Transparency: A forgotten ideal?

When the UTMSU Annual General Meeting took place last November, I thought future AGMs could hardly get more controversial. Yet last week’s events proved me wrong.

At the University of Toronto Student’s Union AGM, which took place last Thursday, over 20 UTM students, including a few UTMSU executives, brandished proxy forms that enabled them to vote for up to eleven students each. They did not obtain these forms at UTM, since Linda Feener, the person supposed to hand them out, told The Medium that not a single student had approached her about the forms. This raises the question: How were these forms handed out, filled and collected?

UTMSU defenders will point out that students might have obtained the forms in UTSU’s downtown office, which was the second authorized pickup location. But this possibility seems unlikely. The reasons are threefold: Firstly, no UTMSU or UTSU representative suggested that this had been the case—surely they would have done so, but only if they could prove it. Secondly, both the UTSU and the UTSMU promptly destroyed the proxy forms, so even if an inquiry were launched, we would likely never find which students picked up these forms and where they did it. Thirdly, most UTM students would probably pick up the forms in their own campus.

The Medium, by the way, encourages students with any information about this episode to knock on our door, drop us a line, call us—we will listen to you, and if the facts bear out, we will help you make your voice heard.

This AGM issue raises many serious questions. Why were UTMSU executives, who according to their own Constitution must be part-time students, voting in an AGM that is clearly intended for full-time students? And if these executives are full-time students, then how can they work as UTMSU executives? One way or the other, a violation seems to be taking place.

Furthermore, why did the UTMSU create its own alternative method for picking up and distributing proxy forms? We have confirmed that former UTMSU VP external DJ Kohli handed out proxy forms forms, which, by the way, were unnumbered and thus untraceable. Anyone could have copied them and handed them out with, shall we say, undue generosity. According to the UTMSU Constitution and By-Laws, under the heading By Law 3  Meetings, 1.5 Proxy: “No member [of the Union] shall carry more than 10 proxies, and no member should have more than one proxy form.”

This entitles each member to carry a maximum of 11 votes—ten proxies plus their own. Mr. Kohli held more than one form in his possession.

Lastly, why did the UTMSU destroy all proxy forms so promptly? Adnan Najmi, VP internal services at UTSU, argued that the Unions destroyed the forms because they contained students personal information. If that’s the case, another question arises: Why did the Unions not find an alternative method to collect proxy votes, such as T-card validation at the time of collection or proxy form pickup?

This information should have been archived for future reference and, if need be, for future investigation. Their destruction suggests many ugly scenarios, especially given last year’s scandal in which, for those who are unfamiliar with the issue, UTMSU executives handed out nameless and signed proxy forms with eight to ten student signatures filled out at the bottom to certain students, so that they could vote to support the UTMSU in whatever motion the union wished to pass. I’m quoting from “UTMSU Proxy gate scandal,”  an article that The Medium published last year after we learned of this regrettable incident. Then-UTMSU President Wasah Malik said the matter would be investigated. We are still waiting for the results of last year’s promised investigation.

One thing is clear: Both the UTMSU and UTSU are benefiting from too much control over the process of the proxy forms distribution and collection. Even if none of these events had taken place, the fact that the UTMSU and UTSU have such control raises concerns of accountability and democracy, two missions that UTSMU claims to strive for.

The bottom line is that the UTMSU picks up proxy forms in ways that clash with its own guidelines. The UTMSU has total control over this process, so that no one can demand to see these proxy forms. The UTMSU destroys these forms not one day after the AGM, well before the dust settles and curious eyes can pry into their business, which is the business of all U of T students. Indeed, we fund everything that the UTMSU does, whether we want to or not, since opting out of UTMSU fees is not an option.

Linda Feener has said that in this years UTMSU AGM, she will keep the proxy forms in her office, room 115 in the Student Centre. To ensure that there will be no problems, as Mrs. Feener put it, she numbered all proxy forms and will initial them when she hands them out. Moreover, students who pick up a proxy form must return it to Mrs. Feener only.

We should all take cue. Like any government or powerful body, the UTMSU will only act with transparency and respect for its own regulations, as well as respect for the very students it purports to represent, when we question it, when we probe it, and when we demand of it that it gives us what it should be giving us already: The truth.

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