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SSMU Policy Against Genocide in Palestine suspended due to B’nai Brith court case

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Quebec Superior Court ordered the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to postpone the ratification of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine until a final verdict is reached at a court hearing in March 2024. A McGill student filed the injunction with the backing of Jewish service organization B’nai Brith Canada, who believe the policy should not have been allowed to appear in the fall referendum.

The injunction comes after students voted in favour of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine  question in the fall referendum, with 78.7 per cent of non-abstaining students voting Yes.” The policy would mandate that SSMU adopt an official position of solidarity with Palestinian students by publicly denouncing Israel’s siege on Gaza and putting pressure on McGill to divest from companies supporting Israel. Until the SSMU Board of Directors ratifies the policy, SSMU cannot act upon it. In a statement, SSMU wrote that it plans on contesting the injunction request in court, but will postpone the ratification until March.

In an email to The Tribune SSMU President Alexandre Ashkir emphasized the organization’s commitment to upholding student democracy and maintaining an “open dialogue” with students.

“By adding to the burden of ratification, the university threatens a democratic vote and as such the legitimacy of all student democracy,” Ashkir wrote. “[SSMU] must always operate by mandate; for the time being that mandate is fighting in court for the right of the democratic process to express itself fully and to its end.”

In a statement issued on Nov. 17, B’nai Brith reaffirmed their support for the McGill student who filed the injunction, who wishes to remain anonymous. In July 2022, the organization also backed a McGill student in a lawsuit against SSMU and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill for attempting to pass the Palestine Solidarity Policy.

“[W]e believe [the policy] represents a serious threat to the rights of Jews at McGill University.” B’nai Brith wrote online. 

On Wednesday Nov. 8, prior to the end of the referendum voting period, the Office of the Deputy Provost notified the Society that the university believed that the Policy, if ratified, was a violation of SSMU’s constitution. In accordance with section 12.1.2 of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill University, this would also put SSMU in default of the MoA. SSMU notified students of the notice of default from McGill on Monday, Nov. 20, after the voting period had ended.

In an email to The Tribune, McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle explained that McGill believes that SSMU has breached the constitution’s preamble, which states that “the Society shall endeavour to facilitate communications and interaction between all students from all McGill communities” and “to act in the best interests of [SSMU] members as a whole.”

“The view of McGill’s senior administration remains that the proposed policy, if adopted, will sharpen divisions in our community at a time when many students are already distressed,” Mazerolle wrote. “McGill’s leadership team has been working diligently over the last weeks to keep our campus discourse safe and responsible and to put in place measures to support students and colleagues who feel especially vulnerable and hurt at this time, notably those who are Muslim, Jewish, and Arab.”

In a Nov. 23 Instagram post, SPHR McGill denounced SSMU’s decision to delay the ratification of the policy and called for SSMU to act in accordance with students’ vote in favour of the policy.

“Instead of representing the vote of its constituents, the SSMU acted on this policy in a court of law without our notice or consultation, in spaces where student voices were conveniently absent,” SPHR wrote online. “The SSMU, representing the collective student voice on the legal front of this battle, must heed the demands of the students they represent.”

In an email to The Tribune, Law Students for Palestine at McGill maintained that the policy does not violate SSMU’s constitution and that SSMU acted in accordance with Internal Regulations of Elections and Referenda.

“While students have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Policy Against Genocide in Palestine, an injunction to which SSMU has consented is alarming and contrary to the democratic process,” the group wrote. “We will continue to encourage the SSMU to abide by the will of its students as represented in the referendum vote.”

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