On Nov. 16, Courtney Ayukawa, president of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Rachel Simmons, speaker of the legislative council of SSMU, released an official response to a recent Judicial Board (J-Board) petition filed by Zain Ali Syed and Nadir Khan over the practices of the Speaker at the SSMU General Assembly (GA) held on Oct. 22. The response asks the J-Board to dismiss the case.The petition accused the Speaker of Council of stifling discussion of the Motion Calling on SSMU to Stand in Solidarity with the People of the Occupied Palestinian Territories at the Fall GA by allowing an indefinite postponement to go through.
“By allowing delegates at the General Assembly to take this action, fundamental bylaws and fundamental principles were violated,” the petition filed by Syed and Khan reads. “The violations represent an attack on democracy on campus and this is certainly a weighty issue that must be dealt with by the Judicial Board.”
The respondents denied that such violations occurred in their declaration, stating that the debate in the GA had been triggered when the Speaker of Council asked whether there were any points or motions on the floor.
“According to Robert’s Rules: ‘After the question has been stated by the chair, the motion becomes the property of the assembly,’” the respondents declaration read: “Once debate has been opened, the chair must recognize points and motions on the floor. In conclusion, the claim that Article 5.4 was violated is false.”
The petitioners accused SSMU Council of a failure to adopt special standing rules for the Fall GA, as stated by bylaw 5.2 of bylaw Book I-5.
“Standing rules for the General Assembly which make Robert’s Rules easier for students to understand procedure must be adopted by Council at least one week in advance of the General Assembly,” reads bylaw 5.2.
Ayukawa, representing the SSMU Council as a respondent of the case, denied this claim, saying that the institutional convention of SSMU treated the bylaw as a deadline rather than a requirement, and was therefore not mandatory.
“Convention over the past three years has favoured the ‘deadline’ interpretation of bylaw 5.2,” the response read. “Special standing rules were only adopted once during this period, and the reasoning […] was not given by the movers when adopted in 2012.”
The declaration further stated that the bylaw was likely adopted in order to encourage participation of students at the SSMU GA. As the past Fall GA received widespread attention and students were already motivated to attend, the Speaker of Council and SSMU Council were not required to establish special standing rules.
Ayukawa also asserted that the Speaker of Council usually has the final jurisdiction on how the bylaws were interpreted.
“The bylaws are written, in my opinion, in a pretty vague way, and they allow for interpretation,” she said. “The way they’ve been interpreted, by conventional ways by myself and the speaker, [is] that [the clause to adopt special standing rules] is a deadline.”
The petitioners have refused a mediation, according to Ayukawa. The next step in the J-Board procedure is to move into a preliminary conference between the parties to the dispute and the J-Board, the date of which has not been determined yet. A date for the hearing will be decided in the meeting.
The petitioners Syed and Khan were not able to be reached for comment at the time of publication.