The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council adopted a climate change policy at its meeting on October 15. The decision came after a two-hour debate, in which both councillors and non-members spoke on the motion.
In addition, Council discussed a motion to release a statement in response to a call to action from the McGill Students for Vandalisms Collective. Council also approved two referendum questions, one asking for an increase in the CKUT fee levy and the other with regard to the creation of a Safety Network Fee.
Climate change policy
Motivating the motion to adopt the climate change policy, VP External Emily Boytinck said, “I am honestly just very relieved that we’re talking about it [at] Council today.”
The proposal for a climate change policy first emerged in the 2014-15 academic year. A motion passed during the Fall 2014 General Assembly (GA) mandated former VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette to draft a policy on the matter.
On April 9, an early draft of the climate change policy was brought to Council. At that meeting, current VP Finance and Operations Zachariah Houston, a Science Representative at the time, brought up concerns that students from the faculties of Science and Engineering had not been consulted adequately.
As a result, the policy was referred to a special committee and brought back to Council in Fall 2015.
Medicine Representative Joshua Chin, joining Council through Skype, motioned to add the phrase “non-violent” to article 7.2 of the policy, which states that “SSMU shall support a diversity of tactics needed to address climate change effectively and equitably,” and to add the World Health Organization’s definition of violence as article 2.5.
Chin argued, “It is important for SSMU to emphasize its support of non-violent means of protest and opposition and not give carte blanche to activities such as vandalism, looting, defacing buildings, or attacks on persons.”
“Who gets to define what violent is?”
Boytinck expressed her opposition to the amendment, arguing that the word violent has been widely used to discredit various social movements, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The media portrays [Black Lives Matter] as violent. Who gets to define what violent is? I think even our [proposed] violence definition, which Joshua Chin is suggesting, talks about psychological harm and that leaves it open to things like property damage, which I personally do not consider to be violence,” Boytinck explained.
Arts Representative Adam Templer was in favour of Chin’s amendment, arguing that not including a definition of violence and an emphasis on non-violence would set a “dangerous precedent for future SSMU motions.”
Templer said, “Generally, I just think that this would be setting an unpleasant precedent for the SSMU, and I think that SSMU, as an organization, needs to support only non-violent tactics.”
In the end the amendment failed with more than two thirds of councillors voting against it.
Once the debate regarding the amendment was over, Engineering Representative Malcolm McClintock took the floor to thank the movers for the consultation, but expressed the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS)’s opposition to the policy.
“It is part of the mandate of [EUS] since 2013 to support the environmentally responsible and ethical development of oil sand industry. […] This motion inherently opposes that, not to mention it supports a politically charged group, namely Divest McGill. […] A large portion of our constituents benefit and have invested, both educationally and occupationally, their time into this industry,” McClintock explained.
However, Joey Broda, a U4 Chemical Engineering student and a member of Divest McGill, expressed that not all engineers felt the same way.
“A large portion of our constituents benefit and have invested, both educationally and occupationally, their time into this industry.”
“We understand, as people who are scientifically literate, that climate change is an important issue. As engineers and scientists, we further realize that when a company starts funding bunk science and when they start launching major media and political campaigns to undermine what scientists are saying – that is an attack on the credibility of scientists and engineers,” Broda said.
In the end, the policy was adopted with 21 votes in favour, two against, and three abstentions.
Response to McGill Students for Vandalisms
Arts and Science Representative Matthew Satterthwaite brought a motion from the floor regarding a SSMU response to “#RememberThis: a call for campus alterations,” an article that was published on the Demilitarize McGill website, and was attributed to the McGill Students for Vandalisms Collective.
“Demilitarize McGill is a group who draws a lot of support from SSMU and SSMU does support and provide resources for Demilitarize McGill. In my view, it’s appropriate to be pre-emptive about this issue,” said Satterthwaite.
Boytinck, however, said, “[Demilitarize McGill is] a controversial group, so it may be really tempting to just automatically condemn them when we think that they might have done something which might be problematic. But I urge everybody to take a step back and really consider the facts here.”
Following an hour-long debate, councillors decided to amend the motion to reaffirm SSMU’s support for “dialogues surrounding alternative narratives of history on campus, particularly those surrounding issues of anti-oppression and social justice,” and its disapproval of “actions that could be destructive to property on McGill’s campus.”
This version of the motion was adopted with 13 votes in favour, ten against, and three abstentions. SSMU will be publishing the polished statement on its website.