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The SFUO shouldn’t be in charge of policing itself

Have you ever heard of a student court? It’s not some far-fetched idea or long lost urban legend. It’s something that existed at the University of Ottawa up until 2011, and a vote will be held to re-introduce this very concept at the General Assembly (GA) on Saturday, should it meet quorum.

The student court, later renamed the Student Arbitration Committee (SAC), was made up of nine students recommended by the president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), the chairperson of the Board of Administration (BOA), and the chief arbitration officer, and were ratified the BOA. The court was designed to be unbiased and independent of the student federation.

So, if we had a student court before, why did it get abolished?

One main argument for dissolving the SAC was that the members weren’t elected by the student body, but appointed, making the process “undemocratic.” But wait a second… Canada is a democracy, and we don’t elect the members of the Supreme Court. Does that mean we should abolish it? Of course not, because the whole point of a high judicial body is that it’s removed from the influence of everyday politics.

Also, while the SFUO could appoint members of the student court, it couldn’t remove them whenever it feels like it, and that’s what’s important.

For an example of the importance of a student court, just look at what happened immediately after the SAC was disbanded. In the same year, the SFUO disqualified the winning candidate in the recent election, naming the second place finisher as the winner. And since the SAC was abolished, the disqualified candidate could not appeal the decision.

Perhaps the SFUO’s action of disqualifying the candidate was justified, but the fact is, without a review by an impartial body, students can’t easily trust that this was the right call.

So why is a student court important? Simply put, because no alternatives exist that are as effective. Currently, the SFUO relies on its constitutional committee and disciplinary committee. However, both of these bodies are made up of BOA members, and just don’t have the same mandate.

Having the SFUO rely on committees staffed only by BOA members is a bad idea, since they work so closely with each other and can face internal pressures that can influence their decisions.

But let’s say the members of the committee clear these hurdles set up against them, and take the SFUO to task on something. Well, that happened last year, and the result was definitely unsatisfying.

In February of 2015, the disciplinary committee released a report on a complaint by then-vice-president finance Camelia Touzany, stating in no uncertain terms that the rest of the executive had been harassing her while other SFUO employees had been mistreated and used as pawns.

What happened next was a three-hour session closed to the public, during which the report was amended, and the resulting document was never presented to the public.

At the next BOA meeting, then Telfer School of Management representative Tanner Tallon brought a motion on behalf of the disciplinary committee in response to the report, which was designed to avoid similar situations in the future. It was eventually defeated by the board.

This incident is just one of many scandals the SFUO has been involved in over the past few years, and there have been significant consequences to the student body as a result. That’s not to say the court should be brought back exactly as it was before, but some version should certainly continue. The SFUO obviously can’t police itself, and as such it’s in desperate need of an unbiased student court.

If you feel the same way, you can go the the SFUO’s GA on Nov. 12, where there will be a motion to create a student court once more.

The GA will be held on Nov. 12 in Marion Auditorium starting at 2 p.m.