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IGNITE’s AGM receives backlash for awareness, accessibility

Students blast IGNITE for their AGM.

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Eli Ridder | Report

IGNITE has come under fire for not well-advertising, not livestreaming and having poor accessibility supports for their Annual General Meeting that was held on Wednesday, the last major public event the student union will hold ahead of optional student fees that come into effect this fall.

Several students posted publicly and also told The Avro Post that they were disappointed in the advertisement for the AGM, where at least 50 students have to be in attendance for quorum to be reached.

A $5 million stopgap budget was introduced at the meeting by student union executives, a budget that will be refurbished by the next Board of Directors come summer due to the lack of details from the province on the Student Choice Initiative which introduces optional student fees come fall.

A casual poll by The Avro Post following the AGM on social media found that 78 per cent of 18 respondents do not find IGNITE to be transparent and eight students over five were not “happy” with the meeting.


Awareness

IGNITE posted about the event on Facebook once and it was on the day before on Mar. 26, and there was no event page for the forum. IGNITE never posted about the AGM on its most popular social media platform, Instagram.

IGNITE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2019

Annual General Meeting 2019

The managing editor of IGNITE Alena Blanes, who also works in University of Guelph-Humber public relations, said on social media that the AGM advertisement has been on the IGNITE website since Mar. 8 — however, The Avro Post found the AGM event post at the bottom of their homepage.

Also, there was no page linked to the Annual General Meeting event listing on the governance section of the IGNITE website where each Board of Directors meeting is listed.

“My issue with this AGM was that I had not seen an announcement of it at all until the day of, and as a student with classes and time that needs to be managed, something as important as this should have been announced in advance,” first-year psychology student Arnold Samson told The Avro Post.

Samson, who attends Guelph-Humber, said he had signed up for a blood donation appointment before knowing that the meeting was taking place and explained he would have adjusted his schedule to attend if he was aware it was taking place.

IGNITE reportedly would only allow students in if they came on time to the meeting.

Previously, IGNITE has live-streamed the Annual General Meeting on their Facebook page, most recently in 2017. When a student inquired why they did not run a live video during the event this year, the union said that they did not want those who do not pay student fees to watch.

“My other issue with the AGM was that it was not made available to students in the public via a livestream or with immediate follow up as it should have been something all students should have had access to,”  Samson said.

In a comment on IGNITE’s response that they did not want non-fee-paying members to watch an AGM livestream, first-year public relations student Michel Figueredo expressed his disappointment in IGNITE’s response.

“Can’t believe IGNITE said this,” the Humber College Lakeshore Campus student told The Avro Post, adding that it was “completely ridiculous as we pay tuition fees that support this ‘union’.”

“The fact that the Humber [administration] allows this type of behaviour is just an example of how the Ryerson [Student] Union were able to do what they did,” he added, referencing a financial scandal that engulfed the Ryerson student government after executives inappropriately spent some $250,000 of its budget.

Arnold Samson had messaged the IGNITE Instagram page asking if a livestream was possible, but never received a response. The student union has livestreamed several events in the past, most recently the IGNITE Real Talks event with Phoebe Robinson.

“I understand that space is hard to plan for, however, we literally live at the height of technology where anyone with a mobile device and either a Wi-Fi connection or a cell data plan can access a livestream,” Samson said.

“Again, I find it hard to believe that a student group that I am paying money to could not organize a free livestream from a free app such as Instagram, or through a free website such as Facebook.”

Guelph-Humber student Emelia Maceášik, sensible drug policy club president and former Senate candidate, pointed out to The Avro Post that, though the president focused on her accessibility initiatives at the AGM, there “was no live or real-time capturing services” like there has been for previous IGNITE events.

Student activist Hannah Derue, a fourth-year who has also ran for Senate in the past, said on social media that if she was returning to the University of Guelph-Humber in the fall she would opt-out of funding the student union, saying the “lack of transparency is sickening.”

In a statement to The Avro Post, Arnold Samson said that it was “disappointing” to someone “who is interested in student government and policy” that he could not rely on the student government to have “open communication” with the student body.

Samson eventually heard from IGNITE that he could get the minutes of the Annual General Meeting after they were approved at the next Board of Directors meeting on April 11. Calling that response “off-putting”, Samson said “I now have to wait for the approval of publications for decisions that have already been made”.

“It looks to me — at least on the surface — that IGNITE has hit a huge speed bump, and something needs to be done otherwise many students such as myself will loose trust in IGNITE and choose to opt-out of extra fees come fall 2019.”

The Avro Post reached out for comment from the IGNITE executive director, Ercole Perrone, and the elected student representatives for comment, but did not recieve a response. Guelph-Humber Director-elect Erika Caldwell said she did not have a comment on the AGM.


Image of the Annual General Meeting from The Avro Post.

Editor’s Note: It should be noted that The Avro Post reached out to as many students as possible to try and get a varied spectrum of opinions on the Annual General Meeting.

Full disclosure: Hannah Derue is a partner of Eli Ridder, editor-in-chief of The Avro Post. ■

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Campus

IGNITE stays neutral for now on SCI ruling

The approach is different from other student unions.

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Photo by Eli Ridder on Nov. 22, 2019/TAP.

IGNITE responded to the court ruling that found the Student Choice Initiative “unlawful” on Friday afternoon, declaring neutrality until there is a formal response from the provincial government.

The Ontario Divisional Court ruled on Thursday that the initiative, known as the SCI, was an overreach by Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives.

The SCI established some ancillary fees “non-essential” and allowed students to opt out of funding parts of student unions, campus publications and other organizations.

“IGNITE will not speculate on the ramifications of this announcement as we await a response from the provincial government,” President Monica Khosla said in a statement released by IGNITE. ■

Statement released by IGNITE Friday.
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Campus

IGNITE confirms what TAP was cut off for

Board meetings will be cut off, in general.

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File photo of a newspaper.

IGNITE confirmed to another publication that the eventual plan is to close off Board of Directors meetings to students unless they are invited as guests, a development that The Avro Post reported on in October and was considered inaccurate reporting by the student union’s officials.

The Humber Et Cetera reported this week that Executive Director Ercole Perrone said “the intent is to move towards a more formalized non-profit organization style way to work”, meaning that meetings will be closed off from the general student body unless they gain access via permission from directors.

The Avro Post reported in October following a press briefing with IGNITE officials that Perrone said the plan for the student union was to move towards a more corporate future, saying that only directors have the right to attend the Board meetings, citing the Ontario Corporations Act.

Just days later on Oct. 15, IGNITE President Monica Khosla said the reporting on the Board being cut off was incorrect. However, the Et Cetera reported this week that only directors and “guests the [B]oard wants to hear from” will be allowed inside the meetings, confirming that, in general, meetings will no longer be open to any member.

It appears this change will be offered as a bylaw amendment at the January Special Meeting of the Members, however, it was not highlighted in the meeting minutes of September’s gathering when Board directors passed the proposals. A final approval from members, or students, will be needed on Jan. 16 to pass or deny all the amendments in a package.

The current bylaws state that IGNITE must post the times and locations of the Board meetings and that a student can attend as long as directors do not vote in a majority to ask the student to leave. IGNITE removed the times and dates of the meetings earlier this year after denying a student journalist entry to the September Board meeting, breaking their own bylaws.

The Board of Directors is a 10-member decision-making body elected by those enrolled at Humber College campuses and the University of Guelph-Humber. It is responsible for upwards of $8 million paid in student fees.

Among the changes to IGNITE’s governance is the end of executive elections. Officials say this move is meant to make the Board of Directors the face of IGNITE while the hired president and vice presidents will focus on leading operations as executive staff members.

Though it is rare, a few other student unions in Ontario also hire their executives. Khosla and Guelph-Humber Vice President Megan Roopnarine are on the record as being for the structural changes.

A third significant amendment that will be up for approval in January is a proposal to give the Board of Directors to pass amendments that will come into effect immediately. It can later be overturned at a large member meeting but it allows directors to have more unilateral power.

It is unclear if all the directors voted in favour of these changes or if it was a smaller-than-unanimous majority to pass the bylaw amendments.

There were some other items passed by the Board including, but not limited to, new classifications of IGNITE membership, document execution being under the control of the executive director and a vaguely worded amendment specifying that the “president term will be used for [B]oard chairperson”.

The new classifications come about because of the Student Choice Initiative and was expected. 

The top classification is “Full-Time Enhanced Members”, which appear to be those that opt-in to IGNITE fees, though there is no specification for those that only opt-in to some. 

“Full-Time Members” and “Part-Time Members” are those who pay only the mandatory ancillary fees. All three classifications are official members of IGNITE and so it is understood they will be able to still vote in elections and at special meetings.

It is unclear exactly what “executive documents being overseen by the executive director” means as an amendment but The Avro Post has reached out for comment from IGNITE for clarification.

Another hard-to-understand change is the “president term” being used for the Board chairperson. It is not clear via the meeting minutes whether that means the president’s term in regards to time or the terminology of “president” being applied to the chairperson.

Currently, the Board directors start and end their term at the same time as the executives so it would seem unusual for new amendments to specify that just the chair would have the same term timewise as the president.

It seems more likely that the chairperson position itself could be renamed to “president” to signify the Board’s importance from the student perspective, a goal that Executive Director Ercole Perrone and other officials have said they have committed to in the coming months.

These items will be flushed out in more detail at the Special Meeting of the Member and potentially press briefings that The Post will no longer have access to due to being cut off by IGNITE on Oct. 15 from briefings, interviews with elected student representatives and all other media requests.

There could be other items up for change come January but only the “highlights” of the amendments were noted in the Sept. 11 meeting minutes. ■

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IGNITE confirms 80% opt-in, critical meeting date

The special meeting will be Jan. 16.

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File photo.

IGNITE confirmed that there was an 80 per cent opt-in for the Student Choice Initiative earlier this year to the Humber Et Cetera, confirming the number stated by Humber College President Chris Whitaker in September, and narrowed down the date of a critical public January meeting.

Officials at a press briefing with IGNITE on Oct. 4 were surprised when Post reporters asked if the student union would release official opt-in numbers, and said they would take it under advisement. Most Toronto student unions have released their numbers.

The Student Choice Initiative, or SCI, was mandated by the provincial government in January among a series of reforms that cut student grants and post-secondary education funding across Ontario under the Progressive Conservatives.

Another article found in the same edition of the weekly newspaper reported that the Special Meeting of the Members, pushed back to the new year so IGNITE has time to prepare significant bylaw changes, will be on Jan. 16, confirming the date for the first time.

“The intent is to move towards a more formalized non-profit organization style way to work, which is to say meetings with the Board of Directors and guests the board wants to hear from,” Executive Director Ercole Perrone said to the Et Cetera, confirming reporting by The Avro Post earlier this year that IGNITE officials said was incorrect before cutting the publication off.

A member of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union at Humber told a Post reporter last week that she had reached out to the student union in the past thinking they would be natural allies, but IGNITE was not responsive.

IGNITE has come under backlash from students for some of the bylaw amendments that were passed by the Board of Directors in September including ending executive elections and giving more power to the Board for unilateral decisions. ■

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