Protection services called after student refuses to leave
On Tuesday, March 13, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Winter General Assembly (GA) took place, seeing a great deal of online controversy after the federation’s executive coordinator, Vanessa Dorimain, took voter cards away from students on the grounds that they were cheering.
This was one of two GAs in SFUO history to reach quorum, with approximately 500 students turning out to vote, resulting in many attendees watching a live-stream in the University Centre Agora, though still eligible to vote.
Chairperson Bilan Arte initially ruled that any clapping or cheering was out of order because it might create a hostile environment during the assembly. This rule was set in place for both the Alumni Auditorium, where the assembly was held, and the Agora.
Several students in the Agora cheered following the passing of a motion on online voting, leading the SFUO to call protection services.
A video shortly began circulating on Facebook that showed Dorimain forcibly removing ballots from the students’ hands who were accused of cheering. By Thursday morning, the video had over 6,500 views and 40 shares.
According to students who witnessed the interaction, Dorimain alleged that three students cheered as the group voted nearly unanimously for online voting.
Several students have confirmed that they did hear cheering throughout the crowd. However, reports from students nearby the incident do not identify the three reprimanded students as those accused of cheering.
Philippe Bangs, a second-year political science student, said that he was roughly three to four metres behind the students who were accused of cheering. He can be seen throwing his arms up in frustration at the end of the video.
“I can say that I honestly did not hear any yelling or cheering anywhere close to me after the electoral reform vote,” said Bangs. “There was cheering but I honestly believe it wasn’t the three who were alleged to have cheered.”
There have also been claims that the SFUO repeatedly warned three students students about cheering.
“I can say with absolute certainty that the two of three people who had their voting cards removed were never once personally given a warning,” said Bangs. “I can say this because the only warning given to our area, which was issued by a completely separate SFUO employee than the one who removed the voting cards, was to me and a friend beside me for talking quietly during a quiet period when no one was speaking.”
According to student reports, Dorimain came to the back of the Agora and asked three students to leave. Only one student allegedly left. One student told Dorimain that she would not leave, as she did not cheer. “I was sitting right behind her and can confirm that she did not cheer,” says third-year political science and women’s studies student Jade Traversy-Maliette who recorded the video of the incident.
Second-year software engineering student Reid Tait who was a few rows away also confirms that the student did not cheer.
Dorimain left and returned with SFUO president Hadi Wess, which is where the video starts. Dorimain is shown physically ripping the voting placards out of the hands of both students who were accused of cheering.
The students in question, Lhori Webster, a fourth-year student in political science and communications and Taylor Sullivan, a third-year student in international studies and modern languages told the Fulcrum that they are working with the university administration to address the issue.
“We are currently working through the University of Ottawa’s official channels to seek disciplinary action against the SFUO for the actions of their employees at the General Assembly,” Webster stated.
“The executive coordinator removed the voting card from two students because they did not respect rules on not cheering and clapping during the general assembly. These rules are in place in order to make the space safe and not intimidating for students,” according to a statement from the SFUO to the Fulcrum.
However, students who witnessed the interaction see it differently.
“I would like to stress that the voting rights of three students were taken away without proof,” Traversy-Maliette wrote in a Facebook post after the event. “This is undemocratic, against SFUO policy, and the actions seen in video constituted unjustified physical aggression by an SFUO appointed employee. These actions made this space unsafe for students.”
“When (Dorimain) accused the three people of cheering she was anything but certain. She honestly looked like she was trying to decide who to kick out and not like she knew exactly who had actually cheered,” said Bangs. “Even if the three people cheered, which I really believe they didn’t, the way Vanessa snook up and forcefully grabbed the voting cards was honestly mind boggling. The SFUO doesn’t have the authority to use force to remove people they maybe think cheered.”
Traversy-Maliette also encouraged students who are upset by this incident to “write to their (Board of Administration) representative, write to the Dean, write to the SFUO execs.”
“What happened (at the General Assembly) was wrong, undemocratic, and disenfranchised three students with no cause,” she wrote.