Motions for the Winter 2014 General Assembly (GA) range from defences of freedom of dress to stances against international trade agreements. Yet they share a common element: all but one were moved primarily by councillors or the SSMU executive, indicating a lack of engagement of the student body at large, particularly with regard to political issues beyond the immediate campus community. Only one motion presented before this GA asks SSMU to take a political stance on an issue that relates McGill to its greater community. Additionally, some motions lack clear steps for implementation or are so basic that they should not require presentation at a GA at all. However, compared to the Fall 2013 GA, SSMU has made considerable efforts to advertise the GA ahead of time and to create several motions, a welcome change.
Motion Regarding the Guarantee of Freedom of Dress in the SSMU Building – NO
This motion allegedly stems from a ban on the lab coats worn by the engineering student group the Plumbers’ Philharmonic Orchestra, where an equity complaint was filed about crude and discriminatory writing on the lab coats in question. The motion calls for blanket bans on student groups to be removed, but allows for individual, case-by-case equity complaints and bans on certain garments deemed inequitable. Proceeding on this case-by-case basis is what the Equity Policy currently does, but in cases where there is a systemic and continuous issue, would be an inefficient use of resources. What’s more, the Shatner Building is designated by the Equity Policy as a safer space, and SSMU thus has a responsibility to ensure the equitable treatment of all of its members. Those who would defend the right to wear garments with offensive writing under the principle of free speech neglect to consider that while free speech is protected in Canada, hate speech is not. The Daily therefore endorses a “no” vote for the motion, as the editorial board puts discretion in the hands of the Equity Commissioners, who are bound to enact the Equity Policy at SSMU along with all other SSMU employees.
Motion Regarding Inclusion of Academic Assessment Rights on Course Outlines – YES
This year, SSMU has tried to raise awareness of students’ academic assessment rights through an online campaign called “Know your Academic Assessment Rights!”. As it currently stands, the University does not review syllabi, and so it is students’ responsibility to ensure that policies are respected by professors. Such policies include that final exams cannot be worth more than 75 per cent of the final grade without other options. The motion would add a brief outline of these rights to the Student Handbook in an effort to raise awareness of the issue. The Daily agrees that greater visibility and awareness on the part of both students and professors will allow for a more just learning environment, and thus recommends a “yes” vote.
Motion Regarding Sustainability at the SSMU – YES, WITH RESERVATIONS
After the eradication of the Sustainability Coordinator position in Fall 2013, SSMU created an Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainability to propose future ways to implement sustainability at SSMU. This motion asks for the Committee to make an “actionable recommendation” by the end of this term, which will then be taken over by the SSMU President and the Executive, before being reviewed at the Fall 2014 GA. While SSMU’s commitment to sustainability in all its forms is commendable, this motion only states what should already be defined in the Committee’s mandate. This motion appears to be merely a response to the lack of concrete action by the Committee to date; The Daily questions whether this motion should have been put before a GA at all. The Daily therefore recommends a “yes” vote with reservations.
Motion Regarding the Timely Distribution of Course Information – YES, WITH RESERVATIONS
Currently, course materials become accessible on MyCourses to students formally registered in that course on the first day of classes. This motion seeks to address some of the problems created by the current system. The Daily agrees with the statement that the current system prevents students from having access to course information that may impact their finances or academic choices, including information about the accessibility of classrooms and textbook requirement. However, while this motion seeks to address issues relevant to both students currently and not yet registered in courses, it outlines no action plan other than lobbying the administration; nor does it suggest a specific change, instead merely asking that details about courses be released as “early […] as possible.” The Daily therefore recommends a “yes” vote with reservations, as the motion, while well-intentioned, offers no concrete form of implementation.
Motion Regarding the TPP and CETA – YES
The Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are trade agreements currently under negotiation that would maintain or increase protections for pharmaceutical patents. This motion asks SSMU to take a stance against these provisions, on the basis of their negative impact on both students and access to medicine in general, to lend non-monetary support to other student groups working against these provisions, and to lobby the McGill administration to adopt a similar stance. The Daily recommends a “yes” vote for this motion; we believe that SSMU should adopt a political stance in the face of this pressing issue, and support its students who are actively working against it.
– The McGill Daily Editorial Board