Relations between the Students’ Society and La Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec have reached the boiling point this week due to what SSMU has deemed a “scheme to undermine the political sovereignty and democratic processes of the McGill campus.”
SSMU’s membership in the provincial association must be renewed this winter in a campus-wide referendum.
Members of the FEUQ executive and several McGill students met on Sept. 27 to discuss the upcoming referendum. According to SSMU, this was a violation of FEUQ’s constitution, which states that the local student union should have sovereignty over the campus, barring any independent campaigning by la FEUQ on McGill’s campus.
The gathering was organized by Eric van Eyken, former FEUQ secretary general and former SSMU executive and invovled Trevor Hanna, FEUQ vice-president federal and international affairs, Simon Lafrance, FEUQ VP internal, Jacob Itzkowitz, SSMU board of governors representative and arts senator and McGill student Esther Benoit.
Itzkowitz recieved an email on September 20th from Van Eyken inviting him to come to a meeting at Les Trois Brasseurs and after notifying SSMU executives, Itzkowitz attended the gathering.
However, when SSMU executives contacted la FEUQ’s President Christian Bélair, they were told that Lafrance had reported the meeting to be a casual gathering between friends who had happened to run into each other and decided to go out for a beer.
“When Jake and I talked about it we decided that it could just be Eric van Eyken meeting with friends… to talk about FEUQ and this, while sketchy and inappropriate, is certainly not a violation of anything,” said SSMU VP External Max Silverman.
Van Eyken, who organized the meeting, described it as a preliminary get-together.
“The purpose of the meeting was to be the first lobbying meeting,” he said. “It was to evaluate resources, establish people we could contact, establish the opinion leaders which in this case would be SSMU executives and faculty leaders and the press, evaluate what the state of their opinions are, evaluate the structure we’re working in, how many votes it will take and then what it was we wanted to focus on. Any lobbying group would have done the exact same thing,” Van Eyken said.
However, Itzkowitz claimed that during the meeting Van Eyken identified himself as Speaker of Council, proposing questions to be asked at the next SSMU Council meeting, which is a violation of that position. Van Eyken, who was not Speaker at the time, denied that this happened.
“Eric van Eyken in particular was concerned with exerting his influence on the faculties and working with the faculties to make sure they’re all well and good,” Itzkowitz said. “Eric felt pretty confident that he had the faculties of arts andscience and law, as well as several others. He also wanted to make sure he had all his ducks in a row on council. He said that he felt that since he was elected as speaker that he could move council, which is kind of inappropriate.”
Van Eyken objected to this characterization.
“I think that people are well aware of my beliefs on issues,” he said. “If people choose to have the same beliefs, that great. But they’re saying this as if I have dirt on people or I’m blackmailing people, which isn’t true.”
SSMU executives had accused Van Eyken while he was acting as Speaker of Council and asked him to resign.
“I was shocked when they asked me to resign,” he said. “They actually threatened me, that they would publicly embarrass me, which I guess they’re trying to do,” said Van Eyken, who had reapplied to be speaker after the incident.
The agenda of the meeting at Trois Brasseurs included plans to campaign on the referendum, funds available and a general sharing of information.
“They were trying to get my impression on the SSMU position, their feelings, their attitude on the referendum,” Itzkowitz said. “A big part of it is my positions on campus and the perceived rivalry between Max and myself. We butt heads a lot and I think they wanted to play off that. I was supposed to be really excited about pulling strings behind the scenes.”
He also claimed that it was insinuated at the meeting that la FEUQ would support his campaign for SSMU president.
“They didn’t say it outright, but it was 90 per cent explicit,” Itzkowitz said.
However, van Eyken said that Itzkowitz was invited due to his campaigning skills.
Discussion was also held about the Flying Squad, during which Itzkowtiz claimed that Benoit was to be designated as the “spy” in the Flying Squad, which is a newly formed autonomous wing of SSMU that would help mobilize the student body on urgent matters that they feel call for action.
“From what I understand of the Flying Squad, it can choose what issues it wants to campaign on,” van Eyken said. “I think that any independent group who is going to get together and decide what issues to campaign on. It’s kind of contradictory for Max on the one hand to be supporting an independent group that can go and act on issues and then condemn other people trying to engage in lobbying methods.”
Van Eyken said he was disenchanted by the ordeal.
“I’m saddened by the whole thing. I wish that SSMU was dealing with real issues as opposed to going on ghost hunts. I hope they have the maturity to move beyond what I do and do what’s important.”
The controversy produced by these events has further strained the already tense relations between SSMU and la FEUQ, with whom SSMU executives had worked over the summer to create a relationship based on honesty, transparency and good faith and had successfully worked together until this incident.
“The simple fact that they would hold a meeting on the subject of our intentions with la FEUQ without even letting us know that this was going on proves that those involved with the meeting aren’t interested in maintaining a relationship of transparency or good faith,” Silverman said.
Van Eyken claims that this meeting did not in any way undermine SSMU’s local sovereignty.
“I think that there are two different definitions of local sovereignty,” he said. “What it essentially means, the concept, in my view, is that a FEUQ executive who is not from the campus in question will not campaign on that campus. That would not have happened here. There would have been no campaigning on campus by people who were not McGill students.”
No word has come from Bélaire since Friday and SSMU executives are fearful that the entire FEUQ executive was aware of the meeting and its purpose.
“The fact that there were three out of eight execs there is telling,” Itzkowitz said. “It definitely felt like the workings of FEUQ.”
SSMU executives are concerned that this event is typical of la FEUQ but are hoping that it only a few executives were involved.
“It’s too early to tell right now,” Silverman said. “We’re fearful that it’s reflective of of the whole organization but there’s still hope that it was merely a couple of bad apples.”
Now SSMU’s recommendation to their membership in la FEUQ is uncertain.
“How the president reacts will be a major deciding factor. If this is just business as usual, we aren’t going to do business as usual,” Itzkowitz said.”The thing is, it doesn’t seem on the face to be such a big deal except that FEUQ used to do this kind of thing in the past and we thought that we had an agreement with them.”
But it’s the students who will make the ultimate decision.
“I feel that students should be horrified that this is happening. The referendum is their chance to make a decision based on proper information, on whether or not they want to stay a part of this organization and so this organization is trying to mislead them into making a decision they wouldn’t otherwise make, then students should be disgusted,” Silverman said.