Op-Ed

The SFUO needs to be more clear when presenting legal information. Photo: Eric Davidson.

Stricter rules on informing BOA members would ensure both efficiency and transparency

At the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) last Board of Administration (BOA) meeting, several students showed up to protest a motion which would make General Assemblies (GA) less powerful.

SFUO executives said that the motion was determined to be necessary after a meeting with lawyers in the summer where they looked to identify the federation’s weak spots.

The lawyers were not present when the motion was being debated, and several BOA members had to stop and ask clarifying questions.

This, as well as the disqualification of a GA motion last year after talking to their lawyers, could point to a troubling trend for the SFUO.

The fact is, no matter which side of the issue you’re coming from, you should want this legal information to be clearly available. If you’re an SFUO executive, and you want people to understand why it’s important that these motions should be passed and want to avoid legal troubles, then it’s even more important to make sure people are informed.

At the same recent meeting, BOA members complained that they were not given enough time to fully review the motion, and there were no lawyers present to fully answer their questions they had. If the BOA is not provided with proper information on legal matters, then you can’t guarantee that they understand—meaning that our student federation’s governing body might make a mistake, possibly rendering any legal issues worse.

So, what changes can the SFUO make to avoid this going forward?

First, they should mandate that documents related to a motion with significant legal ramifications for the SFUO be provided to BOA members at least a week in advance of a meeting to give them time to review.

Second, a lawyer who is not part of the SFUO must be present to answer questions. When the SFUO audit was presented at the BOA’s Oct. 16 meeting, the auditor was in the room to give the report, answer any questions, and give their objective, third-party opinion.

These measures would provide more clarity for BOA members and the students they represent. It also would ensure that no one can complain that the SFUO is misrepresenting information or misinterpreting the facts.

Not to mention that if there’s a significant legal threat to the federation, students will want to know about it. With this in mind, the SFUO could easily use social media to post about the issue, and provide resources such as contact information for students who want to learn more.

One might argue that a legal matter is sensitive in nature, and shouldn’t be shared with the student body. However, if a motion with legal bearing can be shared in a BOA meeting, there is no legal reason it can’t be shared outside of it, since these kinds of gatherings are open to the public. Even if the board goes in-camera, some form of information must be presented before such a vote can take place, and such information could be more actively shared with the student body.

If members of the SFUO argue that an issue must be voted on in a certain way because of a legal issue, then it’s their responsibility to provide the pertinent information in a reasonable time frame so the process is more efficient and transparent.