SSMU General Assembly loses quorum prior to ‘Divest for Human Rights’ motion vote

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its Winter 2021 General Assembly (GA) on Feb. 16, reaching its quorum of 350 for the first time since Fall 2017. Although the GA approved the nomination of the auditor for the 2021 fiscal year, the centrepiece motion, “Divest for Human Rights,” was only approved in a consultative capacity after many attendees exited the meeting prior to the vote, causing the meeting to lose quorum.

The “Divest for Human Rights” motion seeks to expand SSMU’s leadership on matters of social justice and human rights and calls on the McGill administration to divest from companies such as Lockheed Martin, TC Energy Corporation, Re/Max, and Puma, among others. The motion looks to advance previous and ongoing demilitarization and fossil fuel divestment campaigns.

After several questions from attendees regarding whether the motion falls under SSMU’s mandate, Ayo Ogunremi, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Affairs, explained that the motion was relevant to the mandates of both the Office of External Affairs and SSMU regarding student-run political campaigns.

“SSMU has a number of mandates to demonstrate leadership,” Ogunremi said. “Under the preamble of the constitution, SSMU is mandated to demonstrate leadership [regarding] issues of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection. The constitution also acknowledges that SSMU has a history of doing this [….] SSMU has a responsibility to support these sorts of human rights-based resolutions.”

With peak attendance reaching almost 390 students, the meeting’s debate period raised a diversity of opinions. The GA witnessed a notably intense debate regarding sections 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 of the “Divest for Human Rights” motion, both focussing on human rights issues on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although students came prepared with comments both in favour of and against these particular sections, the debate quickly turned into a heated cycle of repeated arguments. 

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Engineering Representative to the SSMU Legislative Council Jake Reed expressed his concern over the tense debate period during the GA. 

“I worry that [Zoom] fosters animosity in the same way that internet debates, flame wars, and comment sections do,” Reed said. “Because they rely on anonymity, [online debates] involve a lot more active aggression than arguments and confrontations in real life do, and I think the same thing played out in this GA.”

Following the lengthy debate, the GA voted on whether to continue or end the debate period in order to proceed to vote on the motion. After a majority voted in favour of ending the debate, many individuals immediately left the GA Zoom call. Attendance dropped from almost 390 members to 307. As a result, the GA lost quorum, which had been maintained until the voting period. The “Divest for Human Rights” motion has been approved in a consultative capacity and will be put to vote at the next Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 25. 

On Feb. 18, Divest for Human Rights Coalition, the group that wrote the motion, issued a statement condemning the participant exit before voting as an anti-democratic tactic, and called on SSMU executives to support the policy.

Moment of the Meeting: 

The meeting started 26 minutes later than scheduled as GA staff had to individually admit every member into the GA from the Zoom waiting room. Due to the popularity of the motion, GA staff ensured that the Zoom call could allow up to 500 members. SSMU Speaker of Council Lauren Hill asked attendees to remain patient as they admitted the 390 registered students to the call.

Soundbite: 

“If it isn’t approved, […] the motion will be null. I’m going to note that there is no longer quorum [….] For quorum check, we currently have 311 in the room, but given that we currently have three staff, myself, the parliamentarian, and the recording secretary, we have 307. We don’t have quorum. This means that this motion will go to the Legislative Council.” 

– SSMU Speaker of Council Lauren Hill on the loss of quorum prior to the vote on the Divest for Human Rights motion.

A previous version of this article stated that the “Divest for Human Rights” motion was not approved. In fact, the motion was only approved in a consultative capacity because the meeting lost quorum before voting on this motion. The article has been updated to clarify this. The Tribune regrets this error.

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