News | PGSS Board of Directors censures Secretary-General, requests vote of confidence

Grad students take action in support of fossil fuel divestment

Having received multiple complaints from Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) staff, the PGSS Board of Directors has issued a motion of censure against Secretary-General Juan Camilo Pinto for “conduct unbecoming of an officer,” Council Director Régine Debrosse told PGSS Council at its December 3 meeting. The Board has also instructed the PGSS executive to take a vote of confidence on the continuation of Pinto’s mandate as Secretary-General.

Council also adopted a motion mandating PGSS to lobby the University to divest from fossil fuels, and former Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney announced that the court-ordered referendum on membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) will take place on January 15 and 16.

Censure of the Secretary-General

On November 13, the Board of Directors adopted a motion to censure the Secretary-General and withdraw all human resources (HR) responsibilities from him for the rest of his term. Debrosse explained that the decision followed complaints about Pinto’s conduct at several PGSS events from PGSS staff.

In delivering his report, Pinto gave his account of one of the events that led to the censure, which occurred at the PGSS Halloween party, and apologized for his behaviour.

“Two people […] were threatening staff members of PGSS,” said Pinto, and the police had been called. “I was at the party, and I had drunk a bit. When I saw five police officers entering, my first reaction – it’s part of my training – was to ask, ‘okay, why do we have five police officers here inside of [Thomson] House?’”

Pinto explained that, although the matter was being handled appropriately by PGSS staff, he intervened in the situation, persistently questioning a staff member “in a manner that is unbecoming of an officer of PGSS.”

“It’s clear that [Pinto] has been a very naughty boy on Halloween, but I think we’re going to see if we’re comfortable working with him on [December 10].”

“We received complaints following this event during Halloween,” Debrosse told Council. “We also received letters about other events that all pertain to management of staff and HR of PGSS.”

Graduate Law Students’ Association representative Eliza Bateman raised procedural concerns about the investigation, wondering if Pinto had a set time limit to respond to the complaints. Financial Affairs Officer and Board member Nikki Meadows responded that the decision was made in accordance with the bylaws, an opinion corroborated by Internal Director Ana Best in an interview with The Daily.

“The motion [of censure] was put on the agenda two days prior, so 48-hour notice as happens with any agenda item [as required by PGSS bylaws],” said Best. “It came with […] the document packet of statements [from PGSS staff] at that time.”

Pinto disagreed that due process had been followed. “This could have been dealt with in a very different way. […] I got two days to answer the accusations, I didn’t have time to [cross-examine the testimonies],” he told The Daily. “One of the principles of procedural fairness is that you have to face your accusers.”

Best noted that according to PGSS bylaws, Pinto could have sought Council’s support in contesting the Board’s decision, but chose not to.

As provided by the censure motion, the PGSS executive will hold a vote of confidence in the Secretary-General on December 10. Although the vote is not binding, the Board of Directors, which does have the power to remove the Secretary-General from office, will take the result of the executive’s vote into consideration.

External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet told The Daily that, although he had some concerns with Pinto’s work as Secretary-General, he remained undecided on the vote.

“I’m monitoring [the Secretary-General’s] progress and I can see that there’s been some improvements, but there’s still some things that I find require major improvement,” said Ouellet. “I just want to give him the benefit of the doubt and look at all the facts that have been accumulated [in the past] month. It’s clear that he’s been a very naughty boy on Halloween, but I think we’re going to see if we’re comfortable working with him on [December 10].”

Internal Affairs Officer Gesa, to whom Pinto’s HR responsibilities have been transferred, noted that he was generally satisfied with Pinto’s work.

“I think he’s given his best to do it, and there are accomplishments,” said Gesa. “I think he’s doing his job quite well. Of course […] no one’s never going to drop the ball.”

Meadows refused to say how she felt before the vote had taken place. “The Secretary-General has until December 10 to convince me one way or the other.”

CFS referendum date

On September 9, the Superior Court of Quebec mandated CFS to hold a referendum on whether or not PGSS members should remain members of CFS. PGSS first voted to leave CFS in 2010, but CFS refused to recognize the results of the referendum.

At Council, Mooney announced that the referendum will be held via paper ballots on January 15 and 16 at a number of polling stations on and off campus.

“[This] dispute has cost over $300,000, and it is very important that people realize that the vote coming up in January is a critical vote to finally bring clarity to the situation, and to determine, once and for all: are PGSS members part of CFS, or are they not,” said Mooney.

The campaign period for the referendum will begin on January 5, and the CFS bylaws prohibit campaigning before that date.

Divestment from fossil fuels

Biology Graduate Students Association representative and Divest McGill member Victor Frankel presented a motion mandating PGSS to lobby the University to divest its holdings in companies engaged in fossil fuel production.

“I think everybody recognizes that climate change is the central issue of our time. It’s a complex issue because it involves financial interests as well as public interests,” said Frankel.

The motion calls on PGSS to actively lobby for divestment at the Board of Governors, Senate, and other governing bodies, and mandates the External Affairs Officer to bring a motion to initiate a divestment campaign to the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), the student federation to which PGSS belongs.

“If, as a reactionary measure, fossil fuel companies threaten to sever […] connections that they may have with our university, I’d say: good riddance.”

Several councillors spoke in favour of the motion. Debrosse said that the motion was particularly “bold,” and asked “what the devil’s advocate would say in this situation.”

“If by the devil you mean the fossil fuel companies […] I would agree that we are sacrificing potential corporate relations,” said Frankel. “If, as a reactionary measure, fossil fuel companies threaten to sever financial support for the engineering department or any other connections that they may have with our university, I’d say: good riddance.”

Mining and Materials Graduate Engineering Student Association representative Frédéric Voisard took issue with Frankel’s response, arguing that Frankel seemed to be disrespecting students in engineering who work toward making fossil fuel combustion processes more efficient, and thus less harmful.

Frankel then agreed to add a clause to the motion in support of students and faculty “involved in the amelioration of issues with emissions related to fossil fuels” as a friendly amendment. The motion then passed.


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