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Closure plans leave SSMU building tenants uncertain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SSMU Legislative Council deliberates AVEQ affiliation and President Tojiboeva

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

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

SSMU Executive board announces position of no confidence in President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion to Bring the Question of AVEQ Affiliation to Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McGill/News/SSMU by
(montreal.carpediem.cd)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(montreal.carpediem.cd)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, some groups may ultimately be on their own.

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

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

SSMU Legislative Council in deadlock over AVEQ membership

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(Cherry Wu / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 12, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council held its third meeting of the Fall semester. The majority of the evening was consumed by an extensive debate on SSMU’s potential referendum to join the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a body that represents university student unions around the province to the government.

In the Winter 2016 Referendum, the McGill student body voted against a non-opt-outable fee of $3.50 to become an AVEQ member. At the council meeting, VP External Connor Spencer brought forward a motion to reopen the issue for the Fall 2017 Referendum, prompting intense debate.

A major concern raised in the discussion is AVEQ’s one-school-one-vote principle. McGill’s large population means that it would be contributing more in student fees than other AVEQ members. However, McGill could still be outvoted by the other members. Education Representative Josephine Wright O’Manique, U4 Education, demonstrated strong opposition to joining for this reason.

“AVEQ has had years to attract membership, and has only gathered support from three schools,” O’Manique said. “Asking McGill undergraduates who already pay enough student fees and tuition to pay more to fund an organization with no value for them is unfair to the students we represent.”

Spencer, in turn, highlighted that the one-school-one-vote policy is based on principles of equality for all members. She cited the collapse of the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), which broke down in 2015 because its members with smaller student bodies had fewer representatives.

“AVEQ tried to address [representation] by enacting the one-school-one-vote policy,” Spencer said. “Even though McGill will be paying more money, it is eventually for the better to allow provincial representation.”

Medicine Representative Andre Lametti brought up the concern that a new referendum disregards the opinions of students, given that a majority of voters were against affiliating with AVEQ in the Winter 2016 Referendum. However, Spencer argued that only 18 per cent of SSMU’s membership voted in the earlier referendum, of which 25 per cent abstained. Further, she cited turnover of students in the past two years as justification for a new referendum.

Councillors also questioned the fact that AVEQ is the only association SSMU has considered joining when alternatives exist, such as the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSE), the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), and Union étudiante du Québec (UÉQ). Spencer clarified that the decision to observe AVEQ is based on reports passed down from the 2015-2016 SSMU VP External Emily Boytinck.

“Following the collapse of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) in 2015, two groups were created, AVEQ and the UÉQ,” Spencer said. “Emily observed both groups and reported back to the Council [….] The Council subsequently decided to put only AVEQ on the ballot for the Winter 2016 Referendum [….] Following the Referendum result, the Council mandated the VP External to keep observing AVEQ.’’

A member from the gallery, Joshua Chin, who served as Medicine Representative from 2014 to 2016 and Senate representative from 2016 to 2017, questioned the legitimacy of Boytinck’s reports and of AVEQ itself. First, he claimed that La Fédération Étudiante de L’Université de Sherbrooke (FÉUS) ceased affiliation with AVEQ due to ethics concerns and a lack of transparency. Second, he mentioned that on Sept. 26, 2015 the Assembly for National Student Association, now known as AVEQ, allegedly voted to appoint Boytinck to the future Board of Directors of the AVEQ, thus creating a potential conflict of interest.

Science Representative Mana Moshkforoush, who was mandated by the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) to support holding a new referenda, questioned whether Spencer is also biased toward AVEQ when holding information sessions.

“The decision of the (SUS) to vote ‘yes’ was based on a presentation by AVEQ, and the VP External,” Moshkforoush said. “However, students have never heard of the concern [on representation] raised right now by the councillors [before voting].”

Chief Electoral Officer Alex Nehrbass later confirmed that Spencer’s actions are in accordance with SSMU’s  bylaws and that she has not engaged in an active AVEQ campaign. However, due to the remaining concerns regarding AVEQ, Council postponed the vote to its next meeting on Oct. 19 to consider alternative student associations’ presentations before making a final decision.

Our Turn Action Plan gives McGill’s sexual violence policy a C- grade

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(http://ssmu.ca)

On Oct. 11, The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held a press conference following the official release of Our Turn, a national student-led action plan to end campus sexual violence. The action plan evaluated 14 Canadian universities’ sexual assault policies, and gave McGill’s a C- (61 per cent) grade.

The National Our Turn Action Plan is a student-written commitment to eliminating sexual violence and rape culture on campuses, supporting survivors, creating a culture of survivor-centrism at institutions, and promoting policy reform on both provincial and national levels. Action Plan is composed of five steps that serve as a guide for student unions seeking reform to campus sexual violence policies. So far, 14 student unions from universities across eight provinces have signed on to the plan, including SSMU.

Our Turn is spearheaded by Caitlin Salvino, Carleton University class of 2017, along with Kelsey Gilchrist and Jade Cooligan Pang. It was first initiated at the Carleton University Students Association in October 2016 when the university released its Sexual Violence Policy. Our Turn members drafted a letter suggesting reforms to the Policy regarding the protection of survivors of sexual violence who wished to pursue a formal complaint process through the university. Salvino shared the current goals of the action plan at the press conference.

“Our Turn exists because our institution failed us, because the schools and the government that have all the power are not supporting survivors on campuses,” Salvino said. “[Our Turn is] student-run, underfunded, but [is] still doing everything we can to make these changes happen.”

During the press conference, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer explained that the movement to end sexual violence on campus started with students.

“At McGill specifically, the conversation has always resided at the student level,” Spencer said. “It was the students who pushed for the creation of a policy, and ultimately it was a working group of students who were told by administration ‘If you want a policy then show us one.’ Just because we have a sexual violence policy […] does not mean we are at the end of this conversation about the sexual violence that happens every day on this campus.”

The release of the action plan follows a long history of student-led sexual assault activism on McGill’s campus. Among groups that advocate for survivors in the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), a grassroots, confidential network of organizers who support sexual violence survivors seeking non-traditional methods of justice. The CDN employs anonymous third-party reporting mechanisms, direct action, guerilla tactics, and confrontational strategies. Committed to self-education, internal accountability, and intersectional politics, the CDN aims to fill gaps where they see them.

One survivor of sexual assault present at the conference, Alex*, spoke to The McGill Tribune about their experience with sexual violence on campus. Because of their lack of faith in McGill’s sexual assault survivor support system, they left Montreal for over a month after the assault. Eventually, they sought help from the CDN, which helped ensure their safety and comfort on campus.

“I hope that McGill and campuses across Canada commit to improving their mechanisms of justice and accountability,” Alex said. “It will take more than a policy to combat sexualized and gendered violence on university campuses, make no mistake. But to our minds at the CDN, without a policy that supports survivors who seek out institutional processes, there can be no justice.”

*Name changed to protect the anonymity of the source.

SSPN restructures to allow general student body members

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(Students' Society Programming Network)

At its Sept. 14 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council unanimously passed a motion to restructure the Students’ Society Planning Network (SSPN), the committee responsible for organizing and executing student events hosted by SSMU, including 4Floors, Faculty Olympics, and Grad Frosh. This motion opens 13 of the 15 spots on the committee to members from the student body, reserving one seat for the Internal Logistics Coordinator and one spot for the SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal.

Prior to the decision to restructure the committee, the Committee Terms of Reference stipulated that SSPN’s membership must be composed of the VP Internal, three legislative councillors, and 10 members-at-large chosen by the VP Internal and the Internal Logistics Coordinator. Under the new motion, there is no limit to the number of seats on the SSPN that SSMU Legislative Council members can occupy. However, joining the SSPN will no longer fulfill Legislative Councillors’ requirement to serve on one Legislative Council committee as per the Internal Regulations of Governance.

The purpose of these changes was, in part, to encourage more students to participate in the planning process of SSMU events and to promote and broaden the collaboration between SSPN and SSMU clubs, according to Maya Koparkar, SSMU VP Internal. The changes were also motivated by the fact that SSPN seats reserved for councillors are already occupied by members-at-large.

“[This motion] passed unanimously at Legislative Council because the specific terms of reference in question weren’t being followed for the past few years,” Koparkar said.

Members of the student body have been invited to apply to the committee since 2013. Now that the seats on SSPN are open to students who are otherwise uninvolved with SSMU’s operations, Koparkar believes that the committee will be able to plan a greater diversity of events.

“I think that it’s better to open up spots to members-at-large that might have the passion or the ideas for an event planning body rather than the legislative body, because we wouldn’t have access to those ideas otherwise,” Koparkar said.

Currently, the committee is composed of Koparkar, a Logistics Coordinator, and 12 members-at-large.

“There’s a variety of people from different faculties who are involved in different clubs [in the SSPN], and I think, in terms of reaching different crowds, there’s a good potential,” Manon Debuire, U3 Management and current committee member said.

The codification of these changes will likely bring attention to the possibility of a partnership between various clubs and SSPN, resulting in more diverse activities hosted by and for students. Debuire is responsible for contacting clubs to participate in SSPN events and is trying to approach clubs who may be interested in hosting activities at SSPN events.

SSPN is currently planning a joint Halloween event with the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) on Oct. 26 called The Cabin in the Woods: Halloween Party at Macdonald Campus. Various clubs will host activities for the attendees. Kiran Yendamuri, U4 Science student and president of The Film Society believes these changes will provide an opportunity for lesser-known clubs to promote themselves and increase their impact on the student body.

“I think working with SSPN would be something clubs would be interested in, provided all clubs had an equal opportunity to be visible,” Yendamuri said.

The changes to SSPN’s makeup will take effect immediately. The Halloween party on Oct. 26 will be SSPN’s first function this year, and will provide a framework for future events under the new committee structure.

SSMU Legislative Council nominates Jemark Earle to Board of Directors

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(Noah Sutton / The McGill Tribune)

On Sept. 28, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met to appoint a fourth executive to the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD). In addition, Council discussed their affiliation with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a province-wide student union, as well as the proposed bike facility project, which would build a high-capacity facility for students, staff, and faculty to lock their bikes in the Shatner building.

Guest speakers propose bike facility

At the start of the meeting, Council welcomed guest speaker Amelia Brinkerhoff, coordinator of Vision 2020, McGill’s sustainability action plan. Brinkerhoff presented a project proposal for an indoor bike facility on campus, located in the basement of the SSMU building. The space would serve as a safe location to store up to 350 bikes for students, faculty, and members of the McGill community, complete with a shower and locker room for those who endure long commutes to campus. Brinkerhoff sought support from Council to move ahead with the project.

“I see [the bike facility] as a really interesting proposal because it’s a very visible and tangible symbol of climate action,” Brinkerhoff said. “If you look at McGill’s greenhouse gas emissions, 12 per cent of our emissions are from commuting activities […] and this might be a tool to reduce that number.”

The proposal was not met with full support, however. Several executives voiced concern about accessibility considering the project would only allow space for 350 students to use it, a small fraction of the number of bikers on campus. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer echoed these worries, and noted the irony of the initiative, given McGill’s failure to take other sustainable actions, such as divesting from fossil fuel corporations.

“I agree that this [would be] a very visible project,” Spencer said. “[But] I’m wondering, within the McGill climate and [the] sustainability action plan […], when we have a university that refuses to divest from the $70,000 that it has in environmentally irresponsible funds right now, why [would] having […] a $1.9-million-dollar project for bike storage [be feasible] if we are already running out of space for this project and might want to look into getting a new building in the future?”

Guest speaker Kristin Perry, AVEQ

SSMU Council also welcomed guest speakers from Kristin Perry, the Coordinator of Mobilization and Associative Development, Sophia Sahrane, the Coordinator of Education and Research, and Isaac Stethem, the Advisor to the Executive from the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). AVEQ is a provincial organization that aims to advocate for the social needs of Quebec’s student population through activism and research. Sahrane discussed AVEQ’s research pillar, and shared its findings on student healthcare access.

“We have [done] research on health insurance for international students,” Sahrane said. “It came out last semester and it talks about [how], if you are an international student or [a friend of one], you would know that their health insurance sucks. They [do not receive] the same standards as Quebec[ois] or Canadian students.”

In 2015, the referendum question of AVEQ affiliation with SSMU ultimately failed to pass, with SSMU continuing its non-voting observer status. Now, Council plans to bring the question of AVEQ affiliation to referendum again next week. Though several Council members expressed worries about the referendum not passing once again, Spencer emphasized that AVEQ’s previous failure could be attributed to a lack of understanding.

“The vote in 2015 was […] split, and most students voted abstaining instead of no,” Spencer said. “So that shows that there wasn’t much knowledge of AVEQ, [and] students didn’t properly know what they were voting for [….] AVEQ has been around for two more years now and is much more visible, so, probably, students would be able to make a more informed decision now.”

Motion regarding nominations to the SSMU Board of Directors

After the guest speakers’ presentations, Council voted to nominate SSMU VP Student Life Jemark Earle to the BoD. At its last meeting on Sept. 24, the BoD discussed the murky constitutionality of its current arrangement of members. With a maximum of 12 members, the Board is currently composed of nine members-at-large and three executives, which does not leave room for the constitutionally-mandated fourth executive.

VP Internal Affairs Maya Koparkar confirmed that if this motion were to be approved by Council, one of the nine members-at-large would need to step down.

“As we discussed in our last Board of Directors meeting, in order for the board to maintain its composition of 12 members, there will be one member-at-large of the board who will need to resign from their position in order for Vice President Earle to take their spot,” Koparkar said.

The vote passed, and Earle was successfully elected to the BoD, effective immediately. The decision was approved at the BoD meeting on Oct. 1, following the resignation of Director Nikolas Dolmat.

Council will meet again on Oct. 12.

SSMU Board of Directors discusses constitutionality of current membership at public session

News/SSMU by
(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) held a public session on Sept. 24 to discuss the constitutionality of the composition of the current membership of the body, among other agenda items. SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance and Director Arisha Khan introduced a motion to add the discussion to the agenda, and explained her stance that the BoD’s current 12 director membership is not in accordance with the SSMU constitution

As of right now, we have a composition of three officers and nine members-at-large, which is not in line with the constitution,” Khan said. “Any potential decisions that have been made by the Council with this composition […] could also be up for contention.”

Section 6.2 and 6.4 of the SSMU Constitution stipulate that the BoD has up to 12 voting members: Four Directors from the student-elected SSMU executive, four Directors from the student-elected Legislative Council, and four members-at-large who are appointed through the BoD Nominating Committee. The eight non-executive Directors are then approved by student referendum or at the SSMU General Assembly. The President, VP Finance, and VP Operations and Sustainability automatically sit on the Board, while the fourth executive is nominated by SSMU Legislative Council. 

Jonathan Glustein, a member-at-large of the BoD, pointed out that the Board could not maintain its stipulated composition.

“It is impossible, within the parameters of reality, for the Board to be at 12 members all the time without appointing members-at-large,” Glustein said. “I think it's pretty evident that not only was the Board acting within the best interests of the Society by filling it to 12 members, but in fact it would have been unconstitutional for the Board not to put 12 members in the Society.”

Section 7.4 of the SSMU constitution defines quorum for the BoD to be seven Directors, a simple majority of the voting members. Khan stated that the constitution does not explicitly mandate the BoD to fill all 12 of its seats at all times, and raised concerns about the accountability of a Board with many appointed members.

“I think the discussion item here is, while the constitution may be murky, is it ethically murky,” Khan said. “In order to meet quorum, [it would only require] seven Directors such that Legislative Council could appoint members come the first Council meeting, specifically the […] executive because that is quite important [….] Right now we are a Board of nine [members-at-large.] So these are members that have not been elected by the membership [to the BoD] and are not accountable to the membership in the same way that elected Board members or officers should be.”

Given that all 12 seats of the BoD are currently filled, one of the members-at-large must resign in order for the constitutionally-mandated fourth executive to be nominated. On Sept. 14, the Legislative Council met, but a motion to elect a member of the SSMU executive to the Board was not presented.

Glustein reiterated that keeping a Board of only seven members would be of detriment to the SSMU membership.

“I think, considering the fact that we had five resignations in a month's time [in Winter 2017…] and the fact that if the Board falls below seven members we cease to function as a Society, […] it would be extremely imprudent […] to keep that number at seven and […] hope that someone doesn’t have any extenuating circumstances,” Glustein said. “One resignation would render the entire Society ineffective.”

SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes, who was also present at the meeting, recently consulted the Society’s legal team to review the constitutionality of the BoD’s current composition. The legal opinion he received stated that, while falling in somewhat of a constitutional grey area, the membership is in accordance with the SSMU constitution, but that the BoD, along with Legislative Council, will be in violation if they fail to expeditiously nominate and appoint a fourth executive member at the bodies’ next meetings.

“I will concur with the rest of the Board that [the situation] is murky,” Hughes said. “This is what happens when you have a constitution that is as complex as ours [….] It is very difficult to navigate sometimes, and sometimes you may make an oversight [….] When it gets discovered, it is your obligation and duty to repair it, to address it. This is what this Board needs to do, this is what Legislative Council needs to do [….] It's known, we’re going to repair it, and get back to business. That’s it.”

SSMU VP Internal and Director Maya Koparkar said that the most pressing matter for SSMU going forward is re-establishing trust with its membership and that she intends to begin the fourth executive nomination process at Council’s next meeting on Sept. 28.

“I’m actually bringing a motion to Legislative Council next week to nominate a fourth [executive] from SSMU to the Board of Directors,” Koparkar said. “I don’t know what happened [this summer], would it not have been possible to just have 11 members of the Board of Directors?”

SSMU Council passes motion to open SSPN to Members-at-large

News/SSMU by
(Noah Sutton / The McGill Tribune)

On Sept. 14, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council held its first meeting of the Fall 2017 semester. Over the course of the meeting, executives and councillors considered amending the rules for membership in the Students' Society Programming Network (SSPN) and discussed budget proposals for McGill organizations—specifically, the Sustainability Project Funds (SPF) and Desautels Capital Management (DCM).

SSMU Council amends SSPN requirements

At the start of the meeting, SSMU Council passed a motion to change the circumstances of sitting on SSPN, the primary event-planning department within SSMU responsible for organizing student events such as 4Floors and Faculty Olympics.

As outlined in their mandates, all 30 Legislative Council members are required to participate in one of SSMU’s 17 committees. Although SSPN is one of these committees, SSMU Council decided that it no longers fulfills this membership requirement. SSPN previously also had seats reserved for Legislative Council members so that they could fulfill their commitment of being on a committee, but SSMU did away with this in the same motion.

"The 2016-2017 executive agreed on this change internally, but a motion was never brought to Council," SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Maya Koparkar said. "Because SSPN offers its members more [opportunities to participate in campus events and socials] than other committees of Legislative Council, there is usually a rush to join, which often leaves [fewer] people to sign up for other committees."

The motion passed unanimously. Now that seats on SSPN are open to all students, Koparkar believes that members will be driven to participate more productively.

"The selection [in the past] did not follow the Committee Terms of Reference, so I figured it was probably best to have that change moved through Council officially," Koparkar said. "The people who are valuable to SSPN, in terms of experience and enthusiasm, usually don't come from the Council community."

DCM Proposes Partnership with SSMU

Vadim di Pietro, Chief Investment Officer of DCM and assistant professor of finance, also spoke at the meeting. DCM is the entirely student-run investment firm in the Desautels Faculty of Management, whose purpose is to manage $3.5 million in funds on behalf of companies and provide students with immersive work experience in the field.

DCM intends to create a ‘Socially Responsible Investment’ (SRI) fund that will be used to invest in firms recognized to be sustainable and ethical. Di Pietro requested $1 million from SSMU to invested in the SRI fund.

“[People who work in finance] often are seen as the bad guys, but if we could do something good with the money, that’s really exciting,” Sarah-Anne Brault, a finance master’s student and  analyst at DCM, said. “It would be the first SRI fund for DCM.”

SSMU VP Finance Arisha Khan voiced her support for the initiative, which former VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston first proposed in 2015-2016. If the project moves forward, Khan and DCM members estimate that the fund would begin in January 2018.

“[Other firms] would not include the immersive student engagement opportunity that exists with DCM,” Khan said. “[SSMU] is a student-run organization and this further provides an opportunity for students to be engaged in decision-making and project management on a level that they would not ordinarily get.”

Sustainability project aims to empower grassroots efforts

Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) Administrator Krista Houser was another guest speaker at SSMU Council. The SPF was created in 2009 by the McGill administration, SSMU, the Post Graduate Student’s Society, and the Macdonald Campus Student Society, though it is now overseen by the McGill Office of Sustainability. Its mandate is to provide financing and support for student-led projects that make specific areas of campus more socially or environmentally sustainable. The SPF is the largest sustainability fund in North America, with an annual value of $870,000.

One new SPF to be implemented in Fall 2017 is the “Tiny Stream” project, an initiative that provides grants of $250 or less to small sustainability proposals. The organization estimates that the new fund will be available in the upcoming weeks.

“[Tiny Stream] is for smaller projects that are less on an institutional level but more grassroots,” Houser said. “We want to make sure sustainable projects like workshops and events happening are getting funding as well.”

Houser hopes that SSMU will put forward a student referendum on increasing the semesterly fee they pay toward the SPF. The McGill administration has already tentatively agreed to match this funding.

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