’s not actually standard.”

Grievance policy

A new bylaw was passed detailing how members can bring to attention grievances that they may have against the UTSMU. According to the bylaw, this is to ensure that the union can “make itself an open and accessible space to all members.”

The bylaw states that “any such Grievance shall be put in writing and addressed to the Grievance Officer, who shall be the President of the Union.” The officer will meet with the concerned parties and, depending on the grievance, may direct the complaint to a relevant committee. The resolution will be decided by a majority vote of committee members present at the meeting.

Boucher proposed an amendment to the bylaw, saying that there should be more than one Grievance Officer, and that they should “function as an impartial appellate board.”

“The reason why I am proposing this change is just in the case [of] a grievance against an executive member or the president themselves. It’s very hard to be impartial and non-biased in this position,” said Boucher.

Fakhry spoke against Boucher’s proposal, saying, “We’d rather very much keep it to the decision making of the board to compile the Executive Review Committee if such an occurrence or such a grievance were to come against the executive.”

Finances

Other notable AGM events included the approval of the financial statements of the UTMSU and of The Blind Duck pub, a division of the student union. UTMSU Vice President Internal Vikko Qu explained that the World University Service of Canada program ran a $24,000 deficit to financially support an additional refugee student whom “the administration refused to support” aside from registration.

In addition, Qu said that The Blind Duck is running a deficit, which UTMSU Executive Director Munib Sajjad clarified was due to the executive’s decision to not increase the price of food despite the increase in cost of sales.

Qu also mentioned that club expenditures went down because some clubs did not collect their funding cheques or pass audited financial statements, and that Student Centre expenditures were diminished because there were fewer events held on campus this year.

The UTMSU also voted to switch auditors of the financial statements from Charles Havill, CPA to Glenn Graydon Wright LLP, as Fakhry said the former no longer exists.