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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, some groups may ultimately be on their own.

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

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

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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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

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(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

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(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.

Missing SSMU 2016-2017 budget report causes difficulties for current executives

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(Amanda Fiore / The McGill Tribune)

At the end of his term in May, Former Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice President (VP) Finance Niall Carolan failed to deliver a budget report for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, as his position mandated him to. Although the SSMU Legislative Council approved a budget for the 2017-18 academic year, the lack of a budget report has posed an ongoing problem for VP Finance Arisha Khan, since the start of her term in May.

The budget report is an evaluation and simplification of the SSMU budget delivered at the end of every fiscal year by the VP Finance. The drafting process includes consultations with the SSMU Accounting Team and General Manager. The budget report provides an overview of the use of funds and explanation of transactions during SSMU’s fiscal year, which begins on June 1 and ends on May 31 of the following year.

“It is vital that a formal budget report is created as this creates transparency vis-a-vis the use of student fees,” Khan said. “Additionally, it is extremely important to highlight any changes to the budget via a report for the incoming VP Finance so they can get an understanding of why items or the structure of the [budget] may have changed from previous years.”

Khan believes that SSMU’s financial successes and failures in any given year depend heavily on the budget report written the previous year. Khan also suggested that the absence of a budget report this year could negatively affect SSMU’s relationship with students, who look to the executive for clear communication and transparency.

“I think the biggest repercussion due to the lack of a budget report is transparency to the general [student] membership,” Khan said. “As VP Finance, my first obligation is to our membership and with that comes the responsibility of not only making decisions that have a financial impact but also being able to explain them to fee-paying students, whether that be through [SSMU Legislative] Council reports or the budget report at the end of my term.”

In addition to neglecting to deliver the budget report, Carolan also failed to complete the required tri-annual budget revision, a process in which the VP Finance updates the budget three times per year with unaccounted finances. Khan expressed further concern that lacking tri-annual budget revisions would contribute to SSMU’s resulting lack of transparency in its finances. Carolan did not respond to multiple attempts by The McGill Tribune to contact him.

A representative of the SSMU Judicial Board–which examines questions regarding SSMU’s constitution and obligations–was unable to indicate whether SSMU would face hearings for the absence of a budget report, citing Section 15.1 of the SSMU Constitution and Internal Procedures, s. 13-14.

“[The] Judicial Board can only examine a matter once a SSMU Member has petitioned the Judicial Board,” Chief Justice James Trougakos wrote in an email to the Tribune. “In order to petition the Judicial Board, various criteria must be met [….It] would [also] be inappropriate for the Judicial Board to pronounce itself on these matters, as the Judicial Board could be petitioned to adjudicate them, although we make no comment on whether such a petition meets the various criteria or would be successful.”

While the missing budget report has not caused any legal or official repercussions as of yet, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva believes it has caused consternation in SSMU’s activities.

“The repercussions have largely been the additional staff time required to administer our financial operations,” Tojiboeva said. “Additionally, the budget is a way to increase transparency to the SSMU’s finance to the general membership. Through not submitting this vital report, the former VP Finance did not fulfill an essential part of his mandate.”

Culture Shock funding dispute reveals deeper discord within SSMU

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(Ceci Steyn / The McGill Tribune)

In August, the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE) published an open letter condemning the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) decision to cut funding for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill’s free, annual Culture Shock and Social Justice Days events. UGE is a SSMU service that offers an alternative lending library, anti-oppression workshops, and resources for women’s and queer/trans-friendly healthcare. QPIRG-McGill is a student-run organization independent of SSMU that has a broad mandate to research and take action on social justice issues at McGill and in Montreal. Culture Shock and Social Justice Days aim to educate students on a range of issues, including white supremacy, colonialism, and xenophobia. The conflict over the funding arose from a continued difference of opinion over which organization holds responsibility for the events.

SSMU started Culture Shock, initially titled “Culture Fest,” in the early 2000s. Yet after finding the programming tokenizing of minorities, QPIRG-McGill approached SSMU and offered to help improve the programming in 2006. The events have been treated as a collaboration between the organizations ever since. In previous years, Culture Shock was funded through both QPIRG-McGill’s application for one-time SSMU Funding subsidies and SSMU’s own annual operating budget—the former requiring annual reapplication, the latter serving as a consistent and reliable source of financing. Last year, SSMU provided QPIRG-McGill with $2,040 from its operating budget and $2,682 in grants, as well as logistical support, for Culture Shock and Social Justice Days. SSMU also financially supports other QPIRG-McGill programming, including Rad Frosh.

According to UGE’s open letter, SSMU opted to defund Culture Shock this year due to financial difficulties. Yet, SSMU Vice-President Finance Arisha Khan clarified that while SSMU is no longer setting aside a portion of their operating budget for Culture Shock, the executive committee hopes to continue to support the program financially through other means. Khan and the rest of the executive committee hope QPIRG-McGill will apply for the full amount of event funding this year through the SSMU Funding pot, which serves to support any student group that applies, and often holds a surplus.

“It’s not an irrational thing we’re asking to do because there are specific funds set aside for programming that we can’t use for operations,” Khan said. 

Lucie Lastinger, a member of both the UGE and the QPIRG-McGill boards, found it unreasonable for the SSMU executive team to request that QPIRG-McGill go through the funding application process for an event over which SSMU has historically held partial responsibility. Lastinger also explained that the open letter was the sole initiative of the UGE as a token of solidarity for QPIRG-McGill’s events, but that QPIRG-McGill played no role in drafting the letter.

“Over the years, SSMU has been pushing [Culture Shock] more and more onto QPIRG-McGill, now to the point where it seems like SSMU doesn’t even remember this was their programming,” Lastinger said. “Now it’s like it’s […] somehow unfair that SSMU is helping [QPIRG-McGill].”

Raphaële Frigon, Outreach Coordinator at QPIRG-McGill, expressed disappointment over SSMU’s decreased sense of responsibility for Culture Shock. Given that SSMU contributes $2,040 of their operating budget while QPIRG-McGill contributed $6,500 last year, Frigon was primarily concerned about the implications of the loss of support and partnership from SSMU.

“They don’t want to claim ownership of [Culture Shock],” Frigon said. “Really, what we want is not $2,000. What we want is a partner [in SSMU]. Of course money is good […] but room booking and having the support of the execs is important.”

In Khan’s understanding, ownership of the Culture Shock events was fully transferred to QPIRG-McGill in 2006, and as such, she feels it is most logical for SSMU to switch to a system in which QPIRG-McGill is held accountable for financing and organizing Culture Shock, albeit through SSMU’s funds. She also emphasized SSMU’s continued public support for Culture Shock and Social Justice Days, and hopes to find common ground with QPIRG-McGill.

“We’re working to figure out what a relationship means, for us as well as them, knowing that we’re going through a precarious time in terms of finances,” Khan said. “A relationship does not mean just SSMU gives you a bunch of money when you ask for it, and then gets nothing in return. So we’re trying to piece those together but so far those conversations are going well.”

SSMU and CDN release report on Gendered and Sexualized Violence policy

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(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

After more than three months of consultations with the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), on July 5, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced that it had completed the first draft of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP). The draft is currently being reviewed by student groups on campus identified as stakeholders for their work against violence in the McGill community. The CDN also released a report summarizing their consultations with survivors and stakeholder groups to the public. The report outlines the CDN’s recommendations for the creation of pro-survivor frameworks for the disclosure of gendered and sexualized violence at SSMU, and lays out a schedule for the creation and implementation of the policy. The CDN plans to finalize the policy in February.

Efforts to develop a SSMU GSVP began last school year after both former SSMU vice-president (VP) external David Aird and former SSMU president Ben Ger resigned following allegations of sexual and gendered violence respectively. Current SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar credits the CDN with bringing to SSMU’s attention its serious lack of structure for reporting cases of sexual violence and holding perpetrators accountable.

“We found that there was a lot of confusion in some of the processes for people [who] had experienced sexual violence, not just in a SSMU context,” Koparkar said. “In general, a lot of people would come to SSMU and we didn’t really have a framework to direct people to proper resources, or to help them deal with any issues they might be having if someone was an officer or was involved in the situation.”

According to a representative of CDN who wished to remain anonymous, the group was initially formed to collect disclosures from those affected by Aird’s actions and draw attention to the SSMU’s systemic flaws. After successfully urging SSMU to take action against Aird in a pair of statements and his resignation, the CDN continued to play a strong role in advising SSMU executives as they developed the policy. According to the CDN representative, a strong ongoing response to disclosures of sexualized violence is crucial to ensuring that the McGill community does not become complacent following the resignations.

“It’s really important that we acknowledge that because of what happened, calling out one person isn’t going to fix the problem,” the representative said. “The problem is going to continue to exist and we need to put the procedures in place in order to protect people in the future.”

According to the CDN report, the policy will include a number of means for achieving ongoing and improved justice for survivors. The CDN’s suggestions are organized into three categories:   Pro-survivor Frameworks, Implementation, and Accountability. Among the suggested reforms are training for all SSMU executives and other staff on how to handle reporting and disclosures, a focus on proactive and reactive measures on campus, the creation of a guide to the policy and reporting structures on campus accessible to all SSMU members, and continued lobbying of McGill University to change its existing Sexual Violence Policy.

Community engagement was central to the creation of the GSVP. Forums for feedback, which were used to consult the McGill community during the first round of drafting, will be implemented for the second draft in September. SSMU executives have also been reading responses to an online feedback form which will remain open throughout the summer and into the next phase of policy drafting. According to Koparkar, SSMU is communicating developments of its policy to McGill administration, which has its own sexual violence policy. However, the policy should be created primarily by a community of SSMU members, especially those affected by gendered or sexual violence.

Queer McGill (QM), one of the stakeholder groups identified by the CDN, will be reviewing the first draft of the policy before its public release in the fall. According to QM Administrative Coordinator Mads Motush, some people think it is very important that survivor-based support is central to the development of the policy. Others, however, see it as difficult emotional labour being done for free for SSMU by the stakeholder groups. While Motush is very optimistic about the long-term success of the policy, they admit to having doubts about the implementation and its timeline.

“There are a lot of good ideas going around but it's going to be hard to implement them,” Motush said. “I'd never underestimate the power of student groups, but the timeline they've proposed so far just seems unrealistic to me, to have it all done by the end of Winter semester. I would love for that to happen, but the stakeholder groups are meeting only for the first time [in late August].”

Although the CDN representative believes that the GSVP is an important step towards justice for survivors, gendered and sexualized violence can only be reduced through personal and interpersonal accountability,

“Abusers are trained in the language of consent,” the representative said. “Just because people have taken consent training courses or say they’re feminists doesn’t mean they’re incapable of violence and abuse. We are all capable of violence, and we need to check each other and ourselves.”

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