Missing executive reports once again draw concern at UTSU board meeting

Resigned directors replaced, new General Manager confirmed

Missing executive reports once again draw concern at UTSU board meeting

Missing executive reports became a source of contention once again during the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting on December 7, as several directors raised concerns about executives failing to submit their reports on time.

To ensure accountability, the UTSU’s policy manual requires each executive to submit a monthly executive report. These reports must be accessible at least four days prior to each month’s board meeting.

Only two executives submitted their executive reports on time for this month’s meeting – Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin and Vice-President Professional Faculties Yasmine El Sanyoura.

The remaining five executives — President Anne Boucher, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm, Vice-President External Affairs Yuli Liu, Vice-President Equity Ammara Wasim, and Vice-President Student Life Yolanda Alfaro — did not have their reports available in the meeting package by the date of the meeting.

“We all understand that we’re students, and it gets difficult, but that’s what we said last month, and the month before that,” said Social Sciences Director Joshua Bowman. “So I’d just like to encourage the Executives to speak about it.”

Boucher, attending the meeting online, apologized for not sending her report on time and also apologized on behalf of Liu. She cited an “intensive week in Ottawa” with the Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities, a group of eight student unions, as a reason for her lateness.

Boucher added that “there is no excuse for having a late report I will do my best to ensure this does not happen again on our end.” She further apologized for her and Liu’s absence from the meeting, saying that they would be “happy to complete” the reports by the end of that day.

Alfaro also apologized to the board, saying that she had three assignments and a midterm on the due date, and that she was willing to send in a report or record of her hours sheet after the meeting.

Bowman said that this is a “consistent problem” that has been going on since meetings in the summer. He highlighted consequences of absences of the executive reports, such as how a lack of reports makes it difficult for directors to find out how to get involved with the executives’ initiatives.

Innis College Director Lucas Granger also pressed the executives to send their reports on time, suggesting that, at the minimum, they submit their log of hours before board meetings.

Since the executive reports are available to all students in the UTSU’s membership, newly-appointed University College Director Tyler Riches noted that the executives “also owe it to the membership to be transparent about what they’re doing, so that students who pay the student union know what their executives are doing.”

New College Director Arjun Singh also requested that the executives send out their late executive reports after the exam period but before the next board meeting on January 14.

Resignations, new General Manager, lobbying for menstrual products

The board also confirmed the appointments of Rahemeen Ahmed as Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Director, as well as Lina Maragha and Riches as University College Directors, replacing the previous directors who resigned in October.

Furthermore, the board also confirmed the hiring of Suzanne Belleau as the UTSU’s General Manager. This move comes five months after the previous General Manager left in June after only two months on the job.

The board voted to give Belleau signing authority and she began employment on December 10.

“For those who don’t know necessarily what a signing authority entails,” said Biswurm, “it’s simply the case that this gives a person to whom is delegated the ability to bind the UTSU to contractual obligations, financial agreements, and so forth.”

Grondin also updated the board about his lobbying for increased access to menstrual products on campus.

“We were just notified by Hart House that they’ll be expanding to provide free menstrual products, hopefully in all washrooms of the building next year,” said Grondin.

“They currently have them in the washrooms of the Athletic Centre change room, for the woman-identified change room — so that’s one place they’ll be expanding next year, and they are trying to do it.”

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

Previous GM left after two months on the job for unknown reasons

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

After five months, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has hired a new General Manager following the departure of Michelle Lee-Fullerton, who left the position after only two months on the job.

In a statement emailed to The Varsity, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that the new General Manager, whose name has not been disclosed yet, will start work on December 10.

“We’ve followed a thorough and extensive hiring process for the General Manager,” Boucher said.

“A General Manager plays an important role in the day-to-day and success of the UTSU,” Boucher said. “So it’s important to us that the position be filled not only by the most qualified & capable candidate, but by one who respects and works in line with the UTSU’s core principles.”

The reasons for Lee-Fullerton’s departure were not revealed “due to legal constraints, and out of respect for the individual,” Boucher said at the time.

The General Manager post was created this year to replace the Executive Director position and is meant to serve as a link between the student union’s executive team and the operations staff, as well as to help oversee special projects.

Tka Pinnock, the most recent Executive Director, left the UTSU at the end of the last academic year, after three years.

Since Lee-Fullerton’s departure in July, the regular duties and responsibilities of the General Manager have been taken up by Boucher and UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm in their capacity as members of the management committee.

The General Manager position is particularly important to helping the UTSU develop the long-awaited Student Commons, a student-run centre that is currently slated to open in April, after it was delayed twice from its original September opening. The Student Commons has been in the works for 11 years.

In the absence of the General Manager, former UTSU president Mathias Memmel was contracted by the organization for Student Commons planning and basic financial responsibilities.

“His financial responsibilities include payroll, record keeping, and the issuing of cheques — essentially ensuring that employees get paid, and clubs and levies receive disbursements owed,” Boucher explained.

“His Student Commons-related duties include preparatory tasks i.e. coordination of renovations, liaising with those active on the project (e.g. architects, consultants, etc), and producing operating plans that reflect the UTSU’s vision for the building.”

Memmel’s continued role within the UTSU past his presidential term raised questions from members at the Annual General Meeting, particularly because his role was not well-defined at the time.

“I understand the UTSU’s decision to contract out work to a former executive was met with skepticism at our Annual General Meeting, which alleged that it is improper for him to report to me,” Boucher said. “I don’t believe for a second that this would be a concern if I were a man. To question my authority and ability as a female President to manage a former leader is offensive.”

UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?

The failure to maintain quorum points to a disengaged student electorate and stains the night’s otherwise progressive motions

UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is, on paper, a powerful force. As one of Canada’s largest student unions by membership, it governs over 50,000 full-time undergraduate and professional faculty students.

While providing services — like club funding or the health and dental plan — is its most tangible mandate, the UTSU’s most interesting role is to lobby for student interests on behalf of its massive electorate. Be it directing action against rising tuition costs or taking symbolic stances in opposition to university or government policies, it is advocacy that ideally lights a fire in the hearts of university students.

Yet at its recent October 30 Annual General Meeting (AGM), the UTSU was unable to retain the presence of even 50 members to maintain quorum for the duration of the event. This is despite interesting, progressive, and engaging motions on the docket — a golden opportunity for the UTSU’s large membership to openly debate and shape the UTSU’s advocacy role.

Of the 40 or so members who remained at the end of the meeting, the overwhelming majority were what union executive Tyler Biswurm called “insiders.” The failure to maintain quorum is disappointing and highlights that the UTSU has an engagement problem with its membership.

A questionable decision on quorum

Quorum for the AGM is 75 voting members, of which 50 must be physically present. The rest can be proxied votes. This is stated in the UTSU’s bylaws, in accordance with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA), which governs the operations of not-for-profits like the UTSU — and The Varsity — in Canada.

Before a vote on a member-submitted motion that would increase the direct democracy of the union, there was a roll call to establish whether the meeting still had quorum. There were less than 50 members present, and for a brief moment there was hushed chaos as many assumed that the meeting would be forced to adjourn.

However, a member spoke up, citing language from the CNCA that describes how a meeting may continue conducting business even if it loses quorum, as long as quorum was established at the beginning. The AGM’s speaker ruled that the meeting would continue.

This scenario is not described in the UTSU’s bylaws. But there is precedent for halting an AGM when quorum is lost, as was done by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) in 2015.

Whether or not continuing the meeting without quorum was in order is subject to interpretation. However, that doing so was counter to the spirit of union democracy is not. The lack of engagement from the UTSU’s membership, underscored by the regrettable loss of quorum, hurts both the spirit and the substance of the resolutions passed at the AGM.

Exhibit A: The motion on the campus free speech mandate

Take, for example, the member-submitted resolution, which passed, that the UTSU formally oppose the campus free speech mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative provincial government.

This is a step in the right direction. Ontario campuses, U of T included, enjoy the benefits of free speech already. Ford’s ‘campus free speech’ mandate serves as a dog-whistle of encouragement to far-right groups that support him.

However, the lack of engagement from students at large and other interested parties was shocking. The Campus Conservatives — an official affiliate of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada — are a voice we could expect to advocate on behalf of Ford’s mandate at the AGM.

When asked by a Varsity reporter about why the Campus Conservatives was absent from the AGM, the group’s president, Matthew Campbell, answered resoundingly: “Because I was at a bar with friends.”

“They’re a fucking joke,” Campbell said of the union. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” Campbell’s language is crude and inappropriate, but is nonetheless indicative of the general disengagement between the union and student body.

Ironically, the resolution on free speech was passed without much constructive debate. Yes, there was discussion of the motion’s use of the term “Orwellian,” and a vote to strike part of the motion, but the debate lacked a sense of action and left questions about how advocacy should take shape unanswered. The lack of engagement hurt the spirit of the progress that the union made on that front on October 30.

It also hurts the substance of this progress: without diverse and engaged voices, the union’s membership is left wondering what exactly the UTSU’s new stance means. If U of T’s current free speech policy is compliant with Ford’s mandate, the question emerges as to whether the UTSU will now oppose it, or if its rejection is strictly limited to provincially-mandated changes.

Whether the union will engage with the university on this issue — as the original resolution mandated — or if this is a purely symbolic act, as the amended motion suggests, remains a concern for students. These are the types of questions that could have been debated by a more engaged membership, but weren’t.

Exhibit B: The motion on policy and bylaw changes at AGMs

Similarly, the motion to allow members to propose policy and bylaw changes at AGMs — as opposed to having the union’s own Governance Committee handle these matters — was stained in both spirit and substance by a lack of engagement.

Again, like the free speech policy, this motion is a step in the right direction. It’s important for members to be able to enact change in their union, and a move toward direct democracy is principled and progressive.

However, concerns raised in the discussion of this motion highlighted the ease with which members could force through hostile or ill-intentioned policy changes, by simply bringing in a crowd of friends or even a small group wielding stacks of proxies.

We share these concerns. If this new policy were applied to the October 30 AGM, 10 attending members, each carrying 10 proxied votes, could have formed a majority and opposed any motion that went before the membership.

A middle ground must be struck between a union whose policies and bylaws are confined to small governance discussions between engaged insiders, and a union whose policies and bylaws can be derailed by a small but ferocious force at an AGM.

Yet that middle ground couldn’t be struck on October 30. Perhaps this is because the overwhelming majority of those present at the AGM were themselves “insiders.”

This motion was also passed without quorum. As well as calling into question the validity of the motion, this underscores the lack of engagement with the UTSU. In years past, AGMs have been fraught with fierce and divisive debate. A motion like this would have been unthinkable then.

Rather than letting the membership ignore the potential danger of swinging too far in the direction of direct and underrepresented democracy, a better-attended and more engaging AGM would have put these matters into better context.

The need to cultivate an engaged student democracy

This AGM made it clear that the UTSU has much work to do when it comes to engagement with its electorate. With the power to represent, govern, and advocate as one of the country’s largest student unions comes a responsibility to cultivate an engaged, robust student democracy. We hope that the UTSU takes action to fulfill this responsibility.

We also hope that next year’s AGM builds on the progressive spirit of this year’s motions with the added quality that the room’s tension pertains to healthy and plentiful debate, rather than a struggle to maintain quorum.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

UTSU AGM 2018: Doing better, but must improve participation

The UTSU is correct on finance, slates, and the UTMSU split, but student involvement remains an obstacle

UTSU AGM 2018: Doing better, but must improve participation

Reflecting on this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), it is clear that the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is, for the most part, moving in a good direction.

In her address, President Anne Boucher accurately said that the organization is no longer “putting out fires.” This is to say the organization has now put itself in a position in which it has solved its previous systemic problems and can now move forward for the better.

The positives: finance, slates, and the UTMSU split  

The first, and most significant, indicator of this is the finances. Through several administrations, the UTSU had been taken down an unsustainable path of debt. While this could have arguably been for good causes, it was irresponsible from a management point of view. You cannot spend money you don’t have.

The executive made the tough but necessary choice of implementing several layoffs and budget cuts, and rightly so. The UTSU now has a surplus of more than $492,000. Not only can the organization reduce its debt, but it can now invest in several worthwhile projects responsibly. This is consistent with the surpluses the organization has run since 2017.

The decision to eliminate UTSU election slates was also a good move, as it facilitates a greater sense of openness. Slates created a sense of exclusivity, even if the grouping wasn’t bad in itself. It could certainly be argued that slates help to organize elections and make sense of the various options available much like parties do for provincial and federal governments.

However, I do not think that UTSU elections are complicated enough to necessitate this. If anything, this creates an intimidating race for potential independent candidates, sending an unintentional message that they are not legitimate. This is despite the fact that independent candidates, including the current president, who won the race for Vice President, External as an independent in 2017, have been successful in the past.

Finally, the decision to formally separate UTMSU from the UTSU was simply the most pragmatic choice. UTM has unique and specific concerns that the UTSU, a primarily UTSG-oriented organization, does not quite understand. It is therefore best that, instead of trying to implement these concerns within a broader organization, there are two separate jurisdictions. Any issues that overlap between the two campuses can be worked out between the two and do not require any overseeing body.

The problem: student participation

However, at this year’s AGM, the elephant in the room was precisely who wasn’t there. With less than 50 students in attendance by the end, the meeting’s final portion could not even meet quorum. It was only through a loophole in the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act that it could proceed at all. The fact that student involvement is significantly lacking is a cause for concern.

I am not blaming the current administration for this problem. Part of this stems from the activities of former executives, who cemented in the minds of many students a negative view of the organization that is no longer in touch with reality. However, it is also possible that this problem is inherent for organizations of this kind.

Regardless, we can certainly do better than struggling with maintaining just 50 AGM attendees, or a 25 per cent turnout in UTSU elections — which itself was inflated due to interest in the controversial U-Pass referendum.

When an important decision that impacts all students is made, all students should naturally be involved in the determination of that decision. Yet consider the controversial AGM decision to allow members to vote on procedural and operational policies. This generated substantial discussion, amendment, and passed with less than 50 students.

Previously, such policies were viewed as under the domain of the UTSU executives, who made decisions on behalf of the students. Now, there is a sense of direct democracy: students are given more power at the expense of executive authority. This change is potentially drastic and too democratic.

Opponents especially pointed to its reflection of majoritarian rule: UTSU meetings may simply become a contest for who can bring out the most people and proxies to enact wrongheaded decisions, potentially with the wrong intentions. That such an important decision passed without even the quorum of 50 students raises serious questions about student governance.

An equally controversial AGM decision was that which officially condemned the Government of Ontario mandate that, in order to maintain funding, all universities must develop free speech policies, with the compliance of student governments. At the AGM, the policy was referred to as an “Orwellian” move that attacks the “time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience on campus.” According to Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, this deliberately targets left-wing activists.

This decision is important because it strikes at the heart of a conversation we have been having on campus for several years, particularly revolving around buzzwords like ‘free speech’ and ‘safe spaces.’ The province’s policy, however, arguably attempts to solve the legitimate concern that some students, through silencing tactics, are bringing their own form of censorship on campus. Had there been more students in attendance, the government’s viewpoint would have been better represented in the discussion.

In sum, the controversy and importance surrounding both of these decisions surely necessitated a broader campus-wide conversation. A 50-person quorum at what is meant to be a forum for all students is not representative.

Earning legitimacy

This leads to the biggest problem facing the UTSU: student apathy. A demonstration of this was the Campus Conservatives’ unhelpful approach to the AGM’s response to the free speech mandate. Rather than contribute to the discussion and have their legitimate concerns heard, they declared the UTSU’s actions irrelevant.

There are voices on campus that go unheard. Worse, many have done this to themselves by not engaging with the UTSU, and letting other groups — those who actually show up — have greater influence.

How, then, can we get students interested and involved? The first answer is to change impressions. Several scandals in the past — such as the Sandra Hudson lawsuit and a general lack of financial management — have made it seem to students that the UTSU is a corrupt, self-interested institution. Dissatisfaction was so high at one point that a few colleges even considered “defederating” from the USTU.

It is also important to acknowledge that students are busy people. Coursework, extracurriculars, and jobs are time consuming — and so it is understandable why they should put student government at such a low priority. Apathy may therefore be a natural, systemic part of student life.

However, the UTSU can address apathy and negative perceptions by making itself a more self-evidently good institution. Real actions that improve the experiences of students can slowly change perceptions. The creation of the Student Commons, for instance, is a step in this direction.

Equally importantly, as the AGM demonstrates, the UTSU must find strategies toward increasing student representation and participation. This way, the UTSU can not only move forward in the right direction, as it currently is, but earn legitimacy in doing so.  

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

UTSU AGM 2018: Who isn’t in the room, and why aren’t they here?

Executive’s “insider” comment at the AGM exposes a larger U of T clique culture

UTSU AGM 2018: Who isn’t in the room, and why aren’t they here?

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) went by seemingly unnoticed by the larger student population, but amid debates over policies and bylaws, one comment from an executive stood out to me.

During the debate over a motion that allows members to vote on policy changes at AGMs, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm said, “All these people here are insiders, every single one of us… We don’t speak for the normal person. The normal person doesn’t care about the UTSU.”

It was a pivotal moment in the debate and in the night as a whole. The discomfort from Biswurm’s statement was evident in the room. Members included in their contributions to the debate that they did not feel like that the “insider” label represented them or others attending the AGM.

I reached out to Biswurm to give him the opportunity to provide context to his statement, and he informed me that while he “spoke out in frustration,” he stands by the comment. He wrote in his email that the AGM looked like “an auditorium packed to the brim with ‘insiders’—Executives, Board Directors, Board Directors’ friends, Board Directors’ friends’ friends, members of the press, and hawks from the old guard.”

He argued that the “AGM is supposed to be a night where everyone is equal and the weak can speak in strength. Time and again, however—and this year’s was no different—the AGM is an arena for the powerful to hijack its credibility with voting blocs backed by arsenals of proxy votes.”

“On the evening of October 30th, 2018, special interests won out over the interests of the average student,” Biswurm continued. “A room of 40 insiders decided, in a moment of disgraceful conceit, that they could choose for everyone else.”

Those in attendance clearly disagreed with Biswurm’s characterization. From my perspective, Biswurm’s remark was cynical and alienating, and didn’t get to the heart of the UTSU’s engagement problem. But his comment at the AGM carries some truth that, while uncomfortable, is worth examining.

As a second year with little knowledge of the UTSU, I certainly did not feel like an insider. I’d like to think of myself as the counterexample to Biswurm’s statement: I am a ‘normal’ student who still cares about student governance, which is why I attended the AGM.

But the truth is, my understanding of student governance at U of T is shaped by my friendships within it, the position I hold on my college’s student association, and my involvement with The Varsity. Denying the powers and privileges I hold in these circles does nothing to tackle exclusionary cultures that prevent others from participating.

The dichotomy of ‘insiders’ and ‘normal’ people is not unique to the UTSU. It exists in many spheres of student life, from clubs to college student associations to dining hall cliques. Although many student groups have mandates of accessibility and inclusion, their internal cultures do not always reflect this.

If we want inclusion to be more than a platitude, we need to get back to what it really means: making people feel welcome as they are. It means something as simple as taking the time to explain things you may take for granted: how procedures work, what commonly used acronyms stand for, and what different terms mean within your group. It also means, at times, valuing curiosity and criticism over experience, and accepting that leadership positions shouldn’t always go to the longest serving members.

A good start toward meaningful inclusion can usually be boiled down to asking yourself two questions: who isn’t in the room, and why aren’t they here? The answers to these questions often require practical solutions, such as providing American Sign Language interpretation, choosing an accessible location, and providing food.

But looking at barriers to student involvement should also give us pause to examine things as intricate as tone, demeanor, and atmosphere. A group that ‘ticks’ every box when it comes to physical accessibility could still be exclusionary if members are hostile, condescending, or intimidating.

Ultimately, the claim that ‘normal’ people don’t care about the UTSU shouldn’t be the end of a debate, but the start of a dialogue. If we want an inclusive campus, we should start by making our own circles more open. While it may be uncomfortable to be labelled an ‘insider,’ it feels much worse to be an outsider so let’s make sure no student feels that way.

Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society, and Law student at Woodsworth College. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

A resolution was passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) condemning the Ontario government’s campus freedom of speech mandate.

The mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities develop free speech policies by January 1. The policy also stipulates that student group compliance with the mandate is a condition for ongoing financial support.

While U of T has had a freedom of speech policy since 1992, there has been no official confirmation from the Ford government on whether the university’s policies meet the provincial mandate.

The AGM resolution, moved by Jack Rising — a member of the club Socialist Fightback U of T — proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the Ford government’s mandate or any law that stems from it.

Describing the mandate as “Orwellian,” the motion also called for the UTSU to demand that U of T not implement any policies deterring freedom of speech.

The resolution was amended by UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman. The amendment, which passed, eliminated the second half of the original resolution, so that the final motion condemned the provincial free speech mandate but did not call for the UTSU to urge action from U of T.

The passed motion puts the UTSU “on record as opposing the Ontario government’s anti-democratic ‘free speech on campus’ mandate” and preemptively refuses participation in the implementation of the mandate at U of T.

In an interview with The Varsity, Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, explained his concerns about Ford’s policy, specifically calling it “an anti-protest law.”

His fear is that students who actively protest could be expelled under the mandate and that right-wing groups would not face repercussions due to the fact that “Doug Ford has connections to these people.”

Swinarton believes the free speech mandate targets left-wing students who protest right-wing or controversial political figures like Faith Goldy or Jordan Peterson.

Goldy is a white nationalist who commonly repeats white supremacist language and has adopted far-right conspiracy theories. Peterson is a controversial U of T psychology professor who went viral through YouTube lectures speaking out against political correctness and later refused to use preferred trans and non-binary gender pronouns.

The Varsity reached out to the U of T Campus Conservatives for comment on the union’s rejection of the free speech mandate. The U of T Campus Conservatives is officially affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The group’s president, Matthew Campbell, asked, “How about [the UTSU] reject provincial funding and subsidies for the university? How about every U of T student [who is] a UTSU member reject the subsidy that the provincial government provides the University of Toronto?

“They’re a fucking joke, Campbell said. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” The Campus Conservatives were not present at the AGM to speak in favour of the campus free speech mandate.

After the AGM, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern to The Varsity about the wider effects that Ford’s policy could have on the university and the UTSU.

“Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this an ideal stance worth the complete elimination of our entire revenue stream? I don’t know the answer to that.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty,  Ann Marie Elpa, and Josie Kao

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Long debates on free speech, policy proposals dominate

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Lengthy debates surrounding free speech, policy proposals, and union operations dominated the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30.

The meeting ran overtime until 10:20 pm despite losing quorum at 9:52 pm. According to the UTSU’s bylaws, at least 50 people must be physically present in the room for the AGM to run, which was not the case in the final portion of the meeting.

However, a member in the room pointed out that the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act states that as long as quorum is present at the beginning of a meeting, it can continue even if it is not present throughout.

As such, Speaker Eric Bryce ruled that the meeting could continue despite not having enough people in the room.

Before losing quorum

Before the meeting lost quorum, the AGM covered the majority of the items on the agenda, starting with a presidential address and question period to UTSU executives.

Members asked a range of questions, notably about the Student Commons’ opening and operations, as well as the UTSU’s stance on the Canadian Federation of Students.

Following the question period, members voted to pass the UTSU’s 2018 audited financial statements. Notably, the union reported a surplus of $492,887, up from $23,521 in 2017.

“This is the largest surplus the UTSU’s run in recent memory,” said Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm. He credited layoffs, a repatriation of fees from a defunct student group, investments, and “better financial practices.”

The UTSU also voted to continue to use Sloan Partners LLP as its auditors for the second year in a row.

Following that, the meeting then moved on to changes to the Elections Procedure Code, with members voting to officially ban slates in UTSU elections.

This was followed by a vote to support endorsing the separation of the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes in favour.

A separation would allow the UTMSU to provide services currently offered by the UTSU, such as a health and dental plan, as well as conduct their own advocacy efforts. The UTSU would also be allowed to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU.

Following a short recess, the AGM then had a lengthy discussion on a motion submitted by a member which called on the UTSU to oppose Premier Doug Ford’s mandate that all universities develop and enforce free speech policies.

The item was brought forward by Jack Rising from the club Socialist Fightback U of T. It called the provincial government’s policy “a direct attack on the time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience on campus” and urged the UTSU to take a stance.

After a long debate and some proposed amendments, the resolution was passed.

After losing quorum

In the last major portion of the meeting, members debated at length about a proposal made by Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin to allow members to vote on procedural and operation policies at the AGM.

Biswurm and UTSU President Anne Boucher brought up concerns over letting members vote on policy, saying that not everyone who attends AGMs arrives with good intentions.

Although the meeting lost quorum in the middle of the debate, the controversial resolution was passed with no amendments.

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

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

A resolution was passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) condemning the Ontario government’s campus freedom of speech mandate.

The mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities develop free speech policies by January 1. The policy also stipulates that student group compliance with the mandate is a condition for ongoing financial support.

While U of T has had a freedom of speech policy since 1992, there has been no official confirmation from the Ford government on whether the university’s policies meet the provincial mandate.

The AGM resolution, moved by Jack Rising — a member of the club Socialist Fightback U of T — proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the Ford government’s mandate or any law that stems from it.

Describing the mandate as “Orwellian,” the motion also called for the UTSU to demand that U of T not implement any policies deterring freedom of speech.

The resolution was amended by UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman. The amendment, which passed, eliminated the second half of the original resolution, so that the final motion condemned the provincial free speech mandate but did not call for the UTSU to urge action from U of T.

The passed motion puts the UTSU “on record as opposing the Ontario government’s anti-democratic ‘free speech on campus’ mandate” and preemptively refuses participation in the implementation of the mandate at U of T.

In an interview with The Varsity, Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, explained his concerns about Ford’s policy, specifically calling it “an anti-protest law.”

His fear is that students who actively protest could be expelled under the mandate and that right-wing groups would not face repercussions due to the fact that “Doug Ford has connections to these people.”

Swinarton believes the free speech mandate targets left-wing students who protest right-wing or controversial political figures like Faith Goldy or Jordan Peterson.

Goldy is a white nationalist who commonly repeats white supremacist language and has adopted far-right conspiracy theories. Peterson is a controversial U of T psychology professor who went viral through YouTube lectures speaking out against political correctness and later refused to use preferred trans and non-binary gender pronouns.

The Varsity reached out to the U of T Campus Conservatives for comment on the union’s rejection of the free speech mandate. The U of T Campus Conservatives is officially affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The group’s president, Matthew Campbell, asked, “How about [the UTSU] reject provincial funding and subsidies for the university? How about every U of T student [who is] a UTSU member reject the subsidy that the provincial government provides the University of Toronto?

“They’re a fucking joke, Campbell said. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” The Campus Conservatives were not present at the AGM to speak in favour of the campus free speech mandate.

After the AGM, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern to The Varsity about the wider effects that Ford’s policy could have on the university and the UTSU.

“Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this an ideal stance worth the complete elimination of our entire revenue stream? I don’t know the answer to that.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, and Josie Kao