On Nov. 16, following the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Nov. 7 email condemning the detainment of 12 Hong Kong nationals by the Chinese government, an anonymous group of students started a petition calling on SSMU to retract its statements on social media pledging support for Hong Kong student protestors.
The initial email was a joint statement between McGill Stands with Hong Kong (MSHK), a student organization that supports the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and SSMU, which urges the Canadian government to demand that the 12 detained pro-democracy nationals be released immediately to Hong Kong to stand trial. In addition, SSMU and MSHK implored students and community members at McGill to demand that the rule of law and freedom of speech be maintained in Hong Kong and attached resources to take action for the cause.
The petition was posted on change.org nine days after the email statement was sent to the McGill community and directly addresses the SSMU Board of Directors and executives. The anonymous authors of the petition expressed their concern that the email sent out by SSMU was discriminatory towards mainland Chinese students at McGill.
“We feel that, as a minority group, mainland Chinese students’ voices are unheard and that the Chinese students are under-represented and marginalized in student affairs,” the petition reads. “It is extremely inappropriate for SSMU to make a biased statement like this in the wake of the 2nd wave of COVID-19 [….] It is an attempt to shift people’s attention from the ongoing pandemic and student benefits to another country’s domestic affairs, which indirectly put the Chinese community in a dangerous position for people to blame.”
Joey Li, U3 Engineering, was one of the authors of the petition, which he states was written by a group of volunteers. Li told The McGill Tribune how the petition came about.
“A lot of Chinese kids spontaneously took to WeChat to discuss this issue,” Li said. “I could feel they were deeply upset and wanted their voices heard. Eventually, a group of us decided to create this petition so that others would have a channel to express their frustration.”
MSHK affirmed their respect for the right to use petitions to express dissent as a form of civic discussion, just as they hope that students respect their organization’s right to respond to the petition.
“The distress experienced by those who signed the petition is not unshared by Hong Kongers who have long felt their voices have not been represented, both in the lower relative number of students, as well as the absence of outspoken student associations,” MSHK wrote to The McGill Tribune. “In the end, we hope this will start a long-overdue conversation about China-HK relations on campus as long as all sides respect the principles of evidence-backed civil discussion.”
In an email to the Tribune, SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Brooklyn Frizzle responded to the petition on behalf of SSMU’s Executive Committee. Frizzle explained the responsibility the executives feel to speak out against injustice in solidarity with their members, as outlined in the leadership pillar of the SSMU constitution.
“It is with that commitment in mind that the Executive Committee decided to share a message of solidarity, drafted with McGill Stands with Hong Kong,” Frizzle wrote. “This statement falls in line with a long history of taking political stances that align with SSMU’s core values. As such, we maintain our support for students and protestors in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Taiwan alike.”
Frizzle emphasized that executives at SSMU will continue to support the Hong Kong democratic movement and Chinese students at McGill.
“We respect the right of our members to speak out against actions or statements they disagree with—provided these dialogues are mutually respectful and inclusive,” Frizzle wrote. “Regardless of any petitions, letters, or messages denouncing the actions of the SSMU, we will continue to advocate for Chinese students and condemn the rising anti-Asian racism associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Both the Hong Kong Student Network and the McGill Chinese Students’ Society declined to comment.