Hillel trip controversy dominates SSMU Council

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) convened for their last Legislative Council meeting of the Fall 2019 semester on Nov. 28. Councillors debated issues including new climate justice policies and changes to finance regulations, but much of the meeting was focused on Hillel Montreal’s all-expenses-paid trips to Israel, which were offered to several McGill student representatives.  

Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), addressed the topic’s divisiveness and called on the council to remain respectful of all student groups in their deliberations.

“What I’m hearing from students is that they feel threatened on campus because of their identity,” Labeau said. “Whether we agree or not with an assumed identity, it is still their identity. Some students say they feel threatened because they identify as Zionists [….] Some people tell me they feel unsafe because they identify as Jews, which is also problematic.”

The SSMU Board of Directors ruled that accepting the offer did not constitute a conflict of interest. SSMU president Bryan Buraga elaborated on the board’s decision.

“The Board of Directors took into consideration all the information that they had […] and they determined that, under the Conflict of Interest Policy, it did not constitute either a real or an apparent conflict of interest with the information that they were provided,” Buraga said. “But, they did see the potential of a conflict of interest should the need arise.”

Senator Jeremy Garneau asked whether SSMU’s Conflict of Interest Policy should be amended in light of the controversy. Council President Husayn Jamal explained that the current policy states that determining whether gifts are conflicts of interest is context sentiment.

“A gift over 50 dollars is not automatically a conflict of interest,” Jamal said. “As defined in the policy, as long as a gift over 50 dollars is appropriately disclosed and the board of directors institutes the steps it deems necessary. In those cases, it’s not always a conflict of interest. In this case, however, the board ruled that this situation does not constitute a gift.”

Flashback:

Guest speaker Charlotte Scott-Frater, president of McGill’s History Students’ Association , presented a request to council that a room in the SSMU building be renamed the honour of McGill Professor Marlene Dixon, who was forced to resign from the university in 1974 for her political activism on campus. Scott-Frater said that Dixon had helped students mobilize to advocate for university services to shed light on feminist, post-colonial, and 2SLGBTQIA+ issues.

Sound Bite:

“The AUS Legislative Council would like to express their profound disappointment with the decision of two members of the AUS executive, [AUS VP Finance] Stefan Suvajac  and [Arts Representative to SSMU] Andrew Chase to attend a trip funded by an interest group, the Maccabee Task Force, whose leaders have explicitly stated their goal to influence the decision making process of student leaders on campus, and call on the two executives to refrain from participating in this trip. Even in spite of this decision, we stand in solidarity with their concerns and with their lived experiences of oppression. We do not believe the ruling of any policy. In this case, the SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy […] should serve as a moral compass.” Arts Councillor Darshan Daryanani, on a statement signed by AUS executives.

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