News, SSMU

Legislative Council passes motions on Uyghur rights, support for trans students

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on Jan. 19 for its first meeting of the winter semester to vote on two motions: One regarding the state repression of Uyghur people in China and another one which serves to bolster SSMU’s support for trans students in the wake of Robert Wintemute’s scheduled talk at McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP). 

Vice-president (VP) External Val Masny presented the first motion, which seeks to pressure the McGill administration into divesting from companies involved in the Uyghur genocide. The motion was originally presented at SSMU’s Winter General Assembly but did not pass because the meeting did not reach quorum. The Speaker of the Council then sent the motion to the Legislative Council, in accordance with SSMU’s Internal Regulations of Governance.

Demands outlined in SSMU’s Divest for Human Rights Policy—which already calls on the university to divest from roughly $1,000,000 of holdings in companies deemed complicit in the genocide—would now apply to the full range of McGill investments outlined by the motion.

“The way in which the [Uyghur genocide] operates is knowably through mass surveillance of the Uyghur population, built in China and abroad, and those companies that we’ve researched have been found to engage in […] surveillance,” Masny said. “[McGill’s] investments total 115 million dollars. It is quite an impressive number.”

SSMU, borrowing from a study by the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, outlined their qualifications for companies considered to be complicit in the Uyghur genocide in the motion. The standards earmark any company known to use forced Uyghur labour, any company manufacturing in or partnered with East Turkestan, and any Chinese surveillance company or biotech company engaging in genomic identification—a tool China has broadly used to track its citizens.

The motion passed with 17 votes in favour and one vote in opposition.

Masny then brought forth a motion regarding Robert Wintemute’s foiled seminar, which reiterated SSMU’s support of trans people.

“There have been people in the student body who have named what has happened as hate speech,” Masny said. “[Our] firm position against hate speech is a prolongation of SSMU’s firm position against discrimination.”

Beyond officially condemning Wintemute, the motion requires that an action plan be created to equip SSMU in future efforts supporting the transgender community. This action plan, will be drafted before the end of this academic year in collaboration with SSMU’s Gender and Sexuality Committee and executives in University and External Affairs. 

The motion passed unanimously, with a single member abstaining.

Before either motion was voted on, representatives from undergraduate faculties—as well as SSMU executives—each presented reports from their respective branches of responsibility. Arts representative Matthew O’Boyle gave an update on the upcoming Fiat Lux project, which will shut down the McLennan-Redpath complex from Winter 2024 until 2026.

“There were a lot of concerns about study space, and [the university] has secured a contract with a place to secure study space,” O’Boyle said. “They’re also trying to find some other work-study programs for students.”

O’Boyle’s colleague, Arts representative Angelica Voutsinas, also had some news to share.

“If anyone has classes in Leacock, [AUS] Snax will be up and running soon—we’re just finishing up some construction,” she said, referring to the beloved snack bar whose reopening has been hampered in recent years by renovations and hiring struggles.

Moment of the meeting:

Masny expressed frustration with the motion supporting trans rights over the fact that, without clear mandates, decisions on how, if, and when to enforce guidelines are made at the discretion of SSMU executives alone. 

Soundbite: 

“We’re monitoring sidewalks at McGill because it’s one of our mandates—so if you see snow unshoveled or sidewalks unsalted, you can email me [….] We’re trying to pressure the city to do better shovelling snow.”
—VP External Val Masny, delivering an open invitation for students to email [email protected]  should they spot unkept sidewalks

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