Stance on Middle East politics divides campus
The 2014 Concordia Student Union (CSU) election results have come in, with winning councillors decided on and nearly all referendum questions voted in the affirmative.
The vote was not without controversy, as the truly divisive question around adopting the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement concerning Israel was challenged in a last-minute judicial board meeting the night before polls opened and ultimately suspended pending criticism.
The referendum question results were the following:
Daycare – 1551 (yes), 236 (No), 613 (Abstain)
Anti-Austerity – 1317 (yes), 342 (No), 717 (Abstain)
Student Housing – 1598 (yes), 182 (No), 613 (Abstain)
Hive Café – 952 (yes), 448 (No), 903 (Abstain)
IEAC separation – 865 (yes), 433 (No), 1197 (Abstain)
IEAC Fee Levy – 708 (yes), 761 (No), 1024 (Abstain)
CONMUN Fee Levy – 888 (yes), 653 (No), 944 (Abstain)
The new CSU councillors are, by faculty:
Arts and Science Council: Jason Poirier Lavoie
JMSB Council: Scott Carr, Taimur Tanoli, & Maylen Cytryn
ENCS Council: Faddy Kamel
Independent Student Council: Marie Briere de la Hossayere
BDS challenged, changed, concealed
The last-minute judicial board meeting was held between plaintiffs arguing the matter surrounding the BDS question violated or was unclear on several points. The three points brought to the Judicial Board were as such:
The original nature of the question, calling for BDS ‘against Israel’s occupation of Palestine’ until it complied with ‘international Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights’, was alleged to be prejudicial in wording. The council voted that it was not but changed the wording of the question to account for the sensitivity. This necessitated new ballots be printed before polls opened.
The complaint that Chief Electoral Officer Andre-Marcil Baril had not put the question to the public within the minimum 7 days before polls opened, as outlined in the rules. Upon reviewing a timeline provided by Baril, this point was also dismissed.
The final complaint was that the scope of the question, if voted affirmatively, could have prejudicially impacted groups on campus that maintain ties with Israel, and lead to their ‘oppression and alienation’, according to the CSU Judicial Decision document. This complaint was dismissed because it was considered to fall outside the scope of the Judicial Board’s mandate, with the CSU judged as having sufficient democratic principles and legislature to prevent oppression and alienation of any group.
The vote was suspended until this Friday afternoon when Andre-Marcel Baril, CEO of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), felt the best way to reply to complaints by both sides was by bringing in an independent third party for the vote counting.
“Regardless of whether we win or we lose, there has been a breach of legitimacy. [The No campaign] violated too many rules,” said Javier I. Hoyos, chairman of the Yes campaign, who said he was concerned with the ‘overall distortions’ of the voting process.
“We actually wrote a full 30 to 40 page report that we sent to the CEO, [and] that we might make public. There [are] pictures, there is video, there are snapshots of Facebook conversations.”
Opponents of BDS made an unsuccessful last-minute appeal to the Judicial Board the night before voting on the grounds that the question was vague over what exactly constituted BDS and what its implementation would mean for the university. They were successful however in getting the question, which they considered to be prejudicially worded, changed.
“From the beginning we had to be straightforward about what we were demanding. The CEO actually asked us to change all the posters and flyers that said ‘human rights’ to ‘Palestinian human rights’. He said we weren’t here protecting human rights, but Palestinian human rights. But the opposition got away with saying pretty much anything. If we were considered too vague … how come the opposition got away with telling the universities we were going to exclude Jewish students from full access to our institutions?”
He alleges these violations included the destruction of BDS campaign posters and concerns over financing.
“We want a transparent report of their finances,” said Hoyos. “In our experience with our budget, we don’t know how they pulled the amount of things they did.” He said the No side said they’d spent about $300 for the campaign.
All in all, the number of individual violations allegedly amounts to over 20.
“These things might sound silly, but they keep adding up,” he said. “We don’t know whether we should disclose these now, or until after the count.”
Lauren Luz, spokesperson for the No committee and one of the original plaintiffs to the Judicial Board, denied the accusations. She said her team went through the proper channels and got Barill’s approval at every step.
“We have followed all the rules. We were never informed by the CEO or by the Yes campaign committee of any such report regarding our violations. It is at the discretion of the CEO as to what constitutes a sanction. Had the No campaign broken any rules or done anything out of conduct, we would have been informed of these supposed violations,” said Luz, adding that “both campaigns chose to spend their money in different ways.”
“For example, we chose to have pins made instead of putting up posters.”
The pins have also proven to be a point of contention, with Hoyos claiming he had seen the No side wear them during the voting period, where the slightest campaigning is forbidden. Luz denied this, saying her team knew the rules and did not sport pins but could not stop students uninvolved in the campaign from doing so if they wanted to.
It also appears a non-student was behind the ripped posters.
“The CEO verified this using camera footage provided to him by Concordia security,” she said, and CSU President Benjamin Prunty confirmed this had been brought to their attention.
Both sides are now awaiting the result of the vote before deciding what they’ll do next. Whatever the final tally, Hoyos says his side will continue to press their findings.
“That is something the CSU will have to look into in the future, perhaps by calling in independent monitors to look into the behaviour of both parties.”
The BDS vote count will take place on Friday, Dec. 5, and is expected to be made public by 7 p.m.