The U of T Students’ Union addressed each of its pre-approved motions at its annual general meeting despite procedural motions to amend the agenda and to contest the chair’s rulings.
UTSU held its AGM last Wednesday in the OISE Auditorium at the St. George campus, with UTM students in attendance, as well as representatives from the Victoria, Innis, Woodsworth, and Engineering student societies.
The Trinity College society declined to send representatives and encouraged their members to boycott the meeting in an open letter on Facebook, accusing UTSU of “hiding behind bylaws and stifling any discussion not approved by the executive or the [Canadian Federation of Students]”.
The meeting was called to order at 6:34 p.m. Guest speaker Andrew Langille, the founder of youthandwork.ca, spoke about unpaid internships and took questions. Cat Criger, UTM’s Aboriginal elder, was also set to speak but was stuck in traffic and did not make his address.
President Munib Sajjad gave the presidential address and then took questions from the floor.
The first question was asked by Aidan Fishman: “[Is there] any circumstance under which UTSU would amend its bylaws to allow colleges or faculties that have voted in their own referenda to leave the union to do so?”
This was in reference to referenda held in March in which three societies voted overwhelmingly to sever financial ties with UTSU and offer its services themselves. UTSU maintains that the referenda were not legitimate.
“What we serve to do is to represent all students,” Sajjad replied. “We have a specific mandate to serve each individual member of our students’ union, and to say that we should separate […] and not try to work out our differences—I think we really need to change the dialogue there.”
He added that these societies are free to increase their levies if they wish to offer services to their members.
Sajjad was also asked why UTSU did not send its president to the Student Societies Summit organized by the administration to resolve the governance issues; according to the asker, every other invited society either sent its president or voted to do so.
The question was taken by VP equity Yolen Bollo-Kamara and VP university affairs Agnes So, the two UTSU representatives for the summit. Bollo-Kamara denied that the other societies had all voted to send their presidents and said that they had been chosen to represent UTSU as a result of a decision by the whole executive team.
Sajjad added that his executive was not a hierarchy, but that each member could speak for all.
Before the meeting proceeded, a motion to amend the agenda to add new motions was rejected, and then Pierre Harfouche, one of two engineering representatives on UTSU’s board, moved to remove all remaining items except adjournment from the agenda.
Ashkon Hashemi, the chair and UTSU’s speaker, allowed a vote on Harfouche’s motion. After a glance, Hashemi declared it defeated, saying that it required a two-thirds majority.
As students began heckling him, Harfouche argued that only a simple majority was required according to Robert’s Rules of Order, which provide basic guidelines for conducting union meetings, because the agenda had not yet been formally adopted. This was in reference to the absence of a motion to approve the agenda; last year’s AGM included such a motion and abruptly ended when the agenda was rejected by students who contended that it did not represent their concerns.
Hashemi replied that what was before them was not an agenda but an order of business, explaining that the difference was that an order of business does not need to be approved.
Harfouche challenged the ruling, asking why the documents handed out to attendees bore the heading “agenda”. Hashemi rejected this as a facetious question, but answered another student who asked why all AGM-related communication had used the term “agenda”. According to Hashemi, “agenda” was used here not in the technical sense but in the general sense, and referred to “order of business” in the technical sense.
During the discussion, UTMSU VP external Melissa Theodore moved to limit debate to two speakers in favour and two opposed, and a majority voted in favour.
Hashemi argued that even if it were an agenda, Harfouche could not remove the motions because their inclusion was required by UTSU’s bylaws. Harfouche replied that these motions would be addressed in a follow-up meeting as they were last year.
The vote was taken and a majority upheld Hashemi’s ruling that it was an order of business.
Hashemi said that he should not have entertained a vote on Harfouche’s original motion in the first place, according to protocol.
A motion to limit debate to two minutes per speaker was raised and passed.
Harfouche then moved to add a motion to the agenda. He had previously submitted three motions to be added to the AGM agenda but all were rejected by the board, two because they allegedly contradicted UTSU bylaws. He said the motion he wanted to add was the one that did not.
Hashemi ruled Harfouche out of order because his motion had been served without notice.
Harfouche challenged the ruling on the grounds that he had submitted it by the deadline, and asked Hashemi to produce a bylaw that authorized the board to prevent a motion from appearing on the agenda.
Hashemi read a section of the bylaws that required that notice of the AGM be given in the “campus publication, the union website”, and other forums. He argued that according to Robert’s Rules and UTSU’s bylaws, motions could not be added to an agenda without notice, and said he had prepared this defence in advance because he “had a hunch it would come up”.
“Can someone just bring up a motion at this meeting? The answer is no […],” said Hashemi. “The whole point of having notice is so that members know what is being discussed.
“What I find especially galling in this instance is that last year there was an entire debate had about the board not giving advance notice so people knew when to submit motions by. So it kind of stuns me—it’s kind of like sucking and blowing, right? One time when something was in your favour you want it a certain way and now when you don’t want it that way, and you want it to go back to what it used to be.”
Harfouche was given a turn to speak. “Nowhere in your bylaws does it state that the board has the authority to remove motions from the AGM that were given to you with notice […],” he said. “There was no other requirement for that motion to come to the AGM—just read the bylaws. I’m not making up rules. […] All I’m trying to do is get my motion back on this agenda.”
The question was called, the vote was taken, and the chair’s ruling was upheld. Hashemi refused a request to count the votes.
After a meeting to approve past minutes, the audited financial statements were presented.
The auditor gave a brief summary of the statements. Since UTSU is a non-profit corporation, he said, “The idea is to get to zero, not to get to a $300,000 profit […] A $52,000 deficit on a $13-million revenue is very close to zero in my books.”
He opened the floor for questions. The first student to speak moved to call the question to approve the statements, although other students were waiting to ask questions. A large majority voted to call the question and then to approve the statements, ending the discussion.
A student asked why Sajjad had voted in favour of calling the question, considering he had earlier deferred a question about the financial statements and promised to answer it. Hashemi replied that he should take it up with Sajjad.
One of the remaining motions proposed bylaw amendments to ensure compliance with updates to the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act.
Harfouche spoke in favour of the motion. In particular, he said, the last clause—which amended a bylaw to read “A referendum conducted by the board in the constituency represented by the director; such a referendum shall follow upon a simple majority of the board vote on the resolution”—would allow student societies to hold referenda to sever ties with UTSU.
“I don’t hold your view that that’s what it says, but I’m not going to get into it because […] you and I have wasted everyone’s time here enough,” said Hashemi.
Ryan Gomes stepped up to the microphone to add amendments to the motion, because, in his reading of the CNCA, they did not comply with the upcoming changes to Canadian law. Hashemi said that he could only propose changes to the paragraphs quoted in the motion as it stood, and told him he should submit his motions to next year’s agenda.
The meeting ended with motions to endorse a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14, which saw some opposition and a defence by Sajjad; to investigate UTSU’s board and commission structure, which saw two failed attempts at amendment; and to reprimand Students Against Israeli Apartheid for having protocol that requires event organizers to give speaking preference based on race, gender, and sexual orientation and to “visually judge” membership of such a group rather than allowing attendees to self-identify.
Only this last motion failed to pass when it came to a vote.