Filibustering in the sandbox

Contributor observes the lack of respectful discussion taking place in assemblies


Sam Kary, ArtSci ’16

This member-at-large motions for a Seargent-at-Arms to be appointed to the ASUS Assembly, and for the position to be added to its constitution at the next possible instance. Maybe then the Executive could run Assembly in peace.

It has become clear that the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) Assembly is unable to function the way it should. The ability for Assembly to run in a way that respects the integrity of the speaker, the members of the assembly and the students who elected them has been compromised.

A small faction within the faculty of Arts and Science, both elected to Assembly and otherwise, have consistently sought to undermine the authority of the speaker and the ability of the elected members of Assembly to carry out the work of government.

These students bring very valid points to Assembly. They consistently remind the speaker of the need for free speech to be respected and the importance of the secret ballot in democracy. They also raise criticism of ASUS that is of the utmost importance for the student body, persistently badgering Assembly on important decisions. The opinions of these students and their ability to express them must be protected at all costs. In a time when the relevancy and utility of the Society is being openly called into question, dissenting voices should be praised. It is they who will ensure the services ASUS provides will improve in the coming years.

However, the behaviour of these members as of late has been completely and utterly unacceptable. There has been a concerted effort on the part of several individuals, functioning as an organized group, to disrupt the procedures of Assembly and ensure that no relevant work is done. On March 14, Assembly sat from 6p.m. until well after 1 a.m. while a minority of individuals filibustered through proceedings.

They consistently abused their right to speak by rambling to the point of irrelevancy or simply repeating themselves in order to fill the maximum time allotted. They continually utilized their right to make points of order to interrupt and distract the speaker and members of Assembly attempting to pass policy, as well as prolong the voting process as long as possible. This was planned in advance by a select group; mostly from a few AMS approved clubs I had the pleasure of hanging around, with the intent to derail the assembly. This wasn’t done for one single motion they objected to — rather, this was done for every motion.

When ASUS President-Elect Scott Mason called this malicious behaviour filibustering, which it indeed was, these members of the Assembly shot to their feet to shout him down. They quite literally flailed their arms, shook their fists and condemned him at the top of their lungs for the ‘grave insult’ he had inflicted on them and their legitimate right to express themselves. One member went so far as to refer to Mason as a snake.

This behaviour is detestable and shameful. It’s particularly dishonourable for those who were elected by the student body, whose voice and needs they have blatantly spat in the face of by entering the assembly with a mind so against the spirit of cooperation and negotiation needed in democracy. By consistently interrupting and ignoring the speaker of Assembly, these individuals have shown disdain for the very democracy they attempt to uphold.

I refuse to let the blame fall solely with them. Many other members, both at large and voting, have disgraced the body that serves them. At a Special ASUS Assembly, a crowd jeered and shouted at ASUS representative Alex Prescott as he left the room, having been asked to leave by the Speaker. Prescott was shouting back as well, suggesting that they wanted him to commit suicide. This in no way affected the willingness of members to boo and deride Prescott, who only minutes had been censured for making ASUS assembly an “unsafe space”.

The Speaker and the Executive attempted to calm Assembly and remove those who had slandered representative Prescott. These individuals again began shouting, causing enough chaos to force the Executive to adjourn the meeting without finishing the agenda. Regardless of what these members thought they were fighting for by behaving this way they failed to champion it, their message becoming lost in their hypocrisy and disrespect for Assembly and the students it represents.

I am a member of ASUS, and I am currently ashamed of that fact. The body that represents me has turned into a theatre and the man I elected President has been insulted. The time of my representatives is being wasted. A meeting that was called in order to serve me and my fellow students was ended early by an angry mob. This is a democracy. When my representatives are disrespected this way, I as the individual who elected them am also disrespected. If ASUS has become a farce, I propose an equally comedic solution.

The Sergeant-at-Arms is appointed to a legislative body to be the symbolic authority of the speaker. They are charged with the security of the assembly and with the physical enforcement of order in the legislature.

They answer solely to the speaker, who directs them in order to keep decorum. In Canada the role is ceremonial, whereas in other countries like South Africa the Sergeant-at-Arms often removes members who have been ordered out by the Speaker. The Sergeant at Arms also is charged with a large ceremonial mace, symbolizing what form their power takes.

The ASUS assembly desperately requires a Sergeant at Arms. Its membership has become unruly inefficient. Bogged down by the petty vendettas of a minority of irresponsible participants. We must act to re-establish the atmosphere of cooperation and free expression necessary for the assembly to function, before these filibusterers and cat callers grind our system to a halt.

I refuse to allow the principles of ASUS to go unprotected. All dissenting opinions must be protected, and they must be presented in a fair and organized environment. Assembly is meant to be that environment, but a few individuals have made this impossible. They may still save their reputations, but if they choose not to a Sergeant-at-Arms would provide the voters recourse with their mace.

Perhaps members would not feel so inclined to bring their exclusive club to disrupt proceedings if they knew the Speaker had its own much more literal club awaiting them.

Sam Kary is a student in the department of political studies.

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