The motion to approve the agenda at the Annual General Meeting of the U of T Students’ Union was defeated minutes after the meeting was called to order, bringing the meeting to a sudden halt.
More than 300 students and 3,000 proxy votes were in attendance on Thursday in the Meeting Room of the Medical Sciences Building at the St. George campus. The event was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., but was not called to order until well after 8.
Many students stood in line for several hours outside the packed room, waiting to register. Because of the large number of students in line, the keynotes—aboriginal elder Cat Criger and Adam Vaughan, the city councillor for Trinity-Spadina—proceeded without UTSU having called the meeting to order. Students were overheard commented on the lack of organization on the part of the students’ union: not only was registration slow, the room was not large enough to hold the number of people the union had expected to attend. People were forced to sit on the floor, on the stairs, and around the fire exits.
Shaun Shepherd, the president of UTSU, began his presidential address following the keynotes. Members of the union held up signs that read “online voting now” as Shepherd spoke, and laughed collectively when Shepherd referred to the “democratically elected board of directors”.
Shepherd ended the address with a tearful personal plea, saying he and his peers had endured malicious attacks and bullying from those who “wish to smear the hard work” of himself and his peers.
“I really encourage each and every one of you who wish to participate in democracy, who choose to have your voices heard, but please, stick to the issue. This is my plea,” said Shepherd.
Some members of the union stood up as the crowd clapped for his address. The chair, Ashkon Hashemi, officially called the meeting to order at 8:19.
“If you are not respectful, if you do things that cross the threshold from civilized speech to disrespectful, I will cut you off,” said Hashemi before members of the union tried in vain to amend the agenda, then to replace Hashemi as chair.
Then Samuel Greene, the head of Trinity College, took a microphone and called for electoral reform, urging members not to approve the agenda. “I’m going to explain why you should vote against approving this agenda, amended or unamended,” said Greene. “There is a very simple reason. You should not have confidence that this agenda is representative of students’ concerns. The process by which this agenda was arrived at was unfair, untransparent, and undemocratic.”
Greene went on to argue that it’s not possible for students to raise concerns at a meeting where they do not understand the rules. He said that students should oppose the agenda of the meeting to send a message to the students’ union that they should not prescribe an illegitimate agenda.
“Maybe, just maybe, you should say you should have a better agenda, one that is reflective of your concerns,” concluded Greene. Applause thundered throughout the room.
Hashemi explained that the meeting would end if the agenda was not approved. The meeting then moved to the motion to approve the agenda, which was defeated by an unofficial tally of 999 votes against and 905 in favour.
Hashemi declared the meeting at an end and, amid cheering and booing, the room slowly cleared out.
Some of the attendees called out “Students win!” and congratulated each other.
Christopher Thompson, the president of UTMSU, was in attendance with other UTSMU executives.
“I was actually very disappointed that the meeting did not continue,” said Thompson. “I believe the AGM is a perfect setting to actually engage in productive and constructive discussion—which never even had the chance to occur.”
Jonathan Scott, a fifth-year undergraduate in English, said he was surprised that the motion failed.
“The UTSU executives categorically refused to allow legitimate, substantive, and constructive reform proposals to even be discussed,” said Scott. “The agenda was therefore undemocratic, unfair, and unaccountable. So we failed the agenda and asked the UTSU executives to come back with a fair, democratic, and student-driven agenda.”
Fifth-year political science UTM student Thomas Kristan was also surprised.
“The democratic process, flawed as it was, was voted to be ended altogether rather than to work with what was there. I’m surprised that students would actually vote to cancel one of the few democratic forums that the union has,” said Kristan. “This year has set a record for hecklers and disturbers to grandstand in front of students in what was supposed to be a time to raise concerns in front of fellow students in order to ensure accountability and transparency. And although the system in which this is done is somewhat flawed at times, cancelling the AGM altogether was simply a mistake that put an end to all debate and questions, except for those of the few students who complained about online voting.”
Kristan said he suspects that many students voted against the agenda because they were annoyed at having to wait so long for the meeting to be called to order, and just wanted to go home.
“Students should try to realize that most students probably just wanted to go home or cause a ruckus rather than actually support them in their crusade against the union,” said Kristan.