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Tribune Explains: SSMU and McGill’s Memorandum of Agreement

In an email sent to the student body on March 24, McGill’s Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau condemned the adoption of the Palestinian Solidarity Policy, a question that was approved in the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2022 Referendum with a 71.1 per cent majority. Labeau announced that McGill found the policy to be in violation of SSMU’s constitution and threatened to terminate its Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with SSMU if the student union’s leadership does not remedy the alleged violation. 

What is the Memorandum of Agreement between McGill and SSMU?

The Memorandum of Agreement between McGill University and SSMU governs the relationship between the two institutions. The majority of the document describes the process by which McGill collects and distributes fees gathered from students to support the SSMU. It also outlines rules guiding the society’s use of the McGill name and the University Centre. Both parties typically renew and update the MoA for necessary changes every five years.

The current MoA was signed in 2019 and is scheduled to end on May 31, 2024. 

What is an ‘event of default’ and what happens after a default occurs?

According to SSMU president Darshan Daryanani, Labeau provided SSMU with a notice of default on March 22. Section 12 of the MoA defines a default as an instance where either party breaches any term of the agreement, or when SSMU violates Quebec law, policies of the university, or its own constitution.

Once a party believes that a default has occurred, it must inform the defaulting party with a written notice and allow them 30 working days to remedy the default. Should the accused party disagree over the existence of the default, either party may submit the dispute to be resolved by a jointly selected arbitrator within 90 calendar days of receiving the default notice. 

If the occurrence of a default is confirmed after the arbitration process, the MoA may be terminated by the accusing party. This would cause all funds intended for the society currently held by McGill to be placed in an interim trust fund. The funds will then be overseen by a committee of two McGill representatives, two SSMU representatives, and a mutually selected chairperson. Currently, the university is in sole possession of the gathered fees until McGill transfers the funds to SSMU on its three scheduled distribution dates. 

Would SSMU cease to exist if the MoA is terminated? 

No. Quebec’s Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations mandates educational institutions such as McGill to collect fees assessed by an accredited student association, such as SSMU, from students during registration. McGill is also mandated to transfer those funds to SSMU within 30 days after the end of the registration period. While Quebec law protects SSMU’s existence and financing, a termination of the MoA would prompt legal complications in SSMU’s use of McGill’s name. 

Is there precedent for the current dispute?

In 2017, Legislative Council representative Igor Sadikov tweeted “punch a zionist today.” According to anonymous sources who reached out to The McGill Daily, the controversy allegedly led Principal Suzanne Fortier to threaten to terminate the MoA if the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) did not demand Sadikov’s resignation. Though Sadikov eventually resigned, the university’s actions spurred protests amongst students who viewed the threat of a default as undermining student democracy. 

While the aforementioned notice of default has been the only one publicly known since 2017, SSMU directors and officers have cited approaching decision-making with caution in recent years to avoid confrontation from the administration.

On Feb. 16, 2021, the motion for the adoption of the Divest for Human Rights policy passed at a SSMU General Assembly and Legislative Council. However, the policy’s final ratification by the Board of Directors was postponed on March 4 due to fears of an MoA default. While the BoD eventually approved the motion, hesitations spurred by previous threats of an MoA default overshadowed the process. 

Students continue to protest SSMU’s historical compliance with the administration’s interference in student affairs. Many believe the administration is infringing on SSMU’s democracy and are calling on SSMU to fight back against these challenges to student autonomy.

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