On Oct. 14, Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) Senator Bryan Buraga petitioned the SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board), which oversees disputes over SSMU laws, to hold a hearing on the constitutionality of the Anti-Violence Fee Levy (AVFL). The AVFL will be voted on in the upcoming Fall Referendum and, if it passes, an opt-outable fee of $0.45 per student, per term, will be charged to fund the new Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP). The policy, approved on Oct. 18 by the Legislative Council, formalizes a response to sexual violence involving SSMU members. It originated in response to two SSMU executives resigning in 2017 as a result of allegations of sexual violence.
The petition charges SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer with failing to follow SSMU’s Internal Regulations. Buraga argues that the AVFL motion was presented to the SSMU Legislative Council with an insufficient number of movers.
“The president had a habit of submitting motions to the steering committee that did not have the proper number of movers, then asking for movers from the steering committee,” Buraga said.
Mansdoerfer believes Buraga’s understanding of SSMU policy is erroneous.
“The biggest misinterpretation comes from [Buraga] not understanding how the Internal Regulations function and how different regulations take precedence over others,” Mansdoerfer said. “The standing rules, which are in the Internal Regulations of Governance, state that we need three movers for a motion. This rule takes precedence over the rules in the Internal Regulations of Elections.”
The petition also argues that Vice President (VP) Finance Jun Wang has an obligation to fund the GSVP without charging a fee levy or cutting other parts of the budget. Instead, Buraga believes that the money should come from SSMU’s $3.6 million emergency fund. He argues that, morally and ethically, students should not have to pay additional costs for the GSVP and that it needs a reliable source of funding.
“There shouldn’t be a separate fee,” Buraga said. “It should be included within the operating budget. By separating it into the Anti-Violence Fee Levy (AFVL) […] in every five years there’s a risk that it’s not going to pass.”
During a meeting of the Legislative Council on Oct. 11, Buraga presented amendments to both the GSVP and the AFVL that would require that VP Finance to fund the policy without a fee levy. In reply, Wang noted that similar policies were funded with levies, and that, without the AFVL, he would be forced to cut other parts of the budget to fund the GSVP. Both amendments failed. Wang did not reply to the The McGill Tribune’s request for comment.
Mansdoerfer believes that Buraga is inappropriately using the J-Board to further his own political agenda.
“[Buraga] did not interact with me at all before filing the petition,” Mansdoerfer said. “I don’t feel that the petition is about the constitutionality [of the referendum]. It’s about the fee [….] It’s very important to recognize that, in my opinion, [Buraga] very minimally cares about the constitutionality of the question.”
Connor Spencer, SSMU’s VP External for 2017-18 and a key player in the creation of the GSVP, believes that the use of a fee levy is justified in ensuring that students have mechanisms in place to respond to acts of sexual violence.
“SSMU keeps growing, but the fee levy has not,” Spencer said. “Yes, I do think a student fee is justified, [as] we need to be able to fund [the GSVP]. Currently, SSMU does not have the ability to fund it internally. They already have a decently-tight budget compared to other student unions.”
Spencer also stated that students should be more critical of SSMU spending.
“There’s another question here about how money is [allocated] within SSMU, and this is something that members should care about,” Spencer said. “[Students] should call out their student association to be more transparent about the budget.”
The Fall Referendum polling period will take place Nov 9-12. The J-Board, which has accepted Buraga’s petition, will be seeking intervenors before it begins a hearing.