Ultra Vires


UV NEWS SUMMARY: SLS Candidates’ Speeches & Debate

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this article are in some places incomplete, mostly because y’all talk too fast.  I apologize for my human frailty. That said, the quotes that do appear are literal quotations as I heard them, with minor edits for grammar. – JS

SLS election season got real this afternoon as students were introduced to their candidates through speeches, debate, and even a little song. Your loyal news editor(s) were on scene taking notes, so that you aren’t excluded from the democratic process while frantically trying to finish that paper. Please enjoy our extensive summary & transcript of today’s democratic happenings.


Ben Sharma

Ben often cited his experience on the SLS, having served on the executive for 3 years. Compared to the other two candidates, Ben had the most to say about the possibility of the law school leaving the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

“There are two things I’m running on – first I want to hold a referendum for us to leave the UTSU. We get nothing out of it, the time has come to go our own way. Second – the tuition file. I know the faculty is having listening sessions right now – frankly I’m a little skeptical, my impression is the admin sees it more as a PR issue for them. Especially in so far as information hasn’t been made available that would facilitate those discussions.”

 In closing statements, Ben reemphasized the benefits of getting out of UTSU – we’d have $35,000 to invest in our student body.

“We have been talking about this for a number of years, and haven’t moved forward. I believe it is time to do that”

Platform here.

Brendan Stevens

Brendan focused more on process than the other two candidates, often citing his experience on SLS to make specifics points about the challenges faced by the SLS and the necessity for a clear mandate. He focused mainly on the tuition issue, and the goal of sustaining and promoting the law school community during the upcoming transition years.

“I’ve developed a lot of positive relationships with the candidates who are running this week… the president should ultimately serve as a democratic catalyst – they must be a listener before being heard”

 In closing statements, Brendan sung a rewritten version of “Dancing on my own now” by Robyn. I didn’t transcribe it because I was laughing. Sorry, Brendan. But Ashvin posted a video of it here.

Platform here.

Marcus McCann

Marcus focused on his advocacy work outside of the SLS, citing his work in forming an anti-oppression taskforce and arranging for an HIV expert to make a presentation at the law school. He was more critical of the SLS than the other two candidates, and the most aggressive on the tuition issue.

“There’s no doubt that I’m the change candidate. In the first month of my 1L year I met with a group of students to found the anti oppression task force. We thought that Orientation Week would be better. We met with students and we met with the Deans committee. The faculty adopted that proposal and ran their own anti-oppression training in February.”

In closing statements, Marcus stressed how he proposed to create change at the law school.

 “I think we work within the administration on issues where we have common ground. Where there’s a bit of sunlight, we try to persuade them. Where there’s a roadblock, we work outside the administration – work with politicians at Queen’s Park, and we work with alumni, to make changes directly benefiting the students. I think I can do that.”

Platform here.


Q: Given the recent controversy surrounding the USTU election and the announcement that various colleges and professional schools are seeking to exit the union, do you support law students remaining apart of the USTU? Why, or why not?

Marcus: “I do not support leaving the UTSU, for one reason: birth control. The UTSU plan covers all students for birth control 100%, and any change would disrupt that. Until there is a plan for that, I oppose leaving. […] Although the UTSU can be clowns sometimes, we have been working to make sure that their advocacy for lower tuition also includes our concerns”

Ben: “I do support leaving the UTSU. With regard to insurance plans, those of you who have signed up for the Canadian Bar Association have no doubt been bombarded for offers for health plans… I believe that the engineers withdrew from the UTSU and I believe they got a better rate, so I think we can manage this.”

Brendan: “We don’t have enough information to make that decision yet… there were some compelling points in the report that Ben cites, that we might be able to get better services without the UTSU. So, we’re in an information gathering stage. I’m committed to forming a working group on this issue and staff it with some passionate students to get to the bottom of this and then hold a referendum to decide.”

 Q: Speaking broadly, students have criticized the SLS for a lack of transparency and, worse yet, for not providing enough value to its constituents. How do you feel about this? How has your past experience in working on, with, or against the SLS shaped your opinion?

Ben: the SLS does hand out its policies to clubs. Sometimes, those policies are not read, and we can’t help that. We were criticized for the men’s basketball decision, but we did make our reasoning clear there.

Brendan: Next year, I’m committed to ensuring that everything the SLS does is disseminated through multiple avenues. We have a website, we have a facebook page. The students who are on the working group this year were accused of not being transparent… My perspective from StAG was that this was difficult since there are confidentiality problems with discussions on council… so the tuition discussion proliferated out of those discussions, and so the confidentiality requirement was attached to that. Moving forward however, there is no reason not to be transparent.

Marcus: transparency is a huge issue on SLS. We find out at the end of the year that all sorts of decisions were discussed for months, and we never heard anything. Instead we hear the same three announcements from the SLS weekly over and over. I’d like to put decisions we’re thinking about into SLS weekly, with contact information. I also think transparency is a problem at Falconer – the administration has given us inadequate information… maybe we can collect information from students ourselves. We should also be prepared to use a Freedom of Information request to get the information we need.

Q: It is generally the case that being SLS President is very time consuming, leaving very little time, if any, for other commitments. For example, I have seen Albert Lin three times this year. What other responsibilities will you have next year? How will these other duties impact your ability to act as President?

Brendan: This year I took on a lot of stuff, and I wasn’t able to do as much as I would like to do. I was president of out in law, […], a peer mentor, in follies, etc. So I’m really involved in the school and all of that has prepared me to be SLS President. But, all of that stops next year, I’ll be entirely dedicated to being SLS President. You have to be completely able to drop anything at any time.

Marcus: I’m stepping down from Chair of Board of Directors of the Varsity, but I’m going to remain on the board, it’s only a monthly meeting. I’m also one of the editors of the Journal of Law and Equality. But I get up at 5AM. And my summer job is only 10 weeks long… This means I’ll be able to use the whole summer to prepare for this year. So, for those two reasons I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.

Ben: The two main time commitments are I’ll be VP of a federal parties electoral district association, and I hope to start writing again for Ultra Vires. Neither of these are time sensitive commitments – SLS commitments often are time sensitive and they will always have first priority.

Q: are you running for a 3L rep position? Why or why not?

Marcus: No. I’m on an open slate with lots of 3L rep candidates, and I support our candidates for those positions.

Ben: No. I’ve been on the affairs side for 3 years, I feel I’ve contributed what ideas I had in that time. The two main things driving my run are what are in my platform, and that’s that.

Brendan: I’m also running for 3L StAG. The most pressing issues facing us are relevant to the StAG. I’m running because I’ve loved my time there and I’d like to work with whoever is elected President.

Q: There has been discussion of creating new Vice Presidential posts within the SLS, including a VP of Equity. Please briefly explain why you think these changes would be beneficial, or otherwise, for students.

Ben: Adding 1 or more people could be quite useful given how much work there is to go around. As for whether it should be a VP of Equity or some other competency – if people feel that’s needed, that’s fine. If not, some other titles fine.

Brendan: My understanding was that this was for an equity officer position as opposed to a VP… someone separate from the SLS who can be a funnel for all equity issues. I think equity officer would be an excellent idea, and having them not elected through the same process might also be important for having accountability. The anti oppression task force did some great work, there’s a lot of room for this position.

 Marcus: I feel really passionately about this. Let me give you an example – students who are facing illness or bereavement do not know what sort of accommodation they might get when they approach the administration. Every case is done on an ad hoc basis. Students have received wildly different treatment. What I would propose is to create an equity position portfolio that would be able to gather the information from everyone who’s required accommodation, and can reflect that info back to students when they’re facing a difficult situation… so that there’s precedent.

Q: The admin has prohibited fundraising by student groups in order to not compete with building fundraising. What is your position on this?

Brendan: The building fund is apparently wrapped up, so fundraising efforts should now be through more traditional lines… but to prohibit any student groups from taking initiative  in fundraising seems very odd – I think we’d have to be careful about how students are branding their efforts.

Marcus: The admin has forbidden independent fundraising by groups like DLS and the Asper Center. And then they tell you they have to raise tuition to fund DLS and the Asper Center. My understanding is they want to keep that ban, I support getting rid of it.

Ben: I agree with the other two candidates, the prohibition is ridiculous. I’m sure the Faculty would like to keep it.

Q: This year’s SLS has been quite accommodating of the admin on the tuition issue. Should the SLS be more confrontational?

Marcus: I agree with the sentiment in the question. The decision you have to make is whether you want someone who’s been out on front of this issue, or whether you want someone playing catchup.

Ben: in defense of this year’s SLS, they didn’t feel they had a mandate to take a hard line. But I think it is time to take a harder line. Last year’s SLS president ended up in hot water with the dean, when the students sided with a minority of professors to defeat a proposal supported by the majority of professors. Perhaps we could do something similar.

Brendan: The SLS was approached to spearhead the tuition petition, but there are excellent reasons why we chose not to do this. This is an example of how grassroots advocacy can compliment prexisting lines of communication… the concern that Marcus brought up about us being “catching up”… that was the biggest argument for us taking a more aggressive stance – that we are going to be seen as “catching up” on this issue. But we made a decision to sacrifice our own reputation on the issue to maintain relationships with the administration and to lay the foundation for next year. I stand behind that decision.

Q: Would you please explain to us your understanding of the proposed amendment to the SLS constitution, and what your stance on it is?

Ben: the proposal is to get the student body to roll over the funds into next year. I do support the amendment

Brendan: I support the amendment

Marcus: yup, I’m on board

VP Social Affairs

Jen Bates

Jen began by discussing the issue of clubs funding, which is always a contentious subject. In her opening statement Jen introduced the idea of hosting a meeting at the beginning of the year to clearly explain how the funding process works. She also emphasized the importance of building and maintaining community during the upcoming transitional building phase. Her ideas for this including ongoing competitions between the two 1L sections throughout the year, such as trivia, and amazing races.

“I think we underestimate the importance of the building, like the Rowell Room. If we can maximize the actual interactions between people, that’s going to be immensely important in adapting to that new space.”

Ben Iscoe

Ben also focused on the two critical issues of managing clubs funding and maintaining a strong sense of community during the new building transition. Ben emphasized the importance of getting funding to student clubs and in disseminating the growing SLS surplus. He also noted that it will be important to use funding to help manage the transition to Victoria College. Ben echoed Jen’s thoughts regarding the importance of ongoing events, noting that he wanted to introduce a fundraiser in which professor’s sing karaoke.

“We’re running a $10,000 surplus. There’ s a lot of funding we will need next year in the new space, and one of the principal things I want to do is create stronger communication between SLS affairs and the clubs. … We need to find out when money is not being spent, so that we can redistribute it as needed because there are a lot of clubs that don’t get the money they want.”

VP Student Affairs and Governance


“I came to law school because I wanted to make a positive contribution to the community, and I’m running for SLS for the same reason. The SLS can play a really important role in identifying places for student involvement, and coming up with creative solutions to the problems we face here. We’ve come up with a platform based on student experience, accessibility, and transparency to fulfill that role.”

Platform here.

Peter Flynn

“The SLS needs to make sure that we hit the ground running In September. That means training the new reps so that they know how their committees work, and are prepared to set the agenda from the start. It’s also about motivating the whole team of students to cover a whole range of advocacy areas.”

Platform here.


Q: This year there was a significant increase in student criticism of the yearly 8% tuition increase. Are you seeking a mandate for seeking tuition reform on behalf of students? If so, which policies would you focus on changing, and how?

Peter: “Moving forward: advocacy can’t be credible if we don’t have information. Its not an us versus them thing, it’s a persuasive discussion where we have to go through the objective factors and see what they can and cannot control. We have to make sure we hold them to the plan they have made.”

Esther: “The petition garnered over 400 signatures. I was an advocate within the student body and the SLS for those issues – issues that 400 plus students signed on to support.  I think I’ve been an advocate and seen myself as having that mandate, and so to answer the question, yes. I didn’t feel like we got an answer about how debt affects people after law school, when I asked that question at the town hall. We need to look at peoples subjective reasons for a given career choice.”

Q: If you were elected as VP of StAG, how would you manage the diverse interests of students in your dealings with administration? Do you see yourself functioning as an activist VP with a specific mandate?

Esther: “The SLS isn’t just the President or any particular person – it’s all of us. We have a responsibility to try and canvas student opinion, and consider majority views, as well as those whose views aren’t expressed as often or who face barriers in communicating with us. In terms of being an activist VP – my agenda is to advocate for students and be open and transparent in that advocacy. When I invited student groups to come to SLS meetings, most people did not know that everyone is able to come to SLS meetings. The SLS should be more proactive in publicizing their meetings.”

Peter: “Sometimes the StAG isn’t the best voice to have on an issue. Sometimes persuasive, direct advocacy is more effective. We need better communication. We can’t just say, at the end of the year, here’s what we did. There needs to be a monthly report.”

3L Rep – Student Affairs & Governance


Kevin Siu

Stoney Baker

Ashvin Singh

Tom Wagner

Mallorie Malone

Kamal Bakhazi

Brendan Stevens

Esther Lexchin

Peter Flynn


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