While the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is notorious for inaction, SSMU broke ground on Oct. 11 when it became the first student union in Canada to pass a Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP). However, the decision was contentious, and the Legislative Council saw lengthy debate about the policy’s proposed source of funding: The Anti-Violence Fee Levy (AVFL). During the Fall referendum period, taking place Nov. 9–12, it is essential that students vote in favour of the AVFL so that the GSVP can be implemented immediately and substantively.
The GSVP, a student-directed initiative over a year in the making, is an incredible accomplishment for our campus. Written by Caitlin Salvino—Carleton alumna and national chair of campus–sexual-violence advocacy group Our Turn—Priya Dube (BA ’18), and Bee Khaleeli (U3 Arts), the GSVP is a substantial stand-alone document that maintains a survivor-centric approach and clearly outlines the procedure for filing a complaint against a SSMU member.
To properly implement the policy, the GSVP report recommends the introduction of the AVFL, a $0.45 per term opt-outable fee. If the AFVL is not approved, the GSVP will be without allocated funding. SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Jun Wang maintains that SSMU’s current budget is unable to adequately fund the GSVP.
As a result of Wang’s statements and an alleged breach of procedure, on Oct. 14, Bryan Buraga, a member of SSMU’s Board of Directors (BoD), filed a petition against SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer and VP Finance Jun Wang to the Judicial Board (J-Board). The petition questions whether the VP Finance has an obligation to provide funding for the GSVP in the case that its accompanying fee is voted down in the upcoming Fall referendum.
Buraga’s petition identifies a legitimate flaw in SSMU’s financial management: Students should not have to pay for services that keep them safe. However, SSMU’s financial issues run deeper than the uncertainty over the GSVP’s funding and reflect its lack of experienced leadership. Executives’ short tenures hamper their ability to see projects through to completion; in the absence of long-term planning, SSMU tends to react to unexpected issues instead of anticipating them. For example, it became apparent in Jul. 2018 that former VP Finance Esteban Herpin miscommunicated the size of SSMU’s financial reserves by over $1 million, which resulted in the reduction of student dental coverage from $750 to $500. The absence of available expertise must be addressed if SSMU’s budgeting issues are to be fixed.
In the interim, it is crucial that students vote to support the AVFL. Although the creation of a fee levy is not ideal, students’ imminent safety is contingent on the implementation of the GSVP.
SSMU’s mandate is to advocate for student interests, and the creation of avenues to disclose and report sexual violence is clearly needed. For now, it is important that the AFVL pass, but, going forward, fundamental issues shouldn’t be split into individual, opt-outable agenda items. The VP Finance is correct that funding for sexual violence should not come at the expense of other portfolios such as Indigenous Affairs and Sustainability, and adequately funding each initiative is necessary for SSMU to fulfill its mandate. However, the debate over the AVFL speaks to a need for SSMU to fundamentally reform the way it raises funds so that these trade-offs need not be considered.