Five out of seven motions passed at the Students’ Society’s Winter General Assembly last Wednesday, with only a motion that sought to ban discriminatory groups – specifically pro-life groups – failing, and another being ruled out of order.
Unlike last semester’s GA, the assembly managed to address each motion of new business while maintaining quorum throughout.
SSMU President Ivan Neilson, while happy with the turnout, expressed mixed feelings about Wednesday’s GA.
“There was a lot of good, but I think with that there was some bad, so it’s hard to call it a complete success,” he said. “But we can definitely take some satisfaction, or at least some pride, in the fact that we ran through the entire agenda and didn’t lose quorum. I think that was probably the best part of it.”
The Resolution Re: Free Quality Accessible Education was not debated, as it was ruled out of order near the start of the meeting, due to redundancy. That resolution, which called for SSMU to commit to fighting for “free, quality, accessible education” and to supporting student parents and working students, was ruled to be too close to an old motion that had been dealt with by SSMU Council.
The resolution re: Discriminatory Groups failed to pass after lengthy debate over possible amendments to the motion, including one that would have removed the reference to pro-life groups.
The other five motions passed, however, and SSMU is now mandated to investigate their own and McGill’s financial ties to tar sands industrial developments in Alberta, to lobby the administration for the restoration of ATM machines that dispense five-dollar bills, and to oppose any future increases in mandatory ancillary fees as well as the “self-funded tuition program model.”
Additionally, SSMU is now mandated to reaffirm its commitment to human rights, social justice, and environmental protection, as well as either expand the mandate of the Financial Ethics Review Committee – a committee of SSMU Council – to act as an advisory board to the university “with respect to the ethical practices of corporations with respect to ethical practices of corporations with which McGill University conducts business,” or to create a new committee, known as the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, to do so.
The resolution, which also calls for the lobbying of McGill to divest from companies that do not meet ethical standards determined by FERC or the CSR Committee, generated controversy leading up to the GA because two of the whereas clauses alluded to the occupied Palestinian territories.
Much of the opposition to the motion was organized around this fact, with some calling the motion a “demonization of Israel.”
“I don’t think the GA is the right forum [for dealing with Middle East politics],” said Hillel McGill President Mookie Kideckel, who is also a Tribune columnist. “That’s part of why we organized against the motion. It’s not that you shouldn’t talk about it, but the GA – there’s always too much riding on it, the tensions are too high, there’s too much at stake to have frank, genuine, honest, open dialogue.”
However, Khaled Kteily, the vice-president membership and development of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the group which submitted the motion, expressed disappointment with the campaign against the resolution.
“We’re unhappy with the characterization of our motion as a ‘demonization of Israel,'” Kteily wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Israel does violate the human rights of Palestinians, and companies that you and I may be paying money to through SSMU or through McGill are helping. We are concerned that companies are profiting from the illegal occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The motion was passed, however, only after an amendment removed the two whereas clauses dealing with the occupied Palestinian territories.
“My reaction is that McGill students demonstrated that they are completely committed to human rights and just have no interest in seeing Israel unfairly singled out,” Kideckel said.
Neilson was happy with the mandate provided to him by the motion, and he pointed out that it fits in with a project he’s already been working on.
“I’ve been looking at all of our committees since the beginning of the year, so this is actually something that fits pretty well with [that],” he said. “And in a way it’s kind of nice to be getting some direction in that, and to have some kind of a mandate from the students is something that’s beneficial, and that I will certainly take into account.”
Neilson did express concern over the scope of the mandate proposed by the motion, however.
“I think there are some issues on the level of what exactly it asks FERC to do, simply because they are issues completely unrelated to SSMU,” he said. “What the motion entirely misses is that McGill already has a committee – the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility – which is a board committee that already accomplishes this function, and would be much more effective at doing the kind of review that I think they’re after.”
However, Kteily expressed concern over this unit, which is a part of McGill’s Board of Governors, and meets on an ad hoc basis.
“The problem here is accessibility. Undergraduate students are not represented on this committee at all,” Kteily wrote. “We believe that this CSR committee will ensure that undergraduate students’ concerns are adequately represented at a university level.”