By Rosemary Evans, Principal
Student government plays an important role at UTS. We are proud of the fact that, through the Student Constitution, our students are co-creators of their school experience. Last year, our students tackled a tremendously significant issue for our student community – one that carries important implications for future generations of UTS students.
Under the leadership of then-co-captains, Mia Saunders ’16 and Laura Wu ’16, the Student Council undertook an exercise in constitutional reform.
The existing UTS constitution was seriously outdated and lacked relevance to our current realities. Last year, as a first step in undertaking the development of a meaningful constitutional document, the students worked collaboratively to create a charter for the school. The UTS Charter – like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Canada that was introduced in the era of Pierre Trudeau – explicitly articulates our common values and identifies them as guides for action. In the Canadian context, governments at all levels are guided by the Charter in making laws; and courts are guided by the Charter in applying laws.
Before the Canadian Charter, there often was little that could be done about unfair laws that threatened minority rights or fundamental freedoms. If the Canadian Charter had been in place, legislation such as the Indian Act of 1885 – which outlawed such cultural and religious practices as potlatches – could have been challenged, as could the Chinese Head Tax Act of 1900, and the Supreme Court ruling of 1928 that affirmed that women are not “persons” under the law and thus ineligible to hold positions in the Senate of Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has brought changes to laws that discriminate against people on the basis of personal characteristics or prejudices.
With the Charter, Canadian society has developed a much clearer recognition of human rights and freedoms, and ways to enforce these rights. Indeed, at the time of the 30th anniversary of the Charter in 2012, as noted in the Globe and Mail, two US law professors concluded that “it appeared that Canada has surpassed or even supplanted the United States as a leading global exporter of constitutional law.” Our Charter has become an exemplar for nations around the globe engaged in constitutional reform.
At UTS, the new Constitutional Charter created by students in 2016, has enshrined a set of values that will guide our actions as a school community. These values include: equity in a diverse community; self-advocacy; equal opportunity based on merit; accountability; representation; transparency related to communication; a strong, inclusive community; wellness for students and staff; and social responsibility.
Future constitutional efforts, including the development of student council policies, procedures and practices, will be subject to this statement of rights. It is our hope that this statement of values will, like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ensure equitable, inclusive and fair practices that support the positive growth and development of our students and our school community.
Pictured L to R: Former co-captains Mia Saunders ’16 and Laura Wu ’16, current co-captains Owen ’17 and Taylor ’17, and Principal Rosemary Evans at the signing of the document during the Graduation Ceremony on November 5, 2016..