We are writing today to clarify the position of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group-McGill (QPIRG) regarding the ongoing SSMU Equity complaint process involving a member of our board of directors, Maddie Ritts. The Opt-Out! Campaign complainants have received a great volume of alarmingly dishonest publicity regarding this matter, both on the Prince Arthur Herald blog and in campus papers. Their representations of the matter have amounted to a brazen and intentionally misleading defamation of Ritts’s person. Their pursuit of the complaint is based on an unsettling distortion of the concept of equity. Given these facts, we find it imperative to clarify the events and to put this issue to rest, once and for all.
Brendan Steven’s equity complaint was filed in regard to an event that he did not himself witness. The committee refused Steven’s request to treat QPIRG as an organization as the respondent to the complaint. As the commission has already clarified, they recalibrated the process to make Ritts the sole respondent. Further, the accusation of “acts of racism” central to Steven’s complaint was not substantiated, and was subsequently thrown out by the committee, as they could not corroborate what was said, by whom, or to whom (though the phrase “fucking rich white boy” was floated by the complainant). Steven and other bloggers at the Prince Arthur Herald continue to attribute anti-white “racism” and diverse (though always unspecified) “other slurs” to Ritts – despite this accusation having been refuted outright by the Committee and the fact that she was never at any time considered a party to it. What remains of the complaint, despite the appellant’s insinuations, is that Ritts damaged posters. Discussions between Ritts, the Equity Committee, and QPIRG are ongoing, though the process has itself been frustratingly inconsistent and taxing for those involved. Meanwhile, members of the Opt-Out! Campaign continue to publish malicious and slanderous misrepresentations of Ritts and her actions without shame or consequence from the Equity Committee regarding the treatment of their complaint.
When the Opt-Out!/Prince Arthur Herald executives were finally called out on their blog by the Equity Committee for their deliberately false accounts of both the alleged incident and the Committee’s findings, Steven’s editorial response was to slip a snide caption beneath the SSMU Equity logo, mocking the Committee’s audacity in correcting the lies being posted about their working decision.
Earlier this semester, the same coordinators appropriated the name of the Black Students’ Network (BSN) in their campaign fliers directly against the wishes of that organization, accompanied by imagery the BSN denounced publicly as racially discriminatory. Steven and his companions have made abundantly clear the contempt they have for the entire equity project, and their cynicism in attempting to appropriate yet again the language of social justice for the sake of cheap political gamesmanship is dishonest and offensive to legitimate complaints of discrimination.
Many formal judicial processes have policies barring filers whose complaints have been found frivolous or vexatious: that is, those brought forth regardless of their merit, solely to bring hardship upon and harass an adversary. We have been informed that the Opt-Out! Campaign has been bombarding the Equity Commission with filings since the beginning of the year. The entire basis for the Opt-Out! Campaign’s existence is to strangle organizations like QPIRG, dedicated to the very same struggles against systemic oppression as the SSMU Equity Policy. In light of this, it should be clear that them filing and trumpeting complaints against the social justice group they seek to destroy demonstrates bad faith. As the Equity Committee drafts a proposal to increase confidentiality in its complaints processes, they ought to adopt measures to reject outright similar accusations meant only to harass and defame.
More fundamentally, however, we feel compelled to publicly take issue with the repeated references by Herald bloggers to alleged acts of “intimidation” and “racism.” Jon McDaniel goes so far as to reduce the serious and painful reality of racism to what he crassly terms “a two-way street.” As an organization rooted in anti-oppression theory and practice, we utterly reject the conception of our society as an equal playing field assumed by Steven’s public statements. As anyone actually interested in equity would know, equity policies are written and implemented to counteract the effects of structures that systemically marginalize and disenfranchise historically oppressed groups. As such, their primary concern has always been challenging the ongoing legacies of discrimination against women, people of colour, queers, trans people, people with disabilities, et cetera. To trivialize these very real experiences by insincerely claiming similar persecution is sickening and offensive. We can only hope that in the future, the SSMU Equity Committee will more readily reject such perverse manipulations of their principles, and that the campaigns of the campus far right will no longer be legitimized by the progressive institutions they seek to erase.
Signed by the QPIRG-McGill Board of Directors:
Anna Malla (External)
Andrea Figueroa (Internal)
Dan Kunda Thagard
William M. Burton