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Notes from Council: UASU passes Campus Safety and Security Policy, ISA representatives walk out of meeting in opposition

The University of Alberta Students' Union approved their Campus Safety and Security Policy, which was met with opposition from representatives of the International Students' Association during a six-hour meeting.

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) has approved their Campus Safety and Security Policy, which was met with opposition from representatives of the International Students’ Association (ISA). Following the passing, ISA representatives walked out out in protest.

At the April 19 Students’ Council meeting, the UASU discussed the Campus Safety and Security Policy. The policy commits to advocating to the U of A to invest in more harm reduction safety services and strategies.

“While security and policing personnel make some feel safe, security and policing present both a real and a perceived threat for many marginalized groups,” the UASU’s policy said.

“For these reasons, as we strive for better safety and security mechanisms on campus, we must strive to meet the complex needs of our community members and continue to understand that this issue requires tentative nuanced thinking.”

The policy includes the UASU advocating for the municipal and provincial governments to invest in harm reduction security services and strategies to be used off-campus.

Additionally, the policy prioritizes including Black leaders, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) leaders, 2SLGBTQ+ leaders, and disabled leaders on the U of A’s campus while undergoing a review of safety and security practices on campus, including University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS).

ISA presentation opposes Campus Safety and Security Policy, expresses concerns regarding safety of international students

Executives from the ISA met the Campus Safety and Security Policy with opposition, voicing concerns over the safety of international students.

Siddharth Thakur, engineering councillor with the UASU, motioned for Chanpreet Singh, the president of the ISA, to present on the Campus Safety and Security Policy. In this meeting, Singh also served as a proxy for Harnoor Kaur Kalra, an engineering councillor who was absent from the meeting.

Rowan Ley, president of the UASU, noted that, according to the UASU’s Standing Orders section 7.5 “motions related to the subject matter of a presentation may not occur less than seven days from the date of the presentation.”

Singh motioned to suspend Standing Orders 7.5. This was seconded by Haruun Ali, current open studies councillor with the UASU, to allow the ISA to present their presentation. This motion passed, and Singh and Dhir Bid, president-elect of the ISA, continued with the presentation.

The presentation noted that the ISA “strongly opposes the UASU’s proposed policy on Campus Safety and Security.”

According to an ISA survey which had 248 respondents, 88 per cent of them “feel comfortable with the presence of Edmonton police on campus.”

Bid brought up incidents international students have had using transit within Edmonton.

“In the last year, the ISA was reached by three international students who were either harassed or violently attacked on transit,” he said. “I want to make it clear that three incidents were reported to us, there may be several incidents which we do not know about, and [we] were not informed about.”

According to Bid, these international student experiences are the basis of the ISA’s advocacy against the policy.

“Some of the student experiences we have shared today are the basis of what we are advocating for today,” he said. “We are not here against the entirety of the policy being brought forward today; we feel there are very good points and a lot of good merits, especially with harm reduction strategies and community-based strategies.”

“We feel that is the direction the UASU should take — that is something we’re in support of, but we feel that is not the only solution. We feel this should be done in collaboration with transit peace officers, who in the short term can prevent incidents from happening, and respond faster to such attacks, so international students, and every student, can feel safe on campus.”

The ISA proposed the UASU table the policy for the April 19 meeting and conduct more consultation prior to voting on the policy.

If the UASU did not table the policy, the ISA requested they remove clause 13 of the policy, which says the “UASU will advocate to the municipal government for improved safety on transit,” advocacy which should “focus on harm reduction and community-based strategies to improve safety in transit.”

If the removal of this clause would not be possible, Bid requested “a middle ground” which would not remove peace officers on transit.

UASU and ISA opinions diverge during open forum

Open forum began with Shannon Cornelsen, elected vice-president (consultation and engagement) of the Indigenous Students’ Union (ISU) for the 2022/23 academic year, introducing herself in Cree and giving an open statement to the floor.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, the ISU invites the ISA to learn the history regarding the long and complicated relationships that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) people of Canada have with policing,” Cornelsen said. “The proposed changes to campus’s safety and security policies reflect our own safeguards that we feel are necessary on our own traditional lands.”

“I feel that the ISA would benefit in learning more and educating themselves regarding our aversion to an increased police presence on campus, especially with the Edmonton Police Service. The faculty of Native studies has a free course available called Indigenous Canada.”

Cindy Eisman, the vice-president (finance) of the ISU for the 2022/23 academic year, also introduced herself to the floor in Cree. She then followed Cornelsen’s words with a general statement.

“I have lived my entire life in Canada, and I have lived as an Indigenous woman in a country founded on colonialism,” Eisman said. “We are all impacted by colonialism, whether we are Canadians, Indigenous peoples in Canada, or visitors to these lands. As an Indigenous woman I have lived my life having others speak for me, and tell me what is best for me, without bothering to listen to what I have to say.”

“I am here today to speak in favour of the Campus Safety and Security Policy. Indigenous peoples in Canada have a complicated and problematic history with police. While I share concerns that many … have about safety on campus, transit, and Edmonton in general, more policing and security is not the way forward, and will disproportionately impact marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) community members, peoples with disabilities, and gender and sexual minorities.”

Eisman concluded their statement by inviting executive members of the ISA, the UASU, and the student body at large reach out the ISU or come to an ISU meeting to discuss issues such as security on campus, which “affect us all.”

Gurbani Baweja, vice-president (external) of the ISA, spoke in opposition of the proposed policy.

“I would like to clarify the ISA’s stance on the UASU’s [Campus Safety and Security] Policy is not Indigenous students versus international students … we are just here to seek some middle ground between the ISA and the UASU.”

“I believe throughout my term with the ISA, I have been respectful enough to the UASU, but today I won’t start by apologizing to the UASU because I feel like my concerns, along with my colleagues’ concerns, on the policing policy have long been ignored. The UASU is favouring some student’s safety over others, which I fail to understand why.”

We can come here, we can talk, we can scream, and we can beg you on our feet, because that is the position where you have sent us all.

Chanpreet Singh, the president of the ISA

Baweja claimed that the policy only addresses the safety of a fraction of students on campus, and accused the UASU of inaction while international students get “stabbed, punched, and even shot.”

“Security presence has been repeatedly addressed by myself and many other ISA members to the UASU, however I have blatantly and unfortunately feel that majority of you are living in delusion and with impractical ideologies,” Baweja said. “We do not leave our homes and come to Canada to be stabbed, punched, and even shot, while our student leaders simply sit back and watch.”

“This policy is motivated to just make some people happy, which I do not appreciate, along with other international students … If this is truly a UASU for all students and not just some, I really request council to table this motion today and transparently consult those who they are leaving behind to be stabbed.”

Talia Dixon, vice-president (student life) of the UASU, followed Baweja’s statement with a point of privilege, saying Baweja “calling individuals delusional” is “impugning the motive of the member” and “very offensive.” Dixon requested the speaker strike that from the record, or at least acknowledge it.

Philip Miheso, council’s speaker, said using terms such as delusional “is not the quorum of this council,” and will be struck from the record. He asked those present refrain from using such terms that are “against quorum of council.”

Lucas Marques, an international student, voiced his support for the proposed policy. Marques is also UASU Chief Returning Officer (CRO), but was not speaking in his capacity as CRO.

“Four years ago, when I arrived to Canada, I was extremely unaware of what Indigenous students had to go through,” Marques said. “It was not until my first blanket exercise that I got educated into how Indigenous students were treated … and I became aware I was not only an international student, I was also a settler.”

“I would like to ask the ISA [to] please respect the Indigenous peoples of Canada. I think some statements, especially the last one [from Baweja], do not do justice to international students. They do not represent what we’re trying to say. I support and appreciate the hard work the ISA has been doing, but please be careful when you make statements like that.”

Daniela Carbajal, an incoming councillor, also spoke on the relationship between international students and Indigenous peoples.

“I know that a lot of people come here because it’s their last option because maybe their country, their education is not like the best,” Carbajal said. “I come from that same situation. That still does not give us the right to override and speak over the Indigenous people of this land.”

“I know everyone struggles and I know that people may face racism and targeted attacks and such, but this whole policy goes to address that.”

Opposing claims about the policy’s length of consultation raised by the ISA and UASU

As open forum continued, multiple guests shared their viewpoints both for and against the policy with the floor. Many international students came forward to share personal experiences with unsafe conditions on transit, and some requested more thorough consultation with the community be done prior to approving the policy.

Dixon noted that the consultation surrounding the policy has been ongoing for at least one year.

“The assertion that this policy is being rushed is simply untrue,” Dixon said. “We have been consulting on this policy for an entire year. Every single group that we could have thought of had a meeting with us, [were sent] an email, [provided] feedback, and we’ve integrated that into the policy. We’re coming to the end of the year, and this is our last meeting. We need to finish passing policies or they die.”

In response, Singh called the consultation done by the UASU “a lie.”

“As ISA president for the last two years, the consultation is a lie,” he said. “In June and July [the ISA was] first informed that such a policy was being made in our board by [Christian] Fotang, [UASU vice-president (external)]. That’s when we [found out] a working group was made without international students.”

“We had to raise our concerns and had to get the seat, we had to tell them that we need a seat in this working group so international student prospects could be heard on this policing policy, as it was back then.”

According to Singh, once the ISA was given a seat in the working group, they were asked to swap their initial representative with someone else.

Singh said, once the ISA appointed a different representative, the ISA representative was not shown the policy until April 6.

“Fast forward to this year, when we finally appoint a representative who sat on that committee for a whole year. That representative was never shown the resolutions. On April 6, the ISA was emailed by vice-president Dixon about the resolutions … That’s when the ISA, for the first time, saw the policy.”

Singh emphasized that the ISA was not properly consulted prior to the policy being drafted.

“Please don’t tell me we were consulted, [if we were] we wouldn’t be here, we aren’t enjoying this … we are not coming here out of joy,” Singh said. “We are coming here because it pains us. Every single vote you will be casting today will be a stab on the same student who was stabbed last year on transit. We are the ones hearing students crying, calling us, and pleading, ‘help us.'”

“We can come here, we can talk, we can scream, and we can beg you on our feet, because that is the position where you have sent us all … if you want to pass this policy go ahead and pass it. But don’t lie that the consultation was happening for [one or two] years — because that’s not the reality.”

Emily Motoska, UASU education councillor, put forward a motion to vote on the Campus Safety and Security Policy, requesting that further discussion involve a specific point on the policy, or suggest friendly amendments to the policy.

“Consultation has been done extensively, this policy in its initial stages was brought last year, and consultation has been done since then,” Motoska said. “That is not a lie, that is a fact, and if proof is required of that we can get that.”

“I understand this is a contentious issue, and safety is the main concern. A lot of the issues that were brought [forward to be] addressed are stated in the policy. If you would like to further speak on this policy, please do so in reference to a specific point, and if you have a suggestion on how to reword or include something, a friendly amendment can be made.”

However, Miheso recommended time for councillors to discuss the policy among themselves before voting on the motion.

UASU Council passes motion, ISA representatives walk out of meeting

After open forum concluded, time was given for discussion within council between councillors. Dixon gave an overview of the consultation done by the UASU surrounding this policy.

“From my understanding this policy work started two years ago in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, [following] calls from Indigenous students for the UASU to look into security and policing on our campus, so we can make [campus] safer and more inclusive for everyone, while recognizing the harm some security and policing presents to some members of our community.”

According to Dixon, this consultation included questions related to security and policing in the UASU’s annual survey, creating a consultation group with groups who requested to speak more in-depth about the policy, having discussions with the Council of Residence Associations (CORA) and the Council of Faculty Associations (COFA), and Student Representative Associations (SRAs).

“Today some of the outstanding points are about transit, I appreciate that this is a nuanced issue that all of us care about … that is why our policy is being kept general to allow us to advocate for more nuanced positions on transit.” Dixon said. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from a lot of different folks, and I think this is a much more nuanced conversation that will change over the years as we learn more about what other cities and groups are doing to make the community safer.”

Vaughn Beaulieu-Mercredi, UASU arts councillor, spoke to council as an Indigenous student. Beaulieu-Mercredi is also the current president of the ISU, but did not speak in his capacity as the organization’s president.

I can tell you whenever I see an RCMP officer, a peace officer, a UAPS officer, or any uniformed sort of law enforcement, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Vaughn Beaulieu-Mercredi, UASU arts councillor and Indigenous student

“The conversations here tonight have definitely taken a toll on myself, and the others — my other executives of the ISU behind me,” Beaulieu-Mercredi said. “Regardless, we stand steadfast in this face of resistance. There are a multitude of complex things that come with discussing campus policing. As an Indigenous student, I can tell you whenever I see an RCMP officer, a peace officer, a UAPS officer, or any uniformed sort of law enforcement, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”

“This stems from not only my personal interactions with police in general, but the intergenerational trauma that has been handed down by my relatives.”

Beaulieu-Mercredi said the experiences of Indigenous students cannot be brushed aside.

“The lived realities of Indigenous peoples cannot be put on the back burner … through the comments tonight it is clear to me, though we are at a university, that further education is required.”

After a few councillors shared their viewpoints on the policy, Singh claimed comments throughout the meeting that “international students should educate themselves” are “racist.”

“There were comments made that international students should educate themselves, [and] they come from poor education systems — this is racist,” Singh said. “When you say we need to educate ourselves, that is racist and that needs to be acknowledged.”

Singh spoke on experiences of international students coming to the country, which was interjected by Ley.

“It is true this is not our land … at the same time, it is true that we as international students come here and accept all the people here, irrespective of their background … and we accept them as our family,” Singh said. “So saying ‘this is our land’ is just that you are excluding us from your own family and we consider you as our family … for the time we are in this country. Many might say law enforcement might not work, however it is a deterrent. People act lawful when they see officers.”

Ley interjected Singh’s comments, calling them “disgusting.”

“I’m going to have to call a point of privilege on this,” Ley said. “What Councillor Singh is saying here is wrongly casting aspersions on the motivations of people who are here at this meeting, particularly Indigenous students who have spoken out about the horrific experiences of racism in this country, and the work they want others to do to help prevent those experiences from continuing.”

“For Councillor Singh to suggest, by doing that, they are somehow excluding people — from a country none of us frankly have a right to come to — is just disgusting. Some of the comments Councillor Singh has made are indefensible, and the fact that Councillor Singh is trying to defend those comments instead of apologizing is shameful.”

Ley requested the speaker strike Singh’s comments from the record, and that Singh refrain from speaking in “such a way about Indigenous students and councillors in the future.” Miheso noted that on council, it is not anybody’s position to “say what and who’s intention is right or wrong.”

“The fact of the matter is … this land is not ours,” Miheso said. “For me to be able to speak on the experiences of people on this land is completely and utterly unfair. It is not my position.”

“Matters of this nature are things that need to be discussed with extreme care. When we continue to attack each other like this, it makes this space very toxic for all involved. That’s not what this council is going to be remembered for.”

Miheso requested an apology from Singh.

“What I said just now was exactly what people felt I should speak on, and that’s all I did,” Singh said. “If I offended or if it was inappropriate, that is wrong on my part.”

Singh again suggested an amendment to the policy to remove Second Principle 13. This principle states “the UASU will advocate to the municipal government for improved safety on transit,” and this “advocacy should focus on harm reduction and community-based strategies to improve safety in transit.”

After Singh proposed this Julia Villoso, UASU arts councillor, noted that at this point in the meeting, the only Indigenous UASU councillor “felt so uncomfortable that he had to leave the room today.”

“It has become such an unsafe space that marginalized people feel the need to leave … and it’s not the first time that a marginalized person has had to leave this space,” Villoso said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone is heard, and feel comfortable to say what their opinions are.”

Singh’s amendment to remove Second Principle 13 was brought forward for a seconder, and Singh requested Thakur second the motion. However, Thakur did not second the motion in time, as he was away from his computer, and the motion failed.

Singh then motioned to do voting by roll call instead of by secret ballot, so students would know how elected student representatives voted in regards to the policy. Thakur seconded this motion. However, Miheso struck down the motion due to the meeting already exceeding three hours — the typical time allotted for council.

A motion to approve the Campus Safety and Security Policy was put forward by Villoso, seconded by Fotang, and was passed, with 94 per cent in favour, and six per cent against.

After passing the motion, Singh called for a walkout by international students.

“I call international students to do a walkout at this very moment.”

This call was met with laughter from several UASU councillors within council chambers and international students present left the meeting.

UPDATE: This article was updated on April 28 at 2:27 p.m. to include that speakers Shannon Cornelson and Cindy Eisman introduced themselves in Cree.

Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal was the 2021-22 News Editor and previously served as a Deputy Arts & Culture Editor and Deputy News Editor. Additionally, she is a second-year Biology and English student. When she’s not learning the Krebs cycle for the millionth time, Areeha enjoys stargazing, baking pies, and listening to Bob Dylan.

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