Referendum tossed out, clubs say

Fall referendum results have reportedly been nullified

Clubs who were on the fall referendum ballot will reportedly be transferred to the winter ballot
Clubs who were on the fall referendum ballot will reportedly be transferred to the winter ballot.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Behind closed doors at a special AMS assembly meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10, the assembly voted to nullify the results of the fall referendum, according to a student club chair.

Leah Kelley, a co-chair of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC), said the AMS informed her the referendum was nullified last week. Two other clubs also said they were told the results were nullified.

The referendum process has been far from smooth this term. Two weeks ago, technical difficulties with the voting system forced the AMS to extend the election period by two days until Friday, Nov. 6.

That Friday evening, clubs were informed of the referendum results. At the time, the AMS congratulated QBACC for successfully gaining their fee, Kelley said.

That changed a few days later when she received a call from Jon Wiseman, the new commissioner of internal affairs.

“[He] told me, basically, they’re making these results null because their CEO [Chief Electoral Officer] wasn’t technically an AMS member,” Kelley, ArtSci ’17 said.

“[Wiseman] said someone brought it to their [the AMS’s] attention — I don’t know who — that she hadn’t paid her student fees.”

The AMS’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) oversees elections and is the final authority on the interpretation of AMS elections policy and procedure. As part of the role, the CEO makes calls on whether something is or isn’t appropriate during campaign periods. 

If a student hasn’t paid their student fees, they aren’t technically a member of the AMS, Kelley said.

“[The AMS] felt that, because she isn’t an AMS member, that calls into question essentially the integrity of her choices, and for that reason they decided to nullify,” she said.

However, Kelley said she disagrees with the decision.

“I don’t really see someone not having paid their student fees really brings into question the integrity of their choices,” she said.

“Although I understand, in theory, where they’re coming from, I don’t see how … a mistake that was entirely on the side of the AMS, not the clubs — who put the time and resources into campaigning for their fees — should then suffer the consequences of this.”

AMS President Kanivanan Chinniah was unable to confirm whether the referendum had or hadn’t been nullified in the special session, due to what he said were “several legal issues”. However, The Journal confirmed with two clubs other than QBACC — Queen's University Best Buddies and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) — that the AMS informed them that the results were nullified.

“I can tell you this: there was a decision made on Tuesday at a closed session at assembly,” Chinniah said. “That decision was communicated to all groups involved in the referendum process.”

“However, on Wednesday evening, we were notified of several legal issues in regard to the process so, you’ll forgive me, that I can’t say any further.”

Kelley said Wiseman told her that QBACC and other clubs who had been on the fall referendum would be automatically added to the winter referendum.

President Chinniah was unable to confirm that clubs would be moved to the winter referendum, citing legal reasons.

QBACC, who was up for triennial review, is unlikely to lose its fee due to the decision to nullify the referendum, Kelley said. However, she’s worried about other clubs.

“It’s really frustrating [for new clubs] because it takes a lot of resources [to campaign],” Kelley said. “Obviously you get a budget to campaign from the AMS, and that’s great, but it still takes time and human resources to campaign like that and to try and make the student body aware of your fee.”

For clubs that were told they had won the fee, having to re-campaign puts their fee at risk, she said — particularly if a “no campaign” emerges in an attempt to prevent a club from getting its fee. 

President Chinniah could not confirm whether the nullified referendum — which he also could not confirm happened — was a result of the CEO not being a member of the AMS. 

“I can’t confirm that. It’s just there are certain legal questions that we have to navigate first and the ultimate decision as to whether or not we release anything publicly is within in the privy of assembly, which will be decided on Thursday evening and will be communicated immediately.” 

While Chinniah said all clubs on the ballot were informed about the decision made at AMS assembly on Tuesday, some clubs were reportedly unaware until contacted by other clubs. The co-president of Queen's Half the Sky, for instance, told The Journal via Facebook that the nullified vote was "news to me".

When OPIRG received the call on Wednesday about the nullified vote, Emily Wong, OPIRG’s programming and outreach coordinator, said they were told there would be a press release explaining everything later that day. As of Nov. 17, an AMS press release has not yet been posted. 

“We were left in the dark, wondering what the state of the referendum is,” Wong said.

When asked about the press release, President Chinniah said, “on the advice of legal counsel, we have to notify assembly as to the options available prior to releasing anything publicly.”

According to Wong, OPIRG is currently in contact with other groups that were on the ballot, including QBACC, Queen’s Legal Aid, Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Sexual Health and Resource Centre (SHRC). 

Wong said one club, Queen’s United Way, hadn’t heard about a potential nullification of the referendum until OPIRG contacted them.

“We really don’t know what the heck is going on. We’ve been asking the AMS to give us more information, but the people there haven’t been super responsive.”

When asked what prompted the AMS to vote to overturn the referendum results, President Chinniah was unable to comment. However, he said the decision made by AMS assembly at the special session “reflected certain things that were brought to our attention by a student.”

At this Thursday’s AMS assembly, there will be a closed session where the AMS executive will notify the assembly of the legal complications, Chinniah said. The AMS will then release further details to the public the following Tuesday on Nov. 24.

with files from Mikayla Wronko

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