VANCOUVER (CUP) — A controversial set of changes to the bylaws of the Langara Students’ Union (LSU) that would prohibit students from attending meetings of the LSU’s board of directors has passed in a referendum.
The changes are an almost total rewrite of the society’s bylaws. In addition to the restrictions on attending meetings, quorum for annual general meetings drops from 150 to 50, council members are held to a maximum of two terms, candidates for election are required to provide professional and academic references and all directors must swear an “oath of office.”
Also, LSU members will not be permitted to copy or take notes for any records of the union.
The new bylaws were proposed by the LSU’s board of directors and developed in consultation with Victoria-based management consultancy Janna Jorgensen Consulting.
According to a document from the LSU, the bylaws are being changed to “achieve a higher level of accountability.”
The LSU declined repeated requests for comment.
At an earlier bylaw “town hall” event, LSU staffer Saadia Rai said the bylaws would increase the union’s level of inclusivity to an extent not seen at any other student union in Canada.
Under the modified set of bylaws, meetings of the LSU board of directors will be closed to the student body with only directors, staff and approved guests allowed to attend.
This is highly unusual for Canadian student unions. Almost all B.C. student unions hold meetings that are open to their members, including UBC’s Alma Mater Society, the UVic Student Society and the Simon Fraser Student Society. Student unions and societies run under the B.C. Society Act, which is being reviewed in Victoria and may be amended or replaced in the future.
Pay for councillors has also changed. Under the old bylaws, directors of the LSU were only paid based on reimbursement of expenses for attending meetings. The new bylaws allow directors to receive a stipend for their work, the amount of which will be determined by a vote of the board.
To approve the changes, students were required to vote on three special resolutions, the first of which was an omnibus approval of all of the bylaw changes, which will take effect on March 1, 2013.
The second cancelled a January byelection, delaying it until the fall. The final resolution grandfathered in current councillors so that any terms they have already served do not count against them for the term limit.
Every year the LSU receives $2 million from mandatory student fees, or approximately $390 per student.
When the bylaws go into effect, Langara’s student newspaper, The Voice, will no longer be permitted to go to LSU meetings without approval of the board of directors.
Speaking to the Vancouver Courier, LSU shop steward Donna Rainford-Cayenne said this did not concern LSU members because “we’re going to get our own reporters and publish our own newspaper.”
Repeated email, phone and in-person requests from the Canadian University Press, for comment on the passing of the bylaws were ignored by the LSU.
When asked who their ombudsperson was, an LSU staff person told the Canadian University Press that “I don’t have to tell you that” because “I think you have nefarious ideas about what you’ll do with that information.”
The only response received by the Canadian University Press was an email reply by Gurbax Leelh, board member at large for the LSU and the current media liaison.
“I appreciate your interest in covering the LSU Bylaws Referendum. Unfortunately, I have a final exam and this issue has taken much of my time with reporters on campus. I have lost faith that a well-balanced report will be provided to the readers. So I have decided to put my education first.
“The most I can do to assist you with your report, is that if you send me an email of your questions, I can respond to them later on tonight after my exam.”
Though questions were sent to her, the Canadian University Press received no further correspondence.
The LSU has been reluctant to speak with the media all year.
In October, when The Voice made inquiries about the current collective bargaining agreement the LSU has with its staff, which was set to be renegotiated in late November, Leelh refused comment stating that the document was confidential — though such documents are required to be filed with the province and be publicly accessible.
“We are not comfortable providing any kind of information regarding LSU business without consulting with our lawyer,” Leelh later said via email. “I also would like to request no articles be posted about our organizations unless it is about promoting events and awareness about our services.”
— With files from Laura Rodgers