The Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario stands in solidarity with the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU). On March 8, the University of Toronto’s Vice-President and Provost improperly intervened and withheld a portion of the Graduate Students’ Union membership fees, undermining the democratic structures, processes and decisions that are in place for the Union.
The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) is a students’ union and member local of the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario. Formed in 1964, they represent over 18,000 graduate students. The UTGSU holds yearly elections and Annual General Meetings and regularly scheduled General Council, Standing Committees and Executive Committee meetings that help shape the work of the Union and the bylaws and policies that reflect the Union.
The UTGSU democratically formed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) caucus at their 2012 Annual General Meeting— a caucus that has been established for almost 10 years. While the administration claims to affirm the value of student organization autonomy without interference, they referred to the Complaint and Resolution Council on Student Societies (CRCSS) panel last year to make recommendations on how the UTGSU internal operations should proceed, citing that the caucus violates the University’s Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations and the UTGSU’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. The Complaint and Resolution Council on Student Societies (CRCSS) panel was established in 2016 by the University of Toronto administration and in fact directly undermines student organizations that have their own internal, democratically established processes.
This is not the first time student union autonomy has come under attack. In 2019, the provincial government created the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) policy in an attempt to silence and defund students’ unions and groups that are critical of the government while providing essential campaigns, services and advocacy work. The UTGSU joined as interveners on the joint lawsuit launched by the Federation and the York Federation of Students recognizing the importance of student union autonomy without interference. Students successfully won not only the unanimous Divisional Court ruling, but also the Court of Appeal ruling. It should be noted that the University of Toronto administration also joined as interveners during the legal appeal against the harmful and unlawful Student Choice Initiative (SCI) policy. Governments have no business in interfering with student union autonomy, and neither should university administrations.
The Federation supports the decisions and democratic processes that the UTGSU membership has established. The University of Toronto administration must respect student union autonomy. We demand that the University of Toronto administration immediately release the membership dues that are currently withheld so that members can continue to fully benefit from the vital campaign, advocacy and services work that the Union provides to its membership.