Report on GA’s legality leads to amendment in power of decision-making body
The Nov. 6 Board of Administration (BOA) meeting of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) saw the highest student attendance of the 2016–17 year, ahead of the Nov. 12 General Assembly (GA).
As part of the executive updates, SFUO president Roméo Ahimakin provided a debrief of the Nov. 2 Day of Action, saying that follow-up work will be done.
During the question period, Faculty of Social Sciences representative Tony Bui asked Ahimakin what follow-up work will be done over the Day of Action, to which Ahimakin noted that “one march does not suffice to do anything.”
“We’re asking to be involved in the process,” said Ahimakin on government budgeting for post-secondary tuition. Ahimakin also said there will be further discussion on the matter at the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Federation of Students from Nov. 17 to 20.
Vice-president of university affairs Vanessa Dorimain said that work for winter U-Pass distributions is underway. Dorimain is also collaborating with Sports Services on an event for World AIDS Day.
Dorimain also provided updates for vice-president social Hadi Wess, who arrived at the meeting late due to a family emergency. The Relay for Life committee is currently being assembled, with the event itself to tentatively take place in March.
According to Dorimain, an emergency philanthropic roundtable was also held to discuss the recent controversy around Vet’s Tour, and a task force is being developed on the matter.
Vice-president of services and communications Francesco Caruso then announced that the SFUO is currently doing promotional work for the Nov. 12 GA.
“We are going to engage with students in person, on the ground,” said Caruso, noting that the SFUO will be doing both face-to-face promotion as well as work online. Some of this promotion will include class-talks as well as a specialized social media presence.
Vice-president of finance Rizki Rachiq said that many businesses are still facing staffing issues, and he is still looking for a manager for Café Alt. To reduce costs, a kitchen will be installed behind Pivik rather than relying on food from distributors.
Rachiq also said that all audits have been received from federated bodies, and so no penalties will be issued.
Finally, vice-president equity Morissa Ellis said that she is meeting with students to determine what services are needed on campus. An investigation is also being conducted over a club which had issues of “discrimination and oppression,” and penalties are being discussed for this club.
To respond to this issue, Ellis said that training will be provided on discrimination and equity for clubs and fed bodies in order to create more safe spaces on campus.
A number of students present at the meeting had concerns over two motions proposed at the meeting, the first of which was to abolish section 3.13.4 in the SFUO constitution, which reads, “GAs act as the highest decision making body of the SFUO.”
The second motion would effectively mean that all motions adopted at the GA would require a ratification by a two-thirds majority of the BOA.
Several students in the gallery saw these motions as limiting the powers of the GA, which, as the SFUO constitution currently reads, is the “highest decision-making body of the SFUO.”
Many of these students were made aware of these motions through a Facebook event created by first-year political science student Jordan Kent, who called on students to protest the motions at the meeting.
One student from the Revolutionary Student Movement said, “I don’t see how this is acceptable,” calling the motions “largely illegal.”
“We will be debating it and explaining it,” Caruso said in response to the student. “The whole point is so that the GAs are legal.”
“This is not us trying to limit the voices of students,” said Caruso.
These concerns over the legality of the GA came following a corporate maintenance report of the SFUO, following meetings of the SFUO with lawyers in June 2016.
The report assessed the legal and operating structure of the federation, and provided recommendations on a number of operations within the SFUO, namely the GA.
BOA secretary Jesse Root said that if quorum is not met at the GA, decisions on bylaws likely cannot be enforceable. Thus, the report recommended that the GA becomes a forum for discussion, not governance, and that quorum be lowered so that more students’ voices can be heard.
“As students ourselves, our best interests are the students,” said Dorimain on the report’s recommendations to the GA.
Caruso said that the current way the GA works is not in accordance with the law, as all students would have to register as directors in order to make decisions enforceable. However, as the student population of the U of O is approximately 35,000, this is not possible.
Caruso went on to say that the BOA needs to be accountable to students, and these motions make the GA legal.
Although the SFUO executive said that they are acting in the best interests of students, members of the gallery claimed that the motions say otherwise.
BOA directors had concerns over these motions as well.
Safie Diallo, a representative from the Faculty of Law’s civil law section said, “You talk about democracy, but I don’t know if you know how it functions.”
“Any decision that the GA makes, the BOA has to ratify … we’re acting in the best interests of the organization so that we’re legally sound,” said Caruso in response to these concerns.
Alexander Pearson from the Faculty of Medicine further said that the motion needs to be passed, otherwise the SFUO will likely be sued. Mikayla Vattiata, a representative from the Faculty of Social Sciences also noted that if the SFUO is sued, this would lead to students’ money coming out of services on campus.
“We do want the students and the GA to have the power that it had in the past,” said Iris Wong, also from the Faculty of Social Sciences.
The motions were ultimately passed.
Caruso presented a motion for the SFUO to publicly support the movement for a bilingual national capital by 2017. This motion was adopted unanimously by the board, and Caruso confirmed via Twitter that a statement would be published this week on this decision, and would call on Mayor Jim Watson for further action.
The board also unanimously adopted a motion for the federation to support the university’s Policy 67b, the Prevention of Sexual Violence.
The next BOA meeting will be on Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. in RGN 2012. Meetings are open to the public.