Students’ union embarks on condemnation road trip

The Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) executive and one of its full-time staffers are going to Ottawa on a mission to condemn Quebec’s proposed ban on religious headwear as well as an oil giant’s practices.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) will hold its national general meeting in the capital from Nov. 21 to 24, with student unions from across the country attending to represent more than 600,000 university students in Canada.

The RSU, local 24 of the federation, will push forward three motions on behalf of Ryerson students at the four-day meeting, according to its official agenda.

The four-day trip will cost each RSU executive $450 for transportation and lodging, as well as a $405 “travel pool fee,” according to Roshelle Lawrence, the RSU’s vice-president education.

That brings the total costs of the trip to $4,275. One delegate gets to go for free, based on CFS provisions on national meetings.

“Under the travel pool system, each member union pays the same amount per delegate so that representation from across the country is adequate,” she said in an email.

“Also, if you are a member of a constituency group, so for example, identify as being racialized or queer, the cost to attend is reduced as well.”

One of the RSU’s motions deals with the Line 9 pipeline, which, according to its description in the agenda, will “run unrefined crude oil and tar sands between Hamilton and Montreal, in order to ship Tar Sands (sic) internationally.”

The RSU wants the CFS to write a letter on behalf of its student members condemning Enbridge, which has proposed the pipeline, for its previously ineffective cleanup methods on “numerous” oil spills.

The motion also asks that “member locals be encouraged to share campaign materials they have developed addressing the issue of Line (9).”

“Students are obviously caring about the environment, and we know a lot of environmentalist groups on campus that don’t want to see a huge pipeline going trough our campus in downtown Toronto,” said Lawrence.

“That could be problematic.”

Another motion being brought to the meeting by the RSU opposes Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values.

The charter has been opposed by a number of prominent groups across the country, including the federal government.

Although the charter gleaned cross-country attention back in May, the Quebec government introduced the bill on Nov. 7.

If the legislation is passed, it would ban public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work, including hijabs, niqabs, and turbans.

RSU president Melissa Palermo noted that on such a diverse campus, this legislation could have serious negative affects.

“Working from an equity standpoint, we believe that it’s important to have discussions around that troubling new charter that the Quebec government is trying to put forward, as we feel that it’s rooted in racist thought, and very exclusionary to people,” Lawrence said.

Palermo, said the union is “always kind of keeping an eye on things that are relevant and current,” adding that the charter motion is being pushed at the CFS meeting because it is “something that we think is important to talk about now.”

The RSU’s last motion calls for the federation to investigate “bulk purchasing programs” for sports and entertainment tickets. The union argues that these programs allow students to save money, and that cost-saving services are “oftentimes a first point of contact for students accessing their students’ union.”

The motions being presented weren’t necessarily proposed by students, Lawrence said, but crafted by the executive based on what “students have brought us in the past and (what) there’s a buzz about on campus.”

Maxwell Burnstein, a third-year fashion communications student, said he wasn’t aware of the meeting or of the motions being presented by the RSU.

“I guess as a student, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with people who I don’t know representing me, making and representing beliefs on my behalf,” he said.

Other member unions of the CFS have proposed their own motions.

One pushed forward by local 94, the University of Ottawa’s graduate students’ association, calls for the creation of campus breastfeeding rooms.

Another motion proposed by the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus students’ union calls for the CFS to condemn the misuse of public funds by Canadian senators.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 20, 2013.

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