Environment, prisons, education, gender, sexuality, left-wing politics, and activism… Events that took place over the last year provided ample grounds for critique. Consider, for instance, the Charlie Hebdo shootings that took place in Paris, France, or the 43 students that went missing in the Iguala, Mexico. These events caused such large-scale tremors that we felt their aftershocks here in Montreal.
Everything is inherently political and all power relations are interconnected. In that regard, while one could categorize the content in the Commentary section thematically, it is also important to emphasize a more intersectional approach. An article about migrant rights can also be a critique of Canada’s educational system. Another article about the environmental impacts of Plan Nord can also be a warning against the provincial Liberal government’s austerity measures.
So we chose to look at this year in terms of space. At times we can focus on our small McGill microcosm – there is always something going on with student politics or with McGill’s policies. Beyond Roddick Gates, however, is a whole other world of which McGill students are most definitely a part. Provincial and federal politics affect us all.
Lastly, we have to recognize that social justice knows no spatial limits. Far and wide, all around the globe, injustices suppress certain voices. We must listen to these voices, no matter where they are from.
“We as a student body have no obligation to blindly follow rules that undermine our freedom of expression.”
We later had the infamous Fall 2014 General Assembly (GA), where a group of students chose to shut down conversation rather than taking a stance, by indefinitely postponing a motion to stand in solidarity with the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Staying silent in the face of blatant injustices does nothing but perpetuate harm. Such conversations must take place on our campus, and SSMU is precisely the forum in which we can have the dialogue we need. If not SSMU, then where? Injustices do not simply go away if we ignore them.
The problem with student politics at McGill is apathy. Turnout at elections has not surpassed 31 per cent in the past five years. Yet still, people blame SSMU for focusing solely on ‘esoteric activism.’ If you do not vote, you do not get to complain. Even student representatives tend to be apathetic – but it is the constituents’ responsibility to make their representatives aware of their interests. As Lauria Galbraith argues in “End your apathy” (March 30, Commentary, page 22) student politics are in students’ hands, and they are our responsibility.
“Even when student voices are heard, and their initiatives are considered, the administration is very reluctant to implement them fully.”
On the other hand, the administration, despite spouting rhetoric of ‘community involvement’ and ‘helping others,’ has done little to listen to student interests. Take, for instance, the massive student push for sustainability in the form of divestment from fossil fuels. As Ella Belfer wrote in “Sustainable for whom?” (January 12, Commentary, page 11), often the University provides nothing but empty words, and co-opts the successful grassroots efforts of its students. In Belfer’s words, “dedicated students do the labour-intensive research, campaigning, and legwork, often mobilizing student funds in the process, at which point the University green-lights a less ambitious incarnation of the project.”
The University’s detachment from the rest of Quebec is also discernible by its complicity in the provincial government’s austerity cuts. In their article, Rachel Avery and Mona Luxion explored how these cuts relate to military research, and have found that austerity increases the University’s ties to military contractors (“Austerity and the war machine,” January 12, Commentary, page 10). Yet, the University ignores the harmful nature of its actions. Similarly, Jasreet Kaur brought up the issue (“Decolonize McGill,” March 16, Commentary, page 10) of the University failing to acknowledge its own colonial history. McGill is a privileged institution in that its inaction in addressing these issues directly makes it complicit in social injustices. We must, thus, hold ourselves accountable, and take steps to improve.
“It’s time for a general strike: for workers and students to unite in fighting back against damaging cuts.”
Unlike the 2012 student strikes, the main stakes of this year’s battle are no longer bound solely to the Quebec student body – the government’s planned austerity measures will reach all the vulnerable parts of our society, from students and marginalized communities to the dwindling middle class. George Ghabrial wrote about Plan Nord, which is inextricably tied to the Liberal government’s austerity measures (“Exploitation in disguise,” March 16, Commentary, page 11. Presented as “an exemplary sustainable development project” by Couillard, Plan Nord completely disregards Indigenous rights and makes environmental commitments that are really promises of destruction in disguise.
The far reach of austerity measures also manifests itself through deep cuts in the social safety net – healthcare, education, and other social services – that took us decades to acquire. No one is safe from the devastating effects. Despite this, the usual opponents of anti-austerity demonstrators – the police – are fighting the exact same system, since the government’s Bill 10 on pension plans is an outcome of austerity. Yet, they choose to side with the government that is enforcing said system. Igor Sadikov highlighted this extreme hypocrisy (“No solidarity for the police,” February 9, Commentary, page 11) and urged us to ask ourselves why the enforcers continue to enforce when they’re quickly joining the victims’ ranks. In his words, “we cannot allow police to play both sides of the field.”
“There comes a time when civil disobedience is not only acceptable, but necessary. That time is now.”
“It is critical that the current government rethinks its priorities and strives to be consistent with its historical role as a humanitarian country.”
“In some nightmare scenarios, children have been told that they would be reported to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada if their parents did not pay the fees demanded.”
As exemplified by its heavy promotion of the Enbridge pipeline, the Conservative government has continued to support corporate interests over the demands of the public. In doing so, it has entirely disregarded environmental concerns and Indigenous rights, ignoring the plight of the most marginalized in Canada. That is what Fatima Boulmalf had in mind when she wrote “Resistance as justice” (October 20, Commentary, page 11).
Migrants, too, especially refugees, are targeted by Conservative legislation, which has targeted their access to education and healthcare, and made Canada a far less friendly home for those in need of one. Amtullah Reage, writing under a pseudonym, exposed the abhorrent injustices faced by migrant students by sharing the their own experiences in this system (“Reading, writing and rights,” September 8, Commentary, page 8).
This year, the Conservative government has put forward a number of bills that seemed to align with its own private interests over those of the public. Among them is the controversial and unabashedly Islamophobic “Anti-terrorism act,” Bill C-51, which was called out as hypocritical, and fearmongering (“Who watches the watchers?, March 23, Commentary, page 11). Similarly, Bill S-7, the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” sought to institutionalize xenophobia, as explained by Gavin Boutroy (“X is for xenophobia,” January 22, Commentary).
“We can, and should, attempt to be as sex work-positive as we can, but after centuries of shaming and degradation, sex workers can’t help but internalize some of that shame.”
The Conservative government criminalized buying the services of sex workers this year by passing Bill C-36. A student sex worker writing under a pseudonym, David V, argued that the bill effectively pushed their work underground, ultimately making it unsafe (“Toward (in)visibilty,” November 17, Commentary, page 9). They also pointed out that to combat the centuries-old ‘shame’ associated with the profession, people should become sex work-positive. This includes supporting the clients of sex workers.
Further afield, the world was rocked by the brutal murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in France, and Muslims were painted with the same brush as the murderers in the wake. In a beautifully-written piece, Omar Eidabat made clear that violent crimes are against everything for which Islam stands (“An ignorance that misinforms,” January 22, Commentary). He also argued that Charlie Hebdo’s racist cartoons incited the Islamophobic attacks that followed the murders.
While the Charlie Hebdo murders shook people to their core, many overlooked the 43 students disappeared by the police and the Guerreros Unidos, a drug cartel, in Mexico. Writing under a pseudonym, V explained how the disappearance was triggering country-wide mobilization against narco-politics (“Against the dying of the light,” November 24, Commentary, page 15). Crucially, V also called out the U.S. and Canada for their role in sustaining the drug war.