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SSMU General Assembly discusses internal policy audits, financial losses, and motion regarding Uyghur rights

On Jan. 16, students and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives assembled via Zoom for SSMU’s Winter General Assembly (GA). The agenda included a vote on the Motion Regarding Uyghur Rights, the Divest for Human Rights policy report, a report from the Board of Directors (BoD), as well as portfolio reports from each SSMU executive.

Seventh on the agenda was a vote on the Motion Regarding Uyghur Rights. The motion, if passed, would expand Divest McGill’s mandate to include divestment from companies considered to be complicit in the ongoing Uyghur genocide. An investigation by The McGill Tribune in March 2022 revealed over 15 million dollars of McGill’s endowment fund tied up in companies complicit in the mass detention of the Uyghur people.

With an attendance just shy of 50 students, including SSMU executives and the Speaker of the Council, the meeting failed to reach quorum—350 attendees must be present to pass any motions. Although a unanimous majority voted in favour of the Uyghur Rights motion, it could not be approved at the GA—it was later presented at a Legislative Council meeting. Before the vote, gallery member Naomi Sacks, U0 Arts, voiced her support for the motion to the Assembly.

“I think that as a university, and as members of our university, we have a responsibility to make sure that the endowment goes towards good causes, and not towards genocide,” Sacks said. “I do think it is super important that SSMU takes a stand, because SSMU is a powerful organization, and with the backing of SSMU, McGill might listen to us.”

The GA then proceeded with a presentation of the BoD’s Report from SSMU President Risann Wright. She had several updates to share since the Fall 2022 GA, including contract renewals and the hiring of new staff, approval of the Financial Statements for the 2022 fiscal year, and ratification of the new Consultation Policy. The BoD also authorized a budget request for an activist bootcamp, and similarly approved the Fall 2022 Referendum Questions.

From there, the GA heard summary reports from SSMU’s various executives. President Risann Wright explained SSMU’s ongoing audit of all governance and policy documents to ensure that the Society adheres to practices of equity and inclusivity.

“This past semester I did quite a bit of research […] to look at doing an audit from an EDI [Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] perspective of all of our government documents, including our Constitution and Internal Regulations,” Wright said. “We have met with various firms and organizations and consultants in this space, who were able to provide insight, and hopefully we will continue to use their support moving forward to ensure that we have the cutting edge of EDI and equity considerations in our policies and governance.”

Vice-president (VP) Finance Marco Pizarro followed with an explanation of the considerable financial losses suffered by SSMU in the past year. According to Pizarro, the current economic climate, in combination with the campaign for McGill to divest from fossil fuels, has had a “huge impact” on SSMU’s finances. He added that Gerts Bar and Café, which is run by SSMU, is struggling due to current inflation rates.

“With our investment fund, we lost a lot of money, a few hundred thousand dollars,” Pizzaro told the Assembly. “The only people that were making money [this year] were the ones that were invested in oil and gas, and thanks to our Divestment and Human Rights Policy, we were not.”

Moment of the Meeting:

SSMU President Risann Wright reported that the Pilot Groceries Program—which launched in December to provide vouchers and free meals to registered students—will soon be made permanent if the program fee motion manages to pass during the Winter 2023 referendum.

Soundbite:

“SSMU is currently working on building affordable student housing for students. The Affordable Student Housing Committee has been truly formidable and is super motivated to do research and to advocate for student priorities in terms of housing [….] Shortly, you should see more information about your housing rights, events, listers, social media posts, all of that.”

—VP External Val Masny on the Affordable Student Housing Committee

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