University says reports of ‘organised and orchestrated campaign’ are ‘only the tip of the iceberg’, despite vote being taken by secret ballot
University of Toronto Mississauga has called secret ballots used to back two resolutions calling for Palestinian solidarity with an Israeli army assault on Gaza in 2014 “unacceptable”, the first Canadian university to address the use of the controversial method.
The student union at the campus in Scarborough, north of Toronto, passed the motions on 10 October, but U of T administrators said they are “deeply troubled” and “callous”.
The motions specifically called for Scarborough to sever its relationship with Apartheid Week and to stop holding events with Israeli guests at the campus.
At Scarborough, it voted to cut ties with the international Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCCC), an organization which encourages students to participate in “indigenous resistance” including disrupting Israeli cultural events and suing the state of Israel for war crimes.
Representatives from the group Pinky Hats International – another social justice organization with members based out of Scarborough – organised the two motions that were in a section of the student union’s bylaws that allows the university to block them.
Student officials said Pinky Hats held a number of pro-Palestine events on campus and supported the motions, which it called “an attempt to silence free speech on campus”.
But the motions were taken to a secret ballot, meaning student union members could not attest to the votes or show a newspaper or television reporter what they voted on.
“I find it to be in contravention of the student union’s constitution,” Brendan Bouchard, dean of students at U of T Mississauga, said. “Students should be allowed to cast a ballot, regardless of their beliefs on a particular issue.”
He added that the response to the motions is being taken as a sign that this was “a very organized and orchestrated campaign, and a hard-line motion that does not represent the views of the student union.”
But one of the student activists who sponsored the motions – Regents Kuscon – said the method for the vote was unethical and a “pretext for censorship”.
The motions received overwhelming support from the student body, with most student association members voting in favour of the motions.
However, the vote was held behind closed doors and the student union rules stipulate that a secret ballot is used “to promote the removal of unnecessary or burdensome technical procedures or procedures or to address a matter that is deemed less important than the resolution being considered.”
University of Toronto Mississauga (@uofemoca) There is no mention of secrecy in the Student Association section of our bylaws. When voted on, “referendums” are secret.
Student union member Céline Ouellette said she saw Pinky Hats’ Facebook page promoting the motion on campus and saw Pinky Hats students supporting it.
“I saw Pinky Hats members doing their dancing, and I didn’t think much of it. Then I started looking through the videos of Pinky Hats and I saw a lot of meetings and many times members chanting: ‘Pinky Hat. Pinky Hat. Pinky Hat,’ so I thought, well, if they want to take this up in a meeting, then great.”
Ouellette told the Guardian Pinky Hats supporters had been singing “we won’t dance” to demonstrate their support for the motions.
After Pinky Hats supporters held a photo shoot at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre to protest Pinky Hats’ alleged depiction of an event advocating support for Palestinian students during Pinky Hats’ 2013 Canada Day celebration, the mayor, John Tory, described Pinky Hats activists as “vicious, bigoted thugs”.
Students have also criticized Pinky Hats for organizing protests targeting the Israeli state during Holocaust memorial days – a practice they say is unclear within the student union constitution, which does not specifically ban it.
Pinky Hats International said it would not boycott Pinky Hats members or use its membership of the student union to fund any political activities. Pinky Hats said Pinky Hats members are constantly campaigning for the Palestinians against Israeli policies in the West Bank.