On March 24, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its third Legislative Council session of the winter semester at 6 p.m. Discussion centred around an email the McGill administration sent just hours earlier through its MRO Communications system. The email, sent to all McGill students and staff, denounced the Palestine Solidarity Policy that students voted in with 71.1 per cent in favour during SSMU’s Winter 2022 referendum.
Authored by Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau, the administration’s MRO expressed dismay at the passing of the Palestine Solidarity Policy, calling it “an initiative that can only bring more division to [the McGill] community,” and asserting it was in violation of the SSMU’s constitution. McGill has called on the Society to take “appropriate remedial action,” threatening to end the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) that governs its relationship with the SSMU if it fails to do so.
At the onset of the meeting, Arts representative Yara Coussa proposed the possibility of introducing motions to publicly condemn the university’s message and stand in support of the referendum’s result. The Council’s Steering Committee approved the presentation of these motions for later in the meeting.
Multiple constituent questions were brought forth during the question period about how the Society would respond to the MRO and whether it would stand by the result of its referendum. In response to these queries, vice-president (VP) Finance Eric Sader noted that the issue at hand revolved around the constitutionality of the policy, and that the decision would be primarily left to SSMU’s Judicial Board (J-Board), not the Legislative Council.
“The university should not have a say as to what SSMU does,” Sader said. “They do not have a legal right to do so and they do not have a legal right to determine what is or is not an acceptable stance in that sense. What does exist, however, is the SSMU constitution itself [….] We are not allowed to violate our own constitution. Does McGill have a right to tell us what opinions to hold? No.”
One of the motions moved by councillor Coussa called on the SSMU to issue a statement standing against McGill’s message and denouncing its decision to publicly intimidate the Society and its democratic process. The motion passed with 11 votes in favour, and four opposed.
Another motion moved by Coussa called for a joint statement with SSMU and the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) to stand by the policy and condemn the administration’s disregard for the safety of Palestinian students. The motion was indefinitely tabled for the purposes of verifying the policy’s legalities with J-Board first, as many councillors raised concerns about potentially exposing SSMU to litigation from McGill.
Cited potential repercussions included the significant cost of a legal feud, as noted by VP Student Life Karla Heisele Cubilla, and the implications of terminating the MoA, which councillor Andres Perez Tiniacos believes would put many SSMU spaces in jeopardy, including the University Centre.
“It is important to look at the risk of should termination of the MoA happen by the McGill Administration,” Tiniacos said. “A lot of the current services and a lot of the spaces that SSMU is able to provide to students right now are under the MoA. The University Centre is not one of them, but as we heard previously, the lease of this agreement […] is binding to the MoA as well. So, it could also mean the SSMU losing the University Centre.”
“As a Jewish student, I am absolutely appalled to see the interference in this way and the blatant attempt to undermine student democracy and smear Palestinian human rights. I urge all of the members of SSMU to stand up for the student body here and stand up for Palestinian human rights and against this blatant interference.”
—Member of the Gallery Geneviève Navin during the question period, condemning the administration’s MRO.
Moment of the Meeting:
Member of the Gallery Saf Hakawati urged the Legislative Council to take note of the pressing nature of their response, emphasizing that the whole student body was waiting to see how SSMU would react and that the story was garnering attention from both national and international media outlets.