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84.3 percent of grad students favoured separation from the Students’ Federation of the University of Ottawa

Originally published on March 5, 1987

Graduate students won their bid for autonomy Tuesday night. Final results of the Graduate Student Association referendum showed that 84.3 percent favoured separation from the Students’ Federation of the University of Ottawa, an outcome which cheered the leader of the separation campaign.

GSA President Denis Bélisle, in an interview following the announcement, said the victory was due to hard work. 

“I put in a lot of my time in this because I believed in what I was doing. I knew that the outcome would be as clear as it was,” he said.

Bélisle said he knew ahead of time because of the way the information had been prepared and sent out to graduate students. 

“Our documentation was better prepared than that of the CCC (the Central Coordinating Committee). We had spent about 40 hours on it.”

Bélisle believed ballots had been returned as quickly as they were because the GSA’s information made the choice of graduates easier. 

Less than ten days into the referendum, which was run through the mail between Jan.27 and Feb.27, more than 500 ballots had been returned. By March 3, 1087 ballots out of the 3476 mailed out had been returned, a participation rate of 31.3 per cent.

CCC member Chris Spiteri, whose team members opposed the separation, expressed surprise at the response. “I did not expect it to be so spread out between the yes and the no. But I’m pleased it’s a clear majority one way or the other.”

Spiteri said he personally would not challenge the legitimacy of the referendum but said the CCC may discuss the question in an upcoming meeting.

Spiteri added that the SFUO would not make the GSA independence difficult for them. “If it doesn’t work out in the next couple of years then they should know that the Students’ Federation is there for them.”

The next step for the GSA, Bélisle said, would be the ratification of the results by the GSA council and to sign a contract with the university for the collection of student levies.

The official results submitted by Paul Pinsonneault, the referendum convener, showed that out of the 1,081 ballots returned 127 (11.7 per cent) said no, 916 said yes and 44 (4 per cent) had been nullified.  

Live from the archives is a series that highlights the intriguing stories of the past that marked both the Fulcrum and the University of Ottawa community. These stories can be found in the Fulcrum archives at 631 King Edwards, avenue in Ottawa. For those who wish to have access and visit the archives please contact our Editor-in-Chief at   

Fun facts about this article

  • Former Fulcrum Editor-in-Chief Mario Emond is now a diversity trainer who founded his own consulting firm dedicated to promoting a respectful, productive, and pluralistic society. 
  • Denis Bélisle is now the principal general manager and corporate secretary of Télé-Québec, Québec equivalent to TVO.
  • Chris Spiteri is a partner at Spiteri & Ursulak LLP a corporate law firm in downtown Ottawa. 
  • The GSA became the GSAÉD following the referendum, the split from the SFUO was officialized in 1989, it still represents graduate students to this day.
  • The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa was defeated in another referendum in 2019, and no longer represents undergraduate students, it has been replaced by the University of Ottawa Students’ Union.