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The meeting took place on Sunday in Tabaret Hall. Photo: Matt Gergyek/Fulcrum

Student union developing equity code to inform what their pro-choice stance means in practice

The Board of Directors (BOD) of the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) met on Sunday, where they passed a motion to take a pro-choice stance on abortion. The motion comes in the wake of controversy after an anti-abortion group regained the official club status they had lost under the school’s former student government. 

The meeting in the Senate Chamber of Tabaret Hall also saw a discussion on the UOSU’s 101 Week budget.

UOSU passes motion to take pro-choice stance on abortion

The UOSU is facing backlash from some students after the anti-abortion group University of Ottawa Students For Life (UOSFL) regained the official club status they had lost under the now-defunct Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). 

A motion passed by the SFUO in November 2017 blocked UOSFL from accessing resources, funding, and space on campus through the federation. 

UOSFL regained its official status on Oct. 8, according to Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO), the body that coordinates and supports clubs under the UOSU. CVUO president Hassan Ahmed said that at that time, UOSFL did not violate any policies. 

Ahmed said no clubs have received funding from student levies as of yet, but CVUO still offers room and tabling booking, free photography and post-production services, and promotion through shared social media posts. It is unclear if UOSFL has accessed these services.  

UOSFL announced their official club status on Facebook on Oct. 19, quickly sparking backlash. 

Students have created a Facebook group called UOttawa Defenders of Our Campus to rally against UOSFL, with 178 members as of Wednesday. A petition has also been launched to strip the club of its official status, with signatures from over 155 students and student groups as of Sunday.

CVUO has since changed its tune, saying in a Facebook post on Oct. 22 that they will be reconsidering the club status of the UOSFL after “recent controversy” of the approval. 

Interim equity commissioner Judy El-Mohtadi, who brought the motion for the UOSU to be recognized as a “pro-choice organization that stands for its students’ rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice,” said she has received over 40 emails from students with complaints about UOSFL.

“Therefore, by taking a pro-choice stance, we are both responding to student concerns and equity concerns,” the motion reads.

UOSU’s Pro-Choice Motion by Matt Gergyek on Scribd

With both critics and supporters of the club in attendance, the BOD meeting saw the largest student turnout so far. Before the motion was voted on, those students had the chance to speak. 

Bridget, who would only speak on the condition that her last name not be used in this article, started both the Facebook group and petition against UOSFL. 

“We oppose the funding and support of any anti-abortion organization on campus,” Bridget said. “We reject the idea of an abortion debate because a person’s right to bodily autonomy and integrity, ability to live freely, and make their own medical decisions is not debatable.”

Co-president of UOSFL Garifalia Milousis said the UOSU’s pro-choice stance and potential risk of losing club status is a violation of students’ right to freedom of speech and expression.

“It will be your own promises that will judge you,” she told the board, “the promises that you made to students like myself who, do not forget, successfully removed the previously corrupted student union which engaged in precisely the sort of action the board is considering engaging in now.”

Advocacy commissioner Sam Schroeder responded by saying the UOSU is a political organization that can take political stances. 

“It does not preclude anyone from taking an (anti-abortion) stance if they so choose, so for that reason, I don’t see this as anything that would threaten freedom of speech,” he said.

“Being pro-choice in nature is acknowledging that you have the right to be (anti-abortion) but we’re also acknowledging that someone has the right to have an abortion if they want to,” El-Mohtadi said. 

Before the board voted on the motion, an amendment from student life commissioner Jason Seguya was passed. It says an equity code will be presented to the BOD by the 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 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 General Assembly (the fall GA is set for Nov. 7). 

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.” 

The board passed the motion unanimously. While the UOSU now takes a pro-choice stance, they did not make any decisions on the anti-abortion club’s official status or how their pro-choice stance would impact that status.

The UOSU says they will be launching a consultation process to develop the equity code. 

“We appreciate that there will be a clear equity code that outlines how the UOSU will make its decisions in the future, and we hope to see this equity code be developed in a neutral, respectful, and equitable fashion,” UOSFL wrote in a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday. 

BOD discusses 101 Week budget 

Student life commissioner Seguya also updated the board on the status of the 101 Week budget. 

The union spent about $196,000 overall on 101 Week, about $10,700 more than budgeted for. Seguya said this was due to last-minute events, a lower number of kit sales than expected, and a specific type of fencing required for the frosh week concert, which came with a $15,900 price tag.

A sponsorship of $25,000 from the National Bank of Canada also fell through, Seguya said, due to a conflict in the contract between the university administration and the UOSU. 

Seguya said a meeting is set up with associate vice-president of student services Michel Guilbeault to address the sponsorship issue. He said an update will be provided at the next BOD meeting set for Nov. 24, location and time to be announced. 

The UOSU’s fall General Assembly is set for Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in the University Centre auditorium.

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