On Oct. 2, Quebecers woke up to the results of the previous night’s election: The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) had won a majority of seats in Quebec’s National Assembly. On the same day, then Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice President (VP) External Marina Cupido wrote a—now deleted—post on the official SSMU External Affairs Facebook page decrying the new government.
“Yesterday, Quebec elected a racist, xenophobic, far-right government with documented ties to white supremacists,” Cupido wrote.
Taking such an inflammatory, divisive, and polarizing position on an official SSMU social media account, without citing any sources or providing any proof to substantiate its claims, is irresponsible and compromises SSMU’s ability to advocate for its students. By typecasting all CAQ voters as having racist, xenophobic, or far-right intentions, Cupido alienated the portion of our student population that politically aligns with the CAQ. Because of their actions, SSMU risks losing its social license to fight legitimately racist, xenophobic, and far-right groups targeting students on campus.
As soon as I saw this post, I was concerned that a SSMU Executive was able to unilaterally voice their controversial opinion on a social media account with the SSMU name in it.
“[S]pecific [Facebook] pages (e.g. SSMU University Affairs, SSMU Student Life, SSMU External Affairs) are each run by individual Executive members whose views don’t necessarily reflect those of SSMU,” VP Internal Matthew McLaughlin wrote in a comment on a SSMU member’s Facebook post.
I completely disagree: Individual Executive members should reflect SSMU’s views on their social media pages. As elected student representatives, SSMU Executives wield a lot of power in determining how the student body presents itself to the world. One Executive should not take official stances on a SSMU account without having a mandate from the Legislative Council or the Executive Committee to do so. They represent the entirety of the undergraduate student body at McGill, and, as such, should only present the student body’s opinions. For this reason, my colleagues and I introduced the Motion Regarding Responsible Representation at the Legislative Council on Oct. 11. This motion aims to provide a framework to preempt unauthorized opinions made on SSMU’s behalf.
Article 10.14 of the SSMU Constitution mandates the VP External to work with the provincial government to lobby and advance our society’s objectives, goals, and policies. By preemptively damaging our society’s relationship with the new government through unsubstantiated allegations, Cupido has impeded SSMU’s ability to work with the Quebec government not just today, but for years to come. SSMU should continue to provide leadership on issues of social justice, as its constitutional mandate requires, and it should continue to speak out against policies proposed by the CAQ that would harm our members. However, it must do so in a factual, responsible, and accountable fashion.
It took the SSMU Executive Committee nine days to release a corrective statement regarding the CAQ’s election. They had the prerogative to hold an emergency meeting, mandate a retraction of the Facebook post, and release a new statement similar to the one they did on Oct. 11. However, they failed to do so, allowing the fallout from the post to continue rather than curtailing the damage to the society. Students trust the SSMU Executives to use their best judgement to avoid making mistakes, and, when they do, to correct them in a timely manner. The corrected post came later than it should have, and, by then, the damage was done.
I believe that the former VP External was well-intentioned in their desire to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our student body. When they released their post, the former VP External could have posted a statement of solidarity and a commitment to protect our students that was grounded in SSMU policies and values. Instead, Cupido’s divisive rhetoric and the SSMU Executive’s inaction ended up hurting the very people they are supposed to be fighting for.