The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Legislative Council met on October 9 to discuss the adoption of a traditional territory acknowledgement statement, cycling on campus, councillors’ employment at SSMU in contravention of SSMU’s bylaws, and AGSEM – McGill’s Teaching Union’s campaign to unionize undergraduate teaching support workers.
Recognition of traditional territory and referendum questions
VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan brought forward a motion for Council to recognize that SSMU operates on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) nation, and to acknowledge this fact with a statement before every Council meeting and major SSMU event. The Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Council passed a similar motion a few weeks ago, which Stewart-Kanigan co-drafted.
“The AUS motion and this motion are part of a broader movement of increasing accountability to Indigenous communities on campus,” Stewart-Kanigan told The Daily. “By saying it every council, it’s acknowledging that decolonization is an ongoing process that requires ongoing commitment and ongoing recognition of the situation as settlers on the territory that we’re on.”
The motion passed.
Stewart-Kanigan, VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, and VP Clubs & Services Stefan Fong motioned to include a plebiscite question on cycling in the second Fall referendum, asking whether cycling should be allowed on campus and whether SSMU should lobby the administration to allow it. A plebiscite question differs from a referendum question in that its purpose is to consult students rather than to take action on an issue.
“[When McGill put in the dismounting policy] there was no consultation done with students,” said Moustaqim-Barrette, arguing for the motion. “It was an administrative decision done by McGill higher-up administration, just as there was no consultation when the bike gates were installed.”
“[The current policy] is really hard to enforce, and McGill has hired extra security to enforce it and it ended up being really expensive […] bikes just kind of go by anyway,” added Moustaqim-Barrette in an interview with The Daily.
Council also approved a referendum question seeking to modify the structure of the TVM: Student Television at McGill’s fee levy from $0.10 per credit per student per semester – up to a maximum of $1.50 – to $1.50 and $0.90 per student per semester for full-time and part-time students respectively.
Councillors employed at SSMU
Motions were put forth for Science Representative Zacheriah Houston and Arts Representative Alexander Kpeglo-Hennessy to be allowed to be employed at The Nest and Gerts respectively. SSMU’s bylaws prohibit councillors from being SSMU employees, unless explicitly allowed by a vote at Council.
General Manager Pauline Gervais, a non-voting member of Council, opposed Houston and Kpeglo-Hennessy’s employment. “There could be potential situations where […] you place me into a position where I have to reprimand, fire, talk to – whatever the reason is – to an employee who is also above me and has authority over my position,” said Gervais.
When asked whether they knew they would be seeking employment at SSMU at the time of their candidacy, Kpeglo-Hennessy said he did not, and Houston said he had been told “it would not be a problem.”
“If people feel that there are issues with councillors working these positions […] it might be worth examining whether or not that bylaw should exist that allows us to grant councillors special permission to work for SSMU,” said Houston.
Council approved Houston and Kpeglo-Hennessy’s request, but they will be required to “abstain from voting on matters with material impact or connections” to The Nest and Gerts respectively, as per the SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy.
Support for AGSEM’s union drive
Moustaqim-Barrette introduced a motion to support the AGSEM unionization campaign, which was presented to Council at the previous meeting and seeks to unionize undergraduate teaching support staff, including notetakers, graders, tutors, and teaching assistants (TAs).
Engineering Representative Anikke Rioux spoke against the motion, arguing that a survey conducted among members of the McGill Engineering Facebook group found that 60 to 70 per cent of students were against it.
Services Representative Rachel Weaver also argued against the motion.
“In [the Science] faculty, many benefit just from the experience,” said Weaver. “In the science courses, there aren’t a lot of TAs to go around and this would cut it down even further.”
Stewart-Kanigan spoke in favour of the motion. “We need to realize the implications of this structure for financial accessibility of these TA positions; not everyone can afford to work that many hours as volunteers or work at half-pay,” she said.
The motion passed, with Arts, Education, and Music representatives voting in favour. Engineering and Arts and Science representatives voted against it, while Management, Science, and Nursing representatives abstained from the vote.