Students vote in favour of online voting, question SFUO’s support of BDS movement

On Tuesday, March 13, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) held their Winter General Assembly (GA) in the University Centre (UCU) Alumni Auditorium. The auditorium met full capacity, with over 400 students in attendance, but still saw a line to enter going past the UCU Agora. The remaining students were set up in the Agora with a live-stream, and were allowed to vote on motions.

BDS motion

This is the second time in four years that the GA has met quorum, and many students in attendance were present because of the motion on the agenda calling for the SFUO to endorse the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The motion presented at the GA reads as follows:

“Be it resolved that the SFUO support campaigns associated to the BDS movement, including the divestment of corporations complicit in occupation of Palestinian lands, until Israel respects international law, and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

“That the Section 47 of the SFUO policy manual be named BDS Movement and read: ‘The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa will support this movement as well as take a Pro-Palestine stance.’”

The motion also called for the SFUO to “put pressure on the Board of Governors” of the U of O to support BDS campaigns by “reading a declaration in support of divestment of companies complicit in violation of Palestinian human rights at all meetings of the Board,” as well as calling for “the complete divestment and boycott of such companies and the implementation of investment guidelines that would prevent similar investments in the future.”

It also sought to boycott “all forms of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions.”

Students have previously voiced concerns with the federation taking political stances. When vice-president equity Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi first introduced the BDS movement motion at the Nov. 5 Board of Administration meeting, many students attended to share their frustration.

The motion to endorse the BDS movement saw 241 votes in favour and 231 votes against, which is enough to pass a motion that doesn’t bring constitutional change, however some students attending the GA attempted to contest the results by calling for a recount.

Chairperson Bilan Arte explained that a vote cannot be recounted immediately after it takes place, and if students want to challenge the results then someone from the prevailing side of the vote would have to initiate that.

Another student pointed out that since the motion included a constitutional amendment, it would have required a two-thirds majority vote in favour for it to have passed.

Arte was uncertain if the motion was subject to this rule since it addressed the SFUO’s policy manual, and students questioned why the SFUO did not know this in advance. After some deliberation with vice-president finance and incoming president, Rizki Rachiq, Arte confirmed that the BDS motion was subject to two-thirds support, which it did not receive, and thus it did in fact fail.

Online voting motion

Another motion concerned a lack of transparency within the current voting system after students took to Facebook to question the legitimacy of the results of the 2018 general election. The motion sought to have the SFUO hire Simply Voting, a third party company, to run further elections online as of May 1, 2018.

The assembly adopted the motion with 410 votes in favour and 13 against, however since it seeks to amend the SFUO constitution, which the GA does not have the power to do, the motion will still have to be accepted by the Board of Administration.

Following the vote, there were reports of a member of the SFUO executive taking students’ voting cards for cheering in the Agora.

A Facebook page called Beloved SFUO Overlords shared a video of the federation’s executive coordinator, Vanessa Dorimain, taking a student’s voting card after the student cheered during the GA. This was met with angry outbursts from other students, resulting in the SFUO calling in members of protection services.  

Question Period

A 20 minute question period was held at the beginning of the meeting. Students questioned when the SFUO adopted a pro-BDS stance, why the federation was taking political stances, and when the most recent iteration of the SFUO constitution would be available on the website.

Moumouni-Tchouassi answered the first two questions saying that the SFUO is not pro-BDS and that as a student union they are political, and any political stances are taken in the interest of students.

Vice-president services and communications Kathryn Leblanc answered the question pertaining to the constitution, explaining that it would be available online by the end of the summer.

Nursing students voiced complaints about the lack of SFUO office hours in Roger Guindon Hall, to which president Hadi Wess answered that as both president and acting vice-president social he was not available to hold office hours but could be reached by email.

Questions pertaining to the budget were asked to be held off until after the budget presentation, as Rachiq was not present during the question period, however following the vote on motions, quorum was no longer met and the GA was adjourned, leaving no time for the budget presentation or executive updates.