Student union supports Indigenous reconciliation and climate justice, ratifies and amends constitution
The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) held its first General Assembly (GA) on Thursday evening.
The meeting in the University Centre Alumni Auditorium saw students fire criticism at the union for the recent re-approval of the official club status of an anti-abortion group on campus. Students also voted to support Indigenous reconciliation and climate justice, as well as to oppose the Student Choice Initiative.
Controversy over anti-abortion group at centre of question period
The GA kicked off almost an hour late due to troubles meeting quorum, with advocacy commissioner Sam Schroeder calling the meeting to order just before 6:50 p.m. Next up was question period, which quickly became almost entirely focused on the anti-abortion club U of O Students for Life (UOSFL)
UOSFL was previously stripped of its official club status in November 2017 when the university’s former undergraduate student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, passed a motion blocking them from accessing resources, funding, and space on campus through the federation.
But on Oct. 8, the group regained preliminary club status under Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO), the body which coordinates clubs under the UOSU.
After the controversy over the re-approval, CVOU announced two weeks later that they would be reconsidering the club’s official status. No campus club has received funding from student levies as of yet.
Meanwhile, the UOSU voted unanimously to take a pro-choice stance on abortion at their Oct. 27 Board of Directors (BOD) meeting, after a motion was brought by interim equity commissioner Judy El-Mohtadi. The BOD did not, however, make any decisions on the status of the club.
An amendment from student life commissioner Jason Seguya was added to the motion before it was passed. The amendment says an equity code will be presented to the BOD by their next meeting, set for Nov. 24, “outlining what it means to be a pro-choice organization among other equity stances.”
A draft of the equity code shown at the Oct. 27 meeting included a section that said the union may withhold recognizing an organization if their activities meet a set of criteria in the eyes of the BOD and the GA.
That includes activities that are likely to be unlawful, violate U of O policies, constitute discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, impede legitimate, lawful activities of U of O students, or have “a substantially negative impact on a significant number of U of O students.”
At the GA, several students questioned why there was no motion concerning UOSFL’s club status on the agenda.
Advocacy commissioner Schroeder said the deadline to add a motion to the agenda, at least 21 days before a GA, was missed. UOSFL did not publicly post about its official club status until Oct. 19, 19 days before the GA.
Ellsia Ferreri, a fourth-year student in conflict studies and human rights student, asked the union to consider calling another general assembly to address students’ concerns over the presence of the club on campus.
Schroeder said a GA could technically be called with 500 student signatures and 21 day’s notice, estimating the earliest possible date to hold a meeting would be toward the beginning of December. He added meeting quorum could be difficult, as that date would fall close to both exams and the end of the semester.
President of the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Student Association Jayde Lavoie, along with a number of other students, questioned why the club was approved in the first place.
Mentioning the equity code that is being developed, student life commissioner Seguya said it would have been an abuse of his power to make the sole decision of the clubs approval instead of waiting for student feedback and the proper procedures of deciding the clubs status.
“I want to put emphasis on the general public making that decision,” he said.
Bridget, who asked her last name used, is the administrator of a Facebook group and a petition rallying against the anti-abortion club’s official status.
“We do not want our tuition dollars and resources going toward a group that undermines the basic human rights over half the student population,” Bridget said at the GA.
Seguya reminded the audience that clubs have not received funding yet.
Climate emergency and environmental justice motion passes
Tim Gulliver, a second-year political science student, brought a motion to affirm that there is a climate emergency, asking that the UOSU recognize this issue and act accordingly.
He called on the union to not only support the divestment from fossil fuel companies but that they also oppose any future investments in companies that do not exercise sustainable practices.
“In essence … (this) would ensure that the best movements … that are occurring across many campuses would be embedded into our practices,” he said.
He challenged the UOSU to move towards carbon neutrality by implementing a sustainable practices policy before September 2023.
“There are other colleges or universities that have adopted this as an ambition for themselves,” he said. “The idea is simply to say that we should be looking into things like carbon offsetting, and other possible initiatives in order to ensure that we’re not contributing to the climate crisis, in fact, we’re leading on the climate crisis.”
The motion passed. At the administrative level, the U of O’s Board of Governors said it would commit to fossil fuel divestment in April 2016 but it’s unclear where those investments now stand.
Motion on Indigenous reconciliation passes
Gulliver then presented a motion to have the UOSU recognize and support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples — specifically the Algonquin Anishinaabe people — in part by embedding written acknowledgements into UOSU branding and UOSU promo content.
“We should be recognizing that in everything that we do as a preliminary first step,” he said.
One student expressed concerns over this motion, noting that without appropriate collaboration and consultation with Indigenous people on campus and in the community, such measures could be perceived as paternalistic.
“My main concern is what consultations were done in relation to this motion?” the student asked. “What further can be done to ensure that this is very much a collaborative, hand-in-hand approach, rather than just a top-down, paternalistic and rather disrespectful approach?”
In his response, Gulliver highlighted one of the motion’s action items revolving around the inclusion of written land acknowledgements in UOSU branding, which he said helps to start a dialogue about decolonization.
“I agree that all motions that they concern Indigenous peoples and installation on campus should be from a collaborative approach,” he said. “I would want to have those consultations. I don’t think that the scope of the motion is imposing on anyone … That’s never the intent.”
The motion was passed.
Motion to oppose Student Choice Initiative, cuts to OSAP passes
The final motion that was moved by Gulliver asked that the UOSU oppose the Student Choice Initiative, condemn cuts made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and take action against cuts made to the post-secondary education system by the provincial government.
“I want to note that Ryerson University, York University and OCAD University in Toronto held a day of action earlier this week,” he said. “We need to work in collaboration with other universities and campuses to make sure (a day of action) happens because university should not be a privilege. It should be a right.”
The motion was passed.
GA appoints public accountant, updates from operations commissioner
Students passed a motion moved by operations commissioner Rony Fotsing to appoint Hendry Warren LLP as the UOSU’s public accountant for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Fotsing also updated students on the status of the three businesses the UOSU took on that were previously run by the school’s former undergraduate student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa.
Fotsing said the businesses, which include Pivik, Cafe Alt, and 1848, are still on track to open sometime next year. The UOSU chose not to take on the Agora Bookstore over the summer, citing challenges posed by the province’s Student Choice Initiative.
Amendments to UOSU constitution
Students voted to pass two amendments to the UOSU’s constitution, which was ratified earlier in the meeting. The constitution was adopted on a provisional basis by the union’s transition team back in February but requires approval from students as well.
The first amendment will allow the BOD to appoint interim directors when seats are vacant until an election is held. The second amendment defined “staff” in the constitution as any employee of the union who is not a commissioner.
The UOSU’s BOD is set to meet next on Nov. 24, location and time to be announced.