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SSMU Council votes to reinstate Choose Life’s club status

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After a semester of meetings on the future of Choose Life – the controversial pro-life group whose club status was suspended last semester – the Students’ Society Council officially reinstated the group’s club status last Thursday.

Choose Life’s club status was suspended last year on November 12 in light of the conflicts surrounding the club’s “Echoes of the Holocaust” event. This was intended to be a temporary measure, however, until the Student Equity Committee could generate an appendix to the group’s constitution. As a condition of its reinstatement, Choose Life has agreed to adopt an appendix that would specifically govern how the club operates under the SSMU Equity Policy.

Since both Choose Life and the Equity Committee had agreed on this document prior to the meeting, there was little debate before Council passed the motion.

SSMU Vice-President Clubs and Services Sarah Olle expressed confidence that this document has cleared up some of the confusion stemming from Choose Life’s understanding of the SSMU Equity Policy.

“A lot of their complaints revolved around the ambiguity of our equity policy, or ambiguity of their actual violations of the equity policy,” Olle said. “It’s good that we have come to some sort of agreement on a black and white document.”

In particular, the document stipulates that “Choose Life will not advocate or lobby for the criminalization of abortion through the use of SSMU resources.”

“It’s really important that resources from student fees are allocated in a way that reflects our policies, constitution, and ethical practices,” said VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley. “However, if a group wants to take a position, we cannot prevent them from taking that position as long as they are not using our resources to do so.”

Although Choose Life VP Internal Paul Cernek said that the negotiations had facilitated constructive dialogue, he felt that the clause restricting Choose Life from using graphic imagery in their events singled out the club unfairly.

“At some level this is a double standard,” Cernek said. “Other groups on campus use displays of graphic images in open, public spaces to further their points. Not even that anyone [from Choose Life] had an overwhelming desire at this moment to mount one of these displays. We just thought that we should have the right to.”

Olle, however, emphasized that in this situation the Equity Committee was acting as a regulator.

“We are not in the same position as Choose Life because we were in a position where we were enforcing something on a group that had committed a violation of our equity policy,” she said. “Of course, there was an effort put toward getting cooperation from Choose Life and explaining why we would implement certain regulations but at the same time they were being regulated.”

Cernek said he is hopeful that this appendix will help strengthen relations between SSMU and Choose Life next year.

“This should help things go more smoothly,” he said. “Things have been pretty rocky at times. The whole process we went through with the Equity Committee, working with them in close contact, really helped both parties come to an understanding with each other. They want us to keep being able to be a club; shutting down a point of view is not at all their goal.”

A final fireside chat with Students’ Society President Ivan Neilson

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What were your biggest accomplishments this year?I was happy with the style of management that we had this year. The individual vice-presidents started new initiatives and new projects, assisting one another. I’m also thrilled that we were able to reform the committee structure. That’ll be a big improvement next year.

What advice do you have for next year’s SSMU President-elect Zach Newburgh?First, continue to build on the successes that we’ve had this year. Too often, a new executive will come in and reinvent the wheel. In some cases, this is necessary. Obviously I’m biased here, but I believe a lot of the work we’ve done this year can only be improved upon. Beyond that, it’s important to solicit as much input from as many different members as possible – whether that’s advice from the big student groups on campus, or finding different ways to reach out to individual students.

What are some of the challenges that next year’s executives will face?Free speech on campus will be an issue at McGill next year. Right now, as we saw at the University of Ottawa with Ann Coulter, there are two different camps on campuses across Canada. There’s one group that wants to maintain the university as a place of learning where students can come and not feel barraged by other ideas. Then, there’s the opposite groups, who says that universities are the final bastions of free and open expression and dialogue.Next year, we also have several leases coming up in the building. It’s really an opportunity for us to decide what type of services we should be offering. And then, of course, in the face of imminent tuition hikes, it’ll be important to represent a solid and unified front to the university and the provincial government.

Do you have any concerns regarding next year’s SSMU executive?They all have strong backgrounds in their respective portfolios. Individually, they’ll be able to handle certain challenges, but it’s going to depend on how they work together as a team. None of them have worked together before. Their success will depend on whether they can come together. In particular, their success will hinge on Zach’s leadership and the vision that he will promote. But it’s also going to depend on their willingness to work together. Again, once you let egos and personalities get in the way, it’s really hard to maintain that sense of collective vision.

Has the Salman Rushdie lecture become more controversial than you thought it would be?Yes. When we brought this to Council, we were given no indication that this would be an issue. I was surprised by the negative reaction. Of course, this was an executive initiative, though it was by no means a done deal when it was brought in front of Council.

What did you think of Council this year? Is it simply a rubber-stamping body that serves as a check on the executive?Council is the body that runs the Society. The trend has been, in the last couple years, for different reasons, that Council’s quality has declined. The number of initiatives being presented by councillors has decreased, the level of interest at Council is dwindling, and the committee activity and participation have fallen off the map. Perhaps it simply wasn’t a good year for individual councillors. But as it’s set up right now, it’s supposed to be the body that runs the Society.

Do you think this year was just a bad year for Council? Or is reform needed?A lot of it depends on the individual leadership of the executive. This year, [the SSMU executive] has been strong. In past years, if there’s less confidence in the executive, councillors see more of a need to step in and intervene. However, many factors play a role, so it’s hard to justify sweeping reform from one bad year.

What action do you recommend taking on General Assemblies?I recommend that the executive look at it and take it on as a project. They’re going to have to look at it and make some tough decisions. Whether that’s firmly entrenching the GA as an institution and accepting its shortcomings, or, in turn, deciding that GAs have no place in the society – thus getting rid of it altogether.

SSMU REPORT CARDS: JOSE DíAZ – VP Finance and Operations

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Vice-President Finance and Operations Jose Díaz began his term in the most difficult position of any of the executives. Tobias Silverstein, his predecessor, had resigned midway through his term, leaving the rest of the executives to handle his portfolio. Despite this initial disadvantage, Díaz stepped confidently into his position and has handled his portfolio well throughout the year.

Díaz’s major success this year has been the revitalization of Gert’s Bar. Thanks in part to the increased number of successful events held in the bar, Gert’s has been become a watering hole for regular students – in addition to its usual crowd of drunken SSMUshies and newspaper editors.

SSMU’s renegotiated beer contract provided approximately $6,000 in sponsorship money from the beer companies, which Díaz used to create the Gert’s Life Fund. The money from the fund was used to subsidize various events – a key factor in boosting the bar’s popularity.

A number of smaller initiatives have also helped to put Gert’s in the black this year. Díaz invested in two new pool tables and instituted a new pricing scheme, which has netted about $6,000 in additional revenue. Thanks to a new lease with Al Ta’b, Gert’s now uses its ovens to serve pizza after-hours, as well as an assortment of fried appetizers. And Díaz is currently in talks about renovating the bar after a successful redesign contest.

The most significant decision Díaz made this year was to shut down Haven Books, SSMU’s financial fiasco of a bookstore. Haven Books, purchased in 2007 by former VP Finance Dave Sunstrum against the advice of SSMU’s auditors, had racked up losses of more than $200,000 by the time Díaz delivered a 40-minute speech to Council in February arguing for its closure. According to Díaz, he and Ben Paris, the bookstore’s manager, examined various solutions to Haven’s woes before deciding to close its doors. The Tribune has editorialized in favour of closing the bookstore several times, and we’re glad that Díaz made the difficult decision to give up on it.

Díaz’s competent management of the operations side of his portfolio – breaking even on Gert’s and other operations – aided the financial side, giving the executive more money to work with later in the year. Events like the Girl Talk concert and this week’s lecture by Salman Rushdie were largely financed by these funds.

Overall, Díaz has successfully picked up the pieces of his portfolio, solving previous mistakes like Haven Books while improving Gert’s and tabling a successful budget. Though Díaz’s frequent late nights out meant that he didn’t make into the office until the afternoon some days, his hard work on the portfolio will put Drew in a strong position when he takes over this summer.

Day of fasting held to support world’s poor

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Twenty McGill students went hungry for a day at Macdonald campus in an effort to raise money for impoverished countries. The McGill chapter of Engineers Without Borders held 24 hour famine to educate the community on world poverty and to help send two McGill students to work with NGOs overseas.

"This has never been one of our larger fundraisers before. Generally, what we try to do is get money from faculty and from sources outside of school," said Chapter Co-President Debra Cohen, who was one of the junior fellows sent to Ghana last summer. "The events we do have on campus are generally geared more towards education and less on fundraising."

The students who will be volunteering over the summer will take part in a variety of projects.

"We do a lot of different projects in a lot of different domains, like water projects and a lot of agricultural and farming projects in a sustainable way," said Vice-President Media Patrick Janukavicius. "For example, we have gone and built wells, but we use local material that they have available, and we'll make sure that some of the locals know how to repair this well in case anything ever breaks."

Cohen added that the community receiving the volunteer will usually pay for a portion of the project, giving them a sense of ownership and motivation to maintain it and keep it sustainable in their community.

Participants were supportive of the cause and the fact that a portion of the money they raised would be going to the volunteers' plane tickets and administration fees, as opposed to going directly to poverty stricken countries.

"I actually approve that it's going to volunteers, because I know that if you try to go with other organizations it can be expensive," said Sheree Spencer, U0 Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "This way, we know that our money is going to people who will help contribute and cause a change, whereas with giving aid to Africa, there's a lot of barriers because of political regime and you don't know if the people are getting the money or not."

Laura Mislan, U2 Chemical Engineering, agreed.

"It's a means to an end, because you're paying for a mind to get to where it needs to be," she said. "It's a learning experience for the people who go and it's also a big bonus to have somebody who's knowledgeable and has the ambition to work, because that's half the battle; it's getting somebody to initiate change, you can't just pay for it to happen, you need somebody behind it directing it," she said.

The EWB executives tried their best to keep the students' minds off of food by organizing various activities such as a scavenger hunt, educational presentations, movies and games. A new community service component was also added this year; on Saturday morning, students helped with the fall cleanup at the EcoMuseum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue before breaking their fast with a lunch prepared by Happy Belly, a group that prepares vegan meals at Mac.

Organizers were pleased with the turnout, but would have liked to see more students from faculties outside of Engineering.

"It's a major stigma about the group," said Janukavicius. "The reason why it's called EWB is because the two co-founders were both engineers, but it's really open to everyone and a lot of people can be scared if they're not engineers."

Cohen stressed that the group's connection to engineering is more ideological than technical.

"There really is not a lot of technical engineer work that EWB does, a lot of it is just communicating and working with other people," she said. "The engineering mindset is that there's a lot of analytical and technical thinking that is bred through the engineering curriculum, but it's not specific to engineers."


Alleged plot enrages SSMU

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Relations between the Students’ Society and La Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec have reached the boiling point this week due to what SSMU has deemed a “scheme to undermine the political sovereignty and democratic processes of the McGill campus.”

SSMU’s membership in the provincial association must be renewed this winter in a campus-wide referendum.

Members of the FEUQ executive and several McGill students met on Sept. 27 to discuss the upcoming referendum. According to SSMU, this was a violation of FEUQ’s constitution, which states that the local student union should have sovereignty over the campus, barring any independent campaigning by la FEUQ on McGill’s campus.

The gathering was organized by Eric van Eyken, former FEUQ secretary general and former SSMU executive and invovled Trevor Hanna, FEUQ vice-president federal and international affairs, Simon Lafrance, FEUQ VP internal, Jacob Itzkowitz, SSMU board of governors representative and arts senator and McGill student Esther Benoit.

Itzkowitz recieved an email on September 20th from Van Eyken inviting him to come to a meeting at Les Trois Brasseurs and after notifying SSMU executives, Itzkowitz attended the gathering.

However, when SSMU executives contacted la FEUQ’s President Christian Bélair, they were told that Lafrance had reported the meeting to be a casual gathering between friends who had happened to run into each other and decided to go out for a beer.

“When Jake and I talked about it we decided that it could just be Eric van Eyken meeting with friends… to talk about FEUQ and this, while sketchy and inappropriate, is certainly not a violation of anything,” said SSMU VP External Max Silverman.

Van Eyken, who organized the meeting, described it as a preliminary get-together.

“The purpose of the meeting was to be the first lobbying meeting,” he said. “It was to evaluate resources, establish people we could contact, establish the opinion leaders which in this case would be SSMU executives and faculty leaders and the press, evaluate what the state of their opinions are, evaluate the structure we’re working in, how many votes it will take and then what it was we wanted to focus on. Any lobbying group would have done the exact same thing,” Van Eyken said.

However, Itzkowitz claimed that during the meeting Van Eyken identified himself as Speaker of Council, proposing questions to be asked at the next SSMU Council meeting, which is a violation of that position. Van Eyken, who was not Speaker at the time, denied that this happened.

“Eric van Eyken in particular was concerned with exerting his influence on the faculties and working with the faculties to make sure they’re all well and good,” Itzkowitz said. “Eric felt pretty confident that he had the faculties of arts andscience and law, as well as several others. He also wanted to make sure he had all his ducks in a row on council. He said that he felt that since he was elected as speaker that he could move council, which is kind of inappropriate.”

Van Eyken objected to this characterization.

“I think that people are well aware of my beliefs on issues,” he said. “If people choose to have the same beliefs, that great. But they’re saying this as if I have dirt on people or I’m blackmailing people, which isn’t true.”

SSMU executives had accused Van Eyken while he was acting as Speaker of Council and asked him to resign.

“I was shocked when they asked me to resign,” he said. “They actually threatened me, that they would publicly embarrass me, which I guess they’re trying to do,” said Van Eyken, who had reapplied to be speaker after the incident.

The agenda of the meeting at Trois Brasseurs included plans to campaign on the referendum, funds available and a general sharing of information.

“They were trying to get my impression on the SSMU position, their feelings, their attitude on the referendum,” Itzkowitz said. “A big part of it is my positions on campus and the perceived rivalry between Max and myself. We butt heads a lot and I think they wanted to play off that. I was supposed to be really excited about pulling strings behind the scenes.”

He also claimed that it was insinuated at the meeting that la FEUQ would support his campaign for SSMU president.

“They didn’t say it outright, but it was 90 per cent explicit,” Itzkowitz said.

However, van Eyken said that Itzkowitz was invited due to his campaigning skills.

Discussion was also held about the Flying Squad, during which Itzkowtiz claimed that Benoit was to be designated as the “spy” in the Flying Squad, which is a newly formed autonomous wing of SSMU that would help mobilize the student body on urgent matters that they feel call for action.

“From what I understand of the Flying Squad, it can choose what issues it wants to campaign on,” van Eyken said. “I think that any independent group who is going to get together and decide what issues to campaign on. It’s kind of contradictory for Max on the one hand to be supporting an independent group that can go and act on issues and then condemn other people trying to engage in lobbying methods.”

Van Eyken said he was disenchanted by the ordeal.

“I’m saddened by the whole thing. I wish that SSMU was dealing with real issues as opposed to going on ghost hunts. I hope they have the maturity to move beyond what I do and do what’s important.”

The controversy produced by these events has further strained the already tense relations between SSMU and la FEUQ, with whom SSMU executives had worked over the summer to create a relationship based on honesty, transparency and good faith and had successfully worked together until this incident.

“The simple fact that they would hold a meeting on the subject of our intentions with la FEUQ without even letting us know that this was going on proves that those involved with the meeting aren’t interested in maintaining a relationship of transparency or good faith,” Silverman said.

Van Eyken claims that this meeting did not in any way undermine SSMU’s local sovereignty.

“I think that there are two different definitions of local sovereignty,” he said. “What it essentially means, the concept, in my view, is that a FEUQ executive who is not from the campus in question will not campaign on that campus. That would not have happened here. There would have been no campaigning on campus by people who were not McGill students.”

No word has come from Bélaire since Friday and SSMU executives are fearful that the entire FEUQ executive was aware of the meeting and its purpose.

“The fact that there were three out of eight execs there is telling,” Itzkowitz said. “It definitely felt like the workings of FEUQ.”

SSMU executives are concerned that this event is typical of la FEUQ but are hoping that it only a few executives were involved.

“It’s too early to tell right now,” Silverman said. “We’re fearful that it’s reflective of of the whole organization but there’s still hope that it was merely a couple of bad apples.”

Now SSMU’s recommendation to their membership in la FEUQ is uncertain.

“How the president reacts will be a major deciding factor. If this is just business as usual, we aren’t going to do business as usual,” Itzkowitz said.”The thing is, it doesn’t seem on the face to be such a big deal except that FEUQ used to do this kind of thing in the past and we thought that we had an agreement with them.”

But it’s the students who will make the ultimate decision.

“I feel that students should be horrified that this is happening. The referendum is their chance to make a decision based on proper information, on whether or not they want to stay a part of this organization and so this organization is trying to mislead them into making a decision they wouldn’t otherwise make, then students should be disgusted,” Silverman said.

FEUQ membership on fall referendum

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For the second time in two years, Students’ Society Council has taken steps to remove SSMU from student lobbying group la Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec. In a special Council meeting held Thursday, a motion was passed that will add the question of SSMU’s membership in la FEUQ to the fall referendum ballot. Students will now be able to vote on whether or not SSMU should terminate its relationship with the provincial student interest group in the October referendum. If students vote to remain in FEUQ, another referendum question must be presented in March; should students elect to disassociate, the question will not appear in the next referendum.

The meeting, called by SSMU President Aaron Donny-Clark to be held 10 minutes after the regularly scheduled council meeting, was in reaction to a gathering held between two FEUQ Vice-Presidents, former FEUQ Secretary General Eric van Eyken, SSMU Board of Governors Representative and Arts Senator Jacob Itzkowitz, and McGill student Esther Benoit.

The meeting was described by Van Eyken as an initial campaigning attempt to evaluate opinions and resources on campus with regard to the upcoming spring FEUQ referendum.

The main concerns expressed by SSMU executives were the undermining of the SSMU’s local sovereignty and the alleged unconstitutionality of the meeting organizers’ intended actions.

To SSMU VP External Max Silverman, the urgency of the matter warranted the addition of the question to the October 2006 referendum.

“Given that we have this referendum four months away, why should we allow the FEUQ executive to continue to work in this very backhanded, very undermining, very subversive way that’s going to undermine our democratic processes and really throw out the whole idea of fair campaigning on campus?”

FEUQ VP Federal and International Affairs Trevor Hanna said that the meeting should not be cause for concern among SSMU executives.

“I think [the meeting] has been made a big scandal out of something that really is very small. It’s a mountain that’s been made out of a molehill,” Hanna said. “I don’t think there is anything controversial about FEUQ wanting to keep McGill as a member and there certainly is nothing controversial about four McGill students and one non-McGill student getting together to discuss a campaign that is months away.”

Some councilors were concerned that the decision was a rushed knee-jerk reaction and may take away from a longer, more in-depth debate.

“We’re moving a little quickly,” said Medicine representative Donal Finegan. “It’s a little fast and all I’m suggesting is that we have a good debate about this issue.”

Van Eyken made it clear that he takes full responsibility for the gathering and that the council should not go so far as to disassociate SSMU from FEUQ for his actions.

“I regret that I personally caused a rift between la FEUQ and SSMU because of actions that I took by myself. This is not a debate between la FEUQ and SSMU. The issue here is that I acted badly. I fucked up. Don’t make this about punishing la FEUQ. Have a real debate on the issue.”

However, Silverman was not convinced that Van Eyken acted alone in organizing the meeting.

“This idea that he was acting alone, that it was purely innocent and that the two VPs were there by happenstance or were there out of some sort of friendship for him-you’ll forgive my language, but it’s a load of horseshit,” Silverman said. “The fact that these VPs would show up was problematic enough and the fact that they would be very active leaders of the discussion, as reported to us by the description of events, is unacceptable. And you [Van Eyken] can’t justify that even by your own stupidity.”

In an email sent on Oct. 4, former SSMU VP University Affairs Max Reed asked councilors to throw out the motion proposed by Silverman, addressing the hasty nature of the issue.

“Last year, SSMU left CASA, our formal federal lobby group. This decision took us four years of debate. Now, this year’s SSMU is preparing to leave FEUQ, which is 100,000 times more effective and efficient than CASA with four days’ notice,” he said.

According to Hanna, the benefits of membership outweigh the costs.

“It’s $2.50 a semester. If you’re a student who does four years, thats a total of $20 you’re going to be spending. That’s less than a case of beer,” he said. “Look at all the accomplishements we’ve made. We’ve kept tuition frozen since 1994, we won international students the right to work off campus and we have a lot more work to do.”

Reed asked councilors to consider the possible long term effects of leaving la FEUQ.

“A provincial election is weeks away. Why are we thinking of leaving the most effective lobby group in North America? What are our alternatives? How are we going to fight for the tuition freeze for all students: international, out of province, and Quebec? FEUQ represents the vast majority of Quebec University students: we should be fighting with them not against them in this time of crisis.”

He went on to claim that the executives’ call for expediting the question was the result of recurring friction between SSMU and FEUQ.

“This whole ‘scandal’ nonesense with Eric van Eyken is just a pretense to act on long-standing ideological desires.”

According to SSMU VP University Affairs Finn Upham, there have been recurring issues with the student lobby group that go beyond the recent subversive meeting.

“One of the problems over and over again was their unwillingness to take into consideration the priorities that we put forward, that we pressed and that we, in consultation and committee, had decided were very important.”

SSMU President Aaron Donny-Clark echoed Upham’s concerns.

“The issues we needed to address in FEUQ weren’t changing the constitution or changing the positions of la FEUQ,” he said. “It’s a cultural problem and the members of la FEUQ refused to address these sorts of problems.”

Itzkowitz said that considering all aspects of FEUQ, it would be beneficial for the SSMU to end its membership.

“FEUQ has done good things but FEUQ has problems. Unfortunately the problems seem to outweigh the benefits,” Itzkowitz said. “As we’ve shown in federal affairs, we can do things on our own that we maybe couldn’t do with FEUQ. Maybe we’ll lose some power, but I think that in the long run it’s better for us to leave.”

All GA motions pass

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The Students’ Society held its first semi-annual General Assembly of the year last Thursday. Required once a semeseter after an ammendment to the Students’ Society constitution made last spring, the GA is designed to provide a way for students to take part in active democracy on campus. 

The Shatner Ballroom doors opened at 11:30 a.m. and students poured in to vote on issues put forth by fellow undergraduates. Roughly 170 students attended, exceeding the necessary quorum of 100 students and making any GA decisions binding. 

The agenda contained three motions. The first two, submitted by the Grassroots Association for Student Power, committed SSMU to take a stand against rising corporate influence on campus and to support workers in their struggles with McGill administration. A third motion was submitted by Midnight Kitchen to guarantee the group access to the third floor kitchen in Shatner, which they claim belongs to the organization after a verbal agreement made with SSMU during the 2003 renovations to Shatner.

The issue of kitchen space for Midnight Kitchen, a SSMU service that provides free vegan food to students, was the first to be discussed.  

The motion called for guaranteed access to the kitchen in the form of a key ensuring that members could get into the kitchen at any time. Problems were cited with the current agreement in which other organizations were using the kitchen, interfering with Midnight Kitchen’s operation. 

“We’re bringing this to the GA because the relationship [between SSMU and Midnight Kitchen] has disintegrated, and the SSMU has not been able to accommodate the discussion,” said one supporter during debate.

The motion to allow Midnight Kitchen full access to the third-floor kitchen was passed to bouts of applause from Midnight Kitchen supporters.

“It wasn’t our last resort, but it was a step along the way and we needed it to show that we had student support,” said Josh Pavan, Midnight Kitchen participant. “It shows that we have a student mandate.”

Corporate influence on campus was the next issue discussed. The motion suggested that SSMU would “condemn corporate invasion of public space and interference in academic life, actively oppose increasing negative corporate influence on campus and support the publicly-owned and funded nature of the university.”

Supporters of the motion cited the fact that one third of McGill’s budget is from corporate sponsors and questioned whether the money was funding student interests or those of the corporation.

Dissenters asked students to look at the loss of educational freedom that would come with the cut funding that the university would suffer if corporate sponsors were done away with. They also noted that the loss of funding would most likely result in higher tuition.

Some also took issue with the broad nature of the motion’s wording, requiring SSMU to take a stance against any form of corporate funding, regardless of the circumstances.

After almost half an hour of debate, the motion was passed.

The third and final motion up for discussion was the issue of Workers Solidarity. The motion moved that “the SSMU support, by whatever means at its disposal, the workers’ struggles affecting our campus and the greater McGill community” and that “when the rights of students anywhere are under attack, the SSMU use whatever means at its disposal to defend said rights.” 

This issue seemed to generate much less controversy than the previous two. By the time this motion came up, many students had left and after a short debate, the motion passed.

Students’ Society Vice-President External Affairs, Max Silverman acknowledged that the GA could be improved.

“The biggest problem I saw is that everyone came with their minds made up and didn’t have a desire to work towards something more acceptable for everyone. There’s no point having a debate unless you’re going to change peoples minds or change the motion to be more acceptable.” 

The low attendance was also an area of concern for the GA, which in ideal circumstances is supposed to be representative of McGill’s student body.

Silverman placed the blame of low attendance on SSMU, claiming that while the event was well advertised in the week leading up to it, better organization would have been beneficial.

“I think we could have started earlier and then we might have had more diverse conversation,” Silverman said. 

He went on to say that students have a responsibility to come out and vote.

“If you choose not to vote, or not to come to the GA, then you’re abandoning your right to have a say in that. I do think that’s problematic and I’d love to see a GA with 18,000 students, I just don’t think its going to happen.” 

Students had varying reactions to the results of the GA. Mike Jancik, U3 Political Science, was critical of the Assembly. 

“[The fact that] fewer than 200 students can bind SSMU to broad positions is a clear sign that GA’s are not democractic, but also that the only way for reasonable McGill students to get their government back is to attend these meetings and prevent the SSMU from being hijacked,” he said.

Other students weren’t as concerned with the possible results of the GA.

“There are a lot of restrictions on [the motions themselves] and I think that it really acts as a balance,” said Alix Stoicheff, U1 English and History, who was pleased with the results.

Silverman cautioned those who were worried about the implications of 170 people binding SSMU to a policy by pointing to the minimal impact that the resolutions would have. He said the motions passed mandate policy and a general framework, but do not require any specific action.

“None of them mandated any sort of course of action,” he said, “but rather broad sentiment and policy, and so it will be up to the executive to interpret the mandate given to them.”

However, many students were unaware of the GA and were therefore unable to make their voices heard.

John Menzies, a member of Conservative McGill, helped to mobilize students who were opposed to the motions at hand.

“The GA was very poorly publicized right up until it happened. When SSMU sent out the email for the GA they never put the resolutions in them. So a group of friends and I got together and said, ‘you know these two motions are radical motions, we disagree with them strongly, and the student body has not been informed about them. And further, the majority of the student population will not be able to voice their opinion.'”

Both Liberal McGill and Conservative McGill were involved in the movement.

“[Liberal McGill President] Simon Bessette and I had never met before, a friend introduced us. We got talking about this, and we were both on the same page. So we talked to our execs, and our execs agreed and so we sent out a message on our listservs,” Menzies said.

Though organized by two political groups, the opposition to the GA and the motions was non-partisan according to Menzies.

“The posters had no political party on them, it was not officially endorsed by any political party. It wasn’t even our execs that came up with the idea. Of course people from the executives came out and helped, but it wasn’t just Liberal and Conservative. It was non-partisan and it was from people of all ends of the political spectrum,” he said.

Menzies felt that the problem with last Thursday’s GA was its execution, not necessarily it’s concept.

“I think [the GA] is a very good forum for debate. Some very good points were brought up for both sides. But I still believe that this is incredibly undemocratic that this is held during class time, when people have to choose between the GA and going to class. I think it was a very poor decision to schedule it during that time. I think a better way of making it more democratic would be to, if a motion passes through the GA, then put it through an electronic vote.”

Menzies believed the GA in its current form was not in accord wit
h students’ expectations.

“Nearly 80 per cent of students voted for the GA [last year]. They did not vote for one during class time, unpublicized, during midterms, before thanksgiving weekend and almost under the radar.”

SSMU prepares inaugural year for Faculty Olympics

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Have you always known that your faculty could beat the crap out of any other faculty on campus? You might have to put up or shut up this winter with the introduction of the first ever Faculty Olympics.

Although the idea has been around since at least last year, the Faculty Olympics have never been realized. However, SSMU has been persistent this year in making the Olympics a reality, working with organizers Aneerudha Borkotoky, U3 Finance and Marketing, and Sheera Gendzel, U3 Marketing, to launch the event.  

“We’re still in the preliminary stages, but we already have a lot of ideas formed,” said Students’ Society Vice-President Communications and Events Gill Prendergast. “Now we need to select the best ideas and realize them.” 

There are many possible events already and more to come.

“One idea is to have one activity within each faculty that is naturally inclined toward that faculty,” Prendergast said. “For example, we could have lighthearted scientific experiments for Science and similarly styled trivia for Arts. Another example would be to have one huge immersive activity for all the faculties. Then again, it’s certainly plausible to combine both examples.”

The Olympics are hoped to create camaraderie between McGill’s faculties rather than competition.

“The main goal is to increase faculty interaction,” Prendergast said. “A lot of times, students unconsciously interact chiefly with other students in the same faculty. What we’d like to do is to promote more interaction between the faculties, to stimulate more out-of-faculty relationships. Ultimately I think it’ll be a really productive event.”  

The Faculty Olympics has been tentatively scheduled over a four-day period in mid-winter, possibly January and all the faculties have received invites.

The location of the event has not yet been decided, but everyone involved is working hard to make it a success.

“I hope the event gets a warm reception,” Prendergast said. “If we could get a strong start in the initial year and make this an annual event, all the hard work put in would have been worth it.”

CAMPUS: SSMU Flying Squad getting its wings

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Students’ Society Vice-President External Max Silverman is looking to make some noise on campus with his latest initiative, the SSMU Flying Squad. The group, which is still in its early stages of planning, plans to make it easier to mobilize students for issues that require support. According to Silverman, this may range from campus protests to educating the student body on a number of issues to be decided at a later date.

Drawing from his experience during the 2005 student strike, Silverman is proposing the squad be modelled on the strike unions in order to facilitate the mobilization of SSMU in a more timely manner. The new initiative had a table at Activities Night, where those supporting the idea of a mobilization committee asked students to attend their first meeting the following week.

Roughly thirty students attended the meeting late Wednesday evening in the Shatner building. Silverman took a passive role in the first meeting and said he was eager to listen to others.

“I don’t want it to be Max Silverman’s Flying Squad,” he said.

Attendees attempted to flesh out the club’s mandate and voiced their opinions of how the Flying Squad should be structured, what positions should be created and how the group would operate.

Several different ideas were put forward concerning the group’s structure: becoming a loose network of activists who meet on a need basis; the creation and maintenance of a moderated student list-serv for mass emails; and the assignment of permanent publicity coordinators.

The Flying Squad faced its second challenge later in the week at SSMU Council, where it was decided that the only autonomy the Flying Squad would have is that of organization. The members of the Flying Squad would be allowed to mobilize on campaigns within the SSMU mandate which SSMU doesn’t have means to mobilize for. However, this also may mean that council has purview over the squad and can veto causes adopted by the squad.

SSMU President Aaron Donny-Clark, who chaired the council meeting, felt that councillors reacted positively.

“The issue of the Flying Squad came up during Max’s report,” he said. “There were a few questions about it from council, notably on the procedure,” he said. “It seemed to be quite well received.”

However, not all councillors were as supportive.

One SSMU councillor, who wished to remain anonymous, disagreed with Donny-Clark’s impression of events.

“I’ve been talking to a few people, and councillors are concerned about the level of autonomy, but overall think it is a good idea. We’re in favour of a mobilizing body, but these kinds of decisions on issues should be made by elected bodies.”

The councillor also added that these concerns were brought up during council, but not heavily.

“We’re going to wait and see how it goes before taking any further action,” the councillor said.

The issue of autonomy was also raised during the initial Wednesday meeting. Arts councillor Rachel Abs explained there that she was confident that SSMU would be on the same page as the Flying Squad and would not quash any of their initiatives. Silverman added that if a protest was blocked by SSMU, students can still act outside of the group and participate regardless of their affiliation.

-Additional reporting by Kate Spirgen

EDITORIAL: A hit and a miss: tales of execs’ summer projects

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The academic year is back in full swing, and Students’ Society executives are for the first time facing oversight of their actions from SSMU Council. Two notable summer projects have come up so far, the Harm Reduction Centre (HRC) and the Flying Squad. Both are still in the larvae stage, and there are many details that remain to be worked out concerning their structures before they can be given full approval. The Harm Reduction Centre deserves a chance to work out its kinks. The Flying Squad does not.

The mandate of the HRC-the brainchild of Vice-President Clubs and Services Floh Herra-Vega-is education about drugs and alcohol and activism on drug policy. The HRC plans to take a realistic approach towards drug use, which is refreshing. It is time that drug education took a page from sex education and went beyond “just say no”.

Preaching abstinence from drug use is all well and good, but it ignores the fact that many people will use-and abuse-drugs and alcohol regardless of how many times they are told that it is bad for them. This is especially true during university, a time when many people experiment with drugs.

This natural tendency to experiment, together with the lack of knowledge that many students have about drugs, means that there is potential for the HRC to do a lot of good by teaching people how to minimize the harm they do to themselves with their drug use. Additionally, the HRC has a reasonably clear mandate. While the granting of “interim service status” is an odd move, the concept has been well thought out and most importantly, the benefits of the HRC to students are clear.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Flying Squad, which is an excellent example of how not to start a new student group. This initiative is the summer brainchild of VP External Max Silverman. The Flying Squad’s mission, which admittedly is still being fine-tuned, is to organize students around various causes, which would be chosen by the Flying Squad with no input from SSMU.

The Flying Squad would not be dedicated to any one particular cause. Supposedly, it would allow for quicker and more effective organizing of actions on issues of interest to students. However, the Flying Squad is basically an umbrella organization and it would simply be creating another level of bureaucracy, diminishing its effectiveness.

Currently, if SSMU Council wants to organize student opposition or support for a particular cause, it can pass a motion creating a committee, and give the committee money to carry out its mission. What is unclear is how the Flying Squad will improve on this process. Its budget will still be controlled by Council and its actions will likely need ultimate approval from Council.

How can an umbrella group which has to meet and make its decisions democratically and whose members may not have any interest in particular issues possibly act faster than a focused group made up of people dedicated to a cause?

Effectively, the Flying Squad serves as a duplicate the work of the Grassroots Association for Student Power (GRASPe)-a generalist activist group-except that it lacks GRASPe’s ability to act in an expedient manner. In fact, around half of those who took part in last week’s first meeting of the Flying Squad were members of GRASPe, further adding to the question of why there is a need for the Flying Squad.

In addition, the idea that the Flying Squad could take up any cause it chooses, is troubling. The Flying Squad, as a wing of SSMU, would lend an air of credibility to causes that may be of no interest to the vast majority of the student population. Although SSMU Council would supposedly have a veto over the Flying Squad’s actions, what good would that veto do if the Flying Squad had already taken action?

Silverman should take a page from Herra Vega’s book and re-examine what he is doing with the funds SSMU allocates to him. He must make sure that this money is being put to a use that will provide a substantial benefit to the student body, and this is one test we feel the Flying Squad will not pass.

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