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SSMU Legislative Council votes against endorsing Daily Publications Society

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(Gabriel Helfant / The McGill Tribune)

At its Nov. 2 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council voted against endorsing the Daily Publications Society’s (DPS) upcoming existence referendum. Additionally, Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer and three faculty representatives moved for a special extension of the Fall 2017 referendum period. The Council also passed a motion mandating that SSMU contest Quebec’s Bill 62.

DPS Referendum question endorsement

Legislative Council deliberated Spencer’s motion to endorse a “yes” vote on the upcoming DPS existence referendum question posed to all downtown campus undergraduate students, which would renew the DPS’ non-opt-outable fee of $6 per undergraduate student per term and $3.35 per graduate student per term. The DPS relies on student fees to publish both Le Délit and The McGill Daily. As is mandated for clubs with non-opt-outable fees, a referendum question is posed every five years asking students to support the DPS’ existence. Although the Legislative Council previously endorsed a “yes” vote for the Winter 2013 DPS existence referendum, the current motion failed to pass, with 10 votes in favour, 12 votes against, and two abstentions.

The motion emphasized the importance of a diversity of independent publications on campus, with Le Delit being the only francophone paper at McGill. It also highlighted the fact that a free and critical press is necessary for SSMU’s democratic legitimacy.

The Daily and Le Delit have constantly been at all of our [meetings],” Spencer said. “It’s really important that we, as an institution, support those that are holding us accountable,”

Some council members opposing the motion worried that, by encouraging students to support the DPS, SSMU would appear to be endorsing The McGill Daily’s editorial views, including support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Some argued that it was inappropriate to encourage all students to renew a fee that would support The Daily given its political stances. SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva voted against the motion, believing that SSMU should not take a stance on the DPS’ existence.

“Seeing that this is a student referendum, we should let the students make their own individual decisions, and vote on the referendum as they wish,” Tojiboeva said. “I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable endorsing The Daily specifically, because we shouldn’t endorse a paper that marginalizes certain voices on campus.”

Throughout the debate, several councillors questioned the impartiality of the student press. Nora McCready, a news editor at theThe Daily, emphasized the DPS’ role as an educational institution in the absence of a formal journalism program at McGill.

“Both The Daily and Le Delit provide a space on campus for students to explore the field of journalism,” McCready said. “and even if there are people in the room who might disagree with The Daily's current editorial line, that’s something that has shifted through the years that it’s been in existence.”

Online voting on the 2017 DPS existence referendum opens Nov. 13.

Motion to Call a Special Referendum Period

Citing the importance of SSMU’s accountability to students, Spencer moved to extend the Fall 2017 Referendum period in order to add a question for a motion proposing sweeping amendments to SSMU’s constitution. Although the question was submitted in accordance with all submission regulations, it was not approved for the normal Referendum period due to concerns about the scope and legality of its proposals.

“[Last year] a lot of changes to the Constitution and [Internal Regulations] took power away from Legislative Council and the GA and give them to the [SSMU Board of Directors],” Spencer said. “[We’re] trying to […] give those powers back.”

SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes explained at a previous meeting of the Board of Directors (BoD) that the motion requires further approval from the BoD and SSMU’s legal team. Extending the Referendum period from Nov. 8 to Nov. 30 would allow time for this process.

Tojiboeva also presented the BoD’s main reservations on approving the question.

“The Board doesn’t feel like it’s rightful to bring it right now, because it’s a bit rushed,” Tojiboeva said. “The [Board’s] recommendation was [to] have more consultations with the student body, and then bring it back to the Winter 2018 Referendum [….] If we don’t do it properly then, moving forward, we won’t be able to have a proper constitution that’s coherent.”

Council tabled the special Referendum motion until its next meeting on Nov. 16.

 

SSMU Board members to remain past the end of their term

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(Elli Slavitch / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 28, the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) released an interim order suspending the results of the Oct. 23 General Assembly (GA) vote ratifying the nominations for the new Board of Directors (BoD), which would begin sitting after Nov. 15. While this vote is normally done as a bloc, ratifying all nominations at once, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Maya Koparkar motioned to divide the question, which passed, allowing GA attendees to ratify each nomination separately. The vote ratified the appointments of seven of the 10 individuals nominated.

The interim order was a response to a petition filed shortly after the GA by Jonathan Glustein, a current director on the BoD who was not up for reappointment. In the petition, Glustein claimed that the motion to divide the ratification question violated SSMU’s Constitution. In their interim conclusion, the J-Board ordered that all of the new Directors, including those who were unratified, be allowed to sit on the BoD from the start of their term, Nov. 15, until the Judicial Board renders its final opinion.

In his petition, Glustein asked the Judicial Board for the interim order to submit the list of 12 directors to be ratified as a bloc via online voting in the Fall 2017 Referendum, which opens Nov. 8.

In the interim order, however, the Judicial Board explained that they were unable to introduce the Referendum question Glustein requested. Referendum questions must be initiated by the Legislative Council or SSMU members, according to section 14.1 of the SSMU Constitution; additionally, they must be submitted two weeks before the voting period opens, which would have been Oct. 25.

“Even if [the Judicial Board] renders a final decision in favour of the unratified Directors, they could not make up the time they would have sat on the Board had the Board of Directors been ratified as a bloc,” the decision read.

However, at a BoD meeting on Nov. 5, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva announced that upon consultation with legal counsel, the current members will remain on the BoD past the Nov. 15 term until the J-Board case is concluded.

“We have spoken to counsel and it seems that the current Board could be held over in the case that a Judicial Board decision cannot be issued by the Nov. 14 deadline,” Tojiboeva said.

Koparkar, who is listed as the main respondent on Glustein’s petition, is friendly to his suggestion and willing to go back to a bloc vote. In an interview with The McGill TribuneKoparkar explained that she motioned to split the vote because of concerns that the BoD was not truly democratic.

“The idea of having the Board members in the future on separate ballots was something that people seemed amenable to,” Koparkar said. “Because of how we voted on it at Legislative Council, and in talks with the executives and [Speaker], I was under the impression that people would be ok with it [….] I think we all just thought it would be an easy way of legitimizing the votes for each Director.”

According to Koparkar, the section of the SSMU Constitution primarily under consideration in this case is section 6.5, which mandates that nominated Directors be ratified by SSMU members through referendum or at the General Assembly. It also states that the whole must be in accordance with sections 6.2 and 6.3, which concern BoD composition and Director qualifications. Koparkar said the reference to “the whole” is the main point of disagreement.

“Some people took [“the whole”] as meaning a bloc vote, and some took it as meaning by the whole of the General Assembly,” Koparkar said. “I think that’s where things get confusing, and it’s the Judicial Board’s job to interpret these things.”

Former Council speaker Jad El Tal was listed in Glustein’s petition as a second respondent, but he resigned on Oct. 27. As the petition was filed against him solely in his professional capacity, he is no longer necessarily a part of the case. Additionally, although Koparkar made the initial motion to divide the vote on BoD ratification, debate was interrupted, and the motion to divide which ended up passing at the GA was made by a SSMU member, Chantelle Schultz, U3 Arts.

At the Nov. 5 BoD meeting, Glustein explained that naming Koparkar as a respondent was a deliberate and legally necessary choice.

“The reason why the VP Internal is listed as a respondent is because the idea was brought by the VP internal in the first place, as well as the fact that somebody needs to be named in a SSMU capacity in the Judicial Board case,” Glustein said.

A Fall Reading Week presents both benefits and drawbacks

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(Arshaaq Jiffry / The McGill Tribune)

In the years following the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council’s November 2015 motion in support of a Fall Reading Week, McGill students are still pushing for its implementation. According to SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer, the administration abandoned the concept shortly after the proposal, citing the university’s rigorous curriculum and leaving the student body without answers or an outcome.

“Often the response the administration gives is that because we are a research-intensive school, we can't afford to take time off and still keep the challenging level of our studies,” Spencer said. “But many of the U15 [Canada’s 15 research-intensive universities] schools have been able to implement a Fall Reading Week in the last few years.”

SSMU VP University Affairs (UA) Isabelle Oke has worked with the McGill Senate on this project, and considers the implementation of a Fall Reading Week a top priority.

“The deadlock that we find ourselves at is based on the fact that some concessions will have to be made in response to scheduling constraints, [like] holidays, exam schedules, and the presence of Labour Day at the beginning of the year,” Oke said.

According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, in 2015, then registrar Kathleen Massey addressed whether or not the university could implement a Fall Reading Week. Massey created a survey, formed an ad hoc committee, and consulted with several students, staff, and faculty members regarding a potential break.

One option these parties discussed was adding two or three days to the break Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. However, this would require beginning the semester before Labour Day, thus forcing students living off-campus to sign leases starting in August, and pay an extra month of rent. It would also reduce the number of days between the end of classes and the start of final exams. Another option would be to shorten the holiday break, which is already shorter than that of many other North American universities.

“Having a more dense exam period would mean much more stress on all students,” Dyens said. “While I really pushed for this at first, I also realized through the process that the correlation between a Fall break and better mental health is not that clear in the literature. And I really did not want to create more stress during the exam period.”

Idil Uner, U3 Arts and floor fellow for La Citadelle residence, believes that there is a lot at stake for first-years transitioning to university in the debate over whether to implement a Fall Reading Week.

“As a floor fellow, I see the benefits of having a Fall Reading Week even more,” Uner said. “First-years are not used to having no breaks and studying for weeks on end [….] First year is an overwhelming period and it is unfair of McGill to expect students to navigate it easily without some sort of off time.”

Democratize SSMU motion of non-confidence in President fails at Fall General Assembly

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 16, a student activist group’s Facebook event titled “Democratize SSMU campaign” appeared on McGill students’ newsfeeds. The group, whose membership is anonymous, formed after the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) ratified a SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board) ruling on Sept. 17. The J-Board had previously ruled the Winter 2016 referendum motion mandating SSMU to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as unconstitutional. On its event page, which has since been taken down, Democratize SSMU listed its goals: To end abuses of power, conflicts of interest, and the neglect of duties within SSMU governing bodies.

“[Democratize SSMU formed out of] frustration and a desire to change the current composition of many of SSMU’s governance bodies,” an organizer for Democratize SSMU, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid personal attacks, said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Frustration due to the fact that they’re not democratic, not transparent, not representative, and very shady in terms of how they organize.”

The group mobilized at the Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) to submit a motion of non-confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva to the agenda. The motion came to the floor four days after SSMU Vice-President (VP) Student Life Jemark Earle read a statement on behalf of the other five SSMU Executives at Legislative Council on Oct. 19, asserting that Tojiboeva had acted on their behalf in a non-transparent manner. In response, Tojiboeva alleged that she was a victim of workplace harassment.

According to Democratize SSMU, Tojiboeva’s own miscommunications about the processes for submitting motions to the GA agenda fell in the way of its attempts to put forth the motion. Section 13.2 of the SSMU Constitution requires the BoD, Councillors, or SSMU members to submit motions to the agenda two weeks prior to the GA. While Tojiboeva stated that the GA date was posted on the SSMU website in September, there is no evidence to show that she formally announced this submission deadline to SSMU membership beyond this post. Although all parties were allowed to submit their motions late, each motion subsequently required a two-thirds majority of votes at the GA to be added to the agenda—whereas on-time motions are automatically added, and in turn, voted upon with a requirement of 51 per cent to pass. The motion of non-confidence failed to garner a two-thirds majority—with 61 per cent of students attending GA voting in favour—and as such, was not added to the agenda.

“We, Democratize SSMU, were forced to submit a late motion, faced an uphill battle to get two-thirds majority just to get this on the agenda at the GA,” the organizer said. “[Had Tojiboeva] opened submissions on time, and we submitted our motion on time, and it was automatically on the agenda, and we only needed a simple majority to pass a non-confidence motion, we would’ve had 61 per cent of the vote, and that would’ve passed [….] Had she done her job, the General Assembly would’ve voted non-confidence for her.”

Following the approval of the agenda, the GA moved into regular business, including the approval of the SSMU Auditor and the ratification of the 2017-18 SSMU BoD, whose year-long term begins on Nov. 15. However, while Board members are typically ratified as a bloc, such that members vote to approve or disapprove the entire Board, SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar motioned to divide the question. This motion passed, and the nominated directors were ratified as individuals. Of the 10 nominations, seven were ratified for year-long terms, while three members—Noah Lew, Josephine Wright O’Manique, and Alexander Scheffel—failed to be ratified. Both Lew and Scheffel are members-at-large of the current BoD, and were the only two nominated directors who would be returning for second terms.

After the ratification, SSMU members alleged that Democratize SSMU was behind the choice to divide the question. According to Koparkar, dividing the question was an attempt to improve transparency in the selection of the BoD given the controversy over the constitutionality of the Board’s makeup earlier this semester.

“I am definitely not a member of Democratize SSMU,” Koparkar said in interview with the Tribune. “When all of those conflicts were going on regarding the constitutionality of the Board, someone had alluded to the fact that the Board wasn’t democratic because it wasn’t composed of elected members [….] Someone suggested dividing the question as a way of adding legitimacy to this process, which I felt was fair, especially given that we voted on the councillors for BoD in this manner at Council a couple weeks ago.”

The ratification vote occurred just one week after the BoD’s vote in confidential session to suspend VP Finance Arisha Khan for a two-week period on Oct. 16 for a breach of confidentiality. At the meeting, SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes presented the results of an investigation into suspicions that Khan had leaked confidential information to student media. Hughes showed directors a confidential email that Khan had forwarded to a SSMU member who is not part of the executive and is unaffiliated with the student media. During the vote, Khan was at a conference on behalf of SSMU and said she was not warned of the vote prior to the meeting. The Board’s failure to notify Khan would violate article 6.8 of the SSMU Constitution, which stipulates that a Director shall have the right to put forth reasons opposing the proposed removal from office.

“Noah Lew and Alexandre Scheffel are both members of the Board of Directors that voted to suspend [VP] Khan from the Board of Directors when she was away at a conference on foster care without her being given the chance to defend herself,” the Democratize SSMU organizer said. “In the constitution it says that a Board member can be voted off from their position but they will be notified of the time and place of the meeting and shall be present, [and have] the right to be present to defend themselves. But she wasn’t notified [….] It’s unconstitutional what they did.”

Following his failed ratification, Noah Lew asserted in a widely-shared Facebook status that the students voting against him were motivated by religious prejudice, citing Democratize SSMU’s mention of his name, his affiliation with Jewish organizations, and his conflict of interest in its Facebook event description. Many members of the McGill community expressed anger and disappointment with the alleged anti-Semitism behind Lew and Scheffel’s failed ratification, including David Naftulin, U1 Arts, a vocal member of the Jewish community on campus.

“[Lew] is being ostracized in a political witch hunt because he is active in his [religious] community,” Naftulin said. “I posit that any [member of another] minority group that was active in a mainstream organization that advocated for their community would be under no such scrutiny at SSMU. And that is the anti-Semitism. It is a double standard.”

The allegations of discrimination prompted McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier to issue a statement to the student body on Oct. 25, reaffirming McGill’s values of tolerance and respect. She also detailed the administration’s plans to investigate alleged discriminatory bias or intent behind the results of the vote.

“The allegation is that votes were taken, and that on account of people’s perceived religious affiliation, the vote against [the BoD members] was negative,” Fortier said in an interview with the Tribune. “So, they were singled out on account of religious affiliation. So that is the allegation, and that’s what we will investigate [….] I think we need to ask ourselves the question of, how many people on our campus are subjected to situations that are discriminatory or disrespectful.”

According to the organizer, the BoD ratification was not on Democratize SSMU’s radar when mobilizing students to attend the GA. Rather, the motion of non-confidence was their only goal prior—and the BoD ratification vote only became important once the former motion failed.

“A lot of people […] have made it out to seem that this movement came to the GA to unseat these three directors, which is totally false,” the organizer said. “We came to the GA for one reason, the non-confidence motion [….] The principal’s email makes it seem like we mobilized against those directors, but we didn’t. Democratize SSMU has broad goals of constitutional reform.”

In the week following the GA, Director Jonathan Glustein petitioned the SSMU J-Board to rule the division of the BoD motion unconstitutional, calling for the upcoming online ratification to vote on the new members as a bloc. The J-Board intends to hold hearings to determine the constitutionality of dividing the motion and, in the meantime, all the directors will retain their positions.

Further, the BoD passed a motion to form a committee to investigate anti-Semitism on campus at its Oct. 29 meeting. The committee’s membership will include representatives from Jewish cultural groups.

SSMU General Assembly ratifies Board of Directors

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 23, The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) ratified the SSMU members of the SSMU Board of Directors. The GA also passed motions that urge McGill to become involved in the Institute of International Education’s Syria Consortium, mandate SSMU to develop an action plan for clubs affected by the building closure, take steps to limit selling bottled water on campus, provide regular updates about the Society’s sustainability policy, and condemn Dalhousie University’s disciplinary actions against student leader Masuma Asad Khan.

Assembly also voted on whether or not to add a motion of no confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva to the agenda, but this motion failed, reaching only a simple majority, not the required two-thirds majority. Initially, the number of SSMU members present at the GA was approximately 200, with only 100 members necessary to meet quorum.

 

Ratification of the 2017-2018 SSMU Board of Directors

The ratification of the Board of Directors (BoD) was conducted by a separate vote for each Board member after a motion to split the ratification process carried. Of the 10 nominated directors, seven were ratified for year-long terms beginning on Nov. 15. The nominations of three members—Noah Lew, Josephine Wright O’Manique, and Alexander Scheffel—failed to be ratified.

The failure of Lew’s ratification prompted a large portion of the students present to exit the ballroom in protest. Tojiboeva later expressed her belief that anti-semitic discrimination had played a part in the Assembly’s decision.

“I think it’s very disappointing that, as a school, we would vote against a member [Lew] only on the basis that people recognize his last name, and on the basis that he’s Jewish,” Tojiboeva said. “I think it’s quite shocking that in the 21st century such an elite institution would still go with that [racial prejudice].”

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer cited the board’s decision to suspend VP Finance Arisha Khan as her reason for voting against Lew’s ratification. Lew already serves as a member-at-large on the BoD.

“I’m very concerned about how [Khan’s] suspension was decided,” Spencer said. “From what was said at [SSMU] Legislative Council by the different directors, it made me worried about [having] members on the board of directors who are not officers, that the students very clearly distrust.”

 

Motion for a Concrete Action Plan regarding Club Displacement

Players’ Theatre Technical Director Nadine Pelaez moved a motion mandating SSMU to develop a concrete action plan regarding club displacement in light of the SSMU building closure. The motion passed.

Players’, an independent student-run non-profit, is Montreal’s oldest English-speaking black box theatre. Pelaez expressed her concerns over the theatre’s ability to find a new space sufficient for their needs

“We feel kind of abandoned by SSMU, ” Pelaez said. “We already scheduled four shows in the spring, and we had to sit down with a director, who was excited about her show and tell her that we don’t think we can put it on. ”

 

President expresses desire to reconcile after failed motion of no confidence

Members also raised questions over the sincerity of Tojiboeva’s stated intention to repair her relationship with the rest of the executive team and membership in light of allegations of a lack of transparency. In an interview with the Tribune following the GA, Tojiboeva discussed her plans to overcome these rifts.

“We’re going to be engaging in talks about that, trying to reconcile our differences and move forward,” Tojiboeva said.

Spencer noted Tojiboeva’s lack of action to resolve differences among the executives thus far.

“Every attempt I’ve made [to reconcile] has been shot down,” Spencer said. “I’m waiting for someone else to propose solutions [….] It’s up to the president now to decide how she’s going to move forward with the team, because she’s the team leader and it’s ultimately up to her to decide where we go next, [and] multiple members have put forward solutions that have not been taken up.”

Khan also cited Tojiboeva’s failure to take reconciliatory actions.

“I don’t think there are [any attempts at reconciliation],” Khan said. “I can say that no steps have been taken and it’s kind of clear that there isn’t a willingness to admit wrongs. I’m not about to go into personal attacks [….] We could respond to every single thing that she said, but that’s not conducive to creating a healthy work environment, and its not conducive to shame your executives. I don’t know what we’re doing in terms of any steps [….] I’m hoping that we can [reconcile].”

SSMU Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum tackles lack of change and trust

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted a Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum on Oct. 16 to receive feedback and answer questions from members of the McGill community on campus discourse surrounding sexual violence and the development of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP). SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer moderated the forum, which was livestreamed in order to increase its accessibility to the general public.

According to Spencer, SSMU is in the process of creating a GSVP after allegations that 2016-17 SSMU president Ben Ger and former 2016-17 SSMU VP External David Aird committed gendered and sexual violence, respectively.

“Some allegations were made against two students in [SSMU], which resulted in two executive resignations,” Spencer said. “One of these executives had anonymous disclosures, over 12, made against him. A group called the Community Disclosure Network [CDN] brought them forward to SSMU [….] Part of the work they did was a recommendation to look into creating a policy that specifically addresses gendered and sexualized violence.”

The purpose of the open forum was to collect a diverse set of student opinions on the forthcoming GSVP.

“With membership, we’re hoping to get general [feedback] on how students are feeling about conversations on campus, conversations at the admin level, conversations at the grassroots level,” Spencer said. “There are rooms and spaces on this campus that are working on these themes, […] but it’s often just specific student representatives.”

Spencer mentioned that the feedback from forums will be factored into the GSVP. She also confirmed that SSMU does not have sufficient resources for responding to disclosures or reports of gendered and sexualized violence. According to Spencer, SSMU’s only current avenue for addressing gendered and sexualized violence is its equity policy, which she says is insufficient.

“The equity policy explicitly states that it does not deal with sexual assault and sexual violence,” Spencer said. “That is why we got into the situation we were in last year. There is a SSMU employee manual that deals with sexual harassment and psychological harassment, and that is the closest thing.”

Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Equity Commissioner Ana Paula Sanchéz, who attended the forum, criticized SSMU for not publicizing any recent changes in their approach to gendered and sexualized violence.

“I believe on the SSMU website, there’s no information on where to get resources [that address gendered and sexualized violence],” Sanchéz said. “Are we only going to have Facebook events and forums?”

One forum attendee posed a question about how discussions of triggering topics can prevent people from attending forums and other events centered around the discussion of gendered and sexualized violence. Dorothy Apedaile, U4 Science, pointed out that physically attending events is not the only way to contribute to the creation of the GSVP.

“Mobilization isn’t always about getting people into a room,” Apedaile said. “Mobilization is also about getting people to think about issues.”

Though the forum was a step towards developing SSMU’s GSVP, Spencer believes that the policy will take years to finalize.

“I have problems with some of the narratives that were mobilized when the current executive took office [about] how it’s a fresh slate,” Spencer said. “We have a flawed system [and] a flawed institution, and it is going to take many years of many good people before we can get students to talk about work that is being done [about gendered and sexualized violence].”

Closure plans leave SSMU building tenants uncertain

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Daria Kiseleva / The McGill Tribune)

In the aftermath of the announcement of the SSMU building scheduled closure on March 17, 2018, over 50 clubs and services that use the building are struggling with plans to find new offices. Clubs whose relocation plans are finalized include the Peer Support Centre, the Legal Information Clinic, and MSERT. The complete shutdown, planned to continue through the Winter 2019 semester, is necessary to construct a rooftop mechanical room, among other renovations. While the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) must relocate all of the building’s tenants, many group leaders say this assistance has come too late to be helpful.

Lower-profile groups, such as the Alegria Contemporary Ballet Company, are especially concerned about slipping through the cracks in the closure. The company’s president, Zoë Goldstein, understands that SSMU is in a difficult position, yet was dismayed by the fact that her group only found out about the closure through word of mouth.

Although Alegria does not perform in the SSMU building, it uses the building to rehearse for free. According to Goldstein, the group has already spent roughly $3,000 to rent a theatre next spring, and may now lack the necessary resources to obtain practice space.

“I expect that [SSMU] should have reached out to us right away,” Goldstein said. “The closure will cost us a lot a lot of money, and we’re on a tight budget. It’s difficult to find studio space, especially on weeknights [….] It’s a tremendous source of anxiety for me.”

A more visible tenant experiencing relocation pains is the Midnight Kitchen (MK) collective, a free vegan lunch service that operates from the third floor of the SSMU building. Although MK was notified of the closure in advance, Wade Walker, a paid employee of MK, would have preferred additional outreach from SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes.

“[SSMU] did initially, in late August, say they had found us a space in a building on Peel [Street] that a lot of other services are going into,” Walker said. “But we brought up concerns that it wasn’t a commercial kitchen. Can we move our [food service] permit there? What happens with the equipment there because it’s not industrial?”

According to Walker, it was for these reasons that Hughes later ruled out moving MK to the Peel Street location, effectively bringing the collective back to square one.

“We don’t have any strong leads right now,” Walker said. “I guess we’re getting a little bit worried. It would have been nice if they had not offered us a space that was not going to work […] because it cut out a month’s worth of time that we thought we had it, and weren’t actively looking for other spaces.”

Although Walker expects that MK’s operations will return to normal after the SSMU building reopens, if the collective is unable to find an interim kitchen space, they may have to provide fewer meals or only offer cold foods. Walker also noted that some of the collective’s paid staff might have to search for new employment.

Other students facing temporary job loss are the employees of Gerts Bar, which will temporarily close.

An employee of the bar, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid retribution from management, alleged that Gerts knew of the impending closure in March, when it re-hired staff for this year. The student explained that they were not told that their employment would be cut short, and only learned of the closure along with the rest of the student body in September.

“My initial reaction [to the closure] was shock and disbelief,” the employee said. “We had signed contracts that were supposed to go until the end of April [2018] We have received no notice as to what is going to happen to those contracts after the building closes.”

SSMU Legislative Council deliberates AVEQ affiliation and President Tojiboeva

News/SSMU by
(Selin Altuntur / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Oct. 19 amid debate over a lack of transparency, questions about breaches of confidentiality, and allegations of underhanded politics. Structural projects such as the building closure, the libraries improvement project, and the proposed bike facility were discussed, but the most divisive and lengthy topics addressed were the statement expressing no confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, and the motion calling for a student vote on whether SSMU should affiliate with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) at the upcoming Fall 2017 referendum.

SSMU Executive board announces position of no confidence in President

During the announcement period, SSMU Vice-President (VP) Student Life Jemark Earle read a statement on behalf of himself and VP Finance Arisha Khan, VP Internal Affairs Maya Koparkar, VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke, and VP External Affairs Connor Spencer describing what they perceived as Tojiboeva’s lack of transparency. While stating their position of no confidence, they recommended that Tojiboeva step down as SSMU’s official spokesperson.

“There has been a serious issue regarding a lack of transparency and communication on the part of the President, which is particularly troubling when decisions being made concern some or all of the executives,” Earle said. “It is for this reason that we wish at this time to state our position of non-confidence in the president and her ability to fulfill her mandate.”

Earle explained that the executives were acting on behalf of the student body in announcing their no confidence position, and reiterated student criticisms of Tojiboeva.

“It has also come to our attention that there are student-led campaigns revolving around the idea of a constitutional reform,” Earle said. “We understand that the current structure that we have has many flaws and many of the proposals put forth in these campaigns are justified.”

Tojiboeva refuted the Executives’ position, citing flaws in its constitutionality, misinformation about the alleged lack of transparency, and workplace hostility she’s faced. She alleged a lack of professionalism and animosity toward her within the Executive Committee.

“I was repeatedly bullied for being different, and having different political opinions from the executives,” Tojiboeva said. “I was not only body shamed, but also my qualifications were called into question only because my opinions did not match those of the executives.”

Further calling into question the motivations of the rest of the executives, Tojiboeva addressed her intentions as a spokesperson.

“Every single time I met with members of the media, I was [later] met with comments from the executives that I did not represent their viewpoints,” Tojiboeva said. “I would like to point this out as a problem. I am not here to represent the viewpoint of the executives. I am here to represent all of the members of the undergraduates at McGill.”

Debate regarding the criticisms of Tojiboeva heavily dominated the question period, with many members of the gallery present at the meeting defending Tojiboeva. Andrew Figueiredo, U2 Arts, expressed his distaste for the actions of the executive council.

“Our president was democratically elected by, we, the students, […] now this executive body is trying to unilaterally override and undermine our democracy,” Figueiredo said. “I’m sick and tired of SSMU being unaccountable and we finally voted for change, yet the VPs are trying to undermine that.”

Many questioned the democraticness of the statement and attested to Tojiboeva’s qualifications, prompting the executives to clarify that their primary intent was to bring their position of no confidence in Tojiboeva to the Council, not to unilaterally remove her as President. Spencer readdressed the executives’ statement, concluding the question period.

“[The five executives] didn’t mobilize [because of] political differences, that was something that was mobilized by the President,” Spencer said, “[It’s] not the constitutionality of actions, but the ethics of actions, that was something that was concerning to the executives and why we’ve been working towards this for so long and why it’s finally come to this channel.”

Motion to Bring the Question of AVEQ Affiliation to Referendum

Council postponed voting on whether to join AVEQ—a provincial federation of student unions that lobbies for student interests at the municipal, provincial, and federal level—should be asked in the Fall Referendum until there are further faculty consultations. Tabling the motion has effectively excluded the question of AVEQ affiliation from the upcoming referendum, with the Oct. 25 deadline for submitting referenda falling before the next SSMU Council meeting on Nov. 2. Tabling the motion has effectively excluded the question of AVEQ affiliation from the Fall Referendum, with the Oct. 25 deadline for submitting referenda falling before the next SSMU Council meeting on Nov. 2.

Spencer first introduced the motion at Council’s Oct. 12 meeting, but due to intense debate and councillor complaints about insufficient knowledge of AVEQ, Council agreed to postpone voting on it. Additionally, Tojiboeva argued that further consultations with faculty associations are necessary before Council is ready to put AVEQ affiliation to a referendum.

“I think it would be useful to bring back this question to be discussed at the faculty level, and then bring it back again for us to actually put [AVEQ or Union Étudiant du Québec (UÉQ)] on ballot,” Tojiboeva said.

In order to gather and report more information to Council about AVEQ and UÉQ, Athletics Representative Yué Jiao suggested creating an ad-hoc committee to observe both student federations. A Councillor will introduce the motion to create such a committee at the next Council meeting on Nov. 2.

Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer also presented a report titled ‘Summary of Experiences Observing the Quebec Student Union (QSU) and Association For The Voice For Education in Quebec (AVEQ) Over The 2016-2017 Term, to Date.’ The report describes the 2016-2017 Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) External Affairs Officer Jacob Lavigne's experiences as an observer at the assemblies of both AVEQ and the QSU, the predecessor of UÉQ. In the report, Lavigne detailed his criticisms of AVEQ.

“AVEQ’s plans were bare and only consisted of a rubric with a timetable showing when they would be working on each item,” Lavigne wrote. “While my objective at the start of my term was to have a referendum for an affiliation to a federation during my term as [external affairs officer], I have realized over the past few months that this was not favourable.”

Lavigne recommended that the PGSS only pursue membership in the QSU in the 2017-18 year. However, PGSS has remained independent from both student federations since Fall 2017.

Spencer, who was mandated to sit as an observer of AVEQ by the 2016-2017 SSMU Legislative Council, described her experiences as an observer as positive overall.

“Since the beginning of my mandate, I have worked very closely with AVEQ,” Spencer said. “They really have done a great job [of] constantly checking in […] through my office [about] the priorities we are working on, and how [SSMU can] make sure they are addressed while also navigating [AVEQ].”

SSMU Vice-President Finance suspended from the SSMU Board of Directors

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Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) Finance Arisha Khan has been temporarily suspended from her position on the SSMU Board of Directors until Oct. 30. The motion to suspend her was approved by the Board, with six votes in favor and four abstentions, during a closed session at their Oct. 16 meeting. The Board determined Khan breached confidentiality in forwarding a confidential e-mail correspondence between SSMU executives regarding the appointment of VP Student Life Jemark Earle to the Board to Dorothy Apedaile, a student not a member of the SSMU executive.

The Board approved a motion mandating SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes to investigate alleged leaks to student media during their Sept. 24 meeting. At the Oct. 16 meeting, Hughes presented the findings of his investigation to the Board. SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, VP Internal Maya Koparkar, and VP Student Life Jemark Earle were asked to leave the SSMU boardroom for the length of the closed session, and Khan, who was attending the Blueprints for Success conference in Los Angeles on behalf of SSMU, was absent from the meeting entirely. Tojiboeva, Koparkar, Earle, and Isabella Anderson, a member-at-large, abstained from the vote to suspend Khan, and all other members of the Board voted to approve it. According to Tojiboeva, members of the Board were notified of the presentation prior to the meeting.

[The presentation] was scheduled in advance, and all Board members were notified that the General Manager would present two weeks in advance,” Tojiboeva wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Further, as stipulated in the Constitution, members of the Board may participate by electronic means, […] meaning if Director Khan wished she could have participated even though she was out of the country.”

In an interview with the Tribune, Khan questioned whether the Board was made aware of the presentation prior to the meeting.

“This topic wasn’t in the agenda,” Khan said. “Obviously I would have made myself available to defend myself [….] I’m very confused [about] Ryan [saying he would be] presenting the results of the investigation in two weeks, because that’s not true.”

Khan said that the decision to suspend her was unfounded and that it sets a dangerous precedent for the Board’s definition of breaches of confidentiality.

“They made the decision without proper evidence, and without even giving me a chance to speak for myself,” Khan said. “If [the Board] is going to target [my email as] a breach of confidentiality then [they] need to seriously have a conversation about what exactly constitutes a breach of confidentiality.”

Neither the SSMU Constitution nor the Quebec Companies Act make any mentions of breaches of confidentiality, but all SSMU executives sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with SSMU upon their employment. Article 10.10 of the Constitution gives the Board the power to suspend any Officer from their position for any reason it deems sufficient through a majority vote.

As of Oct. 17, Khan claimed that the Board had not officially notified her of her suspension. However, Tobjiboeva denied this.

The General Manager of SSMU informed the Vice-President Finance of her suspension,” Tojiboeva wrote. “The Board meeting ended yesterday at 9PM and the General Manager informed the Vice-President Finance [on Oct. 17].”

In an email to the Tribune, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer, who is not a member of the Board, expressed her disappointment with the lack of transparency in the board's decision to suspend Khan.

I am appalled that the Board and our General Manager decided to present the information when accommodations had not been made to make sure VP Khan was there to represent herself,” Spencer wrote. “We are a union. We are literally here in order to ensure our members have representation and are not on their own to advocate for themselves. I am extremely disappointed not just as an executive, but also as a member, that this is the route the Board has taken this year with regards to the transparency of their decisions.”

More questions than answers raised at the SSMU building closure information session

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The University Centre will close in Winter 2018 to carry out major renovations, including adding new washrooms and replacing the entire heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and electrical systems. After initially announcing the closure to the student body via a Facebook event on Sept. 29, representatives from McGill and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) addressed the closure at an information session on Oct. 12. During the meeting, they revealed that there is asbestos in the building’s aging HVAC system that could be disturbed during construction. As a result, all of the building’s tenants, including the offices of over 50 student clubs and services, must relocate.

The building, which is owned by McGill, is scheduled to close on Feb. 15, 2018, and reopen one floor at a time between August and December 2018. Tenants that are unable to relocate during that period, such as Gerts Bar, will temporarily close. While SSMU will not have to pay rent to McGill during the closure, the society will forego between $300,000 and $400,000 in revenue and relocation costs.

Adrian Nicolicescu, a senior project manager with McGill Facilities Management and Ancillary Services, explained that the University Centre cannot remain partially open during renovations because the work could spread the asbestos in the HVAC system.

“Asbestos is not dangerous [only] if it is not disturbed,” Nicolicescu said. “We have many types of [safety] processes in place while we conduct this work, and [the asbestos] is one of the reasons that we’re vacating the building.”

Nicolicescu emphasized that McGill intends to minimize the disruption the closure will cause to students. However, SSMU has already been criticized for using a Facebook event to announce the closure, especially because McGill notified SSMU of the renovation plans last March.

Benson Cook, U2 Arts, was one of many students who expressed his frustration on the Facebook event page, calling SSMU’s use of this platform to announce the closure “unprofessional.” His post garnered dozens of likes from fellow students.

“I was so frustrated I felt the need to voice my anger,” Cook wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “There wasn’t even a press release put out, they just expected that everyone would see this obscure Facebook event that they created.”

Following the release of the Facebook event, SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar sent out an email to all SSMU members informing them of the building’s closure on Oct. 7. Tenants of the University Centre had been notified a week earlier.

SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes began his remarks at the conference by apologizing for the poor communication. He later said that SSMU had chosen not to publicize the closure earlier because the full details of the project were only recently finalized.

Hughes also confirmed that SSMU is working with a local realtor in addition to the McGill administration to find alternative spaces for all of the University Centre’s tenants, but asked concerned groups to meet with him to discuss their individual needs.

“What I request of all occupants of the building is that you know your groups, your activities, and your network better than we do,” Hughes said. “If you do have a link or a resource that you would like to explore […] as an alternative space, we would also like to hear that.”

Anna Abraham, the Executive Director of McGill Players’ Theatre, nonetheless expressed continued frustration with SSMU’s handling of the closure. According to Abraham, the late timing of the announcement meant that the group had already spent significant money on planning its spring plays, which it may now be unable to perform if SSMU cannot relocate it to a new theatre.

“We still don’t have any information,” Abraham said. “We’ve tried to get in contact and set up meetings with Ryan [Hughes] since September. I have struggled to get answers from the SSMU executive.”

Other students at the session asked whether the spaces chosen for relocation would be physically accessible, and if funding would be available to compensate groups for any financial losses.

“We don’t have as many answers as we would like,” Hughes said. “But as we get closer to the [closure] date we will have those answers, and there will be support for you.”

However, some groups may ultimately be on their own.

“If you have not been contacted [by mid-November], then you can assume that we have not found a suitable location for your group,” Hughes said. “I’m not going to commit unlimited funds for groups if they want to rent spaces at a high cost-per-square-footage if it can be avoided.”

Further updates about the closure will be provided through the SSMU listserv and website. Another information session is planned for November.

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