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SSMU Council releases statement in favour of divestment

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SSMU Council passed solidarity motion. (Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

At its March 24 meeting, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council discussed the McGill Board of Governors’ (BoG) recent decision not to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and passed two motions: For SSMU to officially stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto and an official policy on indigenous solidarity. 

 

Response to BoG’s decision not to divest

SSMU Council released a statement in favour of divestment, countering the decision of McGill’s BoG not to divest from  the university’s holdings in fossil fuel industries.  The BoG based its decision upon the report written by the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), releasing their decision in a special meeting on March 23. The report stated that CAMSR does not believe significant social injury had occurred by investment in fossil fuels, which Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck singled out as a particular flaw. 

“I think that this is shameful,” said Boytinck. “How dare they say the impact is not grave? They should speak with the 150,000 people who die every year due to climate change.  They should speak with the indigenous communities who are the first people affected by this issue.” 

Boytinck also addressed concerns over security at the BoG meeting directed at students attending as representatives from Divest McGill.

“Divest McGill has been present at every single board meeting this year,” Boytinck said. “It was the first time we were escorted up in James administration by security. It was a huge slap in the face for a committee who has repeatedly called us a partner. I was disappointed and shocked by the way the [BoG] treated students at that meeting.” 

Boytinck highlighted the lack of transparency in the decision-making process, as none of the CAMSR meetings on the matter were open to the public, and no information is available on the experts with whom CAMSR consulted.

“SSMU will continue to work with Divest McGill to find a way for this question to be brought back to the Board of Governors in an open and consultative manner,” Boytinck said.

 

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto

Council passed a motion brought forward by the Black Students’ Network (BSN) for SSMU to officially support the Black Lives Matter Toronto organization, following their recently-released statement of solidarity calling on community organizations, labour representatives, individuals and the broader global community to protest against police brutality. The statement demands the release of the names of the officers who shot and killed Andre Loku, a 45-year-old father of five last July.  Protestors are also for charges to be laid against the officers since they have been cleared of any liability. 

VP Internal Omar El-Sharaway brought forward the concern that the motion might be viewed as divisive, quoting the results of a student experience survey which revealed that students would prefer SSMU to be “less political and more fun.”

Boytinck cited the importance of SSMU taking a stance on this issue, given its connection to McGill students. 

“This directly affects students at McGill,” Boytinck said.  “What we consider to be a student issue and not to be a student issue, is in and of itself a political choice.”

VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke added her agreement to Boytinck’s response. 

“I take issue with some of the claims that SSMU should be less political,” Rourke said. “It’s important to quantify and qualify what you mean by that.  Student unions have historically played a role in human rights movements across the world. Remaining neutral is also very much a political choice.” 

 

Policy on Indigenous Solidarity 

Council approved a motion to adopt a policy on Indigenous Solidarity, drafted by Indigenous Affairs Coordinator, Leslie Anne St. Amour, following consultation with various indigenous student groups, staff, and faculty members. 

“The policy covers many areas, particularly focusing on how SSMU can better support McGill’s Indigenous students, as well as lobbying the university to hire more indigenous staff and faculty, and increase indigenous course content,”  St. Amour explained.

St. Amour addressed the lack of physical spaces on campus for indigenous student groups as one area SSMU can work to improve upon through this policy. 

“There is only one space on campus which allows for [the cleansing ceremony of] smudging, First Peoples House, and it is not a great space  for holding large events,” St. Amour said.

The policy also obliges the office of the VP External to reach out to indigenous communities at the beginning of the academic year, and continuously throughout the year as relevant issues arise. 

Panel addresses what it means to be an indigenous ally

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On March 22, members of the McGill community attended a panel on indigenous allyship as part of the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Indigeneity and Allyship 2016 event series.  

The panel, co-hosted by SSMU Indigenous Affairs and the Education Undergraduate Society (EdUS), aimed to define what it means to be an ally and how students can become involved in the issues affecting indigenous communities. It answered questions on how to best support members of Indigenous communities and how to collaborate successfully with them. Three speakers shared their views on the topic: Paige Isaac, a member of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nations and the coordinator of the First People’s House at McGill; Tayla Lalonde, president of the Aboriginal Peoples Commission for the Liberal Party of Canada-Quebec and board member for Indigenous Access McGill; and Patrick Brennan, executive director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development. 

The panel opened with the question, “What is the most important part of being an ally?” Isaac began by stating that being an ally is a process rather than a label.

 “It’s something that you’re constantly striving to be or do,” Isaac said. “Your actions are speaking more than words, you’re standing with whoever you’re being an ally with, not speaking for them [….] It’s learning, educating yourself on different issues, hearing from diverse perspectives, listening to the news, [and] talking to resource people at universities [and] businesses.” 

 Lalonde stressed the importance of mutual collaboration, through the acts of both listening and understanding rather than always asking questions.

 “A lot of times, people think that they are being an ally when they are constantly asking the marginalized person to tell them their story,” Lalonde said. “[This] approach is a little misguided because it’s exhausting to be that person who always has to answer those questions over and over again [….] By asking those questions you are also triggering deep-seated issues for people because a lot of people [… have] been marginalized.”

For Brennan, being an ally is about supporting people, not forcing your own viewpoint on marginalized groups.

“You can be there to support, or what I like to say ‘lead from the side,’ but you need to be careful not to confuse the destiny of a marginalized people with a solution that you have come up with,” Brennan said. 

Lalonde went on to explain the benefits that can arise from an ally’s privileged social position—particularly among university students.

 “If you have access to student government or decision-makers because of your place of privilege […using] that to push issues for [the] indigenous community, [is] a really effective way of being an ally,” said Lalonde.

Lalonde also shared her personal experience as an indigenous student at McGill and how she felt the lack of indigenous content from the moment she arrived.

 “When I think back to when I started [at] McGill in 2008, what I always remember is how invisible I felt,” Lalonde said. “I was sometimes one of the only indigenous people in my classes [….] I didn’t see myself reflected in the course content anywhere [….] There wasn’t any dedicated time in discussing the indigenous viewpoint.”

Lalonde specifically described an instance when she felt erased as a member of her Cree society.

“I remember sitting in an anthropology class and I remember learning about Indigenous people from this white male professor,” she said. “No insult to white male professors, but it was strange to hear this person talking about our people, Cree, from his anthropological perspective, which kind of made it feel like we didn’t still exist.”

 Going forward, Isaac emphasized the necessity of having more indigenous faculty members and offering more indigenous-focused classes. 

“[Provide] more opportunities for people to engage in Indigenous pedagogies,” Isaac said. “I’m hoping if your voices are loud enough to say ‘we want this,’ [the school] would listen.”

This article has been corrected. The panel is a part of SSMU's Indigeneity and Allyship 2016 event and not as part of SSMU  and EdUS' Indigenous Awareness week, as previously reported. The Tribune regrets this error. 

Ben Ger wins SSMU presidency amid low voter turnout

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(Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

Following the second-lowest voter turnout since 2005, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) elected Ben Ger as SSMU President with 65.4 per cent of the vote over his opponent, Jordan Sinder. 17.5 per cent of the undergraduate student body participated in the Winter Referendum and SSMU elections.

Ger’s colleagues on the executive team will be Vice-President (VP) Operations Sacha Magder, VP Internal Daniel Lawrie, VP Finance Niall Carolan, VP External David Aird, VP University Affairs Erin Sobat, and VP Student Life Elaine Patterson. Ger is optimistic about delivering his campaign promises.

“I am unbelievably thankful,” Ger said. “I’m excited the student body trusts me with this position. I’m looking forward to [next year], hopefully the best year that SSMU has ever had. Council Reform Committee will come through, we are going to include more voices at the table, whether that be exactly at SSMU council or somewhere else. Our finances will be balanced, we’ll figure out a way to make sure everyone’s happy.”

Sinder praised his campaign team and its efforts and declared his continued support for Ger in the future.

“I’m honestly very proud,” Sinder said. “We did everything that we could as a campaign team [….] We raised important issues, we engaged students who otherwise might not have been engaged in SSMU politics […] and I have absolutely no regrets with the campaign that we ran. But with that said, Ben is a great guy, he’s been really involved with SSMU, he’s well-experienced for this position, and he’s going to be a great president. I’m going to be the biggest supporter of his presidency next year, and I look forward to working with him.”

Patterson, the only woman on the incoming executive, pointed to equitability as priority for next year.

“I’m really thrilled and so thankful that I get to be in this position next year, and I hopefully get to lay down the groundwork for it,” Patterson said. “As far as being the only woman on the executive next year, I am certain that all of the men that I will be working with next year have good heads on their shoulders and that I will be able to convey things to them about […] gender equality, but also hopefully just equitability in the general sense.”

Winter 2016 referendum questions

The question on whether or not SSMU will affiliate with the new Quebec student federation, the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), failed, with 62.1 per cent voting “No.”

Aird, as incoming VP External, expressed disappointment in the motion’s failurer. 

“I think that it was tough to communicate the true value of joining AVEQ to the student body,” Aird said. “I think that the texts that were […] on the ballots didn’t do justice to the true value of joining a federation [….] I think people were reluctant to pay a new fee that they weren’t convinced that it would actually benefit them. For that reason, I fully intend on revisiting the question next year, once students have had more time to talk about it,w more time to see what goes on with AVEQ and revisit the arguments in favour and against.”

The proposed general constitutional amendments were passed, with 72.7 per cent voting “Yes.” The proposed amendments to Articles 13.2 and 13.3, which would have created a General Assembly (GA) steering committee failed, with 52.6 per cent voting “No.” The Motion Regarding the Creation of a Club Fund Fee passed, earning 57.4 per cent “Yes,” while 81.6 per cent voted for the creation of a mental health fee. The proposal for an increase in the SSMU health plan fee to cover mental health passed, with 73.6 per cent votes in support.

The motion regarding the TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee renewal passed with 54.9 per cent voting “Yes.” However, the Motion to Increase the TVM fee failed with 61.9 per cent dissenting. The motion to renew the SSMU equity fee passed with a majority of 65.8 per cent. The motion to renew the SSMU Access Bursary Fund also passed with 67.9 per cent voting for renewal.  Both the smoke-free campus plebiscite and the on-campus bike facility plebiscite passed, earning majorities of 73 per cent and 83.1 per cent, respectively.

Senators for the 2016-2017 academic year include Science Senator Sean Taylor, Arts & Science Senator Guy Ettlin, Music Senator Mitchel Russo, Engineering Senator Alexander Dow, Education Senator Parvesh Chainani, Medicine Senator Joshua Chin, Law Senator Shannon Snow, and Arts Senators William Cleveland, Casarina Hocevar, and Charles Keita.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated in a typo that turnout was 7.5 per cent. The Tribune regrets this error. 

Review of Winter 2016 SSMU referendum motions

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The referendum campaign period runs from Nov. 1 to 11, and polling will take place between Nov. 5 and 11. (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)
(Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

The Motion Regarding the Bicycle Facility Plebiscite Question

This plebiscite question has been proposed in order to address the lack of bicycle parking on campus and aims to create a secure bicycle parking facility. The facility will be located in the basement of the Shatner Building with the partnership of the University.

“This secure bicycle parking and access to shower and locker facilities would be available to students and McGill community members with the purchase of a per-semester membership, much like the McGill Fitness Centre,” reads the motion.

If this question passes, the construction of the facility will be explored by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).

 

The Motion Regarding the Creation of a Club Fund Fee

This motion proposes a fee to finance the SSMU Club Fund.

“The creation of a dedicated fee to fund the Club Fund would ensure a secure source of [financial support] to student groups and would double the available funding for clubs to foster student life on campus,” the motion reads.

The Club Fund currently supports over 240 clubs and is allocated approximately $25,000 per semester, according to the motion. The proposed motion would create a question on the Winter 2016 referendum that proposes an opt-outable fee of $2.75 per student per semester in order to come closer to the $117,369.48 that was requested by clubs in the Fall 2015 semester.

 

The Motion Regarding the Creation of a Mental Health Fee

If approved, this motion creates an opt-outable $0.40 per student per semester fee for mental health services.

“Mental health is a major concern requiring urgent action on university campuses across North America, with one in five McGill students using mental health services each year,” the motion reads.

Funding from this fee will specifically support student-run mental health initiatives, student staffing to manage the mental health initiatives, and advocate for better services provided by the university. A portion of the fee will also go directly to the Mental Health Fund which is run by SSMU and distributed by the Funding Committee.

 

The Motion Regarding the Increase of the SSMU Health Plan Fee for the Addition of Mental Health Coverage

This motion seeks to propose an $25 increase in the cost of the SSMU Health Plan Fee. The SSMU Health Plan does not currently cover any psychology or psychotherapy services, and this fee increase will give students covered by the SSMU Health Plan up to $500 worth of psychology coverage.

“Mental health issues on campus require further support than what is currently available from the University, with 89 [per cent] of students reporting feeling overwhelmed in the last year, with 38 [per cent] of students reporting feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function, 53 [per cent] reporting feeling overwhelming anxiety, and finally 7 [per cent] of undergraduates seriously considering suicide while at McGill,” the motion reads.

This motion also points out that students often experience long waiting periods to be seen by McGill Mental Health Service and that undergraduate students ranked “supporting student health and well-being” as their first priority in a recent 2014-2015 Student Experience Survey.

 

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the SSMU Access Bursary Fee

This motion is a renewal of an opt-outable Access Bursary Fee of $8.50 per semester for full-time students and $4.25 per semester for part-time students.

“The SSMU created the SSMU Access Bursary Fund, funded by the SSMU Access Bursary Fee, through a student referendum in 1999, to provide bursaries, administered through Scholarships and Student Aid, to undergraduate students in financial need,” reads the motion.

The Access Bursary Fund currently supports over 2,000 undergraduate students in financial need and will be terminated if the motion does not pass. A majority “Yes” vote will continue the distribution of bursaries from the Access Bursary Fund, which will be made up of the Access Bursary Fee and matched donations by the university and alumni.

 

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the SSMU Equity Fee

The motion proposes the renewal of the current opt-outable $0.50 per student per semester fee, which generate approximately $10,000 per year. This fund, according to the motion, is reserved for programs that increase diversity on campus and distributed by the SSMU Funding Committee.

“[The SSMU Equity Fund] initiatives that foster leadership, encourage civic engagement, and make observable and/or measurable differences in the representation or experiences of individuals who are members of historically and currently disadvantaged groups, support projects, research and policies that aim to end discrimination and promote accessibility and inclusiveness in the McGill community,” the motion reads.

 

The Motion Regarding the Renewal of the TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee

The current TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee has not been increased since the 2010-2011year. According to the motion, TVM has seen an increase in membership and services they provide. This proposes the renewal of the current opt-outable TVM: Student Television at McGill Fee in addition to a proposed $0.75 increase in the fee, resulting in a total fee of $2.25 per semester for full-time students and $1.65 per semester for part-time students. TVM is currently the only student-run film and television production services.

“[TVM] provides resources and education to the McGill community by acting as a free educational institution for the McGill community, and a not-for-profit educational institution for the Montreal community at large,” the motion reads.

 

The Motion Regarding Constitutional Amendments

This motion seeks to correct “outstanding errors” of a mainly grammatical nature in the SSMU constitution.

“My motivations for moving the original motion was because as a member of the Internal Regulations Review Committee, I’d been working with President [Kareem] Ibrahim and with [Arts] Senator [Erin] Sobat in addition to the rest of the committee on how to improve the constitution,” said Arts Representative to SSMU, Adam Templer. “Not only substantively but also in the grammar, and the language of the document to make sure it was more clear than in clauses where it was before far more open to interpretation.”

These changes are outlined in Appendices A and B of the motion. Additionally, Appendix C proposes a change in structure to the management of the General Assembly (GA) in order to avoid dividing the McGill student body. Appendix C states that the GA agenda will be set by the GA Steering Committee and will not include issues that have been deemed external and divisive.

“In this instance, an “external” issue shall mean an issue that is primarily external to McGill, and “divisive” shall mean an issue that one could reasonably expect significant opposition to,” reads the Appendix.

The decision of the GA Steering Committee may be overruled in the case that the GA voters decide by a two-thirds majority to discuss the external and divisive issue regardless of the Steering Committee’s decision.

“This constitutional amendment would reserve the right of the GA to adopt political stances while ensuring that positions that are not supported by a significant portion of the membership cannot be adopted,” the motion states.

 

The Motion Regarding the AVEQ Affiliation Referendum

This motion proposes that SSMU affiliate with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a provincial student association. In order to affiliate, students would have to pay a non-opt-outable $3.50 per students per semester fee that would be subject to adjustment in accordance with inflation. Emily Boytinck, SSMU vice-president (VP) external, was one of the movers of the motion and has stated that affiliating with AVEQ is an important step for the SSMU.

“After participating at the tables of both L’Union Étudiants du Quebec (UÉQ) and AVEQ since last May, I am confident that Council made the right decision in presenting AVEQ to students; its fair voting system, transparent policies, and anti-oppressive values make it a clear choice for SSMU,” Boytinck said. “If this motion doesn’t pass, McGill students just honestly won’t have their voices heard at higher levels of government, and given the recent waves of austerity and the potential for tuition deregulation, we need this more than ever.”

 

The Motion Regarding the Plebiscite Question on Moving Towards a Smoke Free Campus at McGill

This motion asks students if they would support the movement toward a smoke-free campus if measures were taken to ease the transition. Such measures would include the implementation of smoking shelters and educational campaigns on campus. David Benrimoh, Senate Caucus Representative, expressed that this motion is important in determining how SSMU will move to create a healthier environment for students.

“[The plebiscite question] asks students to decide how they see the future of smoking on our campus,” said Benrimoh. “It allows space for students concerned about second-hand smoke exposure to let us know if this is one of the ways we should address it, while at the same time allowing students with concerns about going smoke free to let their feelings be known.”

McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier responds to failed BDS motion

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(Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune)

The passage of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2016 General Assembly (GA), and its subsequent failure in an online ratification period, has garnered a variety of reactions among the McGill community—including the administration’s condemnation of the university’s participation in the BDS movement. 

The motion, brought forward by petition and initially passed at the GA, proposed a mandate for SSMU to support campaigns associated with the BDS movement through the office of the vice-president (VP) External, and specifically outlined a need to divest from corporations the supporters of the movement considered complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. 

McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier released a statement following the release of the online ratification results, explaining the university’s position on the BDS movement.

“The BDS movement, which among other things, calls for universities to cut ties with Israeli universities, flies in the face of the tolerance and respect we cherish as values fundamental to a university,” Fortier wrote. “It proposes actions that are contrary to the principles of academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views and ideas in responsible, open discourse.”

Laura Khoury, U2 Engineering, an organizer of McGill BDS Action Network—the group responsible for bringing the motion forward—expressed dismay with Fortier’s letter.

“It was extremely disappointing to see Principal Fortier, through her statement, delegitimize the voices of more than 2,000 students without attempting to understand their concerns,” Khoury wrote in an email to the Tribune.

The motion specifically referenced McGill’s investments in companies operating in Israeli settlements, including Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank and Re/Max real estate. Principal Fortier’s statement did not address those investments, focusing rather on the implications of divesting from Israeli universities.

“It is frustrating that the statement did not address the actual text of the motion,” Khoury wrote. “The lack of acknowledgement of these existing financial ties to international corporations that clearly demonstrate social injury toward Palestinians on a daily basis is an active stance to be complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation.”

According to McGill’s Internal Relations Director Doug Sweet, it is impossible to ignore the fact that boycotts from academic institutions are a central part of the BDS movement as a whole.

“Principal Fortier’s statement was consistent with the university’s position on the BDS movement in its entirety, which includes an academic boycott of Israeli academics and scholars, and their institutions,” Sweet wrote in an email to the Tribune. “[The] McGill administration has been on the record as being steadfastly opposed to this movement [….] You cannot isolate just one component of the movement and seek support for it that way.”

Khoury cited financial pressures as the suspected primary reason for the university’s steadfast opposition to BDS.

“It is important to realize that the reaction by the University has clearly come from outside financial pressure and is not based on principled research,” Khoury wrote.

Sweet alluded to the divisive effect that the motion has had on the McGill community, and on alumni in particular. 

“As you can imagine with an issue as divisive as this, and an alumni base as large and widespread as McGill’s, alumni reaction has been quite diverse, as it has been for our Faculty members, students and staff,” Sweet explained. “Some agree with the stance taken by Principal Fortier; some don’t. As it is the case with every issue, we listen to all members of our community and take their concerns – some of which can be polar opposites–to heart.”

One such alumna, Jodie Katz (BA ’97), vehemently disagreed with the university’s participation in the BDS movement.

“I was appalled and shocked by the SSMU verdict [regarding] BDS two weeks ago, and further revolted by the mail—which I received moments after the vote came through my social media feeds—asking me to please donate to the school which I now believe to be tainted and tarnished,” Katz wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Confused by the actions that transpired at the SSMU vote, I am so saddened that my beloved school is now a thorn in my side.”

According to Katz, the motion has the potential to misrepresent the student population as a whole. 

“Every student at McGill should be fairly represented,” Katz explained. “The BDS movement reeks of propaganda and unrealistic perspectives [….] As a Jew, we must stand with Israel and we must all become more educated about the treatment of Palestinians by all nations and make proper informed perspectives. Calling something an ‘apartheid state’ with little initiative other than calling on a boycott is irresponsible.”

When asked if the failed online ratification would change her perspective on making donations to McGill, Katz did not dissent.

“I will have to reconsider but right now the answer is no,” Katz wrote. “I am encouraged by McGill’s response and Principal Fortier’s email but it’s ‘already out there’ making us look as bad as the schools who do not denounce.”

According to Khoury, despite the motion’s failure, the McGill BDS Action Network will continue its efforts on campus. 

“The McGill BDS Action network will continue to organize around BDS because there is an obvious marginalization of Palestinian students and their allies at McGill,” Khoury wrote. “In moments like these it is important to look at the history of McGill’s institutional positions on social movements. 

Khoury justified the continuation of BDS Action by drawing parallels to both Canada’s and McGill’s reactions to the divestment movement around South Africa in the 1980s.

“Both the Canadian government and McGill were complicit in South African apartheid and initially refused to join the international movement to divest,” Khoury wrote. “There is historical proof that people in positions of power have been in the wrong before and are generally pressured by financial powers rather than moral, principled reasoning. It is only until the social pressure from students, faculty, and alumni outweighs McGill’s financial interests that the university will have to change its stance.”

In response, Sweet stated that the university will maintain its position on the BDS movement.

“The university administration’s position on BDS is clear, and has been since this issue was first raised on campus in 2007,” Sweet wrote. “We will reiterate it as necessary.”

In light of the controversy surrounding the BDS motion, during its Feb. 24 Council meeting, SSMU Council passed a motion to put forward a question during the Winter Referendum which, if passed, would create a GA Steering Committee, composed of the SSMU president, VP (University Affairs), speaker of council, four councillors and a third Executive member to be chosen by a vote of the Council, who will decide if the content of a potential GA motion is too divisive or external to SSMU’s mandate to be debated and voted on by students. The question additionally outlines that the GA Steering Committee’s ruling can be overturned by a two-thirds majority.

“The requirement that positions on external political issues be adopted by a two-thirds vote would ensure that the adoption of external positions comes with the support of a significant portion of the Membership,” the motion reads.

SSMU Council adds referendum question on political GA motions

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Amendment regarding GA motions

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council approved a motion for the upcoming Winter referendum on a process to prevent motions deemed as ‘divisive’ or ‘external’ to SSMU’s mandate from being discussed at the General Assembly (GA). Under the proposed amendment, the GA Steering Committeean unelected body composed of the SSMU president, vice-president (VP) (University Affairs), speaker of Council, four councillors and a thirdeExecutive member to be chosen by a vote of Councilwould decide if the content of a potential GA motion should be debated and voted on by students, unless those present at the GA vote to overturn the decision with a two-thirds majority.

Science Representative Sean Taylor felt that adding this system would be a step towards easing tensions that emerged in light of the GA on Monday, February 21 which saw the approval of a motion in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.

“We’ve been told by the results of a survey that we put out last year […] that SSMU is being too political,” Taylor said. “I hear from my constituents that there’s just a lot of people tired of divisive things like this coming forward because they don’t think that, as a student society, we’re there to provide support for them.”

SSMU VP External Emily Boytinck raised the concern that a screening process could limit the democratic nature of the GA.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that as a representative body—or even a potential non-representative body such as the steering committee—has the choice to determine what is divisive and what isn’t,” Boytinck said. “This is extremely problematic, not only for the culture of what we consider to be divisive, but also for who gets to have their voice heard on campus.”

Mental Health Fee

Council has approved for referendum a motion to create a new restricted fee to cover certain mental health services. Citing the need for urgent action in combatting mental illness on campus and the success of previously-established student efforts in this domain, the motion proposes a $0.40 opt-outable fee for all SSMU members, and would be used for general projects and hiring mental health staff.

While Clubs and Services Representative Francois-Paul Truc agreed with the necessity of these services, he expressed concern that it was a rehash of the recently-proposed SSMU fee increase that failed in special referendum.

“I’m very disturbed that this is a direct overlap with the referendum motion that failed previously, especially considering that this mental [health] fee will go towards paying staff, and one of the primary concerns that was echoed during the referendum was that people did not want more money going to staff,” Truc said.

Engineering Representative Malcolm McClintock spoke in support of the motion, citing the individuality of the fee as an asset.

“Seeing as the students didn’t directly oppose every individual motion that was packaged together into the referendum […] putting something forward that is smaller such as this is more beneficial in that students can actually pick and choose what they do and do not want rather than saying no to the large number that they saw during the referendum,” McClintock said.

This runs concurrent to the passing of a question for referendum to raise the opt-outable SSMU Health Plan fee by $25 to cover the addition of psychology services to the plan.

Leap Manifesto

Council voted to add SSMU to the list of signatories to the Leap Manifesto, a broad set of demands decided on by a cohort of “indigenous rights, social and food justice, environmental, faith-based, and labour movements,” according to the motion.

Boytinck, a co-mover of the motion, compared this motion to the recently passed SSMU Climate Change Policy.

“[I]t’s a little toned-down because it’s made by a lot of groups,” she said.  “[Demands] are related to climate justice, indigenous rights, the just transition for workers against austerity cuts that severely damage the environment.”

Boytinck noted that the motion was largely symbolic, stating that signing the manifesto would be in solidarity with other McGill groups that have signed it, including Divest McGill and the McGill Office for Religious and Spiritual Life.

McClintock expressed concerns with the neutrality of the motion.

Unfortunately, [the Engineering Undergraduate Society is] inclined to abstain with regards to the fact that this is more of a  political statement that doesn’t represent the beliefs of the [enginering students],” McClintock said.

The motion passed with 16 in favour, one opposing, and six abstaining.

This article was corrected on March 2, the Tribune regrets any errors.

BDS motion passes at SSMU Winter GA

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(Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune)

A motion regarding support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement passed at the Feb. 22 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly (GA), with 512 students voting “Yes,” 357 voting “No,” and 14 abstentions.  The two other motions up for vote passed with no discussion from the assembly:  Motion for an increase in indigenous content at McGill, and a motion regarding procurement of products containing conflict minerals.  All three move to ratification by undergraduate students in the upcoming online referendum.  

BDS

The Motion to Support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement mandates SSMU to support campaigns associated with the worldwide BDS movement, and to lobby McGill University at its Board of Governors to withdraw investments in companies such as Re/Max, L-3 Communications, and the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.  

“This call for BDS states that such campaigns are to remain in place until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and fully complies with the precepts of international law,” the motion reads.

Students debated for nearly two hours in the SSMU Ballroom, with overflow rooms elsewhere in the Shatner University Centre hosting a livestream of the event and allowing students to vote. Those who spoke in favour of  a “No” vote cited the potential divisiveness of this motion, and worry that passing BDS would cause a climate of fear among students who feel the decision does not represent them.

"The McGill student body prides itself on our diversity, yet why is when it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [is there] an attempt is made to make our campus homogeneous?” asked Maya Rosenkrantz, U3 Science. “This motion contradicts SSMU’s safer space policy, as BDS proposes a cultural boycott of Israel, alienating students who belong to that culture [….] Students’ mental health is on the line.  Students who identify as Israeli or Zionist are genuinely afraid that if that motion passes, they will not be able to truly express their identity on campus. No student should ever be afraid [of that]."

Supporters of the motion attempted to clarify its purpose—divesting McGill from holdings associated with certain Israeli settlements military effort—while at times, relating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to apartheid in South Africa.

"As a Palestinian, you do not speak for us," Laura Khoury, U2 Engineering, said. "Please do not speak on behalf of my lived experience [….] It’s your moral obligation as people of social conscience to answer this call. It is not your obligation to tell us what is being done to us. Would any of you here have been in support of South African Apartheid?  [….] No, you would have not."

Students were reminded by Speaker Benjamin Dionne to maintain silent decorum through the debate by refraining from applause, and by their peers to treat the sensitive topic with respect for both sides.

"I would just like to say, as somebody who prides themselves on being both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, as somebody who is very personally affected by this conflict, I ask […] please engage in moderation,” said one first-year student in the Faculty of Law.  “Engage in a dialogue that would endorse both people's rights to self-determination.”

Motion in support of Kahtihon’tia:kwenio (women title holders of the land)

Cadence O’Neal, U3 Arts, moved a motion in support of indigenous women title holders from the floor, which was tabled until the next GA in Fall 2016 in order to undergo consultation from the indigenous student community at McGill.  This motion was developed alongside Kahnawake women, frustrated with McGill's lack of response to their notice of seizure of the unceded territory the university occupies.

"The students who are moving this motion hope to both remind students who are here […] that this is an ongoing issue, that McGill has ongoing political context, and that our university […] is very much involved in a [settler-colonial] situation here," O’Neal said.  

Ashley Dawn Louise Bach, coordinator of the Indigenous Student Alliance, expressed concern that the motion was neither publicized prior to the event, nor included any feedback from her organization.

"I would just like to point out that there was no consultation with the Indigenous Student Alliance […] in the making of this motion,” Bach said . I actually hadn't heard of it until earlier today […] and I feel that this lack of consultation is just a perpetuation of the colonial problems we have at this university."

Movers of the motion agreed to seek further input from the indigenous community at McGill before reintroducing it at the next GA.

New McGill Sexual Assault Policy draft released

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On Feb. 16, McGill’s Sexual Assault Policy Working Group released its final version of the proposed Sexual Assault Policy (SAP) to the public. The working group formed in 2012, after allegations of sexual assault against against three former Redmen football players brought greater awareness to the fact that McGill has no university-wide sexual assault policy.
According to Cecilia MacArthur, a member of the working group, the SAP institutionalizes a lot of the informal practices that McGill had previously adopted, while additionally creating the new position of the sexual assault resource coordinator (SARC).
“The bulk of [the SARC’s] role will be just helping people navigate the policy, showing them the resources that exist,” she said. “The idea would be [that the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACCOMS) and the SARC] would work together and supplement each other, but that the SARC would be less of an immediate support person, understanding that sometimes, if you have an office of the SARC, people who are in crisis might go there, so […] ultimately, they’re probably going to have […] some crisis support training.”
According to Andre Costopoulos, dean of students, the potential hiring of a SARC is an implementation matter rather than a policy one.
“Some of the elements in the [SAP] [are] clearly implementation, and some of them are policy, and you have to separate the two,” he said. “The policy says [that] when unacceptable conduct happens we have to intervene. The administration decides how we intervene. How do we make sure that the spirit of this policy is respected in this community [….] That’s completely different to the policy conversation. Implementation is […] the university administration in partnership with the student associations.”
Talia Gruber, another member of the SAP working group, explained that the benefit of writing procedures into a policy was the policy’s permanence.
“Right now, we have a lot of things in the policy that [the McGill administration] would like to see in the implementation guide,” she said. “The reason that we want so many things in the policy is that policies are institutionalized and once they’re passed you can’t change what’s in them. We’ve come up with some really good compromises […] like putting things in the implementation guide, but having a caveat in the policy that says, ‘There is this guide, and it’s going to be used.’”
Costopoulos explained that other avenues of discussion between the working group and the McGill administration include the interpretation of a McGill Context, as outlined in Article 8 of the Code of Student Conduct. The current interpretation of the Article is that events held by student associations off-campus do not fall within the McGill context. Consequently, McGill will be unable to conduct a disciplinary investigation into any alleged sexual assaults that occur during such an event.
“It’s one of the points that we’ve been discussing and I think we’re going to continue to be discussing,” he said. “It’s a matter of how we’ve interpreted it over the years, and interpretations are always subject to revision because the context in which we live changes all the time.”
MacArthur explained that many individuals have been involved in shaping the SAP in the two years since its inception, include students, administration, faculty members, as well as campus groups.
“At a certain point last year, about March, we were considering […] bringing [the SAP] to Senate,” she said. “But […] stakeholders were feeling like we could do more consultation with regards to the anti-oppression aspect of the policy [….] At that point, we stopped the trajectory we had set out and started doing more consultation. [This February,] I think we felt like we had done as good of a job as we could of incorporating different experiences, [and] different approaches [into the SAP].”
Going forward, the SAP will be reviewed by members of the administration, including the dean of students and the office of the deputy provost (Student Life and Learning). Following any revisions to the SAP, the group hopes to tentatively present the policy to Senate this March.

McGill Against Austerity hosts panel, “Protesting, Police, and Knowing Your Rights”

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(Natalie Vineberg / McGill Tribune)

McGill Against Austerity continued its series of workshops on Feb. 17 with a presentation entitled “Protesting, Police, and Knowing Your Rights,” given by civil lawyer Max Silverman. A former McGill student, Silverman currently practices with law firm Avocat Montreal and teaches at Concordia University. He talked about the history of law enforcement in Montreal and gave advice for interacting with the police.

A history of cycles

Silverman spoke critically of Montreal’s police force, which he characterized as having cycles of escalation in brutality. 

“The history of the Montreal police is basically a history of violence and corruption building up to the point where the public doesn’t take it anymore,” Silverman said. “The city intervenes, restructures the police force, says all the problems are solved and so begins the forty to fifty year cycle.”

Although Silverman applauded  the Quebec Superior Court’s decision to remove Highway Safety Code 500.1 and bylaw P-6, laws which had been used against protesters, he stated that the swift police response to the protests held in Spring 2015 was evidence of the cycle of escalation.

“[In Spring 2015] instead of the mass arrests and focusing on giving out as many tickets as possible, the focus was really on violence and weapons,” Silverman said. “The net result of these tactics was that hardly any protests lasted more than an hour and no protests lasted more than two hours.”

Interacting with police

Silverman sought to advise student activists by giving an account of a citizen’s civil rights.

“The police do not have the right to stop and identify people for no reason in this country, despite what they think and how they act,” Silverman said.

In advising the distinction between being questioned and being arrested, Silverman emphasized that the only obligation an individual has when being questioned is identifying yourself if you’ve been pulled over driving, are in a an age-restricted area, in certain parts of the city at night, or are using a reduced fare transit card.

“The general advice that we give in such a situation is that if the police stop you and try to talk to you, you ask them calmly and clearly if you’re under arrest,” Silverman said. “If they say no, then you absolutely have the right to say I’m not going to talk to you and leave.”

The need for protesting

With the increasing use of force in 2015, Silverman suggested that social movements might need to re-evaluate how they approach protesting.

“There was a time when getting arrested was the point, when getting arrested served a purpose,” Silverman said. “In our modern times with nastier police tactics, with nastier fines, with mandatory minimums in jail, there are many reasons why people have moved away from that.”

Silverman upheld that society has a need for the right to protest.

“I think that things change when people make them change,” Silverman said. “In particular, [for] people concerned about political oppression and [barriers to] protesting […] I do think the best way to counter [these issues] is to just get out and protest more.”

McGill Against Austerity organizer Christian Scott stated that he found the workshop informative.

“Protesting is our right, it’s always good to know what our rights and obligations are,” Scott said. “Keep protesting, there’s always something to change.” 

Although students largely agreed that police brutality is a concern, many did not feel convinced about the merits of protesting as a method.

“These protests generally lack clearly defined goals, so they are not likely to do much,” Griffin Smith, U0 Arts, said. “Frankly, I have more important things to do.”

Breaking down the SSMU GA motions

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(Lauren Benson-Armer / McGill Tribune)

Motion Regarding the Procurement of Products Containing Conflict Minerals

This motion concerning divestment from sourcing of conflict-free minerals from Congo was moved by Ceci Steyn, U2 Arts.

“I moved this motion because while many other divestment movements are well known, most people aren't aware that the minerals in their electronics profit violent rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Steyn said. “This motion aims to have SSMU demonstrate that there's a clear demand for companies to invest in responsible mining in Eastern Congo.”

The motion calls the SSMU to join the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative and for the SSMU Financial Ethics Research Committee (FERC) to update its purchasing guidelines to take conflict caused by mineral sourcing into account.

“It’s important that this motion passes in order to send the message that consumers, particularly students, care about the ethics behind products,” Steyn said. “If SSMU passes this motion, it will become part of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a movement that encourages universities to demonstrate their support for companies that minimize the use of conflict minerals.”

Motion for an Increase in Indigenous Content at McGill University

The indigenous content motion calls for the vice-president (VP) University Affairs to lobby McGill regarding indigenous class offerings and the hiring of indigenous professors. The motion was moved by NDP McGill with the support of various SSMU representatives, including VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke.

“McGill is located on traditional Kanien’kehá:ka territory. It is an institution whose graduates go on take up important positions in Canadian society,” NDP McGill said in a statement to the Tribune. “We feel it has an obligation to offer courses, languages, and programs that reflect indigenous perspectives and priorities.”

VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke stated that SSMU has taken steps in the past to advocate for indigenous studies and more equitable hiring and aims to continue this work.

“The spirit of the GA motion aligns well with SSMU's ongoing advocacy towards the Indigenization of the institution,” Rourke said. “Students played a large role in the establishment of the Indigenous Affairs minor. We have also led considerable advocacy on the issue of Employment Equity within McGill, of which the concerning lack of Indigenous professors is certainly a big part of. I believe this motion is also very timely considering the release of the Truth & Reconciliation Report last year which specifically calls for action within the educational system.”

Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement

This motion calls for the SSMU to support BDS campaigns and lobby the McGill Board of Governors in support of BDS campaigns.

Michael McCauley, U1 Arts, is an organizing member with the McGill Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Action Network.  He stated that the motion aims to support campus campaigns associated with the BDS movement, as opposed to direct organization of boycotting or divesting from Israeli goods or investments.

“[M]any students seem to believe that this motion would directly cause SSMU, or the university, to fully implement boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli products and institutions,” McCauley said. “This is not true.  The motion would only provide SSMU's support to BDS campaigns at McGill, in the same way that it supports Divest McGill, McGill against Austerity, and Demilitarize McGill.”

McCauley stated that the incentive to implement this motion stems from a call made by the Palestinian civil society in 2005.

“The motion is being brought forward as a response to the call by 171 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 for people around the world to implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions initiatives against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights,” McCauley said.

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