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SSMU Legislative Councillors take issue with Society’s prevalent use of confidentiality

Another turbulent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) administration nears the end of their tenure as the Winter semester draws to a close and students head to the ballot boxes once again. From March 14 to 18, students will get the chance to vote on a new SSMU executive council and on seven referendum questions. Though each executive position specializes in different areas, there were common threads throughout all candidates’ platforms and pen sketches: Accessibility, communication, transparency, and accountability. 

Criticisms levelled at the SSMU’s increasing privacy and alienation from the student body have been met with inaction and repeated deference to internal regulations and policies. Recent events, such as the return of SSMU President Darshan Daryanani, saw the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) and executive officers meet increasingly in confidential sessions. In the Feb. 17 ​​Legislative Council meeting, the words “confidential” or “confidentiality” were mentioned at least 24 times over the course of the announcement and question periods alone. 

Legislative councillor Andrés Pérez Tiniacos believes the bureaucratic roadblocks he witnessed in past Legislative Council meetings are deep-rooted, but not beyond reason. 

“It was frustrating for us [councillors] to ask and not be given any information, but we do have to understand that this confidentiality is there for reasons,” Tiniacos said in an interview with the Tribune. “[The SSMU] simply cannot break the law. All of these decisions are made following the advice of the SSMU legal advisors.”

The SSMU’s confidentiality policy protects any and all information disclosed to the Human Resources committee (HRC), their appointed representative, and the general manager, unless otherwise authorized by the individual involved. Section 12.1 of the SSMU’s BoD policies further stipulates that ultimately SSMU’s general manager has final say on the decision to disclose information on matters like financial statements, ongoing legal action, and negotiations with SSMU employees.

Tiniacos explained that confidentiality is meant to safeguard everyone involved in an investigation—such as those who came forward during the investigation into the doxxing and harassment of Palestinian students at McGill. In this case and others like it, SSMU legal counsel bars executives from sharing any information that could lead to further targeting. Though the SSMU has dealt with legal proceedings in the past, Nathaniel Saad, a management representative on the Legislative Council, believes that SSMU’s increasingly corporate mindset has overshadowed its basic foundation as a student union. 

“The things that SSMU does are important and affect us, but I feel as though a lot of times people take SSMU too seriously,” Saad said. “Lawsuits are a dangerous thing, and I understand that the executives and SSMU want to protect themselves and the funds that SSMU has. But there has to be some way to avoid the political toxicity that we are completely embedded in right now, and just tell people what happened [….] At the end of the day, student government is not supposed to be this ridiculous.”

Asma Khamis, U2 Science and Legislative councillor, has hope that SSMU will work toward improving its workplace dynamics from the inside out to address its myriad of issues before they escalate to independent investigations or litigation.

“The issue of confidentiality itself is a difficult thing to address, especially since it pertains to a legal framework that SSMU has to follow as a legal entity,” Khamis said in an interview with the Tribune. “However, I do think it is within our grasp to address the underlying issues before it leads to confidentiality becoming a stumbling block—for example, trying to prevent circumstances from happening that would necessitate these types of confidential investigations or information.”

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