BDS: The Aftermath

CSU CEO’s Report Elaborates on the Discontents of Fall’s By-Election

Photo Brandon Johnston

Concordia Student Union asked the student body to approve the CSU’s support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The referendum question was changed the day before polling after the No side appealed to the Judicial Board. Chief Electoral Officer Andre-Marcel Baril suspended the ballot count a week later while he sought legal consultation. The referendum passed with 1276 “Yes” votes to 1067 “No” votes. There were 237 abstentions.

It really could’ve been so much worse, Chief Electoral Officer Andre-Marcel Baril said after the ballot count in early December about the controversy surrounding the BDS referendum.

Baril delivered his 2014 by-election report of budget breakdowns, accusations, complaints and recommendations to council at a meeting Wednesday night.

“[On] both sides, by and large, people behaved incredibly well, were incredibly diplomatic with each other,” he said. “I met great people from both sides.”

Six new council members were elected and seven other referenda appeared on student ballots, but the main contention on campus was the BDS question. In his report, Baril called the question “polarizing,” crediting the increased voter turnout to the debate surrounding the question. 2582 students voted last semester compared to 818 in the 2013 by-election.

He added that he received dozens of emails and social media inquiries, including a short film made by students at Tel Aviv University condemning the referendum.

“People felt very passionately about the issue and I was the easiest person to reach out and talk about it to,” he said. “I understand why people feel they are being directly implicated by this question, like Israeli and Jewish students, and I can understand why they’re upset. ”

Despite acknowledging that situations could have worsened, Baril said he saw equal evidence of discriminatory attacks against both sides and that his personal safety was threatened on occasion. B’nai Brith, a Jewish service organization, is currently pursuing a hate crimes investigation against the CSU.

“I don’t know the specific details of this,” said CSU President Benjamin Prunty. “It hasn’t come up as a substantial issue here in any capacity.”

Both the Yes and No sides issued complaints against one another to Baril. Notably, the group Concordians United Against BDS accused the Concordians in Support of BDS group of harassment, which included unauthorized photographing of them.

“We have been subject to assault, physically and online,” Zach Ross, a member of the No side, said before the ballot count about indiscretions like the pictures.

The Yes side accused the No side of misrepresenting facts. According to Baril, three separate students emailed him saying that representatives from the No committee falsely informed them that Israeli students and kosher food would not be allowed on campus.

Baril said he spent approximately two and a half-hours with the legal firm Sarrazin Plourde discussing how to proceed with sanctions. He added that the fee will be “reasonable” and will come out of the elections budget or the CSU’s legal contingency fund.

Concordians United Against BDS were fined $150, the maximum amount the CSU reimburses them for their campaign. Both committees operated on $300 budgets.

Some recommendations Baril suggested in his report include a harassment policy where council members and other engaged election participants are held “accountable,” the hiring of a media specialist to aid the CEO with the promotion of elections, the creation of an election committee and the extension of online and print campaigning until the last day of the polling period.

“We’ll take his recommendations really seriously but the elections themselves, it’s really hard to create policies around them,” Prunty said. “We have a few weeks before the general elections, so we’ll see what we can do for that.”

After overseeing CSU elections for three years, the CEO has given his final report.

“I’m quitting,” Baril told council Wednesday night.

With files from Michelle Pucci