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Tribune Explains: SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy

An article published by The McGill Daily on Nov. 13 reported that Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) members and representatives were offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel by Hillel Montreal, an organization whose mandate  aims to connect Jewish students with the larger community in Montreal. At the Nov. 14 SSMU Legislative Council, some councillors raised concerns over whether or not accepting the offer constitutes a conflict of interest.

What is the SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy? 

The SSMU’s Conflict of Interest Policy defines a conflict as a situation that might affect a member’s impartiality as related to their work. The fact that a conflict exists does not equate to wrongdoing, however, as long as it is addressed by the appropriate authorities.

The policy applies to all decision-making individuals within SSMU. The policy’s purpose is to guide SSMU on whether or not an action of one of its members is a conflict of interest, and if so, how to mitigate the impact on SSMU decisions. 

The policy further lays out specific situations that are deemed conflicts of interest. If a SSMU representative has an unprofessional relationship with another member, they must disclose that relationship to the Legislative Council and also to ensure not to let the relationship influence their partner’s decisions. Additionally, SSMU representatives must not use information that is not available to the public for personal gain. Further, they also cannot influence the negotiation or decision process for SSMU dealings with a business or peer through insider information or financial incentives.

According to the policy, SSMU representatives also have to be careful about receiving “gifts, hospitality, or other benefits” from any person or organization which has the potential to influence their duties or decisions within the organization. This includes gifts worth more than $50. If there is any doubt in the intention of the gift, it must be declined by the SSMU representatives. 

How does this apply to the recent controversy surrounding the Hillel Montreal trip?

The three SSMU members who originally accepted the invitation to go on the trip, called Face to Face, maintain that they were in compliance with the policy. In accordance with the policy, the Board of Directors decided in a confidential meeting whether there was a conflict of interest on Nov. 21. Arts Representative Adin Chan had originally accepted the offer, but then decided to decline.

“While I was still planning on going, I can say that I went through the appropriate Conflict of Interest procedures,” Chan said. “I am confident that I [was] in compliance with the policy.”

Arts Representative Andrew Chase, who accepted the invitation, also believes that doing so is within compliance of the policy. 

“I have attended a couple of Hillel events, and the coordinators know me personally,” Chase said. “[That] is why they invited me to apply to their educational [trip] to Israel and Palestine. […] It should be made clear that the invitation to apply was made because they knew that I would make for a good fit for the program, not because of my position as Arts Representative.”

However, in the invitation letter SSMU Executives posted publicly, Hillel Montreal states that they selected students based on their role as leaders, their experience, and their connections.

“This document acts as an official invitation for you as one of the student leaders for this trip,” reads the letter. “We’ve identified you as an invaluable student to have for this trip due to your student leadership experience and connections on campus.”

Science Representative Jordyn Wright also applied and is going to participate in Face to Face.

“The [Board of Directors] ruling is that my participation in Face to Face poses no Real or Apparent conflict of interest because Hillel Montreal operates outside of a SSMU context,” Wright said. “Should a Potential conflict of interest arise in the future, the chair presiding over whichever body the context involves may ask me to recuse myself from issues related to the content of the trip if they see fit to do so.”

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