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.

UTMSU executive candidates face off in debate

Election to take place March 7–9

UTMSU executive candidates face off in debate

The campaign period for the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are in full swing, and the executive candidates faced off at UTM’s Blind Duck Pub in a two hour debate on March 1.

There are two slates competing in this year’s election compared to four last year. No incumbents are running for re-election, and two of the candidates are UTMSU associates. The slates, Fresh UTM and UTM First, presented platforms that advocate for international student rights, U-Pass expansion, and healthier food options on campus.

President

Running for President with Fresh UTM is Salma Fakhry, who is Associate to the UTMSU Vice-President University Affairs and Academics. Her platform includes providing accessible education and reviewing UTM’s student centre expansion.

Alex Gignac is UTM First’s presidential candidate. Gignac’s platform advocates for a tier rewards system for club funding, which would see more funding provided to new clubs that participate in more events.

Additionally, he advocated for U-Pass expansion throughout Brampton and Oakville. All UTM students are provided with a U-Pass, which allows for unlimited access to MiWay for a mandatory fee charged to their student accounts.

When asked about the student centre expansion, Fakhry stated that at the last UTMSU Annual General Meeting, students voted ‘yes’ on a student centre expansion.

Fakhry said, “We must consult our student body. We cannot do this alone… We must lobby with the administration to find… an accessible funding model that actually takes pressure off students. We don’t want students to be paying extra money, because this is their right and this is their space.”

Gignac stated that he also advocates for the expansion: “We’re going to have to sit down with the university because the most important thing is that they cover a good chunk of the expenses… There will be no increased tuition for the student centre.”

Vice-President Internal and Services

Vikko Qu from Fresh UTM is running unopposed for Vice-President Internal and Services. His platform focuses on expanding limited accessibility and study space on campus.

Qu proposes making the U-Pass GTA-wide. When asked how he plans to establish a GTA-wide pass, Qu noted that he was involved in the GTA U-Pass conversation last year as Associate to the Vice-President Internal.

“What will happen this year is that first, we’ll consult the students by running surveys, by collecting data, by collecting information. And second, we’ll be talking to our levy groups, clubs and societies, and third, we’ll be running a referendum so that our students can vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’  [on whether] they want a GTA U-Pass,” Qu said. “We’ll present all the information to the government, to Metrolinx, so our students’ demands can be consented.”

Vice-President External

Ali Taha is UTM First’s candidate for Vice-President External. Taha, who currently serves on the UTMSU Board of Directors, stated that his goal as Vice-President External would be to unite the three campuses. He also aims for a diversity of opinions on campus.

Jose Wilson is running for the same position with Fresh UTM. Wilson’s platform is centred on activism for part-time students.

The Vice-President External candidates were questioned at the debate on how they planned to reinstate the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) for international students.

Taha stated that, after some research, he learned OHIP was rescinded for international students in 1994, as the government did not feel it was feasible to implement the program for international students.

He noted that re-instating the program for international students would be very difficult and instead advocated for increased support for international students. “I would like to see more support and services for international students, like international ambassadors to be able to be appointed as [the point of] contact for international students when they get here,” said Taha.

Wilson noted that he is an international student, that he understood how expensive the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) is, and how it lacks coverage.

He said, “I remember a conversation with [Qu] where he mentioned that in order to take a ride in an ambulance, you would have to pay $500, because the ambulance does not take the UHIP coverage… We want to take a look at lobbying MPPs and premiers about re-instating OHIP for international students.”

Vice-President Equity

Sagal Osman is running for Vice-President Equity with UTM Fresh. She cites her experience as an executive with the Black Students’ Association as a reason for her involvement. Osman wants to expand safe spaces on campus in addition to combating Islamophobia, sexism, and racism on campus.

UTM First’s Vice-President Equity candidate is Mduduzi Mhlanga, who wants to focus on finances and on-campus affordability.

The Vice-President Equity candidates were asked about how they planned to implement the Sexual Violence Policy at UTM.

Osman stated that she would like to see “an annual review of this policy. We need constant change so that we can keep advocating and keep implementing policies that keep communities spoken for and included.”

She noted that the policy provides support for perpetrators and wants to see the policy edited to make it “survivor-centric.”

“Our human rights need to be advocated for and spoken for, and if we can’t do that then we need to change that right now,” Osman said.

Mhlanga countered by saying he believed it was far more important to “find a solution that works and stick with it.”

“But overall, I believe that UTM is a very safe campus… so I believe that we have made real strides in achieving equality and equity despite sexual orientation, despite ethnic identification, despite your gender,” Mhlanga stated. “I believe that for this policy, it’s far more important to hear student’s opinions and see what they think needs to be changed, and then try to advocate for that change as well, once we again make sure the solution is viable.”

Vice-President University Affairs

and Academics

UTM First candidate Christina Khokar wants students to have a better understanding of tuition fees, along with more information sessions related to tuition. Khokhar advocates for increased opt-out options from fees and levies.

Fresh UTM candidate Maya Tomkiewicz stated that students are often unaware of what is included in student policies. She is advocating for increased visibility of these policies on campus.

When asked what the governing council on campus does, Khokhar stated that UTM operates as a democracy. “I also want to improve this process by having a longer election period so we can get across to more people… right now, our voter turnout is only 35 per cent… I think everyone should have a voice… and I think everyone should recognize the value of these elections,” she said.

Tomkiewicz clarified that the UTM Campus Council is a subsection of the Governing Council: “They make decisions about different issues like academic policies, parking fees, tuition. Unfortunately, there is very little student representation on this council.”

Tomkiewicz then advocated for further representation of students on the council.

Voting takes place from March 7–9 at Davis Building, Instructional Centre, CCT Building, and Deerfield Hall.

Former UTSU President Munib Sajjad hired as UTMSU Executive Director

Sajjad moves to full-time role with union after serving in part-time capacity

Former UTSU President Munib Sajjad hired as UTMSU Executive Director

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) has filled the vacancy created after the departure of the union’s Executive Director.

Munib Sajjad, who had served as University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President in the 2013-2014 year, was hired as the UTMSU’s new Executive Director on August 18.

Prior to his hiring as Executive Director, he had filled a similar position in the union called the Executive Coordinator since July 11.

According to the job description, the Executive Coordinator was a part-time position with duties that were identical to those of the Executive Director, with the exception of financial responsibilities. UTMSU President Nour Alideeb told The Varsity that the union has since discontinued the Executive Coordinator position.

Alideeb did not participate in either the Executive Coordinator Hiring Committee or the Executive Director Hiring Committee after having recused herself to avoid a conflict of interest.

Last year, Sajjad served as the Vice-President, Internal, for the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union before leaving both roles.

Sajjad replaces Walied Khogali, who had had been heavily involved in student unions for nearly a decade. Khogali was on the executive of the Students’ Administrative Council — now commonly called the UTSU — and later as chair of the UTMSU before becoming the union’s Executive director.

Sajjad could not be reached for comment.

When asked about the UTMSU’s recent shifts in staff, Alideeb said that she hopes these changes will improve the union’s service delivery and advocacy efforts.

“We hope to better accommodate our students needs. We want to better serve our members, clubs, and academic societies, so whatever changes we make will reflect the commitment of better advocacy and services that will benefit our members.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Munib Sajjad was formerly the Executive Director for the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS). In fact, Sajjad was the Vice-President, Internal for APUS.

UTMSU announce changes to staff

Union announces departures of Executive Director and Services Manager

UTMSU announce changes to staff

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) Executive Director Walied Khogali and Services Manager Nausheen Adam are parting ways with the union.

According to the UTMSU memo, Khogali will vacate his position on August 19 to accept an opportunity in the not-for-profit sector. Khogali supported the executive committee with projects such as the U-Pass program to all undergraduate students, the consolidation of the Erindale Part-Time Undergraduate Students (EPUS), and the Campus Councils at UTM and UTSC.

Khogali served as president of UTMSU from 2007–2008. Prior to that, Khogali was Vice-President, UTM of the Students’ Administrative Council — now referred to as the University of Toronto Students’ Union — in the 2006–2007 academic year.

Khogali returned to UTMSU as Chair of the Board of Directors, before becoming the Executive Director in 2011.

In the memo, UTMSU President Nour Alideeb remarked, “We would like to wish Mr. Khogali all the best as he contributes his passion and skills to our communities with zeal, tact and integrity, all characteristics we expect from a change maker.”

Adam, former Services Manager at the UTMSU, has been working with the union since September 2014. Adam vacated her position on August 11.

Alideeb said that Khogali and Adam “will play a pivotal role in promoting the values and goals of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) in their new positions.” She also told The Varsity that the union has struck hiring committees to fill the roles.

Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations met with opposition

UTSU exec in support, UTMSU threatens to seek “legal remedy” against university if policy is implemented

Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations met with opposition

The university’s proposal for a structured grievances system for levy-collecting student societies has been met with considerable opposition from several large societies.

Details of the proposed Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations were made public to Governing Council’s University Affairs Board on May 25. The policy is pending approval by Governing Council on June 23.

The policy defines the university’s expectations for student societies to operate in an “open, accessible, and democratic” manner and creates the University Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS or SSCRC), which would hear complaints against student societies that violate this standard or their constitution. 

The CRCSS would be made up of four student members appointed on a case-by-case basis and one chair with experience in conflict resolution appointed to a two-year term. One of the four student members would be drawn from one of the representative student societies, which are comprised up the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part-Time students (APUS), the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU). The remaining three members would be appointees from other student societies. According to the policy, “The Chair will consider the type of complaint; and the size, location, constituency and type of organization when selecting the members.”

Currently, complaints against a student society are dealt with by the provost, who has the authority to withhold fees if they believe the student society is not acting appropriately.  This has happened to the Arts and Science Students’ Union back in 2008. According to the proposed policy, if complaints cannot be addressed within the society, the CRCSS would be a forum to discuss complaints but can recommend the withholding of fees to the Provost, who would still have the sole authority to do so.

Opposition to the policy

The policy has been criticized by leaders of several large student societies. Jessica Kirk, president of the SCSU called the policy “a direct attack on the agency of student societies, equity service groups, and student organizations.” She continued, “In the case of student unions particularly, created by and for students, it makes little sense for them to be overseen by the University administration, especially seeing as we have an obligation to be accountable to our members first and foremost.”

UTGSU academics and funding commissioner Brieanne Berry-Crossfield expressed similar concerns, saying, “we feel that this makes all UofT affiliated clubs, groups and societies vulnerable in a way that does not serve their membership or recognize our bylaws.”

APUS president Mala Kashyap also cited a desire to remain independent from the university administration: “As students, we can manage our own organizations and resolve conflicts that may arise.” 

In addition, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) president Nour Alideeb sent a letter on May 26 to Andrew Szende, the chair of the University Affairs Board. In the letter, Alideeb alleges that the new policy infringes on the UTMSU’s legal autonomy and its exclusive commitment to its members.

“If the University adopts the new policy, which inevitably becomes a tool to attempt to coerce, intimidate or force UTMSU to adopt or abide by the policy, the University will be acting in bad faith and forcing the students’ union to make decisions in contradiction to the mandate of its members,” reads a portion of the letter, “This is a breach of the important and crucial role of the student union being autonomous from the University Administration, so that it could fulfill its role as a watchdog on behalf of its members.”

[pullquote-features]“… the University will be acting in bad faith and forcing the students’ union to make decisions in contradiction to the mandate of its members”[/pullquote-features]

The letter also states that the UTMSU will seek “a legal remedy” if the policy takes effect.

U of T media relations director Althea Blackburn-Evans stressed that the policy does not give additional powers to the Provost and is actually gives more responsibility to students.

“The university sees this as a very positive move for the students and student societies. It’s putting more power into the hand of the students,” said Blackburn-Evans. “The possible concern that something is being taken away from students, I’m not sure where that’s coming from because it actually gives more power to the students than what has historically been the case.”

However, Alideeb disagrees.

“While some may suggest that the new policy does not expand the Provost’s existing powers, I think it does by lending support to the idea that the Administration should approve of every student campaign or initiative,” Alideeb told The Varsity. “This obviously undermines our ability to advocate for students independently on issues, such as tuition fees or fossil fuel divestment where our position differs from that of the Administration.”

[pullquote-default]“The possible concern that something is being taken away from students, I’m not sure where that’s coming from because it actually gives more power to the students than what has historically been the case.”[/pullquote-default]

Representatives from the UTMSU, the SCSU, the APUS, and the GSU also appeared in a video released by the UTMSU, encouraging members to speak out against the policy at the June 23 Governing Council meeting. UTMSU vice president campus life Tyrell Subban also sent an email to UTMSU clubs executives, urging them to attend the meeting and express opposition to the policy.

Conversely, the UTSU executive committee released a statement endorsing the proposed policy, noting that the Provost would not gain additional powers.

“We are not, by endorsing the SSCRC, capitulating to the administration — simply put, the SSCRC will help our members hold us accountable. We hope that our fellow student societies come to the same conclusion,” reads a portion of the statement.

UTSU vice-president internal & services Mathias Memmel told The Varsity that the statement was released urgently in response to Alideeb’s letter: “The UTMSU had made its position clear, and we needed to act immediately.”

Prior consultations

According to Alideeb’s letter, the UTMSU was “not consulted during the development of the policy.”

“It is unfortunate that the University Administration has proposed to move forward with a policy without consulting all the relevant stakeholders that will be impacted by the new policy, and will undermine the watchdog role of student unions, who act in the best interests of their members and not necessarily the University Administration, when it pertains to policy matters.”

The policy was the result of talks between the University and student societies during the Student Societies Summit that took place between 2013 and 2014. The establishment of a university-wide appeals board was one of among the recommendations outlined in the Student Societies Summit report. The UTMSU withdrew before the conclusion of the summit, arguing that the summit was undemocratic and “privileges some student groups over others.”

In February and March of this year, the university released the first draft of the policy and invited students to send feedback. In the first draft of the policy, the SSCRC would have made up of four elected student members and two members appointed by the provost.

Blackburn-Evans said that the university consulted widely while developing the policy.

“Many changes were made in response to student comments so there has been quite a bit of back and forth and redrafting based on student feedback and UTMSU, as with all the societies, they had ample opportunities to provide feedback,” she explained.

Disclosure: The Varsity is a levy-collecting student society and would be affected by the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

Unite UTM claims all executive positions in landslide victory

Total of four slates in this year's elections

Unite UTM won an overwhelming victory in the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections, securing all five executive positions, unofficial results indicate. There were a total of four slates in this year’s elections, and a handful of independent candidates.

Current vice president, university affairs Nour Alideeb is the president-elect and won with 1,717 votes. Ridwan Olow, presidential candidate with UTM Focus, received the second-most votes in the election with 479 votes – roughly a third of those received by Alideeb.

The results for the other executive positions revealed a similar distribution of votes.

Jackie Zhao will fulfil the role of vice president, internal & services and was elected with 1,811 votes. He will be joined by Vanessa Demello, who won her position with 1808 votes.

Marise Hopkins is the vice president, external-elect and received 1,612 votes, and Maleeha Baig will be vice president, equity. Baig won with 1,732 votes.

For each executive election, there were between 51 and 60 spoiled ballots and between 60 and 98 abstentions.

The new executive will take office on May 1, 2016, after the results of the election are ratified.

This story is developing, more to follow.

Four executive slates compete in hotly contested UTMSU election

Election grievances filed over external campaigners

Four executive slates compete in hotly contested UTMSU election

The University of Mississauga Campus Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are in full swing. The campaign period began on March 1 with four slates competing for executive positions: UTM Awaken, EnvisionUTM, UTM Focus, and Unite UTM. All four slates have expressed a desire to see change on the campus. Although the slates share an interest in improving transportation, community, and academic assistance, the policies they propose vary significantly. 

The Issues

The Varsity asked each of the slates for their opinions on three issues facing UTM students that they deemed most important.

UTM Awaken identified the shortage of services available for students with mental illnesses as a major issue. “We believe that the students of this campus should have easy and efficient access to… [the] support they need,” the slate said in a statement to The Varsity. UTM Awaken intends to address the problem by working with the Health & Counselling Centre to increase advertisement and promotion of its services and making sure that staff members and volunteers at the UTMSU receive SafeTalk training.

UTM Awaken also spoke about a lack of networking opportunities, for students, saying, “we believe that as a students’ union, we should be working to open doors for job and career opportunities. We plan on tackling this issue by working with our societies to create networking nights for the students. At these events, we would invite students, professors, alum, and professionals from various fields and industries to come and speak about opportunities that they can offer.”

The slate wants to introduce an Indigenous coordinator in partnership with the Indigenous Centre on campus. “[Our] goal is to represent one of the most underrepresented minorities on campus. The Indigenous coordinator will be providing these folks with employment opportunities and more opportunities to network,” the team said. 

The EnvisionUTM slate told The Varsity that there are a number of issues that affect UTM students and that they cannot prioritize one issue over another. “EnvisionUTM has taken a holistic approach in our platform and has created a detailed strategy and a comprehensive plan in order to ensure all student concerns are met,” said Genny Lawen, EnvisionUTM’s presidential candidate. 

“From transit to food, multi-faith space to the release of exam schedules, printing services to credit/no credit limits, we have created realistic and achievable goals that we believe will make a noticeable difference in the lives of UTM Students,” she said. 

UTM Focus highlighted inaccessible tuition fees, lack of mental health services, and the divide between domestic and international students as their top priorities. “Inaccessible tuition fees are a struggle for students,” the slate said in a team statement. If elected, the slate plans to start the first ever UTMSU-funded scholarship and to create a larger bursary budget.   

“With mental health we hope to raise more awareness on campus about it by working with the administration to extend services on campus,” they said. UTM Focus hopes to create affordable healthcare coverage for international students by working with the government and other post-secondary institutions. 

Unite UTM did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

President 

Jason Selvanayagam is the presidential candidate for UTM Awaken. He faces Lawen from EnvisionUTM, Ridwan Olow from UTM Focus, and Nour Alideeb from Unite UTM. 

“The reason I am running for UTMSU President is because having been a student for five years, I’ve fallen in love with this campus and would love the opportunity to give back and improve the university experience,” he said. 

Lawen is a fourth-year student studying criminology and French. “I am running for President in this year’s elections because I envision an active union that represents the needs of students in all platforms to ensure that students receive the best university experience at UTM,” she said. 

Olow is currently a student governor on Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body. Olow said that he wants to focus on UTM students’ needs and concerns. “Too often goals and platform points are too broad and unattainable in one year. Our goals and interests are doable and very focused,” he said.

Alideeb is the current UTMSU vice president, university affairs & academics. Her platform includes creating a nap room on campus, pushing for ethical divestment, and fighting rising tuition and ancillary fees.

Vice president, internal & services 

For the position of vice president, internal & services, Adil Isaac Abrahim is EnvisionUTM’s candidate. He is a fourth-year environmental management and political science student. “I am running for Vice President Internal and Services this year because I am passionate and want to ensure that UTM students have access to as many services as possible and are able to use them in a way that not only benefits them but also enhances their experience here at UTM,” he said.   

Abrahim is up against UTM Focus’ Hoda Khan, Unite UTM’s Jackie Zhao, and UTM Awaken’s Tamam Khalaf. 

“I care about transparency. I would like to see the union be transparent, after all they are elected by the students, for the students and should be held accountable if needed,” Khan said. 

Zhao is the president of the Chinese Undergraduate Association at UTM. He hopes to establish an emergency food plan fund, implement new locker spaces on campus, and create an international student bursary.   

Khalaf brings experience as the vice president, internal and events coordinator of UTM Middle Eastern Students’ Association and as president of the Association of Palestinian Students. “I believe in the community we have on campus. I am passionate about mental health awareness and bringing the best possible services to students and hopefully as VP Internal, I can help AWAKEN the UTM student population,” said Khalaf.

Vice president, equity 

Farishta Amanullah is the candidate for vice president, equity with UTM Focus. “[Equity] on campus is important and can be expressed in many ways. Whether through language, dialogue and education, respecting one another and our experiences is one of the keys to a successful educational journey,” she said. 

Unite UTM’s Maleeha Baig, UTM Awaken’s Priyanka Sahajpal, and Envision’s Falhad Mohamoud are also competing for the position.   

Baig wants to combat misogyny and build a culture of consent on campus, as well as lobby for more racialised mental health counselors. She is currently the president of the Muslim Students’ Association and has previously served as president of the local chapter of Amnesty International.

“The reason to why I am running for [vice president, equity] is I am passionate [about] creating a safe and a more accessible space for all of the students,” Sahajpal, who wants introduce an Indigenous coordinator and lobby for all gendered bathrooms. 

“I am running for Vice President Equity because I Envision [sic] a UTM that is inclusive for all individuals, where everyone feels safe to be who they want to be, and a UTM that puts students needs first,” Mohamoud. She currently serves on the UTMSU board of directors and said that she is passionate about ensuring UTM students have a support system on campus that they can feel safe accessing.

Vice president, university affairs & academics 

Unite UTM’s vice president, university affairs & academics candidate is Vanessa Demello. She was an orientation leader in 2014 and 2015 and an executive with The Psychology Association od Undergraduate Students at Erindale. Her priorities are to improve mental health services and reduce associated stigma.   

Ryan Persaud from UTM Awaken, Abdulla Omari from EnvisionUTM, and Menna Elnaka from UTM Focus join Demello in the race. 

“My motivation to run for vp university affairs & academics stems from the fact that my time at UTM could have been better and I want to make changes that will impact students for years to come,” said Persaud. “I really want to implement networking nights for students to get a better idea of what they want to do in their future; in working with societies, faculty, and alum, students will be able to gain valuable insight from beginning to end.” 

“University is an all encompassing experience, and like so many experiences there are good and bad moments; to me, the position of University Affairs and Academics is dedicated to ensuring students know it’s okay to make mistakes in that process,” said Omari. He would work to increase the credit/no credit limit, pursue a grade forgiveness policy, and raise awareness about possible violations of academic policy. 

Elnaka worked as an associate news editor with The Medium for two years. “Affordable tuition education is a right and all students of all backgrounds and experiences deserve to get an education,” she said. 

Vice president, external

Emerson Calcada is running with UTM Awaken “to represent the students as they need to be represented.” 

“The students need to feel that they can change their union and their campus; so for that to be they need to be heard and that is why I am running,“ he said. 

Amanee Nassereddine from EnvisionUTM is majoring in health science and minoring in chemistry and psychology. “My goal in life is to never settle, if one can do better, always set that bar higher. Having this goal in mind, I am running for vice president external to create a great positive change in the lives of all UTM students both on and off campus,” she said.

“[The] point of a students union is to help and assist students with their needs and concerns. Whatever they may be, we are focused on them,” said UTM Focus’ Kamal Ali. 

Marise Hopkins rounds off the Unite UTM slate. She is the UTMSU’s World University Services Chapter (WUSC) coordinator and chair of the WUSC local committee. She hopes to bring heated bus shelters to UTM and to Hart House, and lobby for cheaper and healthier food on campus.

Campaign issues 

At least two of the slates have spoken out against the use of campaigners who are not UTM students. “What we as a slate have spoken out upon is that campaigning by UTM students should be the only people who can decide their student representatives,” said UTM Awaken. “We as a slate want only UTM students to volunteer for slates and represent such people. UTM Awaken therefore only cares to see that UTM students have their opinion heard.”

UTM Focus told The Varsity that they had filed an appeal with the Elections and Referenda Committee (EARC) regarding non-UTM student campaigners assisting slates. “We decided that this was unfair and misrepresentation to the UTM community since it should be only UTM students encouraging UTM how they should be voting,” the slate said. 

Bryan Chelvanaigum, UTMSU elections chief returning officer, said that the EARC had received complaints but that they may not be disclosed prior to the committee’s consideration.

Chelvanaigum said that his ruling on the matter and all other rulings are made public and will be posted on the “wall of transparency” located in the Davis building.

EnvisionUTM said that they were unable to comment or respond to any inquiries regarding EARC.   

Voting will run between March 8 and March 10 at polling stations at UTM.   

Disclosure: Abdulla Omari is a member of the Board of Directors for Varsity Publications Inc.