At the AUS Legislative Council meeting on February 27, the Secretary General presented their investigative findings on the constitutionality of the Executive Committee’s vote on the POLI 339 course fee. This vote, which took place on February 8, reversed the legislative council’s original decision not to approve the course.
Prior to the council session, Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo and VP Internal Billy Kawasaki had resigned from their positions, in part due to student outcry over the executive vote.
Secretary General’s Report Findings
The Secretary General ultimately found the private vote held by the executives over Slack to be unconstitutional, and thus invalid. According to the report, Arts Representatives (Figueiredo, Karia, and Sanchez) are non-voting members of the executive, and no attempt was made to receive a recommendation from the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA), thus violating Article 2.3 of the By-Laws Regarding FIOs. Further, the actions of the Executive Committee satisfy the Article 19 requirements for the removal of executives from office, however, the Secretary General did not make a recommendation with regards to a decision in this area. The Legislative Council has the right and prerogative to determine the next steps.
The Secretary General determined that group messages exchanged between the executives “suggests a deliberate decision to contravene the Constitution by counting the Arts Representatives’ votes,” even though “the Executive Committee was aware that the procedure was invalid.”
The report notes that Arts Representatives Figueiredo and Sanchez “placed further pressure on President Thomas to take action that contravenes Article 11.3,” and that Thomas “did not execute her duty to establish and uphold proper procedural rules for the functioning of the Executive Committee.”
The report finds that there was ambiguity in the Constitution regarding the Executive Committee’s power to overrule Legislative Committee decisions in cases such as these. The Secretary General recommended that the Legislative Council open a large-scale review of the entire AUS Constitution “in order to clarify these many grey areas” and prevent similar situations from arising in the future. Another finding was that the lack of knowledge displayed by the Executive Committee was a key contributor to the occurrence of this vote, and recommended in response that the Legislative Council move a requirement that members of the Executive Committee attend an information session on the AUS Constitution, to be facilitated by the Secretary-General Portfolio.
Response from the Executives
AUS President Maria Thomas responded to the Secretary General’s report, saying: “If need be I will resign, given I was in charge of the executive committee, and I should not have let the Arts reps vote. I just need some time to wrap things up and I’ll move forward.”
Senator Wilson expressed her concern that the majority of the blame was being placed on Thomas: “I think the fact that Maria would be the only person to take the entire responsibility for this is deeply troubling to me.” The Deputy Secretary General added, “I just want to clarify that the intent of this report was not to shift the blame to President Thomas, but we are restricted to what we can investigate by the Constitutional by-laws.”
VP Communications Jamal Tarrabain also defended Thomas, explaining that “this isn’t just something Maria engaged in or contributed to. It was the totality of the executive, so I think it’s fair that the whole executive… try to regain that trust. I know a first step we took was our statement that we made last week and to publish all of our chat, and I’m the first to acknowledge that that isn’t enough and there’s more to be done.”
VP External Rebecca Scarra stressed the need for a constitution and bylaw review committee and emphasized her desire to build trust through continuing to help clubs book rooms. VP Chloe Kameni echoed the sentiment, indicating a desire to attend a Constitutional review workshop. “Clearly my lack of understanding of the constitution contributed to this whole fiasco,” she noted.
During the question period, VP Social Kim Yang confirmed reports that members of the executives had been messaging other members encouraging them to vote a certain way. Yang stated, “Andrew Figueiredo had very explicitly messaged me more than once, asking if there was anything [he] could do to make [me] change [my] vote to a yes.”
Response from Arts Representatives
Arts Representatives Garima Karia and Ana Paula Sanchez were subjected to several questions from departmental representatives regarding their decisions on POLI 339. A petition calling for their resignation and impeachment if they did not resign has been circulating and currently has 12 signatures from different departments.
In her opening statement, Sanchez expressed regret over the situation, stressing that the lack of clarity within the Constitution contributed to the outcome: “I take full responsibility for my actions… because of lack of knowledge. One of the specific issues is that there are a lot of [constitutional provisions] we don’t really apply anymore. I am disappointed in myself and need more time to give a fully substantive and reflective response to this.” Sanchez stated that her reason for voting yes in the private vote was that she “heard from multiple students on campus that they wanted to have the course,” and that Arts Representative Figueiredo had told her of a petition signed by around 170 students that wanted to take the course. Sanchez stated, “I took a utility-maximizing approach that I wanted to bring the most good.”
Karia stated that her reason for voting yes in the second vote was because she believed the course fee to be reasonable. She felt that she was only responding to the question posed by the poll, not on overturning legislative council’s decision, which she maintains she was not in favour of. Some criticized Karia’s reasoning, arguing that she knew that voting yes would overturn the initial decision made at Legislative Council. The representative from MESA state that “many execs in the chat said they would not vote yes because they were not comfortable overturning the first vote, so I think the consistency argument is not a valid… this is not about technicalities, it’s about bad faith even if it’s not unconstitutional.”
Sanchez replied to the letter calling for her and Karia’s resignation, stating: “I was really saddened, but I also understood why these departments demand accountability. However, I would like to have it reflected that [the letter] was created prior to the SG’s report and I have repeatedly asked constituents and department associations to contact me with concerns. Not a single department that had signed on actually sent me questions. I am really committed to catering to exact concerns and [to] actually have the time to process it.”
Arts constituent and member of the History Students Association, Teddy Neuman, expressed his unhappiness that the petition was signed by his department without having been approved by constituents. Neuman explained that to his knowledge, only the SSA had asked for permission from their membership, though the representative for MES interjected that they too had asked constituents.
HSA VP External Maeve Bothom responded replied to Neuman’s comment, explaining that student associations operate as representative rather than they do not operate as a direct democracy, and so were not obliged under their constitution to consult constituents. She explained, “We [the HSA] function on a representative democracy, not a direct democracy… an important part of being a representative democracy is that people put their trust in representatives to make decisions on behalf of them.”
Several department associations and members from the gallery pressed Karia and Sanchez for a full substantive apology with regards to their actions on the vote. Pauline Werner, a U4 student and member from the Gallery, expressed concern that the questions “have focused on two executives’ votes, rather than the vote itself and why it happened in the first place. I don’t think it’s correct in a democratic context to be critiquing the content of two individual votes… I’m a bit concerned that this is taking a turn towards critiquing two people for the way they voted, rather than why the vote happened in the first place.”
Ultimately, the impeachment did not move forward at the council session. The next Legislative Council session will take place sometime in March.