Motion to Ban Recording of Legislative Council Meetings Carries
Prior to discussing the POLI 339 vote, the Legislative Council approved a motion to institute a standing rule banning the taping or recording of AUS Legislative Council meetings. Under the approved motion, campus media may be exempt from the ban if they obtain a two-thirds majority vote of approval by the Council at each session.
Suspension of POLI 339 Course Fee Approval
In a statement to members of the McGill Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) on Feb. 12, the AUS Executive Committee announced that it had overturned a Jan. 30 Legislative Council decision to not approve a course fee for POLI 339, titled “Comparative Developed: 1,” a summer course set to take place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The proposed fee would have each student enrolled in the course pay $1,000 for housing and travel expenses. According to Quebec law, all courses requiring fees beyond tuition must be approved by the university’s student society, a responsibility which the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) delegates to the AUS.
The Legislative Council narrowly voted down the fee 14 to 13, largely out of concern that a course at an Israeli university would be inaccessible for Palestinian students. The AUS Executive Committee justified overturning this initial decision in their Feb. 12 statement, claiming that they had received additional information about the course and were given a deadline of Feb. 8 to make a decision. On Feb. 14, AUS Secretary-General Sophie Zhao and Deputy Secretary-General Nathan Mendel announced on the AUS Facebook page that their team had suspended the Executive Committee’s decision to approve the course fee under accusations that the vote, which had taken place over Facebook Messenger, was unconstitutional.
These events were of primary concern at the AUS Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 14. In a discussion led by Zhao, AUS executives issued statements about the events of the past two weeks and answered questions about overturning the Legislative Council’s decision. Two members of the Executive Committee, AUS President Maria Thomas and Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo, admitted to pressuring other members of the Executive Committee to vote a certain way. The executives also announced the resignation of Vice-President (VP) Internal Billy Kawasaki, while AUS members and councillors called for further resignations and the release of the Facebook messages constituting the vote.
In a prepared statement delivered to the Legislative Council, Thomas provided a timeline of the decision to approve the course fee and apologized for telling another member of the Executive Committee to vote a certain way. She explained that, following the failure of the course fee at Legislative Council, she had been approached by the professors responsible for the course, after which the Executive Committee voted to make the decision internally in accordance with the AUS bylaws governing course fee approval.
“On February 7, we were told we needed to decide on this class fee ratification due to [Frais Institutionels Obligatoires] (FIO) bylaws clause 2.3, which states that ‘If a decision must be made when AUS Legislative Council is unable to be convened, the AUS Executive Committee must contact the representative departmental association if and when possible for their recommendation. This recommendation can then be ratified by a simple majority of the AUS Executive Committee,’” Thomas said. “Some of us suspect an executive told the professors [about] this bylaw so that they could frame it in this way and capitalize off of it [….] To break down the vote, we had four yes, four abstentions, and two [no votes] [….] I will admit that I messaged another member of our executive at the time, as I wanted another ‘no’ vote in order to stop this process. I realize in hindsight that this was a mistake on my part, so I am sorry.”
Thomas claimed that Kawasaki resigned as a result of the pressure surrounding the executive vote.
“From this vote and situation, our VP Internal Billy Kawasaki has now resigned,” Thomas said. “He wanted 24 hours not to be bothered, which is why we did not announce it yesterday [….] He felt, among others on our team, bullied and harassed into voting a certain way according to the goals of others [….] He was new on our executive, and he was in a hostile environment.”
According to the AUS VP Communications Jamal Tarrabain, a total of three votes on the course fee were held over Facebook, with the executive committee reporting the results of the first vote.
“There were three votes in total over Facebook Messenger as we were unable to convene in person,” Tarrabain wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “The outcome of the second two votes contradicted the first vote, however, it was decided that the first vote result would be the one that counted. There was a prior vote as to whether to call an emergency [Legislative] Council meeting which was voted down. I am unaware of there being […] formal movers on the motion.”
In a statement before the Legislative Council, Figueiredo apologized for pressuring another member of the Executive Committee and expressed regret that the question was not brought to Legislative Council, but he defended the constitutionality of the vote.
“I would like to admit, first of all, that, like Maria, I did message somebody to try to get them to vote the way that I wanted, and I do apologize for this,” Figueiredo said. “That was not necessarily right of me to do. I would like to also note that we were informed by the professors that there was an impending deadline [….] We had pressure from [the] administration on us, [and] we had pressure from the professors. I think we all wish this could have come back to Council [….] That said, the letter of [the] constitution was followed.”
Addressing the Legislative Council, Department of English Student Association (DESA) VP External Anisah Shah called for AUS executives to consider resigning in light of the controversy.
“I […] think that the only way to move forward and allow constituents to feel as though they can have faith in the AUS is through resignations,” Shah said. “I’m not calling on anyone specific to resign, but I think if you were involved, if you encouraged this blatant disregard of democratic procedure in this institution, if you were willing to bend to professors’ whims or even encourage them to manipulate bylaws in a way that goes against students’ interests, you should not be serving as an AUS executive officer. I would strongly encourage you to resign before articles of impeachment are brought up.”
Other councillors questioned the constitutionality of the Executive Committee vote. According to section 12.3 of the AUS Constitution, all actions and resolutions taken by the Executive Committee between Legislative Council meetings must be submitted to the next Council meeting for ratification, and there was no such submission for the Feb. 14 meeting. Many councillors and observers called for the executives to release relevant Facebook messages in order to restore the trust of councillors and constituents.
According to Thomas, the question of overturning the Executive Committee’s vote will, ultimately, be decided by SSMU pending the results of the AUS Secretary-General’s investigation.
“On Feb. 11, I sent the ratification to the [Director of Student Accounts], who sent it to SSMU for ratification, and they ratified [and sent it] to the Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning (DPSLL) office,” Thomas said. “Speaking today to DPSLL, he has informed me that if we can get SSMU on board, we can talk to [the DPSLL] about rescinding our vote.”