On Nov. 8, The McGill Daily published an article detailing their efforts to investigate Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) president Darshan Daryanani’s ongoing absence. After reaching out to several councillors and staff as part of their investigation, Daily journalists received a hostile email from vice-president (VP) Internal Sarah Paulin, asking them to cease contacting SSMU employees because they have “no implications on campus.” Soon after this interaction, the Daily obtained a copy of an email Paulin had sent to all casual and permanent SSMU employees, which read, “You cannot and must not speak to campus media.” At the next SSMU Legislative Council, Paulin apologized and clarified the existing policies that govern SSMU employee media relations. Articles 24 and 25 of the SSMU Casual Staff Employee Manual state that regular and casual staff members are responsible for maintaining confidentiality and must direct all media inquiries to the general manager and the president—both of whom have been absent from their positions this year. This vague policy puts employees at risk, leaving them with less autonomy and few channels to seek accountability.
The employee manual may be binding, but its content—specifically article 25—is unclear, and has not been strictly enforced up until now. In the past, SSMU employees, including casual staff, regularly spoke to media about the important work they were doing in their portfolios. Granted, such a policy is necessary to some extent: Some of the union’s affairs warrant confidentiality and since SSMU employees are not elected, they do not necessarily represent the union’s views. However, employees should have the prerogative to discuss their portfolios, which directly impact the student body.
SSMU employees may not represent the student body in the same way executives do, but their work and well-being matters. Many SSMU employees contribute to important projects in portfolios such as Black Affairs, Indigenous Affairs, and mental health. Some also work for SSMU-owned businesses like Gerts Bar and Café. Suggesting SSMU employees have no implications on campus diminishes their efforts.
The consequences of the media blanket ban are ever the more severe when it comes to workplace issues, such as sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour. But going to the media to discuss internal issues is rarely an employee’s first resort. SSMU employees could find themselves in a toxic work dynamic where a supervisor—the person they are supposed to turn to report workplace harassment, for example—is their abuser. This stipulation is far too broad, especially without a whistleblower policy. Even if no problems are occurring, having such a policy in place facilitates a healthy workplace.
SSMU’s silencing of their employees’ interactions with campus media removes an important channel of accountability. The student body needs to blow the whistle on SSMU becoming an increasingly private organization. If SSMU wants to commit to transparent reform, they must amend the confidentiality policy to be more explicit in scope, and recognize that their employees’ expertise is valuable to the student body.