Editor's note: Ahead of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly (GA) the Tribune will be accepting letters on any of the motions being presented If you would like to join the conversation please send a 400-word letter (any letter above the word limit will not be accepted) to [email protected]. We look forward to publishing the McGill community's thoughts on the issue. – Mayaz Alam, Editor-in-Chief
Motion Regarding SSMU's Procurement of Products Containing Conflict Materials— "Yes with reservations"
This motion, moved by a student from the Faculty of Arts, calls for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to declare itself as part of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, which encourages universities to pressure electronic companies to invest responsibly in the Congolese mining industry, and call on electronic companies and other industries to remove conflict minerals from their supply chain. The Tribune endorses a “Yes with reservations” vote at the Winter 2016 General Assembly (GA).
While the declaration itself would be purely symbolic, the clause that calls to influence industries that make use of conflict minerals is vague and gives no indication of how SSMU would accomplish this. It should therefore be modified to reduce the opacity or be struck from the motion. Moreover, the inclusion of the Financial Ethics Research Committee (FERC) must clearly detail the need for consultation with experts on the issue of conflict minerals so that the investment decisions are both well-informed and productive. Without adequate research, the decision to invest in a company based on the extent to which it uses conflict minerals may do more harm than good. The motion falls into the trap of conflating the cause of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the perpetuation of the conflict. Embargos on conflict minerals, rather than having the intended impact on warlords and perpetrators of violence in the Congo,may in fact serve to disenfranchise labourers and those working to earn a living wage for themselves and their families. As a result, warlords gain more power relative to ordinary citizens, and unemployed former-labourers become militarized, thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence. As such, this motion should be adapted so that the emphasis is on updating the FERC plan in consultation with those who are well-informed regarding the various implications of conflict minerals.
Motion Regarding An Increase In Indigenous Course Content At McGill University— "Yes with reservations"
In light of McGill’s lagging progress behind other Canadian universities, the vice-president (VP) University Affairs (UA) of SSMU should lobby to increase the amount of Indigenous content available to students, as well as the number of Indigenous professors to be represented throughout all faculties at McGill. The recently created Indigenous Studies minor has seen success since its introduction, and the addition of a major, a process that is already beginning to be undertaken by the university, will similarly satisfy the significant student interest in Indigenous Studies. A major in Indigenous Studies would also expand the variety of multidisciplinary courses that students could select to fulfill other degree requirements. This is one of the benefits of programs such as North American Studies, which includes courses from a variety of different programs. Similarly, the introduction of an Indigenous Studies major would stand to benefit a wide population of students within the Faculty of Arts by increasing course offerings.
While expanding the visibility of indigenous history and culture on campus is a goal that SSMU should pursue, the top-down implementation of a mandatory course in Indigenous Studies for all McGill students is not the solution. A mandatory course could be difficult to incorporate into the degree plans of students who enter from CEGEP or with advanced standing credits, of which McGill has many, and could be difficult to implement university-wide. Instead, SSMU should focus its efforts on lobbying individual Faculties, who could then implement more mandatory indigenous content or introduce an Indigenous Studies course that is more appropriate academically to that individual Faculty. This would allow such courses or requirements to be better adapted to the specific needs of each Faculty’s students. For the Faculty of Arts, for example, such a course could be conceivably incorporated into the Freshman Program. This motion should therefore be adapted to give Faculties the discretion on the method of implementing mandatory indigenous course requirements.
Motion Regarding Support For The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement— "Abstain"
The “Motion Regarding Support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement” is a highly contentious one—this is the third time in the past two academic years that a motion regarding the situation in Palestine and Israel has been brought to the GA and each time it has surfaced it has succeeded in dividing students. This motion has prescriptions and clauses that are far clearer and more direct than its predecessors; for example, it cites exactly which companies it seeks McGill to divest from and shows how they are related to the situation. This being said, the Tribune endorses an “Abstain” vote for this motion.
Yes, SSMU has a commitment to “demonstrating leadership in matters of human rights and social justice,” as outlined in its constitution. Proponents of the BDS movement at McGill commonly cite the historical precedent with actions taken against Apartheid-era South Africa. Indeed, the weight of the international community’s condemnation did have an effect on the dismantling of the system of oppression in place at the time.
The situation in Palestine and Israel, however, is far less binary. It may be among the most, if not the most, complex geopolitical issues of our time. In contrast, the way that this debate has been framed on campus lacks nuance. Voting “Yes” for this motion brings with it implications that reach far beyond the specific prescriptions that the motion calls for. Similarly, those who vote “No” are rarely given the opportunity to express why they disagree with the motion.
Moreover, the third clause of the motion states that "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 [….]” Although this clause is not binding to SSMU—as per its Internal regulations SSMU's stance would be valid for up to one year—it implies entrenching SSMU’s position over a long time period, which does not consider that the composition of the society represented will change.
Students have demonstrated that they wish to have a forum to discuss this issue; however, the SSMU GA, as it is currently constructed, has proven to be ineffective, especially given the budgetary constraints that prevent the GA from being held in a larger external site such as Leacock 132, as it was in Winter 2015.
One of the inherent problems with a motion such as this one is that it inspires a debate of a political issue that is firmly entrenched within individuals’ identities. When a debate that is as integrally personal as this one turns awry it threatens students’ personhoods. The risk of alienating a large portion of the student body through a decision on this motion is unjustifiable.