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SSMU suspends SPHR McGill over parody post, citing harassment

After publishing a satirical article on social media in protest of the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) decision to revoke the Palestine Solidarity Policy, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) received a 105-day suspension for harassment. SPHR will not be able to access any resources provided by the SSMU, such as funding opportunities, room booking privileges, or their SSMU bank account, until Aug. 29. Former SSMU vice-president (VP) Student Life Karla Heisele Cubilla notified SPHR of the Board of Directors’ (BoD) decision to suspend the organization on May 16 via email. 

The SPHR article, shared on April 25, was a caricature of SSMU’s April 25 statement announcing that the Society would not adopt the Palestine Solidarity Policy because it was deemed unconstitutional. SPHR’s message mimicked the format of the BoD’s announcement, but satirized SSMU and its decision-making, characterizing the processes as dictatorial.

In an interview with The McGill Tribune, SPHR executive Anya* explained that the statement was devised to raise morale among supporters of the Policy after the Palestine Solidarity Policy was struck down.

“There was a […] feeling of defeat, and, honestly, spirits were down,” Anya* said. “A lot went into this campaign, and a lot of people contributed. The parody was just a lighthearted way to criticize the Board for its decision.”

SSMU found that the post’s language—particularly, references to the BoD as the “Board of Dictators,” with “backbones made of jelly” who “uphold the white supremacist values of McGill’s Board of Governors”—to be in violation of article 3.1.6 of the Internal Regulations of Student Groups. According to article 3.1.6, all clubs’ operations must abide by SSMU and McGill’s rules, regulations, and by-laws. The SSMU claims that the language used by SPHR McGill constitutes harassment as per its Equity Policy and the McGill Policy on Harassment and Discrimination

While SPHR does not have access to room booking or funding opportunities from SSMU during its suspension, Anya* believes SPHR’s operations will not be greatly impacted. 

“We get most of our funding, and most of our resources from QPIRG [the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill],” Anya* said. “With regards to funding, we don’t take funding from SSMU […] usually, just because we don’t want to deal with the receipts and have people’s identities be jeopardized.”

Other student groups have spoken out against SPHR’s suspension. In an email to the Tribune, Sebastian Seyva, a PhD candidate in the Department of Neuroscience and member of Socialist Fightback at Concordia and McGill, emphasized the importance of student union support for student activism. 

“The suspension of SPHR from the McGill SSMU is just the latest in a string of attacks on student activism and the democratic will of the student body on campus,” Seyva wrote. “As students, our primary weapon to fight back against these attacks is our student union, but recent events have revealed how the leadership of the student union (its Board of Directors) is equally complicit in clamping down on any sort of dissent in the student body, and actively preventing the student union from becoming a real avenue of struggle for students looking to fight back.”

SPHR McGill is currently working to appeal its suspension. VP Student Life Hassanatou Koulibaly explained that such a process prompts a review by the Clubs Committee.

“Depending on the nature of the issue, sanctions are determined according to the Internal Regulations of Student Groups and as detailed by Club Processes,” Koulibaly wrote in an email to the Tribune. “When a club receives a sanction, they may wish to appeal the decision through the Sanction Appeal Form which is then submitted to the Clubs and Services Coordinator for review before then being reviewed by the Clubs Committee.”

*Anya’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity

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