COMMENTARY: What do you want from your GA?

Opinion by

There are few parts of the legislative process as controversial as the “rider.”

Riders are unrelated provisos typically attached to bills that are politically impossible to veto or postpone, usually in order to pass unpopular legislation that would not get approval by itself. The idea is that politicians would rather pass the bulk of the bill than defeat the rider. This is how, for instance, a 2003 anti-drug proliferation law was tacked onto the US bill that created the AMBER Alert system for missing children. Effectively, riders help eager legislators bypass democratic checks and balances.

This week at the Winter General Assembly, SSMU has some legislation coming through, and one of the motions is loaded with a rider: the one entitled, “Resolution for the Defence of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection.”

The “be it resolved” clauses of this motion are probably commendable, while not groundbreaking: they reaffirm SSMU’s commitment to “human rights, social justice, and environmental protection,” and call for an expansion in the role of SSMU’s ethical investment oversight body so that they can also act in an advisory capacity to the McGill administration (supposing the administration is interested).

Then there’s the preamble. The preamble is composed of “whereas” clauses that are supposed to provide justification for the resolution, and accepting the resolution means affirming the preamble too. However, the whereas clauses cannot be debated or amended at a GA. And this preamble, in listing examples of potentially unethical investments, contains a brief mention of Burma – followed by two extensive paragraphs on the Palestinian Territories. No other zones of human tragedy are listed.

The problem, then, is that in its non-debatable, un-amendable clauses that have nothing to do with the actual action in the resolution, this motion accomplishes something far beyond the defence of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection.

First, the motion unfairly singles out Israel. (Full disclosure: I am the President of Hillel McGill.) Like all suffering, that of the Palestinians is deplorable. But demonizing Israel with no allowance for nuance, such as legitimate security concerns, or as if it is the worst or only global offender, is unfair. An equitable use of examples would list exhaustively or not at all.

Second, it attempts to link singling out Israel with supporting human rights and to create a stigma around defending the state.

Third, it asks McGill students to vote negatively about Israel in an indirect, roundabout, and non-debatable way.

And fourth, it associates Israel with divestment. Campaigns to direct boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel have appeared on campuses across North America. This could potentially sow seeds for such a movement to fester at McGill later down the road.

I am willing to accept that the intentions behind this resolution are benign. The result, though, is that in the guise of moral imperative comes a convoluted excuse to bring up one group’s political agenda at the GA. Moreover, it effectively gets SSMU to accept a political position, but – by doing so through palatable “be it resolved” clauses and un-amendable “whereas” clauses – avoids actually asking students at McGill for their permission. And I understand that the preamble merely outlines “facts,” but a fact is never simply objective – it is shrouded in context and narrative.

When you vote on this motion tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Shatner Cafeteria, think about whether you want GAs to be used as forums for political groups on campus to air their worldly grievances, or as opportunities to make important policy decisions for SSMU. And even if it’s the former, think about whether you want 600 students, speaking for thousands more, to adopt a position because of a resolution that slyly brings a narrow political agenda to the floor, or whether you want honest and inclusive motions that ask the students of McGill to make policy directly affecting the conduct of the Students’ Society.

Mookie Kideckel is a U2 History student, the President of Hillel McGill, and a Tribune columnist. You can reach him at [email protected]