Last Wednesday, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) saw extensive debate over motions such as “Calling on SSMU to Stand in Solidarity with the People of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” With 739 students in attendance, GA was hosted in the SSMU Cafeteria, with overflow held in the Ballroom, the Lev Bukhman room, and other rooms in the building. This GA discussed six motions, two of which were added from the floor during the assembly—one calling for solidarity with student protesters in Hong Kong, the other against the provincial budgetary cuts to the university. Four of the motions passed, including the motion for the nomination of the Board of Directors. All passed motions will require further ratification in two weeks by all SSMU members through an online vote.
Motion Calling on SSMU to Stand in Solidarity with the People of the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Hundreds of students expressed that they attended the Fall GA in order to voice their opinions on this motion.
“I think it’s a very important issue that should not be pushed under the rug the way it always has been,” U2 Engineering student Sara Albouz said. “I think it’s time […] for a student body like McGill’s to lead by example.”
Other students expressed concern over SSMU taking a stance on external politics in representation of the student body.
“I believe that SSMU […] should not take a stand on divisive political issues,” U1 Arts student Jordan Devon, one of the coordinators for the “No” campaign against the motion, said. “I think social justice is incredible […] but we should be taking a stand that represents all students.”
Ameya Pendse, U3 Arts, motioned to postpone the motion indefinitely, arguing that SSMU should not take a stance on the issues in Palestine and should therefore not consider the initial motion for debate.
“If we vote now to postpone this motion, we can actually come together on this issue and say ‘We don’t want to touch this,’” Pendse said.
Students who insisted that the debate on the initial motion was necessary emphasized the importance of having an open discussion about the motion itself, rather than removing it from consideration altogether.
“I find it ironic that people are arguing to postpone this debate in the name of free speech, when in fact shutting down this debate is shutting down anyone […] who has anything to say about this issue,” a U2 Arts student said.
The motion to indefinitely postpone the original motion was passed 402-337, after which the majority of students left the assembly.
“Around the world, people don’t have the chance to talk about these issues in an open environment […] without being judged,” Youcef Rahmani, U4 Arts, said. “[There were] peer support [volunteers] who are here, McGill [which] is a safe space itself, [there is] all of this framework and institution to facilitate this discussion [….] I think it’s just a shame to [have been] barred from talking about it.”
Other students noted the role of the GA in student engagement.
“Regardless of the outcome of the vote, I think one thing that was really salient throughout the debate was that a lot of debate was devoted to the GA itself,” Ryan Mitton, U3 Arts, said. “I think that if we can take one thing out of this […] it’s that while the GA remains the most perfect way at this moment to engage students at McGill, we should always be looking at how we can make it better for student engagement.”
Motion Regarding Action on Climate Change
Students voted in favor of the motion regarding action on climate change, which called for SSMU to join he Étudiant(e)s Contre les Oléoducs (ÉCO), a student coalition that demands blockage of pipeline projects in Quebec, termination of fossil fuel extraction, and recognition of Indigenous sovereignty over their territories and veto power over extraction projects.
“There is a very clear correlation with building pipelines and emission of [carbon dioxide,]” said SSMU VP External Affairs Amina Moustaqim-Barrette. “We cannot be complicit in the funding of fossil fuel industry […] and the destruction of our climate. It is time that students impose a strong voice against this.”
Moustaqim-Barrette was one of the movers of the motion and the individual who would be responsible bringing a policy regarding action on climate change to Council in Winter 2015.
Eric Taylor, U0 Engineering, spoke against the motion, stating the blockage of pipelines would only result in Quebec seeking overseas oil sources.
“This motion does not make a real change on climate change,” Taylor said. “I would much rather Quebec purchase its oil [domestically]. Real change needs to come from removing our dependency on oil, not from preventing our access to oil.”
Medicine Senator David Benrimoh said passing the motion would be moving in the right direction to change the current situation.
“We need to make it difficult to survive on oil,” Benrimoh said. “It’s going to be difficult to change people’s minds on things. Not building more pipelines makes the status quo more difficult to maintain.”
The motion passed 111-17.
Motion in Support of a Campus Free from Harmful Military Technology Development
Students voted in favor of the motion to require SSMU to renew its stance against the development of harmful military technology at McGill, and support campaigns to this effect.
Supporters of the motion emphasized that a university should not be conducting harmful military research that could be used in wars at all.
“Right now, we must start at the fact that a university is not a tool of war,” one student stated. “That’s why we must address this issue.”
Other students cited economic advantages to conducting military research, with individuals raising concerns that there was no contingency plan for finding other sources of future funding.
Jonathan Mooney, first-year Law student, voiced concerns over what the term “harmful” would entail.
“How do we distinguish between harmful and non-harmful military research?” he asked. “I think it’s a great motion, but not specific enough […. For example,] Drones are used to monitor weather [….] I want to get a better sense of what specifically we will be opposing.”
Two amendments to the original motion were brought forth by U2 Arts student Cadence O’Neal. The first amendment called for SSMU to stand in solidarity with those affected by harmful military technology, and the second called for SSMU to publicly condemn human rights violations by states, such as the U.S., Canada, and Israel, involved with McGill’s research on military technology. The first amendment was adjusted and added to the motion; the second amendment was later rescinded by the initial mover. Tensions rose in response to the amendments, and many returned to the GA in order to vote. The motion passed 146-11.
“I feel very happy that the motion was able to pass,” said O’Neal. “[But] I feel disappointed that my original amendments were not able to be included, because it would make SSMU take a stronger stance.”
Motion to Stand in Solidarity with Students and Protesters Demanding Democratic Government in Hong Kong
Students voted to postpone this motion, brought forth by Benrimoh, which called for SSMU to issue a statement of solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong, to condemn repression, and to educate McGill students on the issue.
Some students expressed the opposition to the motion, stating that universal suffrage is not currently the default for all countries.
“Is this a perfect democracy? No. But this is progress,” U2 Arts student Eddie Lin said. “Should SSMU condemn other countries that don’t have universal suffrage?”
U2 Arts student Ava Liu moved to vote against the motion because, as the motion was brought from the floor during the GA, “it lack[ed] appropriate measures” to ensure that those who wanted to voice their opinions on the issue would be able to attend the GA.
Students voted 105-77 to postpone the motion, with many stating that it should be discussed at a later date due to a lack of awareness about the motion and in order to give other students an opportunity to give their opinion.
Motion for Solidarity against Austerity
Students passed a motion brought forth on the floor by Moustaqim-Barrette and other councillors, which called for SSMU to “denounce the provincial government’s austerity measures against McGill and other post-secondary institutions.”
McKenzie Kibler, U3 Arts, expressed concern that if passed, the motion could implicate pre-strike intentions, although Moustaqim-Barrette clarified that the motion would not be able to mobilize a strike as it stands.
Mooney cited a past campaign called “Je suis Michele” that also lobbied against the Quebec government on budget cuts that achieved change yet did not result in a strike.
“I think it is possible to take a stance on a motion like that and not go to strike,” Mooney said. “It means we’re going to stand up and say ‘We don’t agree with these cuts.’”
The motion passed 142-14.
The GA ultimately adjourned at 12:26 a.m., with SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa stating that she was impressed with the turnout and engagement during the GA, but that there are improvements to be made to the process.