Canadian Student Union bars students from attending meetings

Ben Redwood – News Reporter 11 January 2013

Students at a university in Vancouver who do not have privileged positions are to be banned from attending board meetings of their Student Union, according to recent changes made to the bylaws of the Langara Student’s Union in Vancouver.

Recent changes made to the bylaws of the Langara Student’s Union in Vancouver, Canada mean that students without privileged positions are no longer allowed to attend the board meetings of their student union.

These changes were made following a referendum put forward in November 2012 by the LSU’s Board of Directors. The referendum, composed of three resolutions, was passed on 5 December, each by a narrow margin of votes and will come into effect from the 1st of March, 2013.

Currently the meetings are open to the public. The referendum claims that the changes were made in order for “LSU members to hold Council to higher levels of accountability.” This will help them to remain “realistic, practical and fiscally responsible”, according to the referendum.

Other additions include council members being held to a limit of two terms and having to swear an oath of office. Candidates for the council need to provide professional and academic references to apply, while the quorum for meetings, previously 150 attendees (1.5% of the student population) has now been lowered to 50.

Council meetings in camera will not have minutes taken and members are not allowed to take or copy notes from meetings.

The changes will allow members on the board of directors to receive a stipend for their services. Previously directors were only reimbursed on expenses for attended meetings. The amount they will now receive is yet to be determined by a vote of the board.

The second and third resolutions proposed in the referendum allow current members of the council to be grandfathered in for another full two terms in order to facilitate the transition under the new laws.

The need for these developments was informed “through LSU member feedback, Stakeholder consultations, and expert opinions”, while the changes were agreed upon by the LSU’s board of directors in consultation with Jana Jorgensen Consulting, a management consultancy company based in Victoria.

The referendum has aroused controversy and received criticism by local news sources. LSU staffer Saadia Rai said to Canada University Press that the new bylaws would create “inclusivity” seldom seen elsewhere, which the CUP adds is “highly unusual” for Canadian student unions.

The changes made will mean that reporters for The Voice, the Langara student newspaper, will not be able to attend board meetings without special permission. LSU queer liaison officer Adam Giesbrecht tells the voice that the LSU intends to publish their own newspaper “pretty much within the week” of meetings being held.

Tensions between the LSU and the media have been high. When The Voice inquired about the collective bargaining agreement for the staff of the LSU, media liaison Gurbax Leelh stated that: “We are not comfortable providing any kind of information regarding LSU business without consulting with our lawyer.” The LSU repeatedly declined to comment to the CUP.

According to the Vancouver Courier, Leehl disputed the media reports: “The LSU has been horribly bashed and given a bad reputation they do not deserve.” She emphasised that the bylaw was implemented to bar the general public from meetings rather than prevent student interaction.

The LSU performed a recount of the votes after criticism that the results were made invalid by spoiled ballots. The first resolution, dealing with the majority of changes in bylaws, was passed with 19 votes and only 11 spoiled ballots, while the second and third resolutions only narrowly passed, with 8 votes and 30 spoiled ballots, and 2 votes and 28 spoiled ballots, respectively. Leehl welcomed the inquiry, stating that “we have nothing to hide”. The referendum was ratified in a board meeting after a recount and a final vote, with 8 of the 12 directors voting in favour.

Cambridge University Students’ Union Chair Mark Chonofsky told The Cambridge Student: “We have a different philosophy and it wouldn’t happen here.” He believes that “the more students have opportunities to participate, the better. I have little interest in telling other people how to run their SU – but we strive to keep our meetings open and accessible to all students to promote engagement.” The LSU’s proposals have allegedly roused much debate on campus.

The Council composition in place will remain in effect until the next elections in Autumn 2013.

Ben Redwood – News Reporter