On Nov. 19, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) declined to hear a case challenging the Board of Directors (BoD) adding a question to the Fall Referendum. Several SSMU members initially criticized the additional question since its submission did not follow standard procedure. Ultimately the J-Board concluded that it has no jurisdiction over any BoD motion in general.
Following the events of the Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA), a number of SSMU members filed a petition calling to raise the GA quorum substantially. Although the petition received over 450 signatories, it was submitted too late to become a question in the online Fall Referendum. However, the BoD disregarded the Oct. 25 deadline and added a question to raise the quorum anyway, appealing to the Quebec Companies Act to classify online voting as a “general meeting.” Historically, this term has only applied to GAs, enabling motions passed there to be put up for online referendum; if the online referendum itself also counts as the general meeting, then GAs are effectively bypassed.
Shortly thereafter, Meara Kirwin, U2 Arts, and Gregoire Beaune, U3 Arts, filed a petition with the J-Board arguing that the BoD’s decision to move the motion was unconstitutional. On Nov. 8, the J-Board accepted jurisdiction to issue a ruling, but it later released a decision on Nov. 19 unanimously rejecting its jurisdiction over the BoD, reaffirming its inability to check the BoD’s power.
“[The J-Board] finds that the SSMU Constitution compels it to decline jurisdiction,” the J-Board wrote in its Nov. 19 decision. “Section 1.1(b) specifies that the jurisdiction includes ‘the interpretation of all motions and resolutions passed by the Legislative Council, including the authority to declare invalid any act of the Legislative Council or the Executive Committee which violates the Constitution or Internal Regulations’ […] A glaring omission from this enumeration is the [BoD].”
In the absence of the J-Board’s jurisdiction, there are no channels within SSMU through which to contest the constitutionality of the Board’s motions. Further, no branch of SSMU has oversight over the BoD, which is itself currently composed mostly of unelected members-at-large. The membership of its Directors is also currently in a transitionary status because, although their incumbencies were set to end on Nov. 15, the J-Board has extended their terms indefinitely while it considers the constitutionality of the Fall GA BoD ratification vote. To amend this, Kirwin and Beaune are calling for constitutional reform and restructuring of SSMU governance.
“There is currently no body within SSMU that can check the BoD,” Kirwin said. “We would like to see extensive governance reform within SSMU to return the powers of the BoD to the Legislative Council, and to limit the authority of the BoD to formal approval of Council decisions.”
In an opinion piece published in The McGill Tribune, former Vice-President finance and director Arisha Khan cited the BoD’s disregard for due process and student consultation as one of her reasons for resigning. In an email to the Tribune, Khan explained that she believes the lack of checks and balances within SSMU has allowed the BoD to abuse its power.
“SSMU executives really cannot do anything themselves to change [the BoD], as only four execs sit on the board,” Khan wrote. At other student associations […] the Boards of Directors [is] comprised of the executive team [and] other elected representatives.”
Khan is advocating for a third party to advise SSMU on potential reforms, an idea that was previously discussed at SSMU Council last month. She believes that a complete overhaul of governance structures is necessary to ensure that SSMU is kept democratic.
“I feel that SSMU needs to have a complete governance review done by an external third party to figure out how we can most efficiently organize our governance structures so they are legally compliant,” Khan wrote. “While also being cognizant of SSMU’s role as a student association and therefore prioritizing democratic participation in governance and decision-making.”
SSMU President and BoD Chair Muna Tojiboeva did not provide a comment by press time.