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AVEQ confirms plan to reimburse SSMU for controversial Congress costs

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(Erica Stefano / The McGill Tribune)

Following accusations of unauthorized purchases using company credit cards, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer and VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke explained that SSMU has conducted similar transactions in past years. They also noted that SSMU Legislative Council was notified of the purchases far in advance, and that receiving proper authorization was complicated by the absence of a VP Finance at the time.

VP Finance Esteban Herpin, who began his term in January, raised the allegations at SSMU’s Feb. 8 Legislative Council meeting. He claimed that Spencer and Oke misstepped by charging over $4,000 to SSMU credit cardswithout approval in SSMU’s operating budgetto host the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec’s (AVEQ) January Congress at McGill. As a student federation, AVEQ regularly holds congresses for members of the various university student unions it represents or hopes to represent, including SSMU.


Financial Implications

In response to Herpin’s claims, Oke explained to Legislative Council that AVEQ agreed to reimburse SSMU for its costs. Spencer was not present at the SSMU Council in question, but she seconded Oke’s statements in an interview with The McGill Tribune, explaining that this is a normal procedure for AVEQ congresses.

“Normally what happens is the student unions pay for the expenses of the congresses and invoice AVEQ, and AVEQ invoices the other student unions that were there for their costs, which is just food,” Spencer said. “In the end, after all of this is invoiced, only $28 is going to come from SSMU money.”

Isaac Stethem, advisor to the executive at AVEQ, reiterated that it is standard procedure for local student societies to book hotel rooms, conference rooms, and catering for AVEQ congresses. He confirmed that societies are consistently refunded afterward.

“That’s been the standard practice for a number of years,” Stethem said. “It has been the practice for SSMU as well in the past [….SSMU’s expenses] will be 100 per cent reimbursed.”  

Herpin was troubled by the lack of transparency regarding Oke and Spencer’s dealings with the January AVEQ Congress.

“It seemed like a very last-minute expense of which no one was informed,” Herpin said. “[Spencer and Oke] could have discussed with accounting, the General Manager, […or] they could have invoiced AVEQ ahead of time. There could have been some kind of structure put in place where they didn’t have to use [SSMU] credit cards. That was the error there.”                

Spencer disputed the notion that she and Oke did not make their intentions to host the AVEQ Congress clear.  

“I was trying to make Council come to [this congress],” Spencer said. “I made it very clear that this was something that we were doing. There was no VP Finance at the time. I don’t know how else I could have done it.”


Political Implications

SSMU members voted against officially affiliating with AVEQ in the Winter 2016 referendum, but SSMU is still an observing member of the provincial student association. Last fall, Legislative Council postponed a second referendum on AVEQ affiliation due to SSMU members’ insufficient knowledge of the organization and a report detailing criticisms of AVEQ presented by Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer.

“Part of observing is mandating the [VP University Affairs] and the [VP] External to attend [AVEQ] congresses,” Spencer said. “While there isn’t an explicit mention of hosting congresses, that was something done with the intention of making it more accessible to our members in order to [help them] make a more informed decision with this coming affiliation referendum [in March].”

Herpin is concerned that SSMU hosting the AVEQ congress might influence the way that students vote in a future referendum, as it may shift attention from the Union étudiante du Quebec (UÉQ), another provincial student union vying for SSMU’s affiliation.

“To my knowledge we’re not hosting a UÉQ conference,” Herpin said. “It could seem as preferential treatment for AVEQ and this could impact the way certain students feel about it.”

Spencer voiced frustration over Herpin’s choice to present the issue at Legislative Council rather than to discuss it directly with her.

“He knew he was coming into an executive with conflict issues, especially related to people bringing things up in Council rather than in person,” Spencer said. “But I’ve spoken to him about it and made it clear that I didn’t think what he did was ok [….] This is part of my job. It’s me doing my job well.”

SSMU Council – February 8th Recap

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Get the information you need on VP Finance Esteban Herpin’s accusation of VP External Connor Spencer and VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke of mismanagement of funding for AVEQ.

“SSMU VP External and the VP University Affairs paid for [the SSMU conference hosted for AVEQ] using their SSMU credit cards for over $4,000 of expenses, which consisted mostly of hotel rooms and food,” Herpin said. “Nowhere in the SSMU operating budget were these funds approved or budgeted for.”

Video by Tristan Surman

McGill report disputes allegations of anti-Semitism at Fall GA

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(Taja De Silva / The McGill Tribune)

McGill released a report on Feb. 6 summarizing its investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall General Assembly (GA). The report, written by former ombudsperson and professor Spencer Boudreau following his research and stakeholder interviews, concluded that the failure to ratify Noah Lew, a Jewish nominee to the Board of Directors (BoD), at the Oct. 23 GA was motivated by Lew’s affiliation with pro-Israel organizations rather than anti-Semitism.

Principal Suzanne Fortier commissioned an investigation by Boudreau after many students alleged that anti-Semitism motivated GA attendees’ decision not to ratify Lew’s second consecutive appointment to the BoD. The failed ratification sparked outrage from some attendees at the GA, including SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, who said during the GA’s question period that the sole reason students did not ratify Lew was because he is Jewish. Lew also expressed this sentiment the next day in a viral Facebook post.

“I can honestly say that my conclusion about this allegation […] does not substantiate the notion that the vote was motivated by anti-Semitism,” Boudreau wrote in the report. “I can state however that Noah Lew’s affiliation with Jewish organizations that are clearly supportive of the State of Israel, in addition to his approval [as a Director] of the SSMU Judicial Board [ruling against] the BDS Movement […] was the reason for his vote of non-approval.”

Jewish student groups at McGill have since voiced opposition to the report’s conclusion in a joint statement signed by Am McGill, Chabad at McGill, Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, McGill Jewish Studies Students’ Association, and Hillel McGill.

“The report, in our opinion, did not represent all Jewish voices, contained detrimental factual inaccuracies, and denied many students’ lived experiences of anti-Semitism at the General Assembly,” Mikaela Rath, president of Hillel McGill, wrote in a statement to The McGill Tribune.

The joint statement also asserts that rejecting Lew’s appointment because of his involvement with pro-Israel organizations is anti-Semitic.

“[Chabad at McGill] firmly believe[s] that the targeting of a student on account of his cultural and religious affiliations is anti-Semitic in consequence,” Shira Mattuck, president of Chabad at McGill, wrote to the Tribune.

However, members of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill, a Jewish student organization that supports Canadians’ right to criticize the politics of Israel, wrote that they see a clearer line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

“I am glad to see that Boudreau was able to distinguish Zionism, or support for the state of Israel, from Jewishness and Judaism,” Hani Abramson, organizer at IJV McGill, wrote. “Anti-Semitism is legitimate and frightening, and we cannot tolerate it in our spaces. But standing against apartheid and ethnic cleansing, as well as those who support those measures at our university, is not anti-Semitic.”

Following mixed response from students, Fortier re-affirmed her confidence in Boudreau’s report, attributing its mixed reception to a misunderstanding within the student body about the mandate of the investigation.

“I believe Prof. Boudreau’s report to be thorough and thoughtful,” Fortier wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “I am aware that some individuals and/or groups within McGill and outside the University had hoped that the report would address situations that were beyond the investigation’s specific mandate. As well, there are different opinions on the framing of the fundamental issue that led to the allegation of anti-Semitism and the investigation.”

In the report’s conclusion, Boudreau referenced the divisiveness of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and asked students to move beyond inflammatory dialogue.

“I remain hopeful for the possibility of at least a respectful conversation among such a passionate, and also intelligent and articulate student community,” Boudreau wrote.

SSMU Council continues conversation on Dentistry sexual assault allegations

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

At the Jan. 25 meeting of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council, Dental Students’ Society (DSS) President Ryan Siciliano defended the society’s response to sexual assault and harassment allegations in the Faculty of Dentistry. The allegations were detailed in a  report by the CBC, which was presented to Council on Jan.16.

Additionally, representatives from the McGill Office of Sustainability presented their Vision 2020 Climate and Sustainability Action Plan, and a member-at-large of the SSMU Accountability Committee outlined the group’s progress. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer was appointed to the fourth seat designated for executives on the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD), and the SSMU General Assembly (GA) was rescheduled to March 26. The meeting was also the first for newly elected SSMU VP Finance Esteban Herpin.


DSS responds to question regarding sexual assault allegations in faculty

During the question period, Speaker Nicholas Dolmat reintroduced a question submitted by a member of the gallery at a prior council meeting on Jan. 16 to Dentistry Representative Nishath Syed, who was absent at both meetings. The submission questioned how the DSS planned to support its members in light of recent allegations against professors and staff in the faculty. Siciliano, who sat in as a proxy for Syed, read a statement from the DSS executive and answered questions about it.

“I know students very, very well, and we at the DSS, and me as the president of the DSS, and many other students involved don’t feel that we have a fear of harassment, or something more systemic than these allegations made by the two individuals,” Siciliano said during the question period. “At this moment, [the DSS is] satisfied with the outlets that are currently being explored, and we won’t be taking any actions regarding the current allegations.”

Later, Council unanimously voted to pass a motion endorsing the SSMU Survivor Bill of Rights, which enumerates the forms of support that survivors of sexual violence can expect from the organization. During the question period prior to the vote, Sexual Violence Policy Project Coordinator Caitlin Salvino claimed Siciliano’s comments exemplified when advocacy for survivors might be necessary.

“[The policy was created so] that individuals on the SSMU Council could advocate for survivor’s rights at higher levels,” Salvino said. “For example, earlier there was the discussion of the dentistry case, and some of the survivor’s rights in this bill we would argue were violated. So then that would require their representative to advocate on their behalf at higher levels.”


Accountability Committee representative delivers report

The Accountability Committee is a committee of the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) tasked with creating a standardized method for evaluating the performances of student senators, councillors, directors, and other student officers. Maeve Botham, a member-at-large on the committee, explained that evaluations for officers’ Fall 2017 terms were based on the officers’ attendances and whether their reports were submitted on time. She said that, due to inconsistency in tracking and recording, the committee evaluated only two senators and was not able to assess any directors.

Some members of Council questioned the Committee’s lack of scrutiny.

“My impression from that report is there’s basically no accountability for the Board of Directors,” Spencer said. “Has the Accountability Committee discussed, especially because there are three directors on the Accountability Committee, any options of how to make them accountable?”


McGill Office of Sustainability (MOOS) presents ambitious action plan

MOOS Sustainability Director François Miller and MOOS Communications Officer Toby Davine presented the office’s Vision 2020 Climate and Sustainability Action Plan, which the university recently adopted after a long consultation process that began in Fall 2016. In addition to 22 short-term actions to be completed by the university by 2020, McGill’s plan has two main long-term targets: to attain a platinum sustainability rating by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

“I think if we can achieve [carbon neutrality] here at McGill we can really be an inspiration for Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and then the whole world,” Miller said.

SSMU introduces new Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy with new coordinator

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As of Jan. 8, Caitlin Salvino, chair of Our Turn, a national student group committed to preventing sexual violence on campuses and advocating for survivors, became the official Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP) Coordinator. She aims to create a proactive policy to address sexual violence on campus and complement McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence.

Although SSMU completed the first GSVP draft in July 2017 in accordance with the Community Disclosure Network’s (CDN) original timeline recommendations, initial consultations in Fall 2017 revealed students’ concerns over an underdeveloped survivor-focused framework and the lack of gender-based violence policies.

The CDN—a network for survivors of sexual and gendered violence to disclose their experiences and seek support—was established in February 2017 following incidents involving former SSMU executives. In response to the allegations, the CDN called for the creation of the GSVP and has continued to advise SSMU on relevant cases. According to a CDN member who wished to remain anonymous, the policy’s quality should take precedence over adherence to the proposed schedule.

Drafting policy like this takes time to do properly,” the member wrote. [The CDN feels] extremely confident in [Salvino’s] ability to take on this project. She is incredibly well-qualified for this work.”

Salvino will be holding open forums on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 as well as community-specific consultations in the coming weeks to spark discussion on the policy. The new GSVP draft will be delivered to student groups in March and the final GSVP report will be published on May 31.

“Right now, we are doing consultations and researching into current [sexual and gendered violence] policies and provincial law,” Salvino said. “[Starting a new GSVP draft] is kind of about stepping back, speaking to as many people as possible from many communities, and trying to create a policy that is much more holistic.”

Priya Dube, U3 Arts, and Bee Khaleeli, U2 Arts, will work alongside Salvino as Gender and Sexual Violence Policy Advisors. Their positions will provide context on previous initiatives and recognize McGill student groups that work to address gendered and sexual violence, such as the Black Students’ Network (BSN). To BSN Vice-President (VP) Political Affairs Christelle Tessono, the GSVP is particularly important because people of colour are at greater risk of sexual violence, making it necessary for their perspective to be heard.

“It is important to understand that sexual violence targets everyone […] and to talk about sexual violence without recognizing how it targets every specific body doesn’t do justice to dismantling rape culture,” Tessono said. “[The BSN is concerned about] how we make sure that we hold each other accountable and how SSMU plays a role in creating that culture.”

Salvino praises SSMU as the first student union in Canada to tackle sexual and gendered violence through policy, although she warns that the Society will likely face hurdles in enforcing the GSVP. SSMU VP External Connor Spencer notes the culture of mistrust around SSMU and institutional pushback, especially regarding survivor confidentiality and executive dismissal, as major limitations.

“Quebec Labour [standards] are the superseding documents to all SSMU documents and people are typically not even willing to look into bending those rules or interpreting them in a way that is accessible,” Spencer said. “It’s [also] going to take many years of good executives to combat [students’ mistrust of SSMU] and one policy is not going to fix that, but hopefully [the GSVP] is a first of many steps.”

SSMU has been exploring implementation methods such as training club executives on how to report disclosures, tying club funding to workshop attendance, and encouraging faculties to include points from the GSVP in their own constitutions. Spencer recommends that sexual and gendered violence survivors seek help from SSMU, the McGill administration, and survivor-orientated groups like the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

“My own definition of a pro-survivor approach is choice, and the ability to make informed choices,” Spencer said. “At the student union level, we can facilitate [student accomodations] a lot better because we have the connections with the [McGill administration] office and know what has come before [….] so that we can better advocate for certain folks.”

SSMU Legislative Council addresses CBC sexual violence report

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

At its first meeting of 2018 on Jan. 11, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council discussed accusations of sexual assault and harassment in the Faculty of Dentistry reported by the CBC. SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Carlee Kawinehta Loft also guest spoke on the topic of legislative reform, and Nikolas Dolmat sat in his role as the speaker for the first time.


Senator introduces CBC  sexual violence report in the Faculty of Dentistry

Joshua Chin, the 2016-2017 student senator for Medicine and former de-facto representative for Dentistry, brought Council’s attention to a CBC report describing an allegation by a former McGill student that a dentist in the Faculty of Dentistry sexually assaulted her at an appointment in November 2016. The report also covers students’ ongoing claims about experiencing various forms of harassment from professors and staff in the faculty, and notes that the accused dentist was allowed to return to work after a short investigation by McGill.

“Unfortunately I don’t have much to say [about the sexual assault allegation] because I don’t know [the survivor],” Chin said. “[However], there is a second report of bullying and harassment corroborated by many students who I have spent hours speaking with in my capacity as a Senator from Medicine last year. There is a serious management and accountability problem here. Students do not feel safe coming forward with allegations or [expressing] concerns.”

Dentistry Representative Nishath Syed was not present at Council, but Medicine Representative André Lametti responded that the Medical Students’ Society was aware of the situation and had offered its support to the Dental Students' Society. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer added that the Our Turn movement has an ongoing campaign to address instances of sexual violence at McGill.

“The Our Turn task force has been struck, and I’ve sent emails to every one of the faculties asking for faculty representatives,” Spencer said. “The task force will look at rape culture in each one of the faculties and examine what is being done to counter or address the culture of sexual harassment in them.”


Guest presentation from Indigenous Affairs Committee representatives

Loft and other members of the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee presented on the importance and implications of land acknowledgements and the committee’s role at McGill. According to Loft, the group serves as a consultative and decision-making body which collaborates with students and community groups and oversees the implementation of the Indigenous Solidarity Policy.

“Indigenous issues are really interwoven with any event or issue you may be considering on campus,” Loft said. “But we offer consultations so you can get an integrative approach to solidarity, not put all of the onus on another group.”

The committee also announced the Indigeneity and Solidarity Event Series, which will occur throughout this semester to educate students of all backgrounds on Indigenous identity and support both at McGill and beyond.


Council considers options for governance reform

At the suggestion of the Executive Committee, Council discussed the possibility of forming a review committee to consult students and create a strategic plan and referendum for governance reform in 2018. Council also debated whether increasing public availability of government documents such as the SSMU Constitution, which was discussed last semester, should be included in the process.

“[The strategic plan will address] the questions that were raised at Executive Committee,” SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva said. “How do students engage with SSMU? How is harm perpetuated by and in SSMU and how is harm addressed?”

Spencer acknowledged that the plan might be insufficient, but maintained the importance of starting a process toward change that could withstand SSMU’s fundamental lack of institutional memory.

“Yes, it is a huge project […] but we need to start somewhere,” Spencer said. “We might as well start now while we have a team of people that’s actually committed to doing this work, because we don’t know who will be here next year.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Medical Students’ Society (MSS) had offered its support to the Faculty of Dentistry. In fact, MSS had offered its support to the Dentistry Students' Society. The Tribune regrets this error.

SSMU launches food discount app

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(Leanne Young / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) launched its first ever app on Dec. 8, with the release of SSMU Eats, a program designed to provide students with discounts from restaurants throughout Montreal. It is available on both iOS and Android, offering deals of up to 70 per cent off at a variety of venues around the city including Subway, Liquid Nutrition, Vua, and Le MajesThé. To access the discount, students have to select a coupon and show it to the cashier.

The app was developed in coordination with Spinyt Technologies, a company that has also worked with eight universities and 74 restaurants across North America to create apps promoting discounts for local businesses. Spinyt Technologies’ first app, CASA Deals, was released in partnership with the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association at Concordia University in August 2016. Since then, Spinyt Technologies has continued to collect user feedback and update the app accordingly.  

“We figured out that students want discounts around campus and we started with Concordia,” Emile Chouha, one of the founders of Spinyt Technologies, said. “We partner up with the student association [of the university] and we get the restaurants from our side, and the student association is able to pass the information on to the students.”

Spinyt’s discount apps help vendors boost business during slow periods by giving them a platform to provide discounts coinciding with those periods.  

“We allow restaurants to update their deals in real time,” Chouha said. “When they have empty seats in their restaurant, [owners] can upload a 50 per cent deal and students will go to the restaurant, fill up the empty seats, and take advantage of the discount.”

The app also helps eateries to reduce food waste by providing discounts toward the end of the day so they can sell leftover food that would otherwise be thrown out.

“[Restaurant owners] are engaging more and more with the platform,” Chouha said. “When we are able to get a lot of students on a campus, we have less food waste because there [are more interactions] going through the restaurants. Our goal for the next six months is to eliminate food waste downtown as a whole [instead of just around specific campuses].”

Partnered businesses have taken innovative approaches to promoting SSMU Eats. Le MajesThé, for example, offered students who had the app downloaded free bubble tea on Jan. 12.

“I think [SSMU Eats] attracts [quite a few] customers [when] I post the deals,” Vincent Ma, owner of Le MajesThé, said. “We had a good 450 people today download the app and quite a bit of new customers. We haven’t actually tried out too [many] features of the app, but it’s a really interesting idea and I think it will work out.”

SSMU Eats offers its own exclusive deals such as a ‘spin’ feature, on which users spin a wheel to win a randomly selected coupon for a restaurant close to them. In December, it also held a lottery offering free Vua sandwiches for a year to one lucky winner.

“I am extremely excited that I won the free sandwiches,” David Naftulin, U1 Arts and winner of the Vua sandwiches lottery, said. “I think the SSMU Eats app is awesome and I am really pleased with the selection of restaurants on the app. I am also really pleased to see SSMU taking steps in bringing forward initiatives that benefit the day-to-day lives of McGill students, and I hope to see more positive projects like this one from SSMU in the future.”

SSMU hopes to continue expanding the capacity of SSMU Eats and growing the range and diversity of its dining options.

“SSMU Eats will continue to expand the list of restaurants offering discounts to McGill Students,” SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “We will continue to work with Spinyt to provide giveaways and contests to Undergraduate students all throughout the Winter semester.”

SSMU Board of Directors nominees to be ratified a second time

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

At a meeting on Jan. 14, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) voted to ratify the Judicial Board (J-Board) decision released on Dec. 31 on the case of Glustein vs. Koparkar. With five in favour, three abstentions and three absences, the BoD vote affirmed the J-Board’s ruling that it was unconstitutional to vote on BoD members’ ratifications individually at the Fall General Assembly (GA), thus nullifying the split vote to ratify seven out of 10 nominations to the BoD. The decision also absolved Maya Koparkar, SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Affairs and BoD member, and Jad El Tal, former SSMU speaker, of blame for the incident.

The case, which went to trial on Nov. 30, addressed events at the Oct. 23 GA, where Koparkar motioned to split the ratification of BoD nominations from one bloc vote for all 12 nominees into individual votes for each nominee. After deliberation, El Tal allowed a version of Koparkar’s motion to be voted on, and it passed. Shortly after the GA, Jonathan Glustein, a former member of the 2017 BoD who was not up for reappointment, filed a petition with the J-Board claiming that this motion was unconstitutional and therefore that a new bloc ratification vote should be taken. The J-Board agreed with him.

“The Judicial Board believes that the Motion Regarding the Nomination of Directors for the Board of Directors should be voted on again at another General Assembly or as a Referendum question—this time, as a whole,” its Dec. 31 decision reads.

The BoD members nominated at the Fall GA were scheduled to begin sitting on Nov. 15, when the contracts of the 2017 Directors terminated. However, on Oct. 28, the J-Board released an interim order suspending the results of the GA until a final decision could be made. SSMU President and BoD Chair Muna Tojiboeva announced at a Nov. 5 BoD meeting that, after consulting with SSMU’s legal team, that the past term’s members would remain on the BoD until the case was completed. Five of the members, including three executives, would be serving on both boards.

(Elli Slavitch / The McGill Tribune)

Per the SSMU Internal Regulations, all decisions made by the J-Board must be approved by the BoD in order to become final. Glustein, Koparkar, and Alexander Scheffel abstained from voting on the final J-Board decision, and Noah Lew was not present for the vote.

Tojiboeva announced at a Nov. 5 BoD meeting that the results of the GA were suspended by the J-Board, and that the past term’s members would remain on the BoD until the case was completed. Now that a ruling has been issued, the new bloc vote will be held via online referendum from Jan. 15 to 18.

In an interview in November, Koparkar noted that she made the original motion at the GA because she was under the impression that the BoD agreed it would improve their democratic legitimacy.

“In September, when there was a lot of controversy over who was on the Board, one of the Board members had said that our board wasn’t democratic because it wasn’t made of fully elected representatives,” Koparkar said. “Someone else said that they were elected because they were ratified at the GA. However, it’s a bloc vote so the first director said that made this not legitimate. Then the General Manager had suggested putting each candidate on a separate ballot in the future and everyone agreed to this. At Legislative Council we [ratified the Board members] with a division of the question as well.”

Although he emphasized his support for all 12 BoD nominees, SSMU VP Student Life and Director Jemark Earle shared Koparkar’s opinion on the democratic merits of individual ballots for each nominee.

“Voting in a [bloc] forces you to either sacrifice your own personal values to let someone represent you who could be problematic or vote against people who you support just because of one or two people,” Earle said. “When the Councillors were being nominated to [the BoD] at Council, it was done individually, [which] I believe was much more democratic than had it been done as a [bloc].”


SSMU Council discusses governance, financing student activities

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(Zoe Yalden / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 30, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its last Legislative Council session of the Fall semester. At the meeting, SSMU Funding Commissioner Lauréanne Pelletier gave a presentation on financing student activities. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Provision of Bridge Funding for Savoy Society and discussed the Governance Changes Working Group.


Funding Commissioner Presentation

At the beginning of the meeting, SSMU Funding Commissioner Lauréanne Pelletier provided an overview of the different SSMU funds available to students and clubs. In the past year, the Funding Committee approved financing for a variety of projects, including $6,000 for the McGill Iron Rink, an outdoor ice rink on lower field.

So far, the committee has reviewed 72 funding applications, and approved 55 of them, amounting to $60,000 in funding. Pelletier aims to raise awareness of existing SSMU funds so that more members can take advantage of the resources.

“We are not getting enough applications,” Pelletier said. “There is so much money left. The first thing I am doing is talking to different commissioners to try to partner up with them to promote the funds.”

Next semester, Pelletier will launch social media campaigns in partnership with Campus Life & Engagement (CLE) to inform students of the application procedures for funding.


Motion Regarding the Provision of Bridge Funding for Savoy Society

Council next considered a motion to loan $20,000 to the The McGill Savoy Society, a non-profit student theatre group, to cover costs for its annual production. Previously a SSMU Service, the Savoy Society relied on funds from the SSMU budget. However, in Fall 2016, the Service Review Committee decided that the Society’s activities did not qualify as services and thus it lost its status as well as the funding that SSMU provides to all of its services. Savoy Society President Hannah Moloshok and Treasurer Adrian Nagy attended Council as gallery members.

Given that the Savoy Society ran a deficit last year, Councillors were concerned with its ability to repay the loan. Moloshok claimed that the deficit is overstated because of accounting mistakes made while the Society was transferring money from the Service bank account to its own club bank account.

“Actually, the only loan that we still need to repay is $1,600,” Moloshok said. “Currently, we have already received $6,000 from our solicitations of the alumni association. Along with revenue from bake sales, donations, sponsors, crowd-funding campaigns, and ticket sales, we expect to pay back the debt in no time.”

Nagy seconded Moloshok’s statement, highlighting that, historically, the Savoy Society has exhibited budgetary success.

“In the past 10 school years, we have only had three deficits, and the rest were all surpluses,” Nagy said. “Based on last year’s numbers, we are expecting to make at least $16,000 in ticket sales this year.”

With a majority vote, this motion carried, effectively issuing a $20,000 loan to Savoy Society, with an expected repayment by May 31, 2018.


Governance Changes Working Group

The Governance Changes Working Group, spearheaded by SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Affairs Connor Spencer, aims to provide general education on SSMU governance to bridge the gap between students and their representatives.

“It is really irresponsible of us to start a conversation on governance changes without acknowledging that these procedures are so inaccessible to our membership,” Spencer said.

To address inaccessibility of governance documents, one of the working group’s suggestions is to create a Joint Board of Directors and Legislative Council Committee, which will house two working groups: One to review the legal wording of SSMU documents and another to increase the visibility of governance procedures.

“We also need to consider the things that have alienated our membership,” Spencer said. “Largely, those have been scandals, and the two biggest scandals have been sexual violence and [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] BDS. We have accountability to the people who elected us. So let’s stop discussing [these issues] behind closed doors.’’

The working group will send the proposed governance changes before the end of the nomination period on Feb. 22, 2018, to be ratified by SSMU members during the Winter 2018 Referendum.

Bill 151 exposes gaps in McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence

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At the Nov. 1 sitting of the National Assembly of Québec, Minister for Higher Education Hélène David introduced Bill 151, which aims to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions. The bill would require all universities in the province to develop a policy against sexual violence that is separate from its other policies and includes guidelines for student orientations, training, and the handling of intimate relationships between students and faculty members.

“The purpose of this Act is to strengthen actions to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions and to help foster a healthy and safe living environment for students and personnel members,” Bill 151 reads. “To that end, the Act in particular provides for the implementation of prevention, awareness-raising, accountability, support and individual assistance measures.”  

The proposed bill is the product of months of consultations between David and representatives of various stakeholder groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Our Turn National Action Plan, and the Association of the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). McGill Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) Angela Campbell was also present at a number of these consultations, though she is confident that the university’s current Policy against Sexual Violence sufficiently complies with the bill’s proposed guidelines.

“The proposed legislation has symbolic value and stands to make a significant practical impact, foregrounding the shared responsibility that institutions, including post-secondary institutions, have to prevent and respond to sexual violence,” Campbell wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “McGill already meets most of the requirements of the proposed legislation, notably a commitment to mandatory education for all members of the campus community, a stand-alone Policy against Sexual Violence, and an Office that dedicates resources specifically to the support of survivors and to education and awareness-raising about consent and sexual violence.”

McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence explicitly states that consent cannot be given in circumstances where an abuse of a relationship of trust, power, or authority occurs, such as in the relationship between a professor and their student. However, student offenders are under a different policy than faculty, who are held accountable to the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Tenure Track and Tenured Academic Staff.

After working extensively on improving McGill’s Policy, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer feels that its structure improperly defines sexual violence and is not “stand-alone,” which she says would require outlining procedures for discipline independent from academic regulations.

“[McGill’s Policy is on] a separate piece of paper, but the procedures are still the procedures under the Code of Student Conduct, and that means that you automatically get transferred to procedures meant for academic infractions,” Spencer said. “It’s not trauma-informed, or survivor-centred, and it just doesn’t have those realities reflected in how those procedures are set out. For the policy to truly be stand-alone, it needs its own procedures as well.”

Further, Quebec’s Act respecting labour standards mandates that the university must keep many of its disciplinary processes confidential, keeping survivors in the dark about how the university handles their cases.

“If we really want to have procedures with professors, there needs to be a change in […] Quebec labour law,” Spencer said. “That’s something that really can only happen at the provincial level anyway.”

Caitlin Salvino, Co-Chair of Our Turn National Action Plan—a guideline encouraging student unions to adopt a pro-survivor stance at Canadian Universities—shares Spencer’s concerns about the importance of having a stand-alone policy. To ensure that action is taken, she believes that the provincial government should also provide formal channels for overseeing proper implementation of the bill at universities like McGill.

“The bill is not going far enough right now,” Salvino said. “It needs to create minimum standards for the policies that they’re mandating […] and there needs to be an oversight body that survivors can make a claim to or make a complaint to.”


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