UVSS to discuss sweeping social media rules for advocacy groups, clubs, and course unions

Policy would change how advocacy groups, clubs, and course unions are responsible for legal fees

EDIT: This article has been edited to clarify a section of the policy which would have allowed the UVSS to recoup costs from advocacy groups, not bill them, and clarified under which circumstances clubs must be informed about legal counsel obtained by the UVSS. We sincerely regret the errors.

On Monday, March 26, the UVSS Board of Directors will discuss sweeping policy changes to the way advocacy groups, clubs, and course unions moderate their online presence with the goal of keeping all UVSS groups more accountable for content posted on websites and social media.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the SUB Upper Lounge. Most of the changes will be put forth by Mackenzie Cumberland, Director of Finance and Operations, at the recommendation of the UVSS Policy Development Committee.

Most of the policy is geared towards the five advocacy groups — UVic Pride, the Students of Colour Collective, the Society for Students with a Disability, the Native Students Union, and Third Space. If it passes, those five groups will have to provide the UVSS with all login information for their website and social media pages. These will be the only pages groups are allowed to use.

Advocacy groups will also be required to keep an up-to-date constitution, budget, meeting schedule, and record of meeting minutes available on their website. Failure to adhere to the policy could see a “loss of privileges, including funding and space in the Student Union Building” for the offending groups.

The policy would also see that any legal fees incurred on one advocacy group’s behalf are drawn from the “Advocacy Group control account” (also known as the Joint Constituency Trust Account), an account shared and accessed by all advocacy groups.

Certain advocacy group representatives on the board say they were not consulted on the policy changes and weren’t even aware this would be discussed at the Monday meeting until the agenda was emailed out at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 23. Cumberland, however, says the groups knew a policy was being written regarding website usage and that there were plenty of opportunities for engagement at various board subcommittees.

Cumberland also says that she is open to tabling the motion, but wants to bring it to the Monday board meeting in order to discuss it with the advocacy representatives.

The policy would also see that any legal fees incurred on one advocacy group’s behalf are drawn from the “Advocacy Group control account” (also known as the Joint Constituency Trust Account), an account shared and accessed by all advocacy groups.

Clubs and course unions will also be affected by the new policy along with advocacy groups.

Under the new policy, signing authorities for clubs, course unions, and advocacy groups would become personally responsible to the UVSS for social media content. Additionally, any club, course union, or advocacy group would have to “cease and desist from publishing any and all content resulting in potential legal liability to the UVSS.”

If the policy passes, the UVSS would reserve the right to respond to legal threats, but the society would not be obligated to inform a club, course union, or advocacy group that they obtained legal counsel.

They would, however, reserve the right to recoup costs from a club, course union, or advocacy group for if legal expenses are incurred, and would be able to “pursue contribution and indemnity” from individuals in any of the aforementioned groups.

“Compensation for legal expenses must first be subject to a majority vote at a Board of Directors meeting,” the policy reads. “The Advocacy Group’s signing authorities must be notified prior to the Board of Directors meeting that this topic will be subject to a vote.”

“Nothing in this policy shall be read as in any way limiting an individual’s ability to express an opinion in their personal capacity,” reads the policy, “so long as such opinion is not put forward on behalf of the Society, an Advocacy Group [or club or course union] or a UVSS affiliate.”

This policy has most likely been in development since November of 2017, when the UVSS and Third Space (formerly the Women’s Centre) butted heads over what the UVSS deemed to be potentially libellous content published by the advocacy group.

It was in late 2017 that Third Space made allegations that a UVSS employee had “inappropriate” contact with female students that could be considered sexual harassment.

According to a post on the Third Space website, UVSS management was made aware of the allegations and informed Third Space that an investigation would ensue. Third Space also posted a sign on the bulletin board outside of their office in the SUB that, according to their post, contained the following message: “#metoo. Unions usually protect sexual predators, especially if they are subtle.”

Concerned that the sign would lead to legal action, the UVSS served a cease and desist notice to the group.

Former Third Space coordinator Daphne Shaed has since left Third Space, and Isabella Lee, incoming director of Student Affairs, is currently the board representative for the advocacy group. Since joining the board, Lee has often joked about Third Space’s past relationship with the UVSS and has promised that relations would be less strained in the future.

The Monday board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the SUB Upper Lounge.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated.

Files by Anna James and Josh Kozelj


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