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PGSS shows low voter turnout in DPS existence referendum

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(Calvin Trottier-Chi / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 17, Elections SSMU, the body that oversees SSMU voting procedures, announced the Daily Publication Society’s (DPS) successful existence referendum results, which showed an irregularly low voter turnout from Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) members. The successful vote ensured that the DPS, which publishes both Le Délit and The McGill Daily, will continue to collect non-opt outable student fees to operate for the next five years. But according to PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite, 1000 graduate students’ names were missing from the list of students that Elections SSMU emailed the referendum poll to. These students were thus not informed of the upcoming to vote.

“I do not believe this mistake [of not including PGSS members] was intentional, as the DPS did not know how to properly administer a referendum,” Satterthwaite said. “Groups seeking an official PGSS referendum must go through the PGSS Council. The PGSS effectively had no idea this referendum was happening until the ballot came out.”

Previous PGSS referenda have maintained a voter turnout rate of 14 per cent or higher. However, according to the Elections SSMU email on Nov. 17 announcing the DPS referendum results, 725 out of the 7,636 graduate students voted, a turnout rate of nine per cent. Satterthwaite noted that the percentage of graduate students who voted on the DPS referendum is even lower because not all members of PGSS are eligible to vote on DPS affairs.

“If you look at the voter breakdown in the email that was sent, it says there are about 7,600 registered PGSS [members], but we’re actually closer to 8,600 members,” Satterthwaite said. “The membership of the PGSS is not exactly the membership of the DPS.”

Satterthwaite believes that PGSS voters were also unaware about the upcoming referendum because the DPS did not present at the PGSS Legislative Council. However, the society was under no obligation to present at Council, since its referendum was not under PGSS.

“[The executives] had no idea that graduate students would be voting for [the DPS existence referendum], so most other graduate students wouldn’t have known,” Satterthwaite said. “Normally, [referenda] are brought up at our Council, so that the [Post-Graduate Student Associations] PGSAs can transmit the information beforehand. The PGSS [executives] and our Council were not informed about [the referendum], and so that whole line of communication was cut.”

The low voter turnout followed Elections SSMU’s choice to restart voting after the first day on Nov. 13. During the referendum, the DPS accidentally provided Elections SSMU with an outdated list of PGSS members eligible to vote from the summer, which excluded graduate students who enrolled for the Fall 2017 semester. As a result, Elections SSMU suspended the original ballot and created a new one using an updated list of eligible PGSS voters that the DPS supplied.

SSMU Deputy Elections Officer Isaac Levy, who supervises SSMU electoral officers and administers elections and referenda, first noticed the problem with the email list.

“From what we have observed and heard from some students who contacted us, some of the PGSS members did not receive emails from our Simply Voting email blasts when the mass emails were sent out,” Levy said. “We are currently looking into the matter from our end to figure out why this may be.”

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Marc Cataford, chairperson of the DPS Board of Directors, explained that a number of accidental factors resulted in an incomplete PGSS voter list.

“The error itself is a mix of a total absence of institutional memory on referenda on our end [and] on Elections SSMU’s end, and after talking with someone from PGSS, they didn’t seem to know the specifics of how it really worked either,” Cataford wrote. “In any case, at no point was there foul play and the error was not of bad faith. The second I was notified of the error, I got in communication with PGSS, with Election SSMU, and with people at McGill to […] make sure that the election can be conducted in a fair manner that gives all of our membership a voice.”

 

SSMU Legislative Council discusses committee on governance reform

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

At its Nov. 16 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion for Nominating Committee of the Board of Directors to Undertake the Selection of Future Board Members Anonymously and the Motion to Amend the Standing Rules to ease the deadlines for presenting motions. Faculty Councillor Anthony Koch was nominated to sit on the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, which will report to Council in Winter 2018.

Ollivier Dyens and Council talk Governance reform

The first major topic of the session was governance reform. Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost (Student Life and Learning), spoke to Council on this matter before the call to order.

Dyens explained that responsibility for student mental health falls not only on the university, but on students, who must work to cultivate a supportive environment for each other. To Dyens, clarifying SSMU’s constitution is essential to reducing conflicts between students. He suggested hiring an external party to lead the charge in reforming SSMU’s governance structure.

“You guys are going through a turbulent period,” Dyens said. “Your own constitution seems to be, at certain moments, unclear [….] As a university, we want to see SSMU survive. We want to see SSMU together, and being a place where things are healthy for students and debate.”

Council later debated the Motion to Call a Special Referendum Period, which proposed an additional referendum later this month to consider a question regarding constitutional reforms. As the mover of the motion, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer conceded that the question should be moved to the Winter 2018 Referendum, following concerns over voter burnout within SSMU’s membership. In the interim, she called for Council to commit to starting a larger conversation on governance reform in order to prevent similar issues from recurring every year.

“We need to start having a very large and very long conversation about what governance at SSMU is, and what we’re expecting, and where all the holes are,” Spencer said. “I would really like to pitch […] a commitment to start a larger conversation about [SSMU’s governance structure within…] this body, because we’re all the elected representatives from all the different faculties, and we can make sure our students’ voices are heard within that.”

Following the debate, rules were suspended to add a Motion to Investigate a Committee on Governance Reform, which carried. Council decided that executives and councillors would first look into the options available for starting the process of governance reform, and then determine whether creating an internal committee would be the best solution. VP University Affairs Isabelle Oke explained her stance that more research is necessary before a committee is formed.

“Committees as a first step are one option, [but] I don’t think it’s our only option moving forward,” Oke said. “What I’m suggesting is some kind of mandate, for somebody […] to put together all of the options that we can actually take as a council moving forward, and what resources we’re working with as well.”

Motion for selecting future Board of Directors members anonymously passes

Council voted to remove applicants’ names from applications for future Board of Directors (BoD) seats, through every step of the nominating process until the interview stage. The motion passed with 27 votes in favour, with an amendment added to remove other identifying information irrelevant to the applicant’s qualifications for the position.

While discussing this motion, Council members advocated for the additional need to create a broader policy on hiring processes, which it does not have. SSMU is seeking to fill an equitable hiring position to investigate current hiring practices and alter them for accessibility and transparency.

“This [motion] is an interim step to try and deal with all of the cases that come to the Society now until we have the research that will help us have more rigorous and sustainable practices in our Society,” Oke said.

 

Students challenge SSMU Board of Directors’ authority to add GA quorum Referendum

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Nov. 6, Meara Kirwin, U2 Arts, and Gregoire Beaune, U3 Arts, filed a petition with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) against the Board of Directors’ (BoD) decision to add a question to the Fall 2017 Referendum. The question asks whether students would like to raise the quorum of General Assemblies (GA) to 350 students. The petition states that the question did not undergo the processes required in order to be added to Referendum by SSMU’s Internal Regulations of Elections and Referenda and by its Constitution. The Referendum polling period runs from Nov. 8 until Nov. 10 at 5 p.m..

Referendum questions are added through either a motion passed at a GA, a motion by SSMU Legislative Council, or through the submission of a petition with at least 100 student signatures to the SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) at least 14 days prior to the Referendum period. A petition to raise the quorum of GAs with 468 student signatures was created by Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer and former Engineering senator Alexander Dow, both U3 Engineering. However, it was not submitted to the CEO before the Oct. 25 deadline for Referendum questions. A motion to raise GA quorum was not presented during the Fall 2017 GA on Oct. 23 or at a Council meeting this semester.

A statement released by the petitioners explained that raising the quorum would make GAs obsolete.

“The constitutional amendment put to referendum […] would have a significant effect on the General Assembly’s ability to consistently meet quorum and conduct business,” the petitioners wrote. “Instead, because proper procedure and deadlines were not followed, most students have been left unaware that this question is coming to referendum in the first place.”

In an unprecedented move, the BoD added the Referendum question through its own motion, the Motion to Bring General Assembly SSMU Constitutional Changes to Referendum, which was passed at the BoD’s Oct. 29 meeting. At the board’s Nov. 5 meeting, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva explained why the BoD chose this course of action.

“We consulted legal just to see what our obligations were as a corporation under the [Companies Act] in Québec law, and what they said is [that] our [Internal Regulations] are not necessarily representative of what our real legal obligations are,” Tojiboeva said. “In reality, under article 91 of the [Companies Act], it’s only the Board that can approve questions that would go to change the constitution. It’s only the Board and the members that can make a new mandate or put a question to a vote for the membership.”

As a company registered in the province of Québec, SSMU is regulated by the Québec Companies Act, which takes precedence over the SSMU Constitution and Internal Regulations. Article 91 of the Québec Companies Act says that the directors of a company may repeal and make amendments to the by-laws of a company as long as those changes are confirmed at a general meeting of the members called for that express purpose.

“Basically, what our legal counsel said is that [Referendum questions] cannot come unilaterally from the membership as it was done before,” Tojiboeva said.

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Kirwin, one of the petitioners, explained what led her to challenge the BoD’s decision to add the Referendum question.

“We are concerned about the power currently held by the Board of Directors—an unelected body whose power has been increased through constitutional amendments in the past few years,” Kirwin wrote. “This referendum question was brought by the BoD unconstitutionally, and as SSMU members, we must insist that constitutional modes of decision-making are upheld, and that power is not taken from the General Assembly and consolidated at the top of the ladder.”

 

Open letter to SSMU executives denounces Fall 2017 General Assembly

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 27, former Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) engineering senator Alexander Dow, U3 Engineering, submitted an open letter to the McGill administration in response to the Oct. 23 SSMU General Assembly (GA). The petition, which expresses SSMU members’ dissatisfaction with the GA’s failure to represent the greater student population, received a total of 468 signatures. Tre Mansdoerfer, U3 Engineering, also contributed to writing the letter.

The petition calls for the 100-student quorum currently constitutionally required for SSMU GAs to be raised substantially. Despite the fact that 100 students is less than 0.5 per cent of the undergraduate student population, the GA rarely reaches quorum unless controversial topics are on the agenda. In response to the letter, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) voted on Oct. 29 to add a question of raising quorum to 350. Referendum questions are typically approved via motion by the SSMU Legislative Council or through a vote at the GA.  

The first concern that the letter addresses is the allegations of rising anti-Semitism and  disrespect for ideological differences on campus, especially in light of Noah Lew’s failure to be ratified as a member of the BoD. Dow believes polarization within SSMU has caused tension among the student body.

“What we ideally want is [for SSMU] to remain a place where we can respect student opinions,” Dow said. “Universities are where we share and exchange ideas, not cut out ones that we don’t believe.”

According to the second section of the letter, the goal of raising quorum is to prevent any vocal minority from unilaterally controlling and undermining democracy in GA votes in the future. If quorum is not reached, the GA becomes a consultative forum, which cannot pass resolutions. However, the minutes from the forum can be attached to SSMU’s online referenda, which have higher voter turnouts.

In 2012, SSMU amended its constitution so that all resolutions passed at the GA must later be sent to an online vote for ratification. Given that many students are unable to attend GAs, the open letter calls for the Oct. 23 GA motions to be online referenda questions and for the GA to be a consultative forum.

To SSMU Vice-President Student Life Jemark Earle, the nomination of all 10 directors, including those who failed to secure a seat at the BoD, should be included in an online vote.

“To elect directors to SSMU, we need a greater percentage [of students] to weigh in on this matter,” Earle said. “I think that all [nominations] should go to referendum.”

The number of signatures on the petition, which exceeds the number of students who were present at the fall GA, demonstrates many students’ distaste for how important governance decisions are made. Earle says he commends the initiative of the letter and hopes to see the outlined concerns pushed toward resolution.

“I love when discussion happens,” Earle said. “As an executive, I think it’s well within my mandate to […] represent all opinions on campus. I think that the [disapprovals] outlined in the open letter to SSMU executives were all valid [points].”

For Annalise Patzer, U0 Nursing, the open letter holds SSMU accountable for hostility she’s seen on campus.

“Considering [how anti-Semitism] is happening at a level that is supposed to be the student representation for our university, [my Jewish friends] were concerned about how they are supposed to navigate university,” Patzer wrote to The McGill Tribune. “I just think the open letter is calling McGill and SSMU to take responsibility for this negative culture and image and harm they have created on campus.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the petition called for quorum to be raised to 350. In fact, the petition only calls for the quorum to be raised substantially while the motion to the Board of Directors calls for the quorum to be raised to 350. The Tribune regrets this error.

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

News/SSMU by
(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

News/SSMU by
(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].”

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