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Democratize SSMU motion of non-confidence in President fails at Fall General Assembly

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 16, a student activist group’s Facebook event titled “Democratize SSMU campaign” appeared on McGill students’ newsfeeds. The group, whose membership is anonymous, formed after the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors (BoD) ratified a SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board) ruling on Sept. 17. The J-Board had previously ruled the Winter 2016 referendum motion mandating SSMU to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as unconstitutional. On its event page, which has since been taken down, Democratize SSMU listed its goals: To end abuses of power, conflicts of interest, and the neglect of duties within SSMU governing bodies.

“[Democratize SSMU formed out of] frustration and a desire to change the current composition of many of SSMU’s governance bodies,” an organizer for Democratize SSMU, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid personal attacks, said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Frustration due to the fact that they’re not democratic, not transparent, not representative, and very shady in terms of how they organize.”

The group mobilized at the Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) to submit a motion of non-confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva to the agenda. The motion came to the floor four days after SSMU Vice-President (VP) Student Life Jemark Earle read a statement on behalf of the other five SSMU Executives at Legislative Council on Oct. 19, asserting that Tojiboeva had acted on their behalf in a non-transparent manner. In response, Tojiboeva alleged that she was a victim of workplace harassment.

According to Democratize SSMU, Tojiboeva’s own miscommunications about the processes for submitting motions to the GA agenda fell in the way of its attempts to put forth the motion. Section 13.2 of the SSMU Constitution requires the BoD, Councillors, or SSMU members to submit motions to the agenda two weeks prior to the GA. While Tojiboeva stated that the GA date was posted on the SSMU website in September, there is no evidence to show that she formally announced this submission deadline to SSMU membership beyond this post. Although all parties were allowed to submit their motions late, each motion subsequently required a two-thirds majority of votes at the GA to be added to the agenda—whereas on-time motions are automatically added, and in turn, voted upon with a requirement of 51 per cent to pass. The motion of non-confidence failed to garner a two-thirds majority—with 61 per cent of students attending GA voting in favour—and as such, was not added to the agenda.

“We, Democratize SSMU, were forced to submit a late motion, faced an uphill battle to get two-thirds majority just to get this on the agenda at the GA,” the organizer said. “[Had Tojiboeva] opened submissions on time, and we submitted our motion on time, and it was automatically on the agenda, and we only needed a simple majority to pass a non-confidence motion, we would’ve had 61 per cent of the vote, and that would’ve passed [….] Had she done her job, the General Assembly would’ve voted non-confidence for her.”

Following the approval of the agenda, the GA moved into regular business, including the approval of the SSMU Auditor and the ratification of the 2017-18 SSMU BoD, whose year-long term begins on Nov. 15. However, while Board members are typically ratified as a bloc, such that members vote to approve or disapprove the entire Board, SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar motioned to divide the question. This motion passed, and the nominated directors were ratified as individuals. Of the 10 nominations, seven were ratified for year-long terms, while three members—Noah Lew, Josephine Wright O’Manique, and Alexander Scheffel—failed to be ratified. Both Lew and Scheffel are members-at-large of the current BoD, and were the only two nominated directors who would be returning for second terms.

After the ratification, SSMU members alleged that Democratize SSMU was behind the choice to divide the question. According to Koparkar, dividing the question was an attempt to improve transparency in the selection of the BoD given the controversy over the constitutionality of the Board’s makeup earlier this semester.

“I am definitely not a member of Democratize SSMU,” Koparkar said in interview with the Tribune. “When all of those conflicts were going on regarding the constitutionality of the Board, someone had alluded to the fact that the Board wasn’t democratic because it wasn’t composed of elected members [….] Someone suggested dividing the question as a way of adding legitimacy to this process, which I felt was fair, especially given that we voted on the councillors for BoD in this manner at Council a couple weeks ago.”

The ratification vote occurred just one week after the BoD’s vote in confidential session to suspend VP Finance Arisha Khan for a two-week period on Oct. 16 for a breach of confidentiality. At the meeting, SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes presented the results of an investigation into suspicions that Khan had leaked confidential information to student media. Hughes showed directors a confidential email that Khan had forwarded to a SSMU member who is not part of the executive and is unaffiliated with the student media. During the vote, Khan was at a conference on behalf of SSMU and said she was not warned of the vote prior to the meeting. The Board’s failure to notify Khan would violate article 6.8 of the SSMU Constitution, which stipulates that a Director shall have the right to put forth reasons opposing the proposed removal from office.

“Noah Lew and Alexandre Scheffel are both members of the Board of Directors that voted to suspend [VP] Khan from the Board of Directors when she was away at a conference on foster care without her being given the chance to defend herself,” the Democratize SSMU organizer said. “In the constitution it says that a Board member can be voted off from their position but they will be notified of the time and place of the meeting and shall be present, [and have] the right to be present to defend themselves. But she wasn’t notified [….] It’s unconstitutional what they did.”

Following his failed ratification, Noah Lew asserted in a widely-shared Facebook status that the students voting against him were motivated by religious prejudice, citing Democratize SSMU’s mention of his name, his affiliation with Jewish organizations, and his conflict of interest in its Facebook event description. Many members of the McGill community expressed anger and disappointment with the alleged anti-Semitism behind Lew and Scheffel’s failed ratification, including David Naftulin, U1 Arts, a vocal member of the Jewish community on campus.

“[Lew] is being ostracized in a political witch hunt because he is active in his [religious] community,” Naftulin said. “I posit that any [member of another] minority group that was active in a mainstream organization that advocated for their community would be under no such scrutiny at SSMU. And that is the anti-Semitism. It is a double standard.”

The allegations of discrimination prompted McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier to issue a statement to the student body on Oct. 25, reaffirming McGill’s values of tolerance and respect. She also detailed the administration’s plans to investigate alleged discriminatory bias or intent behind the results of the vote.

“The allegation is that votes were taken, and that on account of people’s perceived religious affiliation, the vote against [the BoD members] was negative,” Fortier said in an interview with the Tribune. “So, they were singled out on account of religious affiliation. So that is the allegation, and that’s what we will investigate [….] I think we need to ask ourselves the question of, how many people on our campus are subjected to situations that are discriminatory or disrespectful.”

According to the organizer, the BoD ratification was not on Democratize SSMU’s radar when mobilizing students to attend the GA. Rather, the motion of non-confidence was their only goal prior—and the BoD ratification vote only became important once the former motion failed.

“A lot of people […] have made it out to seem that this movement came to the GA to unseat these three directors, which is totally false,” the organizer said. “We came to the GA for one reason, the non-confidence motion [….] The principal’s email makes it seem like we mobilized against those directors, but we didn’t. Democratize SSMU has broad goals of constitutional reform.”

In the week following the GA, Director Jonathan Glustein petitioned the SSMU J-Board to rule the division of the BoD motion unconstitutional, calling for the upcoming online ratification to vote on the new members as a bloc. The J-Board intends to hold hearings to determine the constitutionality of dividing the motion and, in the meantime, all the directors will retain their positions.

Further, the BoD passed a motion to form a committee to investigate anti-Semitism on campus at its Oct. 29 meeting. The committee’s membership will include representatives from Jewish cultural groups.

SSMU General Assembly ratifies Board of Directors

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(Kendall McGowan / The McGill Tribune)

On Oct. 23, The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall 2017 General Assembly (GA) ratified the SSMU members of the SSMU Board of Directors. The GA also passed motions that urge McGill to become involved in the Institute of International Education’s Syria Consortium, mandate SSMU to develop an action plan for clubs affected by the building closure, take steps to limit selling bottled water on campus, provide regular updates about the Society’s sustainability policy, and condemn Dalhousie University’s disciplinary actions against student leader Masuma Asad Khan.

Assembly also voted on whether or not to add a motion of no confidence in SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva to the agenda, but this motion failed, reaching only a simple majority, not the required two-thirds majority. Initially, the number of SSMU members present at the GA was approximately 200, with only 100 members necessary to meet quorum.


Ratification of the 2017-2018 SSMU Board of Directors

The ratification of the Board of Directors (BoD) was conducted by a separate vote for each Board member after a motion to split the ratification process carried. Of the 10 nominated directors, seven were ratified for year-long terms beginning on Nov. 15. The nominations of three members—Noah Lew, Josephine Wright O’Manique, and Alexander Scheffel—failed to be ratified.

The failure of Lew’s ratification prompted a large portion of the students present to exit the ballroom in protest. Tojiboeva later expressed her belief that anti-semitic discrimination had played a part in the Assembly’s decision.

“I think it’s very disappointing that, as a school, we would vote against a member [Lew] only on the basis that people recognize his last name, and on the basis that he’s Jewish,” Tojiboeva said. “I think it’s quite shocking that in the 21st century such an elite institution would still go with that [racial prejudice].”

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer cited the board’s decision to suspend VP Finance Arisha Khan as her reason for voting against Lew’s ratification. Lew already serves as a member-at-large on the BoD.

“I’m very concerned about how [Khan’s] suspension was decided,” Spencer said. “From what was said at [SSMU] Legislative Council by the different directors, it made me worried about [having] members on the board of directors who are not officers, that the students very clearly distrust.”


Motion for a Concrete Action Plan regarding Club Displacement

Players’ Theatre Technical Director Nadine Pelaez moved a motion mandating SSMU to develop a concrete action plan regarding club displacement in light of the SSMU building closure. The motion passed.

Players’, an independent student-run non-profit, is Montreal’s oldest English-speaking black box theatre. Pelaez expressed her concerns over the theatre’s ability to find a new space sufficient for their needs

“We feel kind of abandoned by SSMU, ” Pelaez said. “We already scheduled four shows in the spring, and we had to sit down with a director, who was excited about her show and tell her that we don’t think we can put it on. ”


President expresses desire to reconcile after failed motion of no confidence

Members also raised questions over the sincerity of Tojiboeva’s stated intention to repair her relationship with the rest of the executive team and membership in light of allegations of a lack of transparency. In an interview with the Tribune following the GA, Tojiboeva discussed her plans to overcome these rifts.

“We’re going to be engaging in talks about that, trying to reconcile our differences and move forward,” Tojiboeva said.

Spencer noted Tojiboeva’s lack of action to resolve differences among the executives thus far.

“Every attempt I’ve made [to reconcile] has been shot down,” Spencer said. “I’m waiting for someone else to propose solutions [….] It’s up to the president now to decide how she’s going to move forward with the team, because she’s the team leader and it’s ultimately up to her to decide where we go next, [and] multiple members have put forward solutions that have not been taken up.”

Khan also cited Tojiboeva’s failure to take reconciliatory actions.

“I don’t think there are [any attempts at reconciliation],” Khan said. “I can say that no steps have been taken and it’s kind of clear that there isn’t a willingness to admit wrongs. I’m not about to go into personal attacks [….] We could respond to every single thing that she said, but that’s not conducive to creating a healthy work environment, and its not conducive to shame your executives. I don’t know what we’re doing in terms of any steps [….] I’m hoping that we can [reconcile].”

SSMU Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum tackles lack of change and trust

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(Ava Zwolinski / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted a Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum on Oct. 16 to receive feedback and answer questions from members of the McGill community on campus discourse surrounding sexual violence and the development of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP). SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer moderated the forum, which was livestreamed in order to increase its accessibility to the general public.

According to Spencer, SSMU is in the process of creating a GSVP after allegations that 2016-17 SSMU president Ben Ger and former 2016-17 SSMU VP External David Aird committed gendered and sexual violence, respectively.

“Some allegations were made against two students in [SSMU], which resulted in two executive resignations,” Spencer said. “One of these executives had anonymous disclosures, over 12, made against him. A group called the Community Disclosure Network [CDN] brought them forward to SSMU [….] Part of the work they did was a recommendation to look into creating a policy that specifically addresses gendered and sexualized violence.”

The purpose of the open forum was to collect a diverse set of student opinions on the forthcoming GSVP.

“With membership, we’re hoping to get general [feedback] on how students are feeling about conversations on campus, conversations at the admin level, conversations at the grassroots level,” Spencer said. “There are rooms and spaces on this campus that are working on these themes, […] but it’s often just specific student representatives.”

Spencer mentioned that the feedback from forums will be factored into the GSVP. She also confirmed that SSMU does not have sufficient resources for responding to disclosures or reports of gendered and sexualized violence. According to Spencer, SSMU’s only current avenue for addressing gendered and sexualized violence is its equity policy, which she says is insufficient.

“The equity policy explicitly states that it does not deal with sexual assault and sexual violence,” Spencer said. “That is why we got into the situation we were in last year. There is a SSMU employee manual that deals with sexual harassment and psychological harassment, and that is the closest thing.”

Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Equity Commissioner Ana Paula Sanchéz, who attended the forum, criticized SSMU for not publicizing any recent changes in their approach to gendered and sexualized violence.

“I believe on the SSMU website, there’s no information on where to get resources [that address gendered and sexualized violence],” Sanchéz said. “Are we only going to have Facebook events and forums?”

One forum attendee posed a question about how discussions of triggering topics can prevent people from attending forums and other events centered around the discussion of gendered and sexualized violence. Dorothy Apedaile, U4 Science, pointed out that physically attending events is not the only way to contribute to the creation of the GSVP.

“Mobilization isn’t always about getting people into a room,” Apedaile said. “Mobilization is also about getting people to think about issues.”

Though the forum was a step towards developing SSMU’s GSVP, Spencer believes that the policy will take years to finalize.

“I have problems with some of the narratives that were mobilized when the current executive took office [about] how it’s a fresh slate,” Spencer said. “We have a flawed system [and] a flawed institution, and it is going to take many years of many good people before we can get students to talk about work that is being done [about gendered and sexualized violence].”

Closure plans leave SSMU building tenants uncertain

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(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

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(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

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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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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.

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