Written by: Gene Cole, Opinions Editor
The recent annual general meeting (AGM) for the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) was a circus. Someone set off a smoke bomb in the Leslie and Gordon Diamond Family Auditorium right before voting registration, forcing attendees to wait over two hours for the meeting to begin. Convocation Mall was full of cold, anxious students who took time out of their day to listen, speak, and vote on various issues, particularly the impeachment of former SFSS president Jas Randhawa. Once underway, the meeting contained emotional speeches, speaking rules conflicts, and complex legislation.
While I was waiting among the crowd to enter, I overheard someone asking their friend, “Can’t we vote for this online instead?” While this AGM was massively important, I can’t help but agree with this student’s frustration.
To discuss this, it’s important to know the legislative reasoning for why an impeachment has to be in-person is unclear. The closest that seems to be present is the SFSS bylaws requiring impeachments be done by special resolution (by-law 17), which seem to imply an in-person quorum.
There’s also plenty of potential reasons for this outside of policy. Impeachment is a serious issue, and it’s important to allow people’s voices to be heard through the process. Board members of the SFSS and passionate students spoke at this AGM — many of them wouldn’t have had as good of an outlet to talk to voters if all of them voted remotely.
There’re also plenty more things that came up at the AGM besides the impeachment — particularly concerns regarding space allotted to student groups on campus. This is not an argument against AGMs, but rather against the inability to cast proxy votes for this special resolution — which, based on the wide attendance, was a major decision that many people wanted to participate in.
However, while students may want to participate, they don’t necessarily have the time to go through it all. This meeting was not something most students could have reasonably dedicated time towards. This isn’t to say the smoke bomb was handled improperly, or that the SFSS should have foreseen so many statements of different tones and subjects throughout the meeting. Nobody could have predicted the range of things that happened. But even under typical circumstances, this meeting would still have taken at least two hours out of our Monday afternoon, which is a tough sell.
Unexpected problems aside, the SFSS has severely failed to provide support for this scheduling need. While it seems reasonable for someone to be excused from lectures or tutorials, this has not been advertised by the SFSS whatsoever before this meeting. The only information about academic accommodation on their website is a page with a letter that you can send to your profs in-advance of the meeting, but it’s dated for the 2015 AGM on September 22nd and has no indication whether it can still be used.
Even if you were to go through that effort for an AGM though, there’s no guarantee that it would pay off. Many profs don’t record their lectures, tutorials may have discussions that can’t be noted down, and it’s not even certain if they’ll approve of your letter as a valid excuse to begin with. We are here spending tuition to go to class, and we can’t just ignore it if the AGM happens to be inconvenient.
This also doesn’t include other responsibilities held by students including work, family obligations, social obligations, et cetera, and it’s unfair to say that they need to plan around this. Being online for a yes/no question cuts the time immensely and guarantees a greater voterbase. Ensuring maximum participation is part of why we elect these representatives online in the first place; impeachment is just as important a decision as election.
For those who had the opportunity to go without missing anything, or those who skipped responsibilities to attend, the meeting itself wasn’t entirely worthwhile.
This isn’t to say I think the results of the vote would be different online, or that the decision was made in an improper fashion. But by having it online, we wouldn’t have had to listen to all the confusion of rules surrounding how to speak in the meeting. We wouldn’t have had to sit through a moderator who couldn’t even pronounce Jas Randhawa’s name while resolving the impeachment. We could have determined a verdict with greater ease and more voters.
There absolutely is value to the impeachment being an in-person vote. It was an incredible moment to witness students wanting to make their voices heard. But making this decision dependent on AGM attendance was risky, and it damaged a lot of other important parts of this AGM. We got lucky that the vote was able to reach quorum and come to a firm decision, because it did this against so many odds. Participation in student government should not rely on this unreasonable standard of attendance.