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Students Battle Over Nova Scotia PIRG

posted by david parker Geography: Atlantic Halifax Topics: Peace, Halifax, Universities, PIRG, nspirg

March 28, 2009

Students Battle Over Nova Scotia PIRG


HALIFAX – “We need to trust that people will be honest”, said Mat Brechtel, chair of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), referring to a ballot vote after two votes by hand count had failed to determine whether or not a motion concerning the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) would be added to the meeting's agenda. Brechtel was chairing the DSU's Annual General Meeting to a packed auditorium of 200 students.

The motion called on the DSU to make NSPIRG vacate their offices within 30 days, that NSPIRG make a public apology for "wasting students' money," and also stated that all funds should be with held from NSPIRG and held in trust by the DSU.

The issue of whether the student-funded social justice organization NSPIRG should continue to receive funding was the hot debate item of the evening. Though the item was added to the agenda, it now needs to be voted on by the Dalhousie student body at a subsequent general meeting, to be held April 1st in the Dalhousie Student Union Building at 6:30 pm. It will require a simple majority of 50 percent plus one to either pass or fail.

The meeting began with a tightly controlled security check at the doors of the McInnes Room, the auditorium where the AGM was held. As per orders of DSU President, Courtney Larkin, no non-Dalhousie students were allowed into the AGM, including NSPIRG members and a staff, despite precedence during past AGMs.

According to supporters of NSPIRG inside the meeting, several non-students were still in attendance, including former members of the DSU council and executive.

Early in the evening, five police officers escorted a member of the press out of the meeting, on the instructions of Dalhousie Security. Before her removal, Bethany Horne, King's student and opinions editor of the Dalhousie Gazette, spoke at length with the police. “Did Dal Security tell you to remove me, or did the DSU? I'm a student of King's College, a member of two media outlets, and I'm here covering this event.”

“The media are allowed,” said the officer, “but you're not allowed to be here. I have an order to request you to leave. If you choose not to leave, we will physically remove you.”

During the debacle between Horne and the HRM police, NSPIRG staff and Dal student Angela Day challenged the chair, calling for Horne's right to stay at the meeting. Day's motion failed by a slim margin of 66 in favour, 79 opposed.

The crux of the debate during the evening centred around the NSPIRG motion, proposed by student Daniel Pink. The motion is supported by a group of students whose website claims that NSPIRG is anti-semitic for it's condemnation of Israel's massacre of Gaza, and that NSPIRG prevented students from entering a university career fair on February 10th.

According to the Stop NSPIRG campaign's website, students were prevented from entering the February 10th Career Fair, where Lockheed Martin was recruiting employees for its new office opening in Halifax.

Responding to the allegation, Day countered, “NSPIRG doesn't organize these protests, they are [organized by] concerned students. We don't dictate what they do, but we do support critical thinking in the student body.”

The February 10th protest against Lockheed Martin's presence at the career fair was organized by Student Coalition Against War (SCAW), a working group of NSPIRG. Protesters at the event did not prevent students from entering the building, according to Jane Kirby, a member of SCAW. “Most protesters stayed outside, where they were monitored by security,” said Kirby. “Anyone affiliated with us who managed to get inside was removed. We were the only ones denied access.”

Other motions brought to the DSU AGM by concerned students called for the DSU to adopt an anti-war stance, to oppose military funding of research at Dal, and further called on the DSU apologize for "being an ineffective, bureaucratic organization that has lost touch."

Despite the claims on the Stop NSPIRG site and DSU Presidential Candidate Snow's site, these motions were not put forward by NSPIRG, but rather by a non-ratified, unafiliated student group, Students Mobilizing for Action on Campus (SMAC).

David Parker is a board member of NSPIRG.

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