By Tyler Griffin
On Monday, Canada held its 44th general election—a snap election called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, in the midst of a pandemic, so the party could try (and fail) to secure a majority government. I walked down Gould Street on Monday morning late for work after waiting over an hour in line to vote, pissed at having to even participate in a useless election that was likely to result in few changes to the House of Commons but cost Canadians around $610 million.
My mood lifted, though, when I walked by the Student Centre and found the Continuing Education Students’ Association of X University (CESAX) outside the building, set up with a voter information table and directing students to their nearest polling station. CESAX has been running an election information campaign on the ground and online since late August, in addition to grassroots campaigns promoting harm reduction and community-led alternatives to policing on campus. CESAX is also supporting events for Indigenous Education Week, which runs until Sept. 25. I’ve seen CESAX representatives tabling outside and talking to community members every week since orientation.
To sum it up, the union has been busy at work in spite of the challenges facing student groups returning to campus, because they understand the urgency of this point in time for our community. Many others do too.
The non-partisan political engagement group XU Votes has also been hard at work during this election cycle, campaigning to fill in gaps left by the loss of Elections Canada’s Vote on Campus Program. The program was introduced in 2015 and provided easy access to on-campus, pop-up polling stations where students could cast their ballots, register to vote or update their registration information. The program has been a large success for youth voter turnout, allowing more than 110,000 people, mostly students, to vote at these locations—up from about 70,000 in 2015, according to Elections Canada.
The loss of the Vote on Campus program due to COVID-19 and the time restraints of a snap election is a major loss for students and their collective political influence. Some student groups are realizing this and are working to advocate on behalf of students.
So where is the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU)?
The RSU’s presence on campus was strong during Orientation Week, catching students’ attention through free pizza, food trucks handing out free funnel cakes and an Instagram-worthy rose wall. But during this election cycle, they’re nowhere to be seen or heard.
Free funnel cakes and trial partnerships with student services are by no means inherently bad, but Ryerson students should be concerned with the priorities of the student union
The RSU has, however, seemingly been racking up their number of business partnerships. They’ve already announced a collaboration to offer discounted tickets to Canada’s Wonderland, and as news editor Thea Gribilas reported this week, are rolling out a trial period for scholarship platform FundQi, despite a controversy involving the service at Carleton University. In March, Carleton students voted overwhelmingly to remove FundQi from their ancillary fees after alleging the service hadn’t been transparent about how their student fees were being used or if they were effective at connecting students to funding.
Free funnel cakes and trial partnerships with student services are by no means inherently bad, but Ryerson students should be concerned with the priorities of the student union that exists to advocate on their behalf. At this moment, the campaigns and events pages of the RSU website remain empty.
At Western University, where the student body has been left shocked and traumatized after reports that at least 30 students were drugged and assaulted during the school’s orientation week, and one student died after being violently assaulted. According to the Western Gazette, the school’s University Students’ Council (USC) supported a student-led walkout that saw over 12,000 attendees march through Western’s campus to support survivors of sexual violence. As writer Mariyah Salhia’s cover feature for this week illustrates, fears of sexual harassment and assault remain prevalent among those living near Ryerson’s downtown campus.
The USC also provided Western students with free shuttle service on Monday so they could access polling stations for the election, the Gazette reported.
To put this advocacy work in perspective, CESAX recently released a letter stating that the RSU terminated their legal aid services provider, which allows their membership to access free legal services. While CESAX’s letter states that the RSU has indicated a plan to relaunch a legal aid service by the end of September, the service is still being advertised on the RSU website.
Additionally, the status of many of the RSU’s equity service centres remains unclear. Last year’s RSU executive team laid off all staff members at the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS), citing that “the centre was being poorly managed.” The executive team then proceeded to run the C3SVS themselves. Although a new Sexual Assault Survivor Support chat line was launched, the union has provided little transparency on the operations of C3SVS and other equity centres or whether staff were rehired.
So far, this year’s RSU executive team failed to even abide by their own bylaws, which require Board of Directors’ meeting dates to be communicated to student directors five business days in advance. All of this is in contrast to the union’s stated goals of advocating for students and being transparent to regain the trust of its membership following years of scandals.
Rather than becoming a hub for business partnerships, the RSU needs to reevaluate its priorities in a crucial moment for the Ryerson community and actually do the groundwork of reaching out to students and hearing out their needs, rather than leaving the work to student groups with far less resources than them.
I mean the equity and campaigns organizer for the last 3-4 years was hired as a favor to an alienated board member whom they are now married to. While working this supposed full time job he has not objected to basically all of the equity centers being completely defunded, gone to multiple different graduate school programs and taken other work positions. So why not start there? Oh and you wonder why the RSU hasn’t followed through on their commitment to supporting Palestinians, check out the equity director’s politics.