What follows will surely be controversial, but as our name has been brought into recent political discussion and, in part, used to justify the elections procedure of the UTSU, we feel the need to set the record straight.
An Open Letter from the GSU Executive Committee
Dear Union Members and Campus Allies:
What follows will surely be controversial, but as our name has been brought into recent political discussion and, in part, used to justify the elections procedure of the UTSU, we feel the need to set the record straight. Over the last year, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s relationship with the University of Toronto Students’ Union has been distant, but remained amicable. Our union’s efforts to reform the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) by making them more transparent and democratic has created tension with the UTSU, but we have been capable of working together on matters of common concern, such as tri-campus governance. While we might have felt that the UTSU was repeatedly placing inherent democratic principles, like respecting the will of the membership at General Meetings, into question, we respected the autonomy of their organization and have left them to their affairs.
However, the GSU has been asked to put our name on the line during the UTSU election and we have concerns about how this has been handled. Specifically, the UTSU election rules call for a member of our organization to sit on the Elections and Referenda Appeals Committee, which in the past has become a lightning rod of controversy. The UTSU chose – as it had in previous years – to violate the autonomy of our organization and determine for us who this representative would be. Without notifying us, they directly contacted and invited a member of our staff to serve on the committee. We did not feel that the decision made by the UTSU was appropriate for our organization, especially given circumstances within our sister union. As a result, we decided in a unanimous decision that our Executive would send Jason Dumelie, our Academic and Funding Commissioner for Divisions 3 and 4, to represent us.
In response, the UTSU mobilized our mutual allies to attempt to persuade us to reverse our decision in private. They said that their Board had already ratified our staff member without our consent. Since then, we have heard nothing from the UTSU and feel compelled to distance ourselves from these processes. We are concerned about what we believe is the true motivation behind these acts: to put an individual on the ERAC who they perceive to be more in line with their interests. This type of behaviour is not particular to the individuals involved in the UTSU but is part of a greater culture of control within the CFS.
Some people might still say that it is not our role to comment on undergraduate politics and normally, we’d agree. However, through other intermediaries, we have been requested to intervene on the UTSU’s behalf in their fight to stop some College Councils and the Engineering Society from attempting to exit their organization. Although we believe that a unified undergraduate students’ union is in the best interest of all students, we understand that this may not be productive or possible at this time. When members feel their student organization is being run in an undemocratic fashion and are blocked from creating meaningful change within that institution, calling for referenda to defederate is an appropriate response.