News | SSMU Council grills Manfredi

Council denounces Bill 62

Last week’s meeting of the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council began with a robust question period: councillors confronted Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi, who was present at Council, with questions concerning student labour rights, McGill’s swamped Mental Health Services, financial aid, and more.

Later, Council passed two motions, one of which expressed opposition to Quebec’s controversial Bill 62 on religious expression, and the other of which set up a provisional mechanism through which SSMU’s Board of Directors (BoD) will report regularly to Council.

Question period

Environment Representative Tuviere Okome opened the session by questioning the administration’s apparent display of bad faith during contract negotiations with McGill’s floor fellows.

Earlier that day, it emerged that a Board of Governors’ subcommittee had rescinded their approval of an agreement which would have granted floor fellows a salary in exchange for their work; at the moment, they are simply provided with room and board.

“Floor fellows right now are doing work for free, and the work they do is so immense,” said Okome. “These are your students that are really helping first-years, […] and they’re working so hard, and McGill backtracked out of giving them money that I think [they] can afford. […] I’m just wondering why that decision was made.”

“These are your students that are really helping first-years, […] and they’re working so hard, and McGill backtracked out of giving them money that I think [they] can afford. […] I’m just wondering why that decision was made.”

Manfredi offered no substantive response to Okome’s concerns, only stating that as per standard University procedure, neither he nor any other administrator could comment on an ongoing labour negotiation.

Okome also raised concerns about McGill’s limited accessibility to prospective students from lower-income backgrounds. She noted that recent discourse around systemic oppression operating at McGill has often included issues of race, but has paid less attention to socioeconomic class.

“We’re not known for being diverse in terms of class at this university, […] and I was wondering what you’re going to be doing […] to make sure that the school […] is accommodating to people from higher and lower classes, because I think it’s beneficial for people from higher and lower classes to interact and to learn from each other.”

Manfredi agreed, assuring Okome that his forthcoming ‘strategic plan’ would include “meaningful and achievable targets with respect to increasing student financial assistance,” to address this problem.

In response, Science Representative Caitlin Mehrotra pointed out that financial aid at McGill is often contingent on academic performance, which is itself a form of inaccessibility. According to Manfredi, though, the aforementioned expansion of financial aid would be mainly needs-based.

“We’re not known for being diverse in terms of class at this university, […] and I was wondering what you’re going to be doing […] to make sure that the school […] is accommodating to people from higher and lower classes, because I think it’s beneficial for people from higher and lower classes to interact and to learn from each other.”

During the rest of the discussion, councillors made it clear that, among other things, they expected McGill’s administration to conduct extensive student consultation in improving Mental Health Services on campus, keep the community updated on the progress of the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education, and actively implement the recently approved Policy Against Sexual Violence.

Motion opposing Bill 62

The first motion discussed at Council concerned Quebec’s Bill 62, which would prohibit anyone who has their face covered from working in the public sector or receiving public services.

Although framed as a measure which would protect state secularism, the bill has drawn much criticism for Islamophobic undertones. Citing SSMU’s identity as “an organization that is committed to leadership in matters of human rights and strives to oppose discrimination,” the motion called on the Society to publicly denounce the bill, and “to advocate against any further movement toward the adoption of the Bill as it stands.”

Councillors were overwhelmingly favourable to the motion, with several councillors asking to have their names added to it, in addition to the two original movers. The only note of opposition came from Engineering Representative Richard (Tre) Mansdoerfer, who, while expressing unequivocal condemnation of the bill itself, questioned SSMU for taking positions on some ‘external’ issues but not others. Mansdoerfer said that the Society had not, for example, taken a position on the ongoing multilateral conflict in Syria.

“I think there’s a difference between taking a stance on this bill, which is […] in Canada, and specifically in Quebec, […] and [taking a stance on] the complex situation in Syria,” responded Mehrotra, dismissing the latter notion as “ridiculous.”

“I think there’s a difference between taking a stance on this bill, which is […] in Canada, and specifically in Quebec, […] and [taking a stance on] the complex situation in Syria.”

Okome concurred, adding that the bill’s discriminatory content made it a pressing concern.
“Quebec has always had a strange view of the religion of Islam, and this is what this bill is,” she said. “It’s perpetuating Islamophobia in Canada, and just to explain, telling a woman to put on or take off clothes […] there’s nothing feministic about either of those things.”

“I think SSMU’s stance on this is really important, especially in the political era where we are. […] We should stand on the side of the oppressed,” Okome concluded.

Ultimately, the motion passed with 95 per cent in favour, five per cent abstaining, and none opposed.

Motion on Board of Directors

Last year, Council implemented a series of governance reforms, with the goal of streamlining Council by shifting certain administrative responsibilities to the Society’s Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, the reforms, while valuable, failed to put in place mechanisms whereby the BoD could report to Council on the execution of its new tasks. In November, the Democratic Governance Review Committee was founded to address this situation, and ensure the transparency and accountability of both the BoD and Council.

Several members of the committee were involved in creating the motion at hand, which proposed that the BoD would present a report on its activities at every Council meeting. This interim measure would remain in effect until the end of May 2017.

After minimal discussion, the motion passed with 95 per cent for, five per cent abstaining, and none opposed.


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