On Feb. 17, protesters demonstrated around the James Administration Building in response to the McGill administration’s alleged threat to terminate the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) if SSMU did not release a public statement calling for the resignation of Arts Representative Igor Sadikov. Sadikov caused controversy after posting a tweet reading “punch a zionist [sic] today,” on Feb. 6.
At a meeting on Feb. 13, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) made the executive decision to censure Sadikov, who is also a Director on the BoD, but not to impeach him. The BoD posted a press release that included a formal apology from Sadikov. Protesters claimed that sometime after SSMU’s decision, a meeting was held between Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier, Sadikov, and SSMU President Ben Ger. It was alleged that during this meeting, Fortier threatened to revoke all funding from SSMU if the Society did not publicly call for Sadikov’s resignation.
Kyle Shaw, U3 Arts, and protester said that this threat is a breach of student democracy.
“This is the administration way of overstepping its boundaries,” Shaw said. “[I believe] one of the main reasons [the university is] doing this, and Suzanne Fortier said it herself, is because they’ve been receiving a lot of pressure from donors [….] It’s purely plutocracy in that regard, where the rich donors are deciding what’s going to happen in our student democracy […] and I find that deplorable.”
Ger wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune that the administration never threatened to withhold student fees collected by the university on behalf of SSMU. A prior report in The McGill Daily on Feb. 17 suggested that Fortier had made such a threat, citing an anonymous source close to the SSMU executive. The claims expressed in the The Daily were corroborated by Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat.
“The MoA and Constitution were both referenced in the discussion, however it was not said that they would take away SSMU’s funds,” Ger wrote. “The University was considering putting [a statement] out but it wasn’t a threat. Where VP Sobat was coming from […] the executive can see where that interpretation could have happened, but he was acting on his own. It was not our interpretation that [the administration] was doing that.”
The Daily wrote that Fortier called Sadikov’s behaviour a violation of the SSMU Constitution. According to sections 12 Event of Default and 13 Remedies of the MoA, SSMU violating its own constitution is a breach of its MoA with McGill, enabling the university to withhold SSMU funding. Fortier acknowledged that members of McGill’s senior leadership team met with members of the SSMU Executive Committee on Feb. 15 to remind the executives that they had an obligation to abide by the terms of SSMU’s constitution.
“The University’s senior leaders shared their strong belief that the SSMU executives should ask for the resignation of SSMU Board member Igor Sadikov, who recently sent a Tweet inciting violence against a specific group,” Fortier wrote in a comment to The Tribune. “While McGill’s administration normally does not recommend a course of action to the SSMU leadership, this situation is exceptional. With any incitement to violence, it is the administration’s duty to intervene.”
Ger said that, during the meeting, the administration sought to confirm SSMU executives' interpretation of the constitution.
“The MoA was referenced in viewing the situation,” Ger said. “The university was [saying], ‘Look the constitution lays out specific principles. You need to adhere to those.’ They basically [said], ‘Here’s the constitution. It’s our opinion that this is the case, is it yours?’ Ultimately, the executive said, ‘Yes it is our agreement between our bodies because technically, we’re tied to it. We consulted legal to see what the potential threats were and one of us [Sobat] came away with a different grasp of the situation.”
In an email sent to the student body on Feb. 17, SSMU VP Internal Affairs Daniel Lawrie announced that SSMU recommended Sadikov’s resignation due to his violations of the SSMU Constitution (16.1 Standard of Care), which requires every Director, Councillor, Officer, and member of any committee of the Board of Directors or Legislative Council of the Society to conduct himself in good faith with a view to the best interests of the Society.
“Every [member of the SSMU BoD or Legislative Council] must uphold the Standard of Care for all members of the community as outlined in our Constitution,” Lawrie wrote. “It is the decision of the Executive Committee that Councillor Sadikov’s recent actions did not uphold this responsibility. More specifically, we believe that Councillor Sadikov’s actions were an incitement of violence and, for that reason alone, we have recommended that he resign from his position as a Director and as an Arts Representative to the Legislative Council.”