At the Nov. 6 meeting of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) Board of Administration (BOA), the executive presented a package of motions to amend the SFUO Constitution. The motions were written in collaboration with legal counsel that reviewed our constitution. The purpose of the motions was to amend, or remove, provisions of the constitution that were in contravention of the laws of Ontario that govern corporations and not-for-profits.
One motion was particularly contentious. “Be it resolved that section 3.13.4 be removed.”
Section 3.13.4 says, “General Assemblies (GA) act as the highest decision making body of the SFUO.”
To the ire of some students, the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) in particular, the board was faced with the decision of removing the article from the constitution, or risk being found guilty of an offense under the acts, risking fines, or even imprisonment.
Students passionately expressed they did not want to lose the GA, a model of direct democracy that has yet to be used effectively on this campus, but has the potential to facilitate some of the best aspects of our student movement.
Directors heard them, not a single one pleased that they were in the situation they were in. Many expressed pledges to work with the RSM, and other students in order to find a way to give the GA a meaningful role in our student democracy.
Many amendments were proposed to change the language of the clause in order to circumvent provincial law, but each failed. Amendments either failed to change the substantive issue at hand, or were deemed to likely to attract legal liability.
Eventually the board passed a motion to amend 3.13.4 to say, “The BOA, acting as the highest decision-making body of the SFUO and in its duty to fairly represent the interests of the student body, will strongly consider the outcomes of the GA.”
This compromise protects the SFUO from legal liability, but puts political liability on any BOA that refuses to comply with the will of the GA. Despite this seemingly sensible stopgap measure, some directors voted against, or abstained. I assume they argue a principled stance against voting away our illegal forum of direct democracy.
I call it foolish.
If the constitution is not up to date with provincial law, you fix it immediately. Then make good on promises to find a place for the GA in our democracy. Directors are charged with a duty to make reasoned decisions, not blindly follow their ideological viewpoints.
—Lee Chitty, second-year common law student, 2016-17 BOA common law representative.