News | Campaign against “external and divisive” amendment at AUS Council

At a brief meeting of McGill’s Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council on March 9, a presentation was given by students campaigning against a controversial amendment to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Constitution, which will be voted on in this week’s online referendum. Council also passed three motions with virtually no discussion.

Presentation by “no” campaign

Councillors Julie Skarha and Erik Partridge delivered a short presentation on behalf of the campaign opposing the proposed amendment to the SSMU Constitution.

If passed, the amendment would empower an unelected steering committee to remove motions deemed “external and divisive” from the agenda at SSMU General Assemblies (GAs). The committee’s decision could be disregarded should a two-thirds majority of those present at the GA vote to return such a motion to the agenda. The motion in question would then require a two-thirds majority to pass, instead of the usual simple majority.

There’s no set criteria for [divisiveness] in the [amendment], so really it would just be whoever was sitting on this committee deciding what they deem divisive, […] probably [based on] their own political opinions.”

The amendment has caused significant controversy on campus since being brought forward at the February 25 meeting of SSMU Council, and will be voted on in the online referendum that will take place from March 16 to 18.

Skarha argued that such an amendment would be undemocratic. “There’s no set criteria for [divisiveness] in the [amendment], so really it would just be whoever was sitting on this committee deciding what they deem divisive, […] probably [based on] their own political opinions,” she said.

Responding to Skarha’s comments, one councillor called the amendment “an extension of [the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) SSMU GA motion].”

“I’m not speaking to either side of the BDS campaign […] but I know why this was put forward. It’s not about stopping the student democratic voice. When you have [issues] students are going to therapy for on both sides, and it turns the whole student body upside down for two weeks, this is what [the amendment is] trying to minimize,” the councillor said.

“It’s not about stopping the student democratic voice. When you have [issues] students are going to therapy for on both sides, and it turns the whole student body upside down for two weeks, this is what [the amendment is] trying to minimize.”

VP Academic Gabriel Gilling disagreed, saying, “The way that I see it, most contentious issues ought to be discussed, and this is just another way for students that disagreed […] with BDS […] to stifle a debate that should be had. Regardless of the vote passing or not, it’s still good for these discussions to come to SSMU and be discussed. That’s what democracy is about […] and that’s how we achieve real progress.”

New business

Following the presentation, three motions passed unanimously and with virtually no discussion.

The first increased the McGill Panama Field Study Program Fee from $4,980 to $5,500, to retain “the academic richness of the program and its viability” in the wake of the recent devaluation of the Canadian dollar.

A second motion amended Council’s financial bylaws to allow Council to use a credit card in certain exceptional circumstances. Previously to the amendment, Council was only permitted to use a debit card for such transactions.

The final motion approved a series of allocations of the Arts Student Employment Fund’s undesignated resources.

—Marina Cupido