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Five of seven motions pass at Winter General Assembly

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Five out of seven motions passed at the Students’ Society’s Winter General Assembly last Wednesday, with only a motion that sought to ban discriminatory groups – specifically pro-life groups – failing, and another being ruled out of order.

Unlike last semester’s GA, the assembly managed to address each motion of new business while maintaining quorum throughout.

SSMU President Ivan Neilson, while happy with the turnout, expressed mixed feelings about Wednesday’s GA.

“There was a lot of good, but I think with that there was some bad, so it’s hard to call it a complete success,” he said. “But we can definitely take some satisfaction, or at least some pride, in the fact that we ran through the entire agenda and didn’t lose quorum. I think that was probably the best part of it.”

The Resolution Re: Free Quality Accessible Education was not debated, as it was ruled out of order near the start of the meeting, due to redundancy. That resolution, which called for SSMU to commit to fighting for “free, quality, accessible education” and to supporting student parents and working students, was ruled to be too close to an old motion that had been dealt with by SSMU Council.

The resolution re: Discriminatory Groups failed to pass after lengthy debate over possible amendments to the motion, including one that would have removed the reference to pro-life groups.

The other five motions passed, however, and SSMU is now mandated to investigate their own and McGill’s financial ties to tar sands industrial developments in Alberta, to lobby the administration for the restoration of ATM machines that dispense five-dollar bills, and to oppose any future increases in mandatory ancillary fees as well as the “self-funded tuition program model.”

Additionally, SSMU is now mandated to reaffirm its commitment to human rights, social justice, and environmental protection, as well as either expand the mandate of the Financial Ethics Review Committee – a committee of SSMU Council – to act as an advisory board to the university “with respect to the ethical practices of corporations with respect to ethical practices of corporations with which McGill University conducts business,” or to create a new committee, known as the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, to do so.

The resolution, which also calls for the lobbying of McGill to divest from companies that do not meet ethical standards determined by FERC or the CSR Committee, generated controversy leading up to the GA because two of the whereas clauses alluded to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Much of the opposition to the motion was organized around this fact, with some calling the motion a “demonization of Israel.”

“I don’t think the GA is the right forum [for dealing with Middle East politics],” said Hillel McGill President Mookie Kideckel, who is also a Tribune columnist. “That’s part of why we organized against the motion. It’s not that you shouldn’t talk about it, but the GA – there’s always too much riding on it, the tensions are too high, there’s too much at stake to have frank, genuine, honest, open dialogue.”

However, Khaled Kteily, the vice-president membership and development of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the group which submitted the motion, expressed disappointment with the campaign against the resolution.

“We’re unhappy with the characterization of our motion as a ‘demonization of Israel,'” Kteily wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Israel does violate the human rights of Palestinians, and companies that you and I may be paying money to through SSMU or through McGill are helping. We are concerned that companies are profiting from the illegal occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The motion was passed, however, only after an amendment removed the two whereas clauses dealing with the occupied Palestinian territories.

“My reaction is that McGill students demonstrated that they are completely committed to human rights and just have no interest in seeing Israel unfairly singled out,” Kideckel said.

Neilson was happy with the mandate provided to him by the motion, and he pointed out that it fits in with a project he’s already been working on.

“I’ve been looking at all of our committees since the beginning of the year, so this is actually something that fits pretty well with [that],” he said. “And in a way it’s kind of nice to be getting some direction in that, and to have some kind of a mandate from the students is something that’s beneficial, and that I will certainly take into account.”

Neilson did express concern over the scope of the mandate proposed by the motion, however.

“I think there are some issues on the level of what exactly it asks FERC to do, simply because they are issues completely unrelated to SSMU,” he said. “What the motion entirely misses is that McGill already has a committee – the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility – which is a board committee that already accomplishes this function, and would be much more effective at doing the kind of review that I think they’re after.”

However, Kteily expressed concern over this unit, which is a part of McGill’s Board of Governors, and meets on an ad hoc basis.

“The problem here is accessibility. Undergraduate students are not represented on this committee at all,” Kteily wrote. “We believe that this CSR committee will ensure that undergraduate students’ concerns are adequately represented at a university level.”

Understanding Wednesday’s General Assembly motions

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Undergraduate students will gather tomorrow beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the Shatner cafeteria to participate in the Winter General Assembly. With seven new motions on the table there is a wide variety of SSMU policy to be decided.

Motion Re: The Defense of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection

Put forward by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, this motion has emerged as perhaps the most controversial Genderal Assembly motion. Should it pass, the Students’ Society would be mandated to “issue a statement reaffirming its commitment to human rights,” expand the Financial Ethics Review Committee, allow for instituting a Corporate Social Responsibility committee, and have either active committee investigate McGill University’s investments.

The motion has drawn attention mainly due to the two non-debatable, non-amendable “whereas” clauses that mention the conflict in the Middle East.

“The main concern was to make sure that McGill has an ethical and moral way of handling business and that they don’t invest in any companies that don’t support human rights or in any way infringe upon anyone’s human rights,” said Samer Sefian, SPHR vice-president internal.

Sefian added that he was not surprised by the opposition garnered by the motion.

“Some people will believe that we are putting Israel aside and just targeting Israel, which is not true at all. I think it came out like this because either they have not read the full motion, which I doubt anybody did, or they are just thinking of it in a different way.”

The motion doesn’t specify any direct action to condemn Israel, though opponents to the motion believe that it has been written in a similar spirit to last year’s motion to condemn Israel for the bombing of educational institutions in Gaza.

“A lot of last year’s motion was about not wanting the campus to be polarized and we have the same position – we have no interest in seeing this campus as being divided on ideological lines,” said Mookie Kideckel, Hillel McGill President and Tribune Columnist. “But in a way, we almost see this resolution as more underhanded than last year because last year some actually asked McGill students to take an ideological position – this one does so in a really sly, covert way.”

Motion Re: Discriminatory Groups

In the aftermath of this year’s chapter in the Choose Life saga, a motion has been put forward to ban any pro-life group from becoming an official SSMU club.

If passed, the motion would amend the SSMU equity policy to include the following statement: “The SSMU further resolves to condemn any group, student association or organization whose goals and methods compromise the safety and health of any person or engage in acts of discrimination such as but not limited to pro-life groups; the SSMU will not grant full or interim status to any such group.”

Natalie Fohl, president of the suspended Choose Life club, said that the motion is a preemptive attempt to disallow Choose Life from being reinstated with full club status.

“It is very unfortunate to hear, coming from a group of students, that they would basically like to stifle dialogue on a legitimate topic by deeming the topic, or at least one perspective on it, illegitimate,” Fohl said. “I think that’s really against the spirit of what a university campus is supposed to foster, which is to question everything and open dialogue.”

Motion Re: Self-funded Tuition Model

As the University struggles to close a $14 million dollar deficit, the administration has announced that it will instate a self-funded tuition model for the Master’s of Business Adminstration program, a move which will create a flat tuition rate of $29,500 per student in the 2010-2011 academic year.

The motion seeks to establish a formal policy against self-funded tuition models and mandates SSMU to lobby against the self-funded tuition model on the university, provincial, and federal levels.

Motion Re: SSMU for Free Quality Accessible Education

Staying with tuition issues, the motion for Free Quality Accessible Education seeks to require SSMU to lobby for ultimately eliminating university tuition and student debt and also to “reinvest in education to maintain the quality and accessibility.”

Motion Re: Ancillary Fees

Ancillary Fees are another issue with strong ties to the McGill deficit. With the Quebec Ministry of Education’s current cap of $15 per student per semester set to expire on 2011, this motion seeks to mandate SSMU to oppose any future increases in ancillary fees unless passed by referendum.

Motion Re: Tar Sands

Should it pass, this motion would mandate SSMU to condemn the industrial development of the Alberta Tar Sands, examine investments of over $15,000 for ties to the Tar Sands industry, create a sub-committee of the FERC to research investment ties that McGill may have to the Tar Sands, and redefine the criteria for what is considered involvement with the Tar Sands.

Motion Re: Restoration of $5 Bill ATM Machines

If passed this motion will require SSMU to negotiate with the McGill administration to reinstate the availability of five dollar bills in ATM machines on campus.

GA Reform

Although tomorrow’s GA will go ahead under the current rules, the possibility for reform has again been brought up. At last Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, a motion was passed that will create a council-initiated referendum question to be put to students in the Winter Referendum period.

The referendum question, signed by SSMU President Ivan Neilson, VP Clubs and Services Sarah Olle, VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley, and Councillor David Marshall, would amend the constitution to make it more difficult for GAs to set policy on issues external to the Society.

“The spirit behind the question was to sort of redefine the GAs so we get all the really positive elements of direct democracy, and leave out some of the confusion, and the messy, more problematic motions which tend to come up and which don’t really have anything relating to SSMU,” said Neilson.

Currently, Article 28.1 of the SSMU Constitution reads: “A General Assembly may establish, amend or rescind any policy of the society except” and lists the constitution, membership fees or other financial matters of the society, and the composition of the society’s staff. The amendment would add to this list “policies on matters external to the Society’s regular activities.”

The amendment would also insert a new section, 28.2, which would read: “exceptionally, a policy on a matter external to the Society’s regular activities may be adopted at a General Assembly if the following conditions are satisfied,” and lists as the conditions: 500 members of the society are present, two thirds of the General Assembly votes in favour of debating the resolution, and the resolution passes with a simple majority.

Students will be able to vote on the question in the referendum period in early March. The campaign period begins on March 2, and regularly polling takes place from March 9-11.

– Additional reporting by James Gilman

Eight candidates vie for two spots in SSMU C&S Rep election

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Two Students’ Society clubs and services representatives vacated their positions last semester, necessitating an election, to be held this Wednesday, to fill the positions.

One representative from each full-status club, service, or publication can cast a ballot on Wednesday, though anyone can ask questions or participate in the debate to be held before the vote. The debate and election will take place in Room 302 of the Shatner Building.

Nathan Goldstein and Lorna Sampson were the two students who gave up their positions, paving the way for this Wednesday’s election. Sampson resigned for personal reasons, and Goldstein was forced out due to poor attendance at Council meetings.

“If you fail to show up for two Council meetings without telling us ahead of time, and then do not meet with the SSMU president to explain why you have been absent then you lose your seat,” said Vice-President Clubs and Services Sarah Olle.

Natalie Fohl – president of pro-life club Choose Life, whose club status was suspended by SSMU Council in November – is running, alongside seven other candidates. Choose Life’s controversial event, Echoes of the Holocaust, held last October, drew considerable public outcry, and led to the suspension of the club’s status.

Olle initially expressed concern that Fohl couldn’t run in the election, because Choose Life’s club status is currently suspended. Only members of full-status clubs, services, or publications were eligible to participate in the election.

“However, her participation in other clubs [Conservative McGill and the Newman Students’ Society] qualified her,” said Olle.

Council’s motion to suspend choose Life’s club status, which passed narrowly, mandated Choose Life and the Student Equity Committee to draft a set of rules, outlining what the club can do within the parameters of the SSMU constitution, bylaws, and policies.

Members of Choose Life, the Student Equity Committee, and VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley are meeting to discuss the rules this Friday.

“We had a preliminary meeting in December with the two equity officers,” Fohl said. “Both Choose Life and the equity committee are going to bring proposed solutions to the table [on Friday].”

If elected, Fohl claimed that she would “ensure that clubs at McGill are treated fairly.” In her pensketch, Fohl maintained that her “experience with a variety of clubs” would help her “effectively represent the interests of SSMU’s clubs and services” on campus.

Olle acknowledged that, if Fohl is elected and Choose Life’s club status is debated, again, this semester, it would be “a unique and rare situation that we really haven’t dealt with before – at all.”

“It’s the combination of so many unique circumstances, so we’d really have to figure out what would be the just thing to do. But we haven’t come to any conclusions yet,” she said.

Seven other students are running in the election: Bilal Manji, Sarah Rivin, Cathal Rooney-Cespedes. D’Andre Wilson, Adam Wheeler, Keane Yarish, and Timothy Abdulla.

Wheeler is a former Queer McGill political action coordinator – he resigned his position last semester. Olle described him as a competent administrator, adding that “he’s dealt with SSMU extensively.”

Rooney-Cespedes, U2 arts, is a “large contributor” to the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill. His pensketch outlines a plan to increase communication between Council and clubs and services.

“I would not only make an effort to implement ideas of my own, but also make sure that the voices of all clubs and services are being considered,” Rooney-Cespedes said, according to his pensketch.

Wilson, a U3 chemical engineering student, was an executive of the Caribbean Students’ Society and the National Society of Black Engineers, gaining an “in depth” understanding of managing clubs. As a representative to Council, she “would ensure that all clubs continue to get access to the resources they need to keep this campus lively.”

Olle acknowledged that, in the past, SSMU has had a number of acclaimed, or open, political positions. But with eight candidates running in a mid-year election, she was “excited that so many people are ready to jump into Council.”

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