All Posts Tagged With: "University of Toronto Students Union"
Campus activists want to pull out of national group
More than 50 people gathered in Gatineau, Que. at noon on Saturday to protest the Canadian Federation of Students, a group hundreds of thousands of university students automatically pay money to each year to lobby on their behalf. They’re most famous for opposing tuition fees.
The protesters sang, danced and chanted outside the hotel hosting CFS’s Annual General Meeting to draw attention to the fact that unsatisfied student unions find it difficult to exit the organization and stop sending money to Ottawa each year, a process known as “defederation.”
It’s a perennial issue. At this spring’s national meeting, Brad Evoy of the University of Toronto was defeated after he tried to reform the organization by bringing the number student signatures required on a petition to start defederation back down to 10 per cent of the student body. The threshold had been raised to 20 per cent in 2009.
Why mainstream students need to get out and vote
When I attended my first student union meeting at the University of Toronto last February, I knew that many students involved in campus politics are radical leftists so I was unsurprised when those present passed motions endorsing the Aboriginal movement Idle No More and to lobby the provincial government to ban unpaid internships, in which students freely choose to participate.
But when the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement endorsing Idle No More and sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour calling for a ban on unpaid placements, they claimed to represent 46,000 University of Toronto students and that is simply not true. Many students have no opinion on these issues, while many others, like me, are strongly opposed.
We have no idea how most students actually feel because only 3,161 voted in the last UTSU election, a turnout of less than seven per cent. Munib Sajjad, the president, received around 2,000 votes, which means less than five per cent of students voted for him—despite running unopposed.
What students are talking about today (February 13th)
1. The Queen’s Journal at Queen’s University is the latest to report on a very cool competition that promises to reward two Canadians with a ticket on a commercial flight that will blast more than 100 km into space. The Canadian competitors with the most votes on the Axe Apollo Space Academy website will join winners from around the world on a Space Expedition Corporation expedition sometime after 2014. If the flight doesn’t happen by the2017, winners will get $85,000 instead. Queen’s student Steven Humphries, currently 21st, got support by way of a Tweet from Queen’s president Daniel Woolf.
2. It’s not often that more than 1,000 people show up at a student union meeting but that’s what happened at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s gathering on Tuesday. They were there to settle the debate over online voting, which has been pushed by reformers. The motion was narrowly approved by a vote of 575 to 567, reports The Varsity. UTSU president Shaun Shepherd and his colleagues are opposed to web voting while several of the college and faculty leaders who backed the motion are frequent critics of the executive. “I’m just so fed up with this school,” Shepherd said. Still, after an emergency meeting of the Elections & Referenda Committee, Shepherd added that “irrespective of whether or not we agree with them, we have to honour them—that’s democracy.”
You won’t believe what they’re spending it on
It’s the time of year when most students in Canada ignore posters imploring them to vote for student government executives. Although student unions may seem irrelevant, they’re not. They collect millions of dollars each year in mandatory student fees and spend it, sometimes on things most students wouldn’t support—if only they knew.
Here are six stupid things Canadian student unions did with your money. If this doesn’t motivate you to research the candidates and vote in your campus elections, I don’t know what will.
1. Spent it on big parties you didn’t attend
Avicii, one of the top electronic acts in the world, doesn’t usually show up in places like Windsor, Ont. Snoop Dogg doesn’t often party in St. John’s, Nfld. It should be no surprise then that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance lost about $40,000 on their show in September and that the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union lost $100,000 on Snoop. The Kwantlen Student Association may hold the record though. They lost $128,000 on Jay Sean. Jay… who?
What students are talking about today (January 15th)
1. An 18-year-old Capilano University student named Rosea Lake (a.k.a. Rosea Posey) has received 275,000 notes on her Tumblr site after posting her feminist artwork “Judgments.” The photo shows a woman with a skirt hiked up and a series of words written on her leg that begin at her ankle with “matronly” and end at her buttocks with “whore.” She told The Province her message is for people to stop judging women unfairly by how they dress, a.k.a.”slut shaming.”
2. U of T students are being accused of planning an orgy. “The University of Toronto Sexual Education Centre is kicking off its annual Sexual Awareness Week next Monday at Oasis Aqua Lounge, a downtown club that bills itself as a water-themed adult playground, where swingers are welcome and sex is allowed everywhere but the hot tub,” reports The Toronto Star. “We’re not funding an orgy,” external education and outreach coordinator Dylan Tower, 22, told The Star. “People are allowed to have sex [but] there is not any type of ‘You should be having sex when you’re here.” So, in other words, students can have an orgy if they want to, but it’s totally optional. The SEC is affiliated with the University of Toronto Students’ Union and is funded by undergraduate student fees. Tower told The Star the event is a safe way to introduce curious students to the sex club scene.
The ups and downs of online polls in student elections
Sarah Petz, a reporter with the Manitoban student newspaper, is disappointed that so few of her fellow students bothered to vote in last month’s University of Manitoba Students’ Union election. “At seven per cent,” she says, “the result is not very representative.” It’s not that there weren’t clear differences between candidates. There were. The Manitoban uploaded candidate interviews to YouTube and shared them on Twitter. It wrote about issues from printer breakdowns to the construction delays on the opening of the ﬁrst campus pub. And yet, despite it all, only 1,900 of the 26,000 eligible students exercised their right to decide who will run the $1-million organization for the next year-long term.
But just because Petz was disappointed, don’t assume she was surprised. “Beyond a small group of highly active students,” she says, “no one seems to care.” Turnout is often low at the U of M. It’s not much better at the University of Toronto, where only 10 per cent of students voted this year, and worse at York University where turnout was just ﬁve per cent in 2011. But low voter turnout isn’t inevitable. Not anymore. At McMaster University, where students receive ballots in their campus inboxes that they can ﬁll out on iPads, laptops or smartphones, turnout hit 33 per cent this year. That’s up from 24 per cent last year, 22 per cent the year before and much higher than the 13 per cent turnout in 2009, back before they ditched paper and pens.
Voter turnout (%) in campus elections from 2009 to 2012
For the UTSU, support for Pride Parade is more about exposure for the university
When the video of Neda Agha-Soltan dying on the streets of Tehran surfaced during the 2009 Iranian election protests, it quickly became an international symbol of the iconic struggle against the Iranian regime. The 40-second YouTube clip was seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, many of whom decided to tint their Twitter avatars green in solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators. The green overlay was a way for over 160,000 Twitter users worldwide to show their support for democracy in Iran.
The gesture, of course, was symbolic. The new green hue to your smiling pic wouldn’t stick a pin in Ahmadinejad’s side, nor would it motivate Iranian officials to open the floodgates to foreign media. But the idea was to offer ideological solidarity—a sometimes-powerful motivator to those pressing for change.
Now, as far as I can understand, fervent Tweeters weren’t looking to score a dark forest green over the default shade to demonstrate heightened support for the protesters. Nor did individuals race to go green before the herd, or boast they had convinced the greatest number of followers to adopt the tint. The idea was simply to offer solidarity; not to self-reflexively boast that one was doing so. That’s the attitude to take with these sorts of things, right?
Wrong. And here’s where I segue to the student movement. It seems to Adam Awad, student union president at the University of Toronto, showing support is about being seen and receiving proper recognition. Reflecting on Toronto’s recent Pride Parade in an interview with The Varsity, Awad said he hopes U of T will be featured more prominently in future years’ marches.
“As some of the most active members in the community and given the role that we have historically played, it would have been nice to be closer to the front of the parade, rather than the back, which is where we have been for several years,” Awad said. (He also erroneously said that the UTSU was one of the founders of the Pride Parade. The quote was subsequently deleted from the online edition. Here is cache version of the original story.)
The UTSU wants the prime real estate for next year’s parade—definitely an issue worth digressing from the cause. (Remember? The parade is about celebrating the LGBTQ community. Write it on your hand if you forget.) Offering support, demonstrating ideological alignment, exhibiting solidarity—it all means nothing if you can’t land a spot behind the Grand Marshall. Apparently, student unions are exceptional supporters and thus shouldn’t be shafted to the back of the bus.
Unfortunately, not only does UTSU’s naval-gazing distract from the greater issue, it sullies the genuineness of its support altogether. Are students there to march in solidarity, or there to be seen marching in solidarity? How much focus is being paid to the actual cause?
If nothing else, Awad’s comments do nothing to shake students of that dirty “me generation” reputation. But sorry, that’s just my egoism talking.
30% of classes could be cancelled beginning Nov. 9
At the beginning of my Buddhism and Cognitive Science class last Friday at the University of Toronto, my professor informed our class that the sessional faculty labour union (CUPE 3902), of which he is a member, will be in legal strike position starting Nov. 9. While negotiations with the university are ongoing, failure to come to an agreement by that day would probably mean indefinite cancellation of the 30 per cent of classes at U of T taught by sessional faculty.
Obviously nobody wants a repeat of the catastrophic York strike last year (where, incidentally, sessional faculty members earn 13 per cent more than their counterparts at U of T), but the motivation behind the strike seems hard to ignore. Currently, sessional faculty, almost all of whom hold PhDs, have to re-apply for their jobs every four to eight months and are paid only $2.25 more per course than a U of T graduate student with no PhD and no teaching experience. Considering my professor has been teaching at the university for 16 years and has won numerous teaching awards, this level of compensation and job security is absurd.
With the University of Toronto Students’ Union officially supporting the sessional faculty, CUPE 3902 has indicated that it intends to sue the university to refund students’ tuition should classes be cancelled. Along with the thousands of other students potentially affected by this strike, I’ll be holding my breath until Nov. 9.
U of T exec was arrested at Toronto Tamil protest
If a university staff member is arrested at a protest, should students be expected to pay for her defence? That question is being hotly debated at the University of Toronto, where students are being asked to contribute to a legal defence fund for Angela Regnier, the executive director of the U of T Students’ Union (UTSU).
Regnier was arrested while participating in a Tamil demonstration in Toronto in May. She was released on bail and after appearing in court three times, the charges were withdrawn. Now she’s trying to cover her legal bills, and UTSU president Sandy Hudson has been appealing to local student unions for donations. Hudson says the money will “support the constitutional rights of individuals to demonstrate peacefully and participate in civil disobedience.”
In an email to the U of T student newspaper the Varsity, Hudson wrote that the union should support Regnier because “anyone can be randomly targeted and arrested at any demonstration.” Several student unions and other organizations have made funds available, and the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union is expected to donate $1,000.
However, the assumption that all students support Regnier’s actions has angered some, especially since she is a paid student union staff member. “I expect my student union to work in my interest,” says Maria Robson, a fourth-year student, noting that the money originally came from student membership fees. “I’m greatly disappointed when it uses students’ money for advocacy or other purposes that don’t benefit us.” Robson adds that student money is not for “legal battles that have nothing to do with us.”
But Regnier counters that it is common for labour and union movements to establish legal defence funds. This fall, for example, the University of Guelph Central Student Association expects to set up a fund for activists pursuing indigenous land rights in Caledonia, Ont. There is a “shared concern for our constitutional right to demonstrate and the right to a fair defence,” she says.
Student unions give money to fund legal defense of UTSU executive director. Should they?
This is the question being raised as Toronto area students’ union consider a request from the president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union to assist in covering the legal costs of Angela Regnier, who participated in the blockade of a major Toronto highway on Mother’s Day.
Regnier was protesting the Sri Lankan government’s offensives against the Tamil Tigers, which resulted in civilians being caught in the middle. On May 10, Tamil protesters marched onto Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and shut down this vital artery of the city’s transit grid. The protesters placed women and children in front of themselves in order to prevent police from ending their blockade.
Three people were charged with mischief and “interference with property” including Angela Regnier. Regnier works as Executive Director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, a position she took soon after ending her terms as National Deputy Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.
The University of Toronto – Mississauga student newspaper The Medium reports UTSU president Sandy Hudson has requested other student unions to assist Regnier in covering her legal costs stemming from her decision to participate in the blockade.
UTSU president Hudson claims the donations are to “support the constitutional rights of individuals to demonstrate peacefully and participate in civil disobedience.”
The University of Toronto – Mississauga Students Union voted to give $1,000 to Regnier’s legal costs.
The question I ask, should students be funding the legal defense of Regnier in this case?
It depends if she was at the blockade officially representing the University of Toronto Students’ Union engaged in an act of “civil disobedience” authorized by the students of the University of Toronto. If she was there as Executive Director of UTSU, the answer is yes; the students of the University of Toronto should be footing the bill. If Regnier was there as a private citizen, I do not see it has the responsibility of students to pay her fees.
What do you think?
Student union staffer faces charges after participating in blockage of Toronto highway
The executive director of the University of Toronto Students Union was arrested recently while participating in a blockade of a busy Toronto highway earlier this month, reports The Varsity.
Angela Regnier, a former national vice-chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, was arrested on Mother’s Day as she participated in the blockade of a major Toronto highway to protest against the actions of the Sri Lanka government during fighting against the Tamil Tigers.
Regnier is charged with mischief and “interference with property.”
Classes are still canceled for more than 50,000 students, tensions are rising
It almost felt like a regular academic day at York University, with multiple rallies occurring at suburban Toronto campus. However, instead of the usual Israeli/Palestinian rallies, students were rallying against or for a strike by CUPE 2903, which has kept 50,000 students out of classes for the better part of two weeks.
In the morning, about 200 York undergraduate students held a rally calling for government-imposed binding arbitration to end the strike and get them back in their classes.
The rally, organized by a student group that calls itself YorkNotHostage.com, was designed to give students the opportunity to make their voices heard.
“We don’t really have a say,” says Catherine Divaris, a fifth-year kinesiology student who helped organize the rally. “We are not at the table.”
Divaris, like many students, is concerned about what the consequences of a long strike may have on her future.
“I’ve applied to law schools already. I’m in my final year. I have to work in the summer to make money to be able to afford my future education,” she says. “It’s not fair for a union of 3,200 members and an administration of 10 or 11 people to decide the fate of 50,000 students.”
Students were encouraged to write their stories on a large banner placed on a wall. Many students expressed apprehension about finding summer jobs if the strike results in classes being pushed back into May.
The students have succeeded in garnering the attention of at least one provincial politician. Peter Shurman, Progressive Conservative MPP for Thornhill who is calling on the provincial Liberal government to pass back-to-work legislation, spoke to the students.
“My office was besieged telephone calls and emails as this strike has unfolded,” said Shurman. “People have very long memories: they remember there was a 11-week strike seven years ago and they don’t want to see a repeat.”
For a group of people who continually complain about U of T’s Governing Council not being elected, they have a funny way of showing their commitment to grassroots democracy
The Varsity reports the vice-president university affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Binish Ahmed, has resigned for personal reasons. But students shouldn’t expect to be able to elect their new representative.
UTSU bylaws do not require elections to be held for vacancies that occur during the academic year. The bylaws do require an election if the vacancy occurs in the summer. The resignation was submitted on August 22 but didn’t become effective until September 8.
So the University of Toronto Students’ Union has decided since the resignation is effective September 8, they will not give students the opportunity to vote for Ahmed’s replacement.
Instead, the UTSU will appoint their own VP uni affairs (who will likely be one of their own).
The bylaws do not stop the UTSU from holding an election, but merely make it optional.
For a bunch of people who love to complain about the university’s highest governing body, the Governing Council, not being democratically elected, you’d think they would be committed to grassroots democracy.
Fourteen individuals restricted from the grounds of UToronto
Go cry wolf somewhere other than an institution of higher learning
A group of radicals decided to split off from a protest against a “20 per cent residence fee increase” at the University of Toronto Friday.
(The university claims the increase in question is only “closer to 10 per cent”,
I’m looking into this. There will be a “Fact Check” story. I’ve fact checked, and neither side is being 100% accurate. )
They decided to occupy the University of Toronto’s administration building; Simcoe Hall. Officially, they claimed to be occupying the hall with a set of demands to meet with the university president related to tuition fees.
However, the people holding the sit-in were also protesting an occupation. It is unclear if it was the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the United States forces in Iraq.
Either way, their sit-in ended when police removed them from the building. As is the case with the professional protest crowd, they had a video camera and made a recording.
Naturally, they are claiming police brutality.
Some student leaders have compared supporting anti-abortion student clubs to supporting white supremacists. Really?
Last month, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students voted to sanction the denial of student space to anti-abortion (pro-life, anti-choice, or whatever) groups. The motion reads that “member (unions) that refuse to allow anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space be supported.”
Though this particular motion grew out of a controversy sparked by the Lakehead University Students’ Union denial of student space to a pro-life group, such controversies have sprung up across the country, and the banning of anti-abortion groups is not exclusive to CFS schools.
I will not go into this history today (though I may at some future point) except to say that this is nothing short of an attack on the university as a place for the free exchange of ideas. Even Heather Kere, a Ryerson Students’ Union executive who hasn’t exactly distinguished herself as a moderate, tried to amend the CFS motion so that it would only apply to anti-abortion groups that harassed students. An even-handed and grounded amendment that was promptly rejected.
And why did they reject it? Well, Shelley Melanson, CFS national women’s representative, told the Eyeopener, “You wouldn’t take public money to put in an organization that moves to take away people’s rights; you wouldn’t fund the KKK.”
Similarly, Sandy Hudson, CFS-Ontario women’s rep, also thinks anti-abortion groups are comparable to fascists. As the University of Western Ontario Gazette reported: “When asked whether Ryerson students should be exposed to both sides of the abortion issue, Hudson said allowing an anti-choice group would be like allowing a white supremacist group on campus.”
There you have it: if you do not agree with the CFS position on abortion you are no better than a member of the Klu Klux Klan or a white supremacist.
Apart from the sheer intellectual laziness of dismissing opponents as hate-mongering, totalitarian buffoons, the CFS just might be revealing its own intolerant tendencies. Let’s see who else might qualify as a white supremacist because of their position on abortion? Well Catholics come to mind. So do Hindus. And religious Jews and Muslims. (Full disclosure: I am a lapsed Catholic.)
Certainly Melanson and Hudson, speaking on behalf of the CFS, do not mean to equate religious groups, including minority religious groups, with the KKK and white supremacists (or maybe they do; I’m not a mind reader). But it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Melanson and Hudson envision kooks like James Keestra, Ernst Zundel, and David Andrews at the next meeting of the Interfaith Coalition.
What about the population in general? According to a 2006 Environics poll, 31 per cent of Canadians believe that the law should protect life “at conception.” Are nearly one-third of Canadians comparable to KKK members too?
Another third of Canadians believe the law should intervene at “some time during pregnancy,” meaning that after a certain gestation period abortion should be prohibited. This is also the position of many doctors. The Canadian Medical Association defines abortion as “the active termination of a pregnancy before fetal viability” (emphasis mine). The CMA does, however, recognize that late term abortions may be performed “under exceptional circumstances.”
Unless you’ve been living in some nether world for the past 20 years, you’ll know that Canada is the only country in the Western world to offer no legal regulation on abortive practices whatsoever. This, of course, includes those Scandinavian countries that the Canadian left has developed such a fetish for.
While the Supreme Court ruled the pre-existing law that criminalized abortion unconstitutional except under very narrow circumstances, it did not rule that no law could be permitted. In fact, the Court commented that a regulatory law might just be a good idea. Writing for the majority in the 1988 Morgentaler case, Justice Bertha Wilson wrote, “The value to be placed on the fetus as potential life is directly related to the stage of its development during gestation . . . The precise point in the development of the fetus at which the state’s interest in its protection becomes ‘compelling’ should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature.” Such a law was passed by the Mulroney government, but died on the Senate floor.
So do the CFS’s principal spokespeople on women’s issues only equate those who want absolute restriction on abortion with white supremacists? Or does the characterization extend to those who would regulate it? Would banning student groups that promote the position that the law should step in to prevent second and third trimester abortions also be sanctioned by the CFS? Clarification on just who is and who isn’t no better than a white supremacist is in order, I think.
The question of “how late is too late?” is a divisive and uncomfortable one among abortion rights activists. As National Post columnist Jonathan Kay put it late last month in reference to a symposium at the University of Toronto to mark the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler ruling:
“Within their own minds, [abortion activists] do wrestle with these important moral questions — as any intelligent person must. But when in public, they censor themselves. Locked in what they feel to be a tribal culture war against pro-lifers, the pro-choice camp allows itself no nuance. This is essentially the reason Canada has no abortion law: Any stirring of legislative action arouses such tribal war fury among pro-choicers as to send politicians scurrying.”
The abortion issue is clearly not settled in the minds of Canadians, but thankfully we have student leaders to sort it out for us, and representatives of the CFS to deem that the third of us, and perhaps the two-thirds of us, that disagree with them are analogous to procurers of hate propaganda.
In any event, if you are a student, particularly one at an Ontario university, who disagrees with the CFS Ontario position on abortion, you should ask your local representative if that means you are no better than a white supremacist or a member of the Klu Klux Klan.
Better yet, contact the sources directly:
Shelly Melanson, email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: 613.520.2600 ext.1603
Sandy Hudson, email: email@example.com phone: 416-978-4911 ext. 237