UPDATE: UVSS, NSU oppose UPS conference after granting $6000 in funding

Campus News
Photo by the Martlet.
Photo by the Martlet.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Blake Desjarlais as the administrative councillor for NSU; he is in fact the firekeeper. We sincerely regret the error.

The print version of this article also stated the conference’s topic was national sovereignty. In fact, the title of the conference is meant to reflect a move away from state-centric ideas of sovereignty. 

On Nov. 2, the UVSS and Native Students Union (NSU) voiced their opposition to the annual Canadian Political Science Students’ Association (CPSSA) National Conference, titled Modern Discourses on Sovereignty: Land, Bodies, and Borders, slated to take place January 2016 at UVic. This opposition was based on the grounds that the CPSSA failed to include any campus indigenous groups — including the NSU — in the initial planning, or seek the consent of those groups for hosting the conference at UVic.

The board’s opposition came on the heels of a presentation at the same meeting by the Undergraduates of Political Science (UPS) course union, where the board was to vote on a motion approving a $6 000 academic grant to the student union for the conference.

This grant had already been approved by the Course Union Council (CUC) in a meeting on Oct. 7, but all academic grants in excess of $2 000 must have further approval by the board. That motion for approval was tabled from a previous board meeting on Oct. 26, pending a presentation by the UPS.

Wesley Boyd and Kayleigh Erickson, UPS President and Vice-President respectively, were joined by Maks Zouboules, CPSSA social committee chair, in presenting to the board.

The three were enthusiastic about UVic hosting the conference, now in its 20th year. They said the conference had “a lot of departmental support,” and that they were trying to be as inclusive as possible in planning speakers, particularly with including indigenous voices.

However, NSU firekeeper and board representative Blake Desjarlais said it was concerning that the conference was going ahead without indigenous groups’ prior consent.

Speaking with Desjarlais after the meeting, he said that his primary concern was “what the rhetoric [was] going to be behind [the conference].”

“Of course, it’s what we thought it would be [which is] more damaging rhetoric than productive rhetoric due to a lack or exclusion of indigenous voices,” he said.

This was addressed to Boyd, Erickson, and Zouboules directly at the meeting.

“You’re already at the point of logistics,” said Desjarlais, which he said was too far in the process to start bringing in indigenous voices, and was “tremendously offensive.” He then called on the board to reject the motion for funding, as the NSU council had voted to do.

However, it was revealed during the meeting that a cheque for $6 000 had already been written before it could be properly approved by the board.

None of the executives present could explain how the error was made, nor could they identify who had signed the cheque, but Chairperson Brontë Renwick-Shields made it clear that whoever wrote the cheque would be held accountable.

According to Bylaw 12.3 of the UVSS Constitution and Bylaws, signing officers of the Students’ Society include the Chairperson (Renwick-Shields), the Director of Student Affairs (Kaylee Szakacs), Director of Finance and Operations (Tristan Ryan), Director of Events (Solenn Madevon), Director of External Relations (Kenya Rogers), and the General Manager (Dale Robertson). The bylaw also states that the “signatures of the General Manager and any two of the executive directors shall be required for the disbursement of any funds or the execution of any funds or the execution of any legal documents on behalf of the Students’ Society.”

Robertson was absent from the meeting, as was Szakacs.

The meeting continued with the three parties — UVSS, NSU, and UPS — trying to address the repercussions of cancelling or delaying the conference, and how the board should proceed.

Boyd said he had personally incurred personal costs for the conference, and so to cancel any contracts related to it would be a burden on him. It would also come with financial and legal repercussions. Desjarlais encouraged the board to offer their support to Boyd and the UPS should there be further costs involved.

Rogers said that the board needs to be part of reconciling the damage caused.

Renwick-Shields concurred. “We made an error here.”

Aaron El Sabrout, the Students of Colour Collective (SOCC) board representative, said there needs to be reform on how money comes out of the UVSS, especially as it pertains to advocacy groups.

Ultimately, it remains unclear how this will unfold, or how the UVSS will reconcile the damage done, both to the NSU and the UPS.

Speaking with the Martlet afterwards, Desjarlais said that the problem is fundamental to the society’s governance structure, and that significant changes need to be made in order to move forward.

“It’s a symptom of an inherited consequence of how institutions like this run, whether that be the NSU, the Martlet, or the UVSS,” he said. “When new people come into positions, they inherit certain qualities that make them inefficient, or in my words, bad medicine. And it takes efforts of boards like the UVSS and the NSU to recognize those things, even though it comes at a cost, to move forward and break those institutional inheritances, that bad medicine, in order to provide opportunities for growth.”

Desjarlais hopes that good can come from it, and says he’s open to working with the UPS and CPSSA in the future. “Events like this [conference] should take place, but there’s a process,” he told the UPS at the meeting.

“We want, ultimately, accountability, but we want to do it in a good way.”

The Martlet will have more on this story as it develops.