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Winter 2015 General Assembly sees turnout of around 550 students

Last Sunday, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its Winter 2015 General Assembly (GA), drawing approximately 550 students to vote on the proposed motions. In order to increase efficiency, a new check-in procedure was implemented and the GA venue was changed from the SSMU cafeteria to Leacock 132. Three motions were on the agenda, with no new motions moved from the floor. These motions included a call to divest from companies that profit from the Palestinian occupation, one to stop the promotion of illegal unpaid internships, and another to oppose tuition increases and austerity measures. Approved motions are required to go through an online ratification, open to all SSMU members, following the GA. 

Motion regarding divestment from companies profiting from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories

Students voted against the motion that called for lobbying McGill to divest from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories. 

Daniel Albega, U2 Management, argued against the motion, saying that the companies targeted by the motion also provide economic opportunities to Palestinians.  

“There seems to be a dangerous double standard […] here, whereby the moment a company sells goods to Israel, it is guilty of human rights abuses, regardless of the fact that the identical product is sold to Palestinians on the other side of the green line,” said Alberga. “Voting against this motion will not only institutionalize the deep divide that exists on campus, but will squander further advance for dialogue.”

A proponent of the motion to divest, Dina El-baradie, U3 Management, discussed the reasoning behind the motion and expressed her support for it.

“The list of endorsements that we have on this motion, is […] a list of a number of […] the marginalized groups on campus,” El-baradie said. “We don’t want to be associated with the occupation [of Palestine]; this has nothing to do with Israel’s right to exist [….] We just want to dissociate from the occupation and not be held complicit.”

Michael Schwartz, L1 Law, spoke in opposition to the motion.

“I question the ability and the wisdom of an organization like SSMU […] dictating foreign policy,” Schwartz said. “This said, I appreciate [that] there are people of good will who believe it should be involved in these matters. That said, this resolution is completely flawed, it should and […] will fail.”

Many other students expressed concern for the possible repercussions that the motion would have on the McGill campus.

“[Many] of us have showed up here to have a dialogue—hopefully that dialogue will not be shattered by the passing of this motion,” L1 Law student Simon Paransky said. “I find that we should vote against this motion to preserve the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas that we have come to value here at McGill.”

A motion to conduct the vote through secret ballot was moved from the floor and approved. The motion to seek divestment ultimately failed with 273 against, 212 for, and nine abstaining, after which the majority of the audience left the GA.

Students expressed their satisfaction with the level of participation in the GA.

“I am very happy to see that the [voting] margins are closer than [at the last GA],” Sarah Albouz, U2 Engineering, said. “I realize that the motions are unrelated, but it’s nice to see that a lot of people came and that the cause is gaining support.” 

Motion regarding unpaid internships

Students voted in favour of the motion moved by the New Democratic Party of McGill University (NDP-McGill) to condemn illegally unpaid internships and actively promote paid internships that adhere to employment laws.

Volunteering to motivate the motion, Law student Jacob Schwayduh outlined the motivations behind the proposed motion pertaining to student employment.

“The first idea behind [this motion] is that young people are valuable, educated, [and] creative, [and] deserve to be paid a wage,” Schwayduh said. “The second [idea] is that the laws we have on the books related to employment and labour should be respected not only by employers but also by McGill University and by students. The motion therefore asks SSMU, working with McGill University, to respect labour laws [….] It also asks us to focus our resources […] towards finding quality paid internships.”

Students expressed support for this motion due to the concern that many unpaid internships are in violation of labour laws.

“Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that people are actually taking that into account,” Arts & Science student Kiana Saint-Macary said. “ I think it is important for McGill to actually regard the fact that some of these unpaid internships are not working under legal grounds. Further on, I think it’s important that McGill emphasizes paid internships and tries to prioritize those over unpaid internships. [It’s] fine if people want to take unpaid internships, but […] making paid internships more accessible is really important; this motion does both of those things.”

SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette pointed out that regulating all clubs who endorse unpaid internships would be difficult. Moustaqim-Barrette moved to amend the wording of the motion in order to avoid imposing requirements that would prevent clubs from promoting unpaid internships.

Amendments made to the motion included the addition of a complaint procedure within SSMU to ensure compliance with applicable laws and the creation of workshops and announcements that allow SSMU to inform clubs of employment laws. Additionally, clauses were edited in order to restrict the proposed internship promotion requirements to new clubs only.

Motion regarding the SSMU’s policy on accessible education

During the voting period for the last motion, the 100-person quorum was not met, resulting in a consultative student vote. Students voted in favour of the motion “specifically oppose any mechanism to raise tuition for any and all [SSMU] members.” Due to the consultative vote, however, this motion will be brought to SSMU Council for approval as per constitutional bylaw requirements.  

Moustaqim-Barrette introduced the motion and explained its importance.

“This is extremely important right now in the context of the austerity measures in Quebec,” Moustaqim-Barrette said. “It is important that SSMU has a policy on [austerity measures] and has this for the next five years [….] This will allow SSMU to continue working to oppose any mechanism to increase tuition in the next five years.”

VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan also spoke in favour of the motion.

“This [motion] is for future matters [and] would allow us to take a stance, in advance, [on] these measures which would do a disservice to the interest of many of our students,” she said.

The remaining students voted in favour of the motion 58-24. The voting procedure for this motion was consultative due to the lack of quorum. 

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