The General Assembly met quorum for three of the four motions debated at council. (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

Tensions run high over freedom of dress at SSMU GA

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The Winter General Assembly (GA) of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) featured extensive debate regarding freedom of dress within the SSMU Building. Held on Feb. 5, the event met quorum, with over 100 attendees throughout most of the night.

Freedom of dress

Developed by the engineering student group the Plumber’s Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), this motion sought to prohibit limitations on dress in the SSMU building, as well as to lift all existing bans on any group’s choice of dress.

“This comes out of the realization that SSMU actually has the power to unilaterally put a blanket-ban on any particular item of clothing,” said Morgan Grobin, a U2 Engineering student who presented the motion. “If they really think something is offensive, it should be decided on a case-by-case basis.“

Audience members questioned how efficiently SSMU would be able to monitor clothing on a case-by-case basis, with references made to numerous offensive incidents at Four Floors, the annual SSMU Halloween party.

“If you’re following the SSMU Equity Policy, and there are complaints following the policy, do you believe the complaints will be resolved in a timely manner if we follow this on a case by case basis?” asked a student who could not be identified

Grobin responded by saying that it would be difficult with the current policy, but that SSMU should find ways to address it.

Following questioning from SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Joey Shea, Grobin explained that the motion was influenced by a ban of lab coats worn by members of the PPO. The SSMU executive deemed the coats offensive for displaying inappropriate images and banned them from the SSMU Building during the 2012-2013 school year.

“For me, the most important part was enlightening the GA about the backstory of the motion, as it wasn’t included,” Shea said.

Shea explained that to her, the backstory behind the motion was just as important as the motion itself.

During the voting period for this motion, the assembly could not meet quorum; however, the motion passed as a recommendation to Council, where it was passed the following day. It was, however, ammended to include a clause to allow denial of freedom of dress under reasonable circumstances, which would be determined by the Equity Commissioner.

Motion Regarding Inclusion of Academic Assessment Rights on Course Outline

This motion sought to ensure compliance with the University Student Assessment Policy by faculties and professors, and to increase students’ awareness of these policies by their inclusion on course outlines.

“Since 2011, McGill has had this Assessment Policy that states a professor is not allowed to give you an exam worth more than 75 per cent of your final grade without giving another option,” said Claire Stewart-Kanigan, Arts Senator and mover of the motion. “There’s been a lot of students saying professors just haven’t been doing this. So a good way of enforcing this is to have this included in the course outlines, have a small section of academic rights.”

The motion will require student senators to work with the McGill administration to accomplish these changes

The motion passed without debate.

Motion Regarding 

Sustainability at the SSMU

This motion mandates the Ad-hoc Committee on Sustainability to make a recommendation on sustainability to SSMU Council by the end of the 2014 Winter semester.

SSMU President Katie Larson mentioned that since the SSMU Sustainability Commissioner position was cut due to budget constraints last semester, there have been difficulties with the sustainability committee, primarily due to a lack of interest and people not showing up to meetings—problems which she hopes to account for with the motion.

“I wrote this GA motion to address, for the Ad-hoc Committee on Sustainability, certain organization and scheduling problems,” Larson said. “It’s important to very publicly make a point, [that] the Sustainability committee will report on this,”

The motion was passed.

Motion Regarding the Timely Distribution of Course Information

In order to decrease stress on students in terms of scheduling and buying textbooks, this motion calls for SSMU to lobby the McGill administration to distribute course information in a more timely process.

“You don’t have time during add-drop period to make informed decisions [on buying textbooks], especially for multiple courses,” Shea said. “Considering as well that many students don’t have time to attend all the courses they may want to register in during add-drop, we wanted to make this as accessible as possible.”

The motion passed.

The Motion Regarding TPP and CETA 

This motion required SSMU to officially take a stance against two trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a Canadian-European Union Free Trade Agreement (CETA), which contain provisions on pharmaceutical patents, potentially increasing drug costs in Canada.

As it was a motion on a topic external to the workings of SSMU, however, it required a quorum of 500 people, which the GA did not meet.

The motion was tabled.

  • Morgan Grobin

    “which would be determined by the Equity Commissioner”

    The motion presented at council did not specify who would determine what constituted a reasonable exception to freedom of dress.

  • Anonymous

    “For me, the most important part was enlightening the GA about the backstory of the motion, as it wasn’t included,”, Shea said.

    Translation: “For me, the most important part was desperately trying to spin this issue as a PPO-SSMU turf war, so as to distract from the glaring flaws inherent in SSMU’s current equity policy, such as the fact that it enables sweeping, arbitrary bans to be levied against groups not even under SSMU’s mandate without any actual requirements for justification, transparency or due process.”