The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on April 5 to discuss methods to prevent the spread of far-right groups within the campus community, and implement policies against sexual violence. Additionally, Council voted to update SSMU’s equity policy, to support the Fiat Lux library improvement plan, and to change the Arab Students’ Network’s status from a club to a service. Council also heard reports from the SSMU Environment Committee and the First Year Council (FYC).
SSMU’s relationship to “far-right” politics in a local context
Council members considered adopting a policy to not affiliate with any groups with a connection to the far-right, and to prohibit any individuals with far-right affiliations from working for SSMU. According to SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer, the policy would use RationalWiki’s definition of “far-right” ideologies, which describes them as values rooted in inequality, like segregation. The motion mandates future VP Externals to annually update a list of far-right groups in Montreal.
Speaker Nikolas Dolmat and other council members questioned whether this ban could violate discrimination laws. Some also argued that any candidate with far-right affiliations would likely not be elected anyway.
“My one concern […] is are we allowed to ban people in our society from positions?” Engineering Senator and 2018-19 SSMU President-Elect Tre Mansdoerfer said. “Is that OK legally with McGill and the Charter of Student Rights, and Quebec legislation? […] It would scare me to pass something that was immediately violating multiple laws.”
Other Council members, including Spencer and Social Work Representative Matthew Savage, defended the legality of the motion by stating that genocide and other far-right beliefs are too hostile to be considered legitimate political opinions and therefore are not protected grounds for employment. They also pointed out that the motion is becoming increasingly relevant with the growing presence of the far-right in Montreal.
“The sentiment that I’m hearing from a lot of people here is that they want to protect that one person that might have some slightly right tendencies,” Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) VP External Alice Yue said. “But that’s not the purpose of this motion. The purpose of this motion is to make sure that that one far-right person does not get to run and make thousands of students feel unsafe on campus [….] It’s totally fine to be conservative.”
After the debate, Mansdoerfer moved to postpone the question to the second meeting of the 2018-2019 SSMU Legislative Council, which passed by a vote of 16 to seven.
Progress on anti-sexual violence initiatives discussed
Guest speakers Caitlin Salvino, the co-creator of the Our Turn National Action Plan and SSMU’s Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP) Coordinator, and Priya Dube, a student policy advisor, presented the progress they made in drafting a GSVP. They explained that the Policy covers sexual violence prevention, advocacy, and response. The GSVP will also offer survivors both formal and informal responses and resolutions to their disclosures.
Additionally, Council voted unanimously to mandate anti-sexual violence training in the 2018-19 school year for all SSMU officers, directors, and councillors and at the clubs workshop and services summit, a requirement that Salvino hopes to continue through the GSVP. Spencer predicts that the final draft will be passed next academic year.
“We’re trying to push McGill to better support their students,” Salvino said. “We tried to mandate this in the policy so that we’re not just relying on an exec who’s passionate […] but it’ll be every year that SSMU has to continuously advocate for survivor-centered policies and appropriate responses.”