The McGill Daily » News On strike since 1911 Fri, 03 Jul 2015 20:27:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Still no decision for Divest McGill Tue, 30 Jun 2015 23:48:33 +0000 Board of Governors discusses divestment research, more budget cuts in sight

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McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) held its final meeting of the 2014-2015 academic year on May 21. BoG Chair Stuart Cobbett opened by commenting on the success of the recent Canadian University Board Association conference held for the first time in Montreal from April 30 to May 2. Cobbett stressed the importance of the conference in generating francophone interest, as it was a fully bilingual affair.

McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier spoke about her recent meeting with Quebec Minister of Finance Carlos Leitão. According to Fortier, Leitão mentioned a $73 million cut to Quebec universities in the 2015-16 school year. Out of the overall amount, the cuts imposed on McGill could range between approximately $9 to $11 million.

The BoG also approved the Declaration of Compliance to Quebec Treasury Board Pursuant to Loi 65.1, a motion that requires the University to publish or make public any contract into which it enters that is above an initial $25,000 threshold.

Speaking to The Daily, former Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Courtney Ayukawa noted that she found this declaration particularly important.

“I think it might be interesting to a lot of students that this is public knowledge on the McGill website. They might find it interesting to see who the university works with and has contracts with,” Ayukawa told The Daily.

CAMSR report on Divest McGill

Three members of Divest McGill attended the open session of the meeting. Members of Divest have submitted two petitions to the BoG over the past two years, calling on McGill to divest from fossil fuels

In May 2013, McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) had advised the BoG to reject Divest’s original petition. Since then, CAMSR has updated its terms of reference to include grave environmental damage in its definition of social injury.

Reporting on the progress of CAMSR, Stuart Cobbett noted in the meeting that that they received a “very well put together and documented petition from Divest.”

“We are trying to work with [CAMSR] to make things as effective as possible,” Divest Campaign Organizer Kristen Perry told The Daily.

“We want to stress that the mandate of the Board of Governors committee is to rule on matters of social injury, [as opposed to] secondarily commissioning studies to look at the policy implications of their investment portfolios.”

McGill’s Secretary General Stephen Strople stated that the Board has called on the Royal Society of Canada, a national research council composed of distinguished scholars, to research the potential implications and consequences of divestment.

Speaking to The Daily, Divest member Sam Quigley stated, “With regard to study with [the] Royal Society, we are concerned that it is unnecessary because there is already an enormous body of research, and that it will cause a very significant delay in the process.”

“We want to stress that the mandate of the Board of Governors committee is to rule on matters of social injury, [as opposed to] secondarily commissioning studies to look at the policy implications of their investment portfolios,” Quigley continued.

Quigley concluded, “We are trying hard to respect their process. We are glad they are engaging, but we are a bit disappointed by their lack of regard for their own mandate so far, and we are hoping this will be rectified and that they will consider the social injury question, making a decision by July 1.”

Victor Frankel, another member of Divest, remarked that “CAMSR has given a 6 to 18 month timeline for the Royal Society study,” indicating that the July 1 deadline might not be met.

Newly-elected SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim, also newly elected to the CAMSR board, stated, “The hope is that the research will point to fact that it will be a socially responsible choice to divest.”

“I think divestment is attainable,” Ibrahim said.

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Post-grads interrogate Deputy Provost about Student Services finances at Council Sat, 06 Jun 2015 19:08:36 +0000 PGSS budget continues to suffer from CFS disaffiliation process

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At a meeting on May 20, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council approved their 2015-16 budget and voted to “create a formal, contractual agreement” with Projet pour le Mouvement Étudiant (PPME), a recently founded group comprised of student associations involved in the creation of a new Quebec student federation. Councillors also questioned Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens about funding for Student Services.

In addition, the Council voted to endorse the proposed sexual assault policy, expected to come to Senate for approval in September, as well as McGill Inter-Union Council’s campaign for a campus-wide $15 per hour minimum wage.

Budget and impact of CFS case

Presenting the 2015-16 budget, Financial Affairs Officer Nikki Meadows noted that most areas suffered a 10 per cent cut on average to begin paying back costs associated with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) court case.

Legal fees associated with the CFS disaffiliation court case cost PGSS about $185,000 in 2014-15, and approximately $138,000 in 2013-14. In addition, PGSS has had to pay CFS, under protest, over $300,000 of outstanding membership fees accumulated since 2010, in order to be able to hold the disaffiliation referendum in January 2015.

PGSS is currently suing CFS for the recognition of its 2010 disaffiliation vote as valid and the return of the membership fees, with the court case set for 2017.

Meadows indicated that the cuts would likely be maintained in future years. While PGSS has been able to save about $130,000 to $140,000 to be used for CFS-related debt in the Special Projects Fund balance, that money represents only about one third of the amount still owed.

“We’re making dents in it, but it’s a lot of money,” commented Meadows.

Student Services funding

In response to concerns amongst the student body regarding decreased funding of Student Services and increased overhead costs imposed on the unit, Dyens came before Council to present a summary of Student Services’ financial situation.

In 2015-16, the administrative overhead costs charged to Student Services by the central administration will amount to $588,733, up from $326,312 the previous year and only $30,679 in 2009-10. Additionally, the University’s $112,000 transfer to the unit’s budget will be eliminated, having already been reduced in previous years from $443,905 in 2009-10.

Dyens justified the cuts to the unit by invoking the $6 million surplus the unit has accumulated over the past few years and the rest of the university’s difficult financial situation.

“There used to be enough money for the university not to charge this [overhead fee], there’s not enough [anymore],” he said. “Unfortunately, right now it’s a zero-sum game; it’s a limited pie.”

Several councillors asked that the Deputy Provost provide details on salary expenditures in the unit, which will have increased by over $1.8 million since 2014.

“My experience is that [there are fewer] people providing services,” said Postgraduate Philosophy Students of McGill University Association (PPSMUA) representative Frédérick Armstrong, questioning whether the salary increases were reflective of an increase in non-administrative staff.

“There’s a limit to how much healthcare services we can provide – we are not a hospital.”

Although he failed to provide details, Dyens indicated that the increase was due both to new hires and salary increases, noting that “salaries at McGill were too low” compared to its competitors.

Addressing the increasing demand and months-long wait times at the Mental Health Service, Dyens emphasized the need for a preventative strategy to reduce student stress by investing in areas like supervision and advising.

According to a Mental Health Service estimate, the hire of 25 new full-time staff would be required to meet current demand, a $1.5 to $2 million expense. Dyens noted that, while possible, this would “create unsustainable expectations.”

“There’s a limit to how much healthcare services we can provide – we are not a hospital,” he added.

Recognizing that relying on the surplus was “unsustainable” beyond a few years, Dyens hinted at the possibility that an increase of the Student Services fee would be necessary. Student fees currently provide 75 per cent of the unit’s revenues.

Dyens also said that there was room for the elimination of “redundancies,” such as the existence of Mental Health and Counselling as two separate services.

“Before we reinvest, we want to make sure these services are as efficient as can be,” he said.

Student federation, public transit

External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet brought forward a motion for PGSS to join the Projet pour un Mouvement Étudiant, an “incubator” for a new Quebec student federation created in the wake of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)’s imminent collapse. PGSS is currently a member of FEUQ.

The motion entails the ratification by PGSS of the PPME’s formal contract of association, which grants PGSS a representative on the PPME’s board of directors. If the PPME is successful in creating a new student federation, PGSS members will have the opportunity to join it via referendum; if unsuccessful, the PPME will be automatically dissolved in two years.

The motion passed with six abstentions.

Other matters

Council approved bylaw changes moved by Council Director Régine Debrosse to increase the size of the Board of Directors from seven to nine members, and to allow for the Board to elect a chair who is not the secretary-general.

Ouellet updated Council on his initiative to extend reduced fare public transit to university students above the age of 25 by instituting an opt-outable fee. Ouellet said that the Société de transport de Montréal (STM)’s marketing team looked favourably upon the idea, and several other student associations agreed to join the project.

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Housing rights group’s tent camp dispersed by police twice in two days Wed, 27 May 2015 18:13:05 +0000 Demonstrators march to protest housing inaccessibility, social housing cuts

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The affordable housing group Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) organized a march in downtown Montreal on May 21 to mark the installation of the organization’s tent camp at La Parterre du Quartier des spectacles, a green space near Place des Arts that is directly beside the Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) headquarters.

Several hundred demonstrators and campers joined the march to protest housing inaccessibility and denounce the limited funding for social housing from both the federal and provincial governments.

The march

Protesters, including over 30 community organisations and unions from across Quebec, first gathered at Square Dorchester at 1 p.m. to march to the location of the camp, which had been kept secret. Speeches from organizers and local celebrities kicked off the march. Actor and playwright Alexis Martin highlighted everyone’s right to protest, saying in French that a “public space is a space for protest […] and [these spaces] must be invested in.”

“We want the state, the government, the municipalities […] to develop and invest in social housing so that the general market for housing [can] be affordable to normal people and people with low income.”

“We want the state, the government, the municipalities […] to develop and invest in social housing so that the general market for housing [can] be affordable to normal people and people with low income,” explained Alexandra Pierre, a member of the community organizing staff of Project Genesis, a social justice organization located in Côte-des-Neiges.

Protesters walked for over an hour, chanting “Harper! Couillard! Vos politiques sont un cauchemar!” (Harper! Couillard! Your policies are a nightmare!) and “Les politiques d’austerite, donne plus d’inégalités,” (Policies of austerity create more inequality).

Mona Luxion, a protester and PhD student at McGill told The Daily, “I’m here because I think that housing is a human right […] and something that we as a society should be providing for people and fighting for.”

The camp

Protesters and campers arrived at Parterre du Quartier des spectacles around 2:30 p.m.. Campers began to set up tents while protesters formed a circle around the park. Organizers invited protesters to return the next day for other planned actions.

According to FRAPRU’s website, the camp was intended to be an ongoing installation which would educate the public about housing problems and also denounce the Quebec government for cutting the funding for new social housing in half in its last budget and the federal government for gradually decreasing funds for housing subsidies.

Approximately 60 campers from Montreal and nearby regions who are either facing housing difficulties or are tenants of social housing were planning to stay in the tents. Few tents had been installed when police intervened at around 3 p.m., ordering campers to dismantle the tents. Campers then voted to decide whether they should stay on site, with the majority voting to do so.

“It’s very difficult for us to go on with our daily lives for the rent that we pay – it takes a lot of our income.”

“It’s very difficult for us to go on with our daily lives for the rent that we pay – it takes a lot of our income. So that’s why we are here, to let them know, because we do many many activities [and] manifestations, [but] it’s like nobody hear[s] us […] we want to them to just see that we are very serious, that we are in great in need of social housing,” stated one protester with the Comité d’action de parc extension (CAPE), a housing rights organization.

At around 4 p.m. the police intervened directly, seizing some of the tents and arresting three people. Police surrounded the barely-assembled camp from multiple directions and backed the crowd away from the tents. The camp was fully dismantled and protesters dispersed by 5 p.m.

On May 22, FRAPRU set up camp at the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux of Montréal, on the corner of St. Denis and Pins. However, the campers were evicted from this location as well. On May 23, another camp was set at the corner of the Grande Bibliothéque on Berri. On May 24, the campers decided to end their demonstration.

Earlier this week, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre declared that he did not accept the notion of a camp, referring to the “security problems” he associated with the Occupy Montreal camp at Square Victoria in 2011.

“My message for Coderre [and] for Couillard is to stop austerity, to stop oppression, to listen to the people. We are afraid today, they use intimidation [and] repression,” Sandra Cordero, a protester who was present at the May Day anti-austerity protests, where police used excessive violence, told The Daily after the police had dispersed the crowd.

“A lot of people are suffering [from inaccessible housing], kids are suffering. I have six kids. I am a single mother and I don’t have a big [income] so I count on that housing; and [the federal government has] that money and they are not investing in housing.”

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Former McGill employee sues University for job discrimination Sat, 23 May 2015 18:08:41 +0000 Discriminated employee seeks to obtain compensation for unemployment and mental illness

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A Hispanic former McGill employee who allegedly faced years of job discrimination and psychological harassment before having his employment terminated is suing McGill University and his former director of operations.

Arturo’s* first lawsuit against McGill University and his director (who has since quit and now resides in Toronto) is for discrimination based on language, ethnic background, and age, and is under review by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ), the Quebec commission on human rights and youth rights. Arturo will be represented by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR). The second lawsuit, through the Commission des normes du travail (CNT), Quebec’s labour board, is for psychological harassment against McGill University as an employer. The first hearing was on May 1, and Arturo was represented by CNT.

Arturo, who has a doctorate in oncology and is originally from South America, was in his fifties when he immigrated to Canada. Shortly thereafter, he was employed at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine as a project administrator at the Rossy Cancer Network (RCN) in March 2012. Following a positive evaluation of his performance in July 2012, he was given the title of Medical/Clinical Liaison.

According to Arturo, everything was going well until February 2013, when a new director of operations was installed at the RCN. Allegedly, after this appointment, discrimination began, continued, and intensified for the next six months until he was fired.

“[The former director] basically marginalized him and practically downgraded him not only in his job, but in the eyes of his colleagues,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, Arturo’s representative in the CDPDJ case.

In May 2013, Arturo was stripped of his title of Medical/Clinical Liaison and demoted to project manager. In an email, the director cited inadequate English for this decision, despite Arturo’s 90 per cent score on an English proficiency course at Concordia. As project manager, he cannot be reconsidered for the position of project administrator.

Arturo suspects that his accent, rather than his English proficiency, was the cause of the problem. Niemi agreed that accent was the likely culprit. “Accents are often used as a proxy for racial and ethnic discrimination,” Niemi told The Daily.

Arturo was also systematically excluded from events and activities. “The new boss didn’t talk to me, and the new ones [who were hired by the director] didn’t talk to me,” Arturo alleged. He was kept out of project meetings, even though he was a project manager.

“Accents are often used as a proxy for racial and ethnic discrimination”

Shortly after, through an accidentally leaked email, Arturo discovered that he had the lowest paid salary among his peers. “People who [held] similar positions and some even [employed] later than me had more pay. It’s unfair.”

Arturo’s attempts to contact those at higher positions were not successful and most of the tasks and decisions were handled by the director alone.

“That’s why when they took away from me the position of medical liaison, nobody [said and] will say nothing, and I can say nothing,” said Arturo.

Arturo suspected that the director wanted him to resign, but refused for the sake of his family. “I can’t resign because I need the job. And so [the director of operations] decided to make my life impossible. He told me, ‘things will be worse.’”

“And at the end because I didn’t resign, they fired me.”

In November of 2013, following roughly half a year of job discrimination, the director terminated Arturo’s contract – but not before asking Arturo to hand over information on new projects he had been working on. The director named “restructuring” as the reason for Arturo’s termination, though he never clarified this to Arturo.

“The funny thing is, when he fired me, I felt relieved. I was free, because I had pressure, pressure, pressure at work,” said Arturo.

Arturo developed mild anxiety and depression due to the ongoing harassment at work, and unemployment and his dire financial situation worsened his mental health. He is currently still in counseling and taking prescription drugs for his mental health.

Arturo knew during his employment that future legal action would be taken, so he gathered documentation during his employment for evidence. In January 2014, he took the first steps to file lawsuits against McGill and his former director, who now resides in Toronto but cannot escape these charges.

Arturo is aiming to ensure that the McGill reference in his CV, which has since barred him from pursuing employment, will no longer negatively impact him. He is also working to obtain compensation for unemployment and mental illness, as well as secure job integration at a  position suited to his educational background.

An attempt by the Quebec labour board to secure a meeting between Arturo and McGill for a resolution in regards to psychological damages was unsuccessful. “What McGill proposed did not live up to his needs – not just [his] wants. This man needs a job to support his family and to be reintegrated in the job that he did well and lost simply because of harassment,” Niemi told The Daily.

The first hearing on May 1 was inconclusive; several hearings will be held later this summer. The lawyer representing the University declined to comment on this story.

*Real name has been changed

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McGill workers deliver open letter to University Sun, 03 May 2015 20:24:18 +0000 Unions demand fair wages, condemn labour casualisation

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Roughly 50 people gathered at Community Square, in front of McGill’s James Administration Building, to celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 and to stand in solidarity with the academic and non-academic workers at the university. Organized by the Inter-Union Council of McGill, the rally included talks by community members, who spoke about the corporatization of the university and the effects of provincial austerity measures.

In an open letter delivered after the rally to the James Administration Building and signed by the event’s participants, workers and students of McGill “[condemned] the Administration’s attack on workers and [signalled] that [they] are united, strong, and prepared to fight back.”

The letter also condemned the closing of the McGill Life Sciences Library and the Education Library, the centralization and restructuring of Arts Faculty administrative offices, and the cutting of over 100 Arts courses. These actions taken by the Administration were used to justify “the abolishing of many full-time employment positions, diminishing the quality and collegial climate of undergraduate education, and contributing to tangible overcrowding in the McLennan and Schulich libraries.”

Casualisation at McGill

According to Sheehan Moore, an outreach coordinator at the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) and the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), McGill is justifying its policy of casualisation with the provincial government’s budget cuts to education and the ensuing deficit. However, Moore characterized the deficit as “non-existing,” referring to University’s recent declaration of a $4.3 million surplus in its 2014-15 fiscal budget.

While originally forecasting a $7 million deficit, Provost Anthony Masi announced the unexpected surplus at McGill’s Senate on April 22. Similarly, in the 2013-14 academic year, the University was expecting an operating deficit of about $10 million, but instead ran an operating surplus of over $15 million. Still, the University’s 2015-16 budget forecasts an additional $11 million reduction in the operating budget, to be mitigated by the continuation of cost-cutting practices introduced in the past two years, including casualisation.

“What [casualisation] means is the process by which good, well-paid, stable jobs are destabilized and replaced by temporary and precarious jobs, with fewer benefits et cetera. At McGill, this instability takes the form of short-term contracts, constant contract renewals, [and] unreliable schedules,” said Moore.

AMUSE to start negotiating collective agreement

Moore explained that AMUSE’s collective agreement with McGill expired on April 20, although it will remain in effect until a new bargain is struck. The union will begin negotiating with the University in May.

Addressing the crowd at the rally, McGill worker and member of the AMUSE bargaining team Agatha Slupek declared on behalf of the Inter-Union Council that “unions at McGill will be joining [their] comrades in the fast-food and retail industries [in calling] for a $15 campus-wide minimum wage.”

“Approximately 1500 workers on campus make less than $12 an hour – invigilators and non-academic casual staff making up the bulk of that group. Approximately 500 research assistants make less than $15 an hour – making that 2000 workers who are earning less than $15 [an hour], which has been estimated to be the living wage for the city of Montreal,” Slupek said.

Neoliberalisation of the university

Speaking to the crowd, assistant professor of political science Yves Winter contextualized the circumstances at McGill within a broader process of neoliberalization, “[which] positions the university as a big enterprise. […] It treats students as consumers, and it treats education as commodity.”

Mona Luxion, AGSEM (McGill’s Teaching Assistants Union) Mobilization Committee Chair and a member of Demilitarize McGill, said: “We all live under an economic system that is based on the exploitation of the vast majority of the people for the profit of a few. […] I want to acknowledge that many of us are insulated from the brutality of that system through what we call the welfare state, where a little bit of that profit is redistributed to people in the form of education and healthcare and social services.”

“So [the austerity] we’re seeing this spring – and this is part of a [larger] movement in the Quebec government, in the federal government, [and] across the world – is rolling back this redistribution of any of the profit, so that the brutality of this system is exposed,” added Luxion.

“We must resist against it. We must push for an alternative mission that involves educating students for the common good, a mission that involves responsibilizing ourselves as democratic agents, doing research and teaching that is critical, that isn’t just commodifiable, that isn’t just for profit, and that doesn’t just toe the corporate line,” stated Winter.

“It involves conducting ourselves and training ourselves to hold power accountable and to build [a] kind of community on campus, to build on the community that we have to valorize it rather than undermine it.”

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Police crack down on May Day demonstrations Sat, 02 May 2015 23:28:22 +0000 Community activists determined to continue mobilizing against austerity

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Over 860 community organizations, student associations, and unions across Quebec – an unprecedented number – went on strike on May 1 to mark International Workers’ Day and protest the provincial government’s austerity measures. In Montreal, protests and disruptive actions began early in the morning and culminated around 7:30 p.m. when a demonstration numbering over 500 people, organized by Montreal’s Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC), was violently dispersed by the police.

Demonstrators began gathering at Phillips Square around 6:30 p.m., joined shortly thereafter by neighbourhood contingents formed in North, East, and South-West Montreal. The group set off around 7 p.m..

Having promptly declared the demonstration illegal, police agents from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) confronted the group at several locations and deployed large amounts of tear gas, injuring protesters and passers-by, including children. According to Radio-Canada, SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras was unable to give an exact reason for the dispersion maneuver.

“They didn’t let us walk, they gassed us after twenty minutes,” one protester told The Daily in French. “It was seriously appalling.”

Many fled into the metro. Some of the remaining protesters were kettled on Maisonneuve, with the night ending in 84 arrests.

“It’s obvious that the escalation of repression we’ve seen in the last few years is the result of a political directive to nip all protest movements with a radical discourse in the bud,” CLAC wrote in a press release. “To be clear, we will not allow ourselves to be chased, beaten, and repressed without a fight.”

Day of action for International Workers’ Day

From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., protesters associated with the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics, a coalition of over 85 social groups fighting cuts to public services, blocked access to the Banque Nationale tower, inhibiting its activities. At the same time, roughly 300 protesters occupied the offices of Québecor Media. These actions were followed by a demonstration that drew thousands of people.

“The main reason why community organizations are mobilizing is because the people we work with on a daily basis are experiencing the consequences of austerity,” Coalition spokesperson Véronique Laflamme told The Daily in French. “These are people who are seeing employment integration programs for people with disabilities being cut, seeing their welfare cheques being cut, seeing social housing being cut […] people who have less and less access to quality public services because of cuts to healthcare and social services.”

“Community groups do a lot of work with very few resources. They’re overburdened and it’s harder and harder for them to fulfill their mission, because there are more and more people who need help,” added Laflamme.

Joining the mobilization for the day of action, twenty-four CEGEP teachers’ unions across Quebec voted for one-day strike mandates to protest severe government cuts to education.

Quebec’s labour board ruled on April 30 that the teachers’ strike was illegal, and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) advised its members to comply with the ruling. Despite this, successful picket lines were held and classes cancelled at many CEGEPs, including Maisonneuve and Rosemont in Montreal.

A similar number of university and CEGEP student associations were also on strike.

Quebec author Anny Schneider, who attended the morning protest, insisted on the importance of continuing to mobilize non-student sectors of the population. “I think there aren’t enough older people [protesting] – people are afraid for their jobs, for their social positions,” she told The Daily in French. “I remain hopeful.”

Looking forward, protesters and organizers emphasized the need to continue to build momentum toward strong mobilization in the fall.

“We’re determined, and we cannot let this go. We’re already seeing the ravaging effects of austerity measures throughout Quebec,” said Laflamme. “The battle of the next few months is a battle for the redistribution of wealth.”

Some expressed concern over the brutality of the police repression, and its potential impact on mobilization.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t want to come back to demos because of how violent it’s become,” a student at CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal, who attended picket lines there, as well as the night protest, told The Daily in French. “The repression is very strong.”

“I’ve never seen so many police in Montreal,” said Schneider. “It’s very unhealthy; it scares me, it saddens me, but I will continue to express myself.”

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Two J-Board cases against Elections SSMU resolved through mediation Wed, 29 Apr 2015 23:18:56 +0000 Kareem Ibrahim censured over a month after end of election period

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Two cases filed to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Judicial Board (J-Board) last March against Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Rachelle Bastarache have been resolved through mediation, as of April 28. Both petitioners, unsuccessful SSMU presidential candidate Alexei Simakov and VP Internal candidate Johanna Nikoletos, claimed that Elections SSMU failed to uphold its mandate to ensure a fair election.

Simakov’s case

Simakov, who received 47.5 per cent of the vote in the presidential election, claimed that Elections SSMU did not adequately address the alleged instance of libel on behalf of his opponent, SSMU president-elect Kareem Ibrahim. Ibrahim had accused Simakov of being involved in the revealing of controversial comments that Ibrahim had made in a Facebook message thread concerning the gathering of evidence for alleged bylaw infractions by former SSMU presidential candidate Tariq Khan.

The terms of agreement reached in mediation required Ibrahim to publicly apologize to Simakov, which he did on April 13. In his apology, Ibrahim expressed regret and acknowledged that some of the comments he made against Simakov were “unsubstantiated allegations.”

In addition, Bastarache sent a statement over the Elections SSMU listserv publicly censuring Ibrahim on April 28. According to the email, the censure was due to “new evidence” that surfaced after the campaigning period which would have affected Bastarache’s original decision; however, the situation was “not severe enough” to warrant a meeting of the Electoral Review Committee (ERC).

The new evidence in question is that the Facebook post in which Ibrahim had made accusations against Simakov was deleted eight hours after Bastarache originally believed it to have been deleted, she told The Daily.

Bastarache recognized that, with the vote long over, the censures served little purpose beyond informing the public of infractions that occurred during the campaign period.

“It was an agreement that we’d come to where […] we will acknowledge that something has happened, not severe enough to warrant convening [the] ERC or anything else, however if you felt that you had been wronged, we wanted to make that right – and that was the way that [Simakov] felt that things could be made right,” stated Bastarache.

“At the time, it seemed appropriate, however that was also on [April 8], so that was a long time ago.”

Nikoletos’s case

Nikoletos, who lost the VP Internal election by 13 votes, filed a petition at the end of March asking the J-Board to invalidate the VP Internal election and hold another vote. In her petition, Nikoletos alleged that incoming VP Internal Lola Baraldi had not been sanctioned for improper campaigning on Facebook and Reddit. Nikoletos also alleged that Baraldi had violated regulations when she campaigned in the New Residence Hall lobby.

Baraldi was publicly censured by Elections SSMU on March 27, about one week after the election results were announced, for campaign violations in New Residence Hall.

In mediation, Bastarache agreed to formulate recommendations for next year’s CEO on ways to clarify the SSMU electoral bylaws, particularly with regard to campaigning on social media. “A lot of the campaigning is playing out on social media, and it is very difficult to monitor,” said Bastarache, noting that ambiguity in the bylaws in this regard has also been an issue in the past.

Nikoletos did not respond to requests for comment.

Dissatisfaction with process

In an email, Simakov told The Daily that his overall experience with J-Board had confirmed his concerns that “students are unable to access an unbiased judicial process related to matters of politics,” and that the CEO of Elections SSMU “is under no impartial supervision.”

This, Simakov wrote, was based on the manner in which his case was dealt, as after submitting his petition, he was not contacted by “the J-Board or student advocacy office for over a week,” though, according to him, Bastarache was assigned a student advocate less than two days after she filed her response.

“[On April 7] I was notified that the only available time to meet would be within forty minutes, and was connected with my student advocate precisely ten minutes before the mediation session started,” Simakov told The Daily. “Ten minutes is not at all an adequate amount of time to adequately prepare my case.”

J-Board Chief Justice Muna Tojiboeva did not oversee Nikoletos’s case due to a conflict of interest stemming from Tojiboeva’s involvement in Baraldi’s campaign.

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Senators concerned about Student Services funding Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:32:43 +0000 Senate updated on research regulation review, expected $4 million budget surplus

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McGill’s Senate convened on April 22 for its penultimate meeting of the year, approving revisions to McGill’s mission statement and the creation of a faculty council in the Faculty of Medicine. Senate also discussed McGill’s budget orientations – in particular, the funding of Student Services – and received an update on the ongoing review of McGill’s research conduct regulation.

Budget surplus, Student Services funding

Provost Anthony Masi informed Senate that, despite an initial forecast of a $7 million deficit, the projected balance of the 2014-15 budget is a $4.3 million surplus. For the second year in a row, the government has provided unforeseen funds to the university following a revision of student enrolment numbers, resulting in a budget surplus despite severe cuts to the operating grant.

“Two years doesn’t make a trend – yet,” said Masi, also noting that additional expenditures during the month of April could reduce the surplus.

The 2015-16 budget, expected to be approved by the Board of Governors on April 28, forecasts an additional $11 million reduction in the operating budget, to be mitigated by the continuation of cost-cutting practices introduced in the past two years, such as the hiring freeze on administrative and support staff. International students in faculties with deregulated international tuition – Engineering, Law, Management, and Science – will also face a 5 per cent tuition increase.

The budget also includes a $4.75 million revenue increase from additional overhead charges imposed to the university’s “self-funding” units, including Student Services, which is mostly funded by student fees. According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, the changes will require Student Services to allocate $1.5 million of its accumulated $6 million surplus to new overhead charges.

“There’s no way we can commit to [maintaining current levels of service].”

Student Services also receives a yearly grant from the provincial government. Responding to a question from Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, SSMU Arts and Science Senator and incoming VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke, and SSMU Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, Dyens left open the possibility that this grant could begin to be partially distributed to other units instead, noting that 25 per cent of the $1.8 million grant is already being allocated to Athletics.

“The government grant we receive is meant to fund services to students, [which] include McGill Student Services, but also things such as the Dean of Students, Service Point, advising, the libraries, et cetera,” said Dyens. “If we face unsustainable cuts over the next few years, we may have to use part of that grant to ensure the viability of services to students. We would be able to do so only because Student Services has an accumulated budget surplus of more than $6 million – this is not a long-term solution.”

Student senators voiced concern about the long-term sustainability of the funding of Student Services, a unit already unable to meet student demand and reduce wait times.

“Student Services was previously planning to be using some of that surplus to be doing things like hiring new therapists, but now they are not able to […] meet the increase in demand because of these new overheads,” said Stewart-Kanigan.

Dyens noted that $3.5 million of the surplus was still available, but warned against creating “unreasonable expectations.”

“We could use the entire $6 million to […] bring wait time to zero this year; however, it would mean [that] next year, we’d be unable to do so, and we would create an unreasonable expectation on our services,” he said. “Even if we were to address these needs right now, the demand keeps increasing. […] It’s just not sustainable, we need to find solutions that are more creative.”

Asked by Ayukawa whether the University could commit to maintaining current levels of service after 2016, Dyens said, “There’s no way we can commit to this. What we can commit to is [to] try as hard as we can to do it.”

Mission statement

Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White presented for approval an updated mission statement and a statement of principles for McGill. Taking into consideration feedback from the discussion of the proposed changes at the February 18 Senate meeting, the Academic Policy Committee (APC) revised the proposed statement by removing “engaging the wider community” from the mission statement and revising the principles to be “academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.”

Greenspon and Ayukawa raised concerns over the insufficient emphasis on teaching in the mission statement, and on students as recipients of education. “It’s emphasizing research a bit more than teaching,” said Ayukawa.

The new mission statement was approved, with one vote against.

Research conduct regulation review

Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein verbally updated Senate on the progress of the review of McGill’s Regulation on the Conduct of Research. A working group charged with making recommendations to this effect was struck last fall.

Although it recommended some changes to the regulation itself, the working group mostly made procedural recommendations to improve the implementation of existing rules. Among these were two items to be added to the standard research approval process: a statement that the researcher “has considered the consequences of the research,” and an indication whether the sponsor of the research “operates harmful applications into which research could foreseeably be incorporated,” with an explanation of the balance of benefits and harms of the research if necessary.

Goldstein said that she would conduct consultation among the vice-principals and the deans before bringing the report of the committee to Senate in the fall.

“My expectation was that the report would be made public [today],” said Stewart-Kanigan. “Members of the community haven’t been able to see any sign of the work we’ve done so far.”

Medicine faculty council

Senate approved the creation of a faculty council for the Faculty of Medicine, to be composed of representatives from faculty leadership, academic staff, and students.

“The Faculty of Medicine was perhaps unique in the university in not having a formal faculty council,” said Dean of Medicine David Eidelman.

The council will act as an advisory body to the dean, and will review its terms of reference within two years.

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Women’s Studies students end two-week strike Sat, 18 Apr 2015 01:39:17 +0000 Students use music as a less-confrontational disruption tactic

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Women’s Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies Student Association (WSSA) members voted at a General Assembly on April 14 to end their strike against austerity measures, which began on April 1. During the two weeks of strike, the WSSA strike committee disrupted classes offered by the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), organized educational activities, and helped plan an anti-austerity community sit-in in front of the James Administration building on April 14.

“We’ve […] been hosting teach-ins and workshops during usual class time to give folks something else to go to, [as] a popular education tactic so that folks have the opportunity to come out and continue learning […] from one another, in a way that is much less hierarchical than class generally is,” explained Women’s Studies student and strike committee member Molly Swain.

Strike committee members employed a combination of soft pickets, hard pickets, and noise disruption to successfully cancel most classes scheduled during the two weeks. Although most students respected the strike mandate and did not attend class, tensions between picketers and strike-breaking students ran particularly high on certain occasions.

“We ask basically for the same respect from the folks who don’t necessarily agree with the strike.”

On one occasion, after a professor and around six students were prevented from accessing their classroom, the professor decided to move the class to an office instead of cancelling it. Picketers followed the students to the office and engaged in noise disruption, causing discomfort and fear among the students inside, according to reports.

“I was very scared, everyone in the room was very uncomfortable, very scared. […] They kept pounding on the door, they kept on making noise, and we couldn’t do anything,” said Blare Coughlin, one of the students who attended the class. “By enforcing the strike in such a loud, pressuring way […] it’s very alienating.”

Swain acknowledged that some of the tactics used contributed to tensions between students, but emphasized students’ responsibility to respect the strike mandate.

“Folks disagree on tactics; folks feel that if things get too confrontational, it can be uncomfortable for people,” said Swain. “We ask people to leave, and we always give them the opportunity to do so if they choose.”

“Should the strike get voted down, the strike committee is not going to […] keep picketing, out of respect for the decision of the collective body, and we ask basically for the same respect from the folks who don’t necessarily agree with the strike,” added Swain.

Whereas, Women cover band

In an attempt to ease tensions and lighten the mood, striking students formed a cover band called Whereas, Women in order to enforce classroom disruptions by means of musical performance.

“We thought we might try a more fun and inclusive tactic,” Women’s Studies student Kelly Schieder told The Daily at the band’s debut performance, which took place in the IGSF building on the morning of April 10.

“It’s a way for noise disruption to happen and for us to fulfill our mandate in ways that are somewhat less confrontational,” added Swain.

The band, whose repertoire ranges from 90s hits to classic protest songs, also staged a show on April 13 to celebrate the last scheduled class of the year in the department. The class was cancelled with no issues, and the festive atmosphere elicited a positive response from the students who had come to attend the class.

“They took a different approach, and I’m really thankful for that,” said Coughlin.

Unaccommodating professors

The strike committee attempted to coordinate the enforcement of the WSSA strike mandate with IGSF faculty, as the WSSA had done during the 2012 student strikes. However, despite their stated opposition to austerity measures, the professors were largely unaccommodating this time around, with some indicating that they would call security on picketing students.

“We went into this having communicated with the IGSF […] beforehand, and their response to us was very similar to what we received in 2012, which was, basically, ‘We’ll do the best we can to support you, but we also need to make sure the profs are getting the support they need,’” explained Swain, who was in her first year at McGill during the 2012 student strikes.

“[In 2012], professors said that if we put up picket lines, they wouldn’t cross them, so we effectively cancelled class fairly easily. […] The reception from the professors [this time] was not as accommodating at all to the strike.”

In an interview with The Daily, IGSF Director Carrie Rentschler expressed opposition to austerity measures, but argued that the precarious nature of the IGSF instructors’ position made it difficult for them to support the striking students.

“I am anti-austerity. We have seen here at McGill a round of budget cuts in the millions […] – they are hampering our ability to provide the kinds of education that we want to provide here at the institute,” said Rentschler.

“None of us have the protection of a union. Our instructors work on contract basis, which means their positions are precarious – not because we make them precarious, but they are by nature precarious. So those instructors don’t have the kind of protections you would have if you were a union person going on strike.”

“This has given folks a little bit of taste of what this can look like, and they can take that and make it their own in the fall.”

On April 4, the strike committee published an open letter expressing its disappointment with the IGSF’s response to the WSSA strike.

“We understand that the IGSF is receiving threats that their professors […] could lose their jobs or not be paid if they attempt to accommodate or support striking students,” the letter reads.

“What we do not understand is why they have chosen to accept these conditions wholesale and have proceeded to repress our resistance to these same forces instead of working with us to challenge those above them in the university hierarchy, as we are putting ourselves at risk to do.”

With the strike now over, the strike committee will continue working with the IGSF to attempt to establish assessment procedures that do not penalize students who were involved in the strike.

“We’re going to be meeting with them to ensure that everybody in this situation comes out of it feeling like there’s no remaining hostility, and that students who have been involved in the strike feel like they’re protected moving forward in their degrees – and the profs also feel comfortable continuing to teach folks,” said Swain.

Both Coughlin and Swain also said that they look forward to the continuing mobilization in the fall.

“In the fall, we’ll be able to mobilize a lot more, because people won’t be scared about finals […] hanging over their heads – so I’m actually kind of hopeful for fall,” said Coughlin.

“This has been a learning process for the strike committee, but it has also been a learning process for Women’s Studies students as a whole,” noted Swain. “Mobilization is going to happen in a new way in the fall […] – this has given folks a little bit of taste of what this can look like, and they can take that and make it their own in the fall.”

—With files from Marina Cupido

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Long debates on climate change, military research policies at Council Fri, 17 Apr 2015 23:59:21 +0000 Consultation results on policies show divide among faculties

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On April 9, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for its final meeting of the year, which lasted eight hours, to debate proposed policies on for SSMU regarding climate change and harmful military research. The Climate Change Policy was ultimately referred to a committee for reworking, and the Policy for a Campus Free from Harmful Military Technology passed only partially.

Councillors also passed motions to stand in solidarity with teaching assistants in their ongoing negotiations with the administration, and to increase SSMU’s support of the Peer Support Network (PSN).

Harmful military technology

At this year’s Fall General Assembly (GA), students voted in favour of a motion calling on SSMU to “renew its stance of opposition to the development of harmful military technology on campus”; a policy to this effect was brought to Council for approval.

The document, moved by VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, and Arts Representative Patrick Dunbar-Lavoie, noted that SSMU’s previous policy on the issue had expired in 2013, and that “McGill has remained non-transparent about the extent and nature of military funded research on campus.”

The proposed policy in its original form would have mandated SSMU to oppose the development of harmful military technology on campus, support campaigns with this goal, promote alternative student research opportunities, and lobby the administration for more transparency in the potential applications of research contracts.

It also called on the VP University Affairs to advocate for the delineation of “social responsibility” and of the criteria to be used to weigh the “potential benefits against the possibility of harmful applications’ to evaluate the permissibility of research contracts.”

The policy sparked a lengthy, and at times heated, debate among councillors.

Science Representative and incoming VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston expressed concern over the relatively small proportion of consulted McGill students who had expressed support for such a stance. Out of 200 students polled on the subject, only 27 per cent had responded favourably.

Arts and Science Senator and incoming VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke also voiced concerns based on the survey.

“I think there was a lot of backlash,” she said, speculating that much of students’ opposition to the policy was based on opposition to the activist group Demilitarize McGill. However, she said, most respondents had expressed a desire for greater transparency with regard to the technologies developed at McGill and their possible applications.

In response to Rourke’s concerns, Stewart-Kanigan said that Demilitarize McGill had not been consulted in the drafting of this policy, which, contrary to the concerns of some students, would not offer the controversial group unlimited support from SSMU.

Engineering Representative Anikke Rioux told Council that many students had expressed skepticism about the policy, arguing that many crucial innovations – such as nuclear technology and many advances in aviation – have their origins in military research. She also noted that these contracts bring money to the university at a time when provincial cuts to education are a major concern.

Stewart-Kanigan, meanwhile, defended the policy. “The term [‘harmful’ expresses] that we’d rather not be developing bombs, thermobaric explosives, missiles – those […] very specific things that are designed to inflict harm onto somebody else’s body.”

Medicine Senator David Benrimoh concurred, arguing that “it’s not necessarily about the technology itself, it’s about the provision of the contract.” Clearly, he said, SSMU’s policy would not end the development of such technologies altogether, nor would it bring Canada’s military to its knees – “but that’s not the point.”

“As a university,” said Benrimoh, “we should not be encouraging the military to think of us as a place where they can sink their research dollars for technologies that are [intended for combat].”

After nearly an hour of debate, a motion was brought forward to divide the question. The first ‘resolved’ clause, stating SSMU’s opposition to the development of harmful military technology on campus, passed by a close margin. The final three clauses passed easily, mandating SSMU to lobby in favour of increased transparency on this issue.

The portions requiring SSMU to support student initiatives against harmful technologies and to promote alternative research opportunities, however, were defeated.

The most controversial clauses were voted on by roll call.

Climate change policy

Following extensive consultation and research, Moustaqim-Barrette brought forward a climate policy for SSMU, along with Stewart-Kanigan and Dunbar-Lavoie, in accordance with another motion passed at the Fall 2014 GA.

The proposal outlined the stances SSMU would take with respect to different climate issues (the Society would, for example, be mandated to oppose the extraction of fossil fuels), the prioritization of funding for broader climate justice projects, and the diverse tactics that would be used in pursuit of climate justice.

According to Moustaqim-Barrette, the policy was developed through months of consultation with experienced activists and specialists in a variety of domains pertaining to climate justice advocacy.

Houston took issue, however, with the lack of broad consultation with students from the Faculties of Science and Engineering. While the climate change policy in its original form was supported by 55 per cent of the 200 students surveyed and more than 60 per cent of respondents in each of the Arts, Arts & Science, Medicine, and Science faculties, it had the support of only 23 per cent of respondents from Engineering.

The Engineering Representatives themselves, Rioux and Scott Conrad, expressed vehement opposition to the policy as it stood, arguing instead for a reworking of the proposal over the summer. Rourke and Houston agreed, taking the position that, while elements of the policy were valuable, it should appeal to students across all faculties.

Medicine Representative Joshua Chin, along with a number of other councillors, objected to the fact that, while labelled a “climate change” policy, much of the document dealt with climate justice. “[At the Fall GA] we voted on a motion regarding climate change, and in that motion there was not one single mention of climate justice. How come this policy, which comes from that GA motion, mentions climate change only [briefly], whereas climate justice is [referred to] throughout the rest of the motion,” said Chin.

Stewart-Kanigan defended the relevance of climate justice. “The elements of climate justice that are outlined in this policy are very specific to allying ourselves with Indigenous communities who face extraction on their territories without their consent, [or] who face oil spills in their area.”

She continued, “If you […] want to take the ‘justice’ part out of it, you’re really [saying, for example, that] it would be a bad idea to have a fundraiser for an Indigenous community who’s getting a mine put on their territory that they don’t want. […] These are people you’re talking about.”

After much discussion, Houston moved to refer the proposal to a committee, which would revise the motion to make it appealing to a broader base of students before bringing it back to Council in the fall. The committee would consist of Moustaqim-Barrette and any other interested parties, and would be formed as soon as possible.

This passed by a wide margin.

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Teaching assistant strike kicks off exam season Fri, 17 Apr 2015 16:38:33 +0000 AGSEM members hold day-long soft picket to raise visibility

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McGill students’ exam season started off with picket lines held by teaching assistants (TAs) who, frustrated by their collective agreement negotiations with the administration, voted last week to go on a one-day strike. The TAs picketed outside the Arthur Currie Gym, the main site of examinations at the university, calling on the administration to provide more TA hours and to index TA funding to student enrollment.

The strike started at 7 a.m. and ended around 7 p.m.. Organized by AGSEM, the union that represents TAs and invigilators, the picket was divided into shifts of fifty to sixty people, with each shift lasting around four hours.

Because the union voted to hold a ‘soft’ picket, no one was prevented from from entering or leaving the gym – most invigilators chose to continue with their work, though some did join the picket line as an act of solidarity for their fellow employees.

“Our purpose was really not to disrupt exams. Our purpose was to stand and to make a point, and to get visibility for these issues that we want to talk about,” said AGSEM Invigilator Grievance Officer Jamie Burnett.

“It is just to say, ‘look, we are here’ – it’s not that it’s just for people [directly] bargaining with you, it’s the whole TA union who cares about the outcome of this. We support our bargaining team.”

Physics PhD student and TA Michael Stroebe, who was part of the picket line, told The Daily that visible support for the bargaining committee was one of the main goals of the strike. “It is just to say, ‘look, we are here’ – it’s not that it’s just for people [directly] bargaining with you, it’s the whole TA union who cares about the outcome of this. We support our bargaining team.”

In an email to The Daily, McGill Director of Labour and Employee Relations Robert Comeau was appreciative that the strike did not disrupt finals. “The union has a legal right to exercise this way of expressing their concerns, and we think they handled their strike with the upmost [sic] respect for the rights of our students, who were in exams, and we thank them for it.”

Although some undergraduates had expressed concerns about the potential impact of the strike on their exams, AGSEM TA Bargaining Chair Giulia Alberini told The Daily that students had been largely supportive.

“We were worried that maybe undergrads, being nervous for their exams, [would] not [be] too happy with us being there, but they actually have been very supportive. People have been asking for the stickers to put on their exams, and the day has been very cheerful and joyful.”

According to Burnett, the organizers of the strike were in communication with McGill security and representatives from Labour and Employee Relations to make sure that exams could still go smoothly during the picket.

TAs seek better compensation, student ratios

One of AGSEM’s main bargaining demands is a wage increase of 5 per cent per year. According to AGSEM, McGill TAs are are poorly paid compared to those at their peer institutions across Canada, such as the University of Toronto and York University. TAs at both institutions were on strike for the month of March over funding and working conditions.

According to the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the minimum funding that graduate students receive has not increased since 2008 and is well below the poverty line for a single adult in Toronto.

“Compared to other universities all over Canada, [McGill has] relatively badly paid TAships,” said Stroebe. “We want to make sure that there’s some leverage, because McGill always wants to compare themselves, not only in Canada, but worldwide.”

“It’s difficult to bargain at McGill, the administration has not always made it clear that they care a lot about student concerns, about worker concerns, so it’s difficult. But we have a lot of support, so I think we can move forward.”

However, McGill’s TAs are better paid than those at other universities in Quebec, which, according to Comeau, is the most relevant comparison.

“We would note that McGill TAs are the best paid TAs in Quebec, and we don’t think the reference market is Toronto,” he said.

AGSEM is also asking the University to include a limit on student-to-TA ratios in the agreement in order to prevent them from increasing further. According to Burnett, this is important for TAs’ working conditions, as well as for the quality of education for undergraduates. “We want to make sure that we have enough time to do our job properly, and that’s something that undergrads care about as much as we do.”

According to Comeau, two conciliatory dates have been set to continue negotiations, although a specific timeline was not given.

Speaking to the nature of negotiations with the University, Burnett said, “It’s difficult to bargain at McGill, the administration has not always made it clear that they care a lot about student concerns, about worker concerns, so it’s difficult. But we have a lot of support, so I think we can move forward.”

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Discovering Islam at McGill Fri, 10 Apr 2015 17:48:25 +0000 McGill students invited to experience and exchange ideas about Islam

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On the afternoon of March 27, the Muslim Students Association of McGill (MSA) hosted an event titled “Discover Islam” to allow people to experience cultural, spiritual, and educational aspects of Islam.

The two-hour event consisted of activities, panels, and discussions exploring Islam. The activities and panels introducing Islam, led by students and volunteers, featured games as well as opportunities for cultural exchange, such as trying on a hijab or a henna tattoo. On the other side of the room, discussions over tea were led by Muslim guest speakers who explored topics such as community and family.

Ahmer Wali, president of MSA, told The Daily that the intentions of the event were multifaceted. “It’s to let people know about Islam – for those who do know and for those who don’t know, it’s a good reminder, it lets people interact with Muslims, and to learn more,” Wali said.

“We’re living in times where there is a lot of information, but extremely little knowledge.”

He also emphasized that the event was open to non-Muslims. “Perhaps they want to know, but do not know as much about Islam,” he stated. He continued, “we divided the groups accordingly, some of the basic info that most Muslims would have, and then some more in depth topics.”

Razia Hamidi, a community outreach worker, spoke at the event and discussed the topic of an Islamic community as well as what role practicing Muslims must play in today’s society.

“Community in Islam is not founded in race, gender, nationality, locality, occupation, kinship, or special interest,” Hamidi said. “The principles of Islam are about forbidding the evil and enjoining good, so you do that through political activism, through community engagement, civic engagement, constantly.”

She emphasized that community involvement is an important part of Islam. “In order to be a practicing Muslim, and to fundamentally practice Islam as it was meant to be, it’s not just practicing in your homes, rather something that you do outside, and engage and help better your presence in either in Canada, Montreal, on a micro level,” Hamidi said.

Shakib Ahsan, a PhD graduate in education at McGill, clarified the concept of jihad. Although the word can have many meanings, it is often translated as “holy war,” and is understood as a violent act by the public.

“I am happy that there is so much genuine interest about Islam, and people turned up to learn.”

“The misconception about jihad still exists today after 15, 20 years. So I think a lot of these are same old things that are being repeated probably because the media hasn’t done well in teaching the public or they’ve just twisted it to an extent where […] these things are still in the public perception, very blurred,” Ahsan told The Daily.

Seif Zeineldin, a speaker, stressed the importance of directly engaging with the Muslim population in order to have a clear understanding of the religion.

“We’re living in times where there is a lot of information, but extremely little knowledge. And it is much better actually to get the knowledge from someone who already studied this tradition and spent some time studying this tradition [rather] than going around and googling.”

“That’s what this event is all about. Making people question what is portrayed in the media and get a real taste of Islam,” Hamidi said.

After completing the activities, U1 Political Science student Didier Chen noted that he “realized that [he] didn’t know a lot about Islam.”

Lina, a U3 Arts student, told The Daily that she learned a lot at the event. “I am enjoying having conversations with strangers about things that I am not educated in. […] It’s fantastic, this is one of the best events I’ve seen in SSMU. I’m really happy I walked in here,” Lina said.

Wali said that he felt the event was a success. “I am happy that there is so much genuine interest about Islam, and people turned up to learn.”

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The realities of post-traumatic stress disorder Fri, 10 Apr 2015 16:19:06 +0000 Bridge the Gap seeks to provide broader understanding of mental health

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On March 24, the Bridge the Gap speaker series held an event focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bridge the Gap is a mental health speaker series meant to foster better understanding and awareness of mental health-related topics. The speakers are selected so that an event begins with a more scientific discussion of mental health, which is followed by a speaker presenting their personal experience with the topic. Bridge the Gap is an initiative of, a network that aims to remove the stigma surrounding mental health through education.

Jorge Armony, a researcher at the Douglas Institute and associate professor of psychology at McGill, explained that PTSD is a mental illness that follows direct exposure to a traumatic event. Traumatic events may include different types of threats, sexual violence, or a serious injury, among many other things.

“My experience with post-traumatic stress disorder – I compare it to waves that are rolling in consistently, and I’m constantly trying to get on shore. I would constantly have these triggers which would be another wave coming and coming.”

Armony described three general categories of PTSD symptoms. The first type involves reliving the event, possibly through nightmares or flashbacks. The second type involves avoiding situations that create reminders of the event. The third includes negative associations and changes, such as avoiding loved ones.

Armony noted that a person may not necessarily experience all four types of symptoms.

Caitlin Kelley, the student speaker at the event, shared her personal experience with PTSD. She started experiencing PTSD a couple of years ago following an incident of sexual assault.

“My experience with post-traumatic stress disorder – I compare it to waves that are rolling in consistently, and I’m constantly trying to get on shore,” said Kelley. “I would constantly have these triggers which would be another wave coming and coming.”

She explained that part of the difficulty in trying to recover from PTSD is the stigma and shame that surrounds mental health, and emphasized the importance of destigmatizing mental illnesses by creating more awareness of them.

Armony also touched upon the impact of stigma when discussing treatment for mental illness. He explained that individuals who have experienced traumatic events like natural disasters are much more likely to recover than a man who has experienced a sexual assault. This is because for the first incident there is more likely to be a sense of community and sharing of experiences while the latter would most likely be hidden due to stigma.

“I think it’s super important to have education-based events, because it helps inform people […] a lot of people don’t know how to approach the topic. Having things like this helps open the conversation about mental health.”

“Strength lies in the ability to love yourself unconditionally,” said Kelley.

Illustrating PTSD in more scientific terms, Armony explained that within the brain, the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, is very active. The prefrontal cortex the area associated with control – including emotional control – is less active. This means that someone with PTSD will feel their emotions more deeply, but possess less of a capacity to deal with these emotions.

Regarding risk factors, studies have shown that individuals with a smaller hippocampal volume are more likely to get PTSD. The hippocampus is a major component of the brain that is associated with memory and is very susceptible to stress – when an individual reaches high levels of stress, it actually kills cells in that area.

After the talk, student audience member Loa Gordon spoke positively about the event. “It’s really nice that you get the perspective of an expert in the field […] and also a personal story.”

One of the audience members asked what a good response would be to a friend who suffers from PTSD. Kelley said that responses would vary depending on the individual, but that one of the more important things is to say that you’ll be there to support them.

“I think it’s super important to have education-based events, because it helps inform people […] a lot of people don’t know how to approach the topic,” said Laura Herbert, the president of McGill’s Chapter of “Having things like this helps open the conversation about mental health.”

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Women fight back against austerity Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:35:20 +0000 Police violently disperse "non-mixte" protest

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Correction appended April 9.

At 9 p.m. on April 7, over 200 people gathered at Norman Bethune Square to protest provincial austerity measures. The event, organized by the anonymous collective Hyènes en Jupons (Hyenas in Petticoats), was a feminist protest, open only to trans people and those who self-identify as women.

A McGill Women’s Studies minor student who participated in the demonstration explained her view on this decision.

“I think that so long as [a closed demonstration] is done […] so that gender policing doesn’t become a thing – because that would be violent and problematic in its own way – I think that it’s really important and valuable for non-dudes to have spaces to do activism,” she said. “Not only are activists claiming the streets, but women are claiming activist space in the streets.”

A student from Cégep de Saint-Laurent, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed a different opinion, emphasizing the importance of large turnout at demonstrations.

“There are some who think that it’s because white, heterosexual guys can’t really understand the struggle of women […] which isn’t false, but the more [people] we are, the more we’ll make ourselves heard.”

Setting out on Guy and turning west onto Sherbrooke, the demonstration was soon met with a police cordon, ultimately forcing it back down to De Maisonneuve. During the hour that followed, police restricted the crowd to the Concordia area, blocking its passage further east.

A few stand-offs occurred during this time, and a number of protestors were physically assaulted by police as they hurried to surround the group. One woman was knocked roughly to the ground by a running police officer, breaking her glasses.

Despite the heavy police presence, the mood of the demonstration was lively. Protesters chanted feminist slogans: “Crions! Plus fort! Sinon les femmes on nous ignore!” (“Shout! Louder! Otherwise we women are ignored!”) and “À qui la rue? Aux femmes la rue!” (“Whose streets? Women’s streets!”).

Several protesters noted that women are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of austerity measures. Others cited Quebec Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette’s controversial Bill 20, which many doctors and health professionals worry will limit the number of abortions Quebec doctors would be able to perform, as one reason for the demonstration.

Another anonymous protester said, “Austerity affects […] marginalized groups in particular, including trans women, who are certainly one of the most marginalized groups, and who austerity stigmatizes further.”

A contingent from the Muslim Jewish Feminist Alliance at Concordia was also present.

“We are marching because the neoliberal agenda is definitely discriminating against women, and women of Muslim […] and Jewish cultural background in Western societies are struggling to uphold their views and their values, and it’s to denounce this oppression that we’re here tonight,” explained a member of the group. “As a visible minority, as women, we have to denounce [austerity].”

At roughly 10 p.m., riot police began to surround the demonstration, and it was declared illegal. They then proceeded to disperse the gathering, firing stun grenades at the margins of the crowd and using tear gas to clear the Concordia area. By 10:30 p.m., the demonstration had scattered and the riot police had left the scene.

One woman described her experience to The Daily. “I was on the sidewalk, and someone knocked into me with a riot shield […] at a certain point I [was thrown] down,” she said. “One of the police officers, I didn’t see who, grabbed me by my scarf [from behind] and pulled me. I’m not sure how I got out of that situation.”

A U1 McGill student also described scenes of brutality, saying the behaviour of police was “unnecessarily violent.”

“At the very beginning, for some reason, they started running towards us, and just pushed this girl who fell on her head, and literally, she was just standing there. She wasn’t doing anything,” said the student.

The McGill Women’s Studies student said, “I think it’s the most aggressive [police repression] I have seen yet. […] The ratio of police to protesters was exorbitantly different than it has been at other [demonstrations]. [That reflects] the way a women, trans, or femme demo is viewed.”

A previous version of this article stated that the march was open only to those who self-identify as women. In fact, the march was also open to all trans people, not just those who self-identify as women. The Daily regrets the error.

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Teaching assistants to strike on first day of exams Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:15:57 +0000 BRIEF

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McGill’s teaching assistants (TAs) will be on strike on April 16, the first day of final exams, to put pressure on the University and express their disappointment with the lack of progress in negotiations, ongoing since the TAs’ collective agreement expired in June 2014. A vote to that effect passed at the April 7 General Assembly (GA) of AGSEM, their union, by a margin of 129 to 68.

Although the organizational details of the strike were left to the discretion of a newly formed strike committee, the GA did vote to hold a ‘soft’ picket line, meaning that individuals will be discouraged, but not prevented, from crossing it. Invigilators, also unionized under AGSEM as a separate bargaining unit, have the legal right to refuse to cross a picket line preventing access to an examination location.

“It was great to see this many people out, and have an actual debate with so much of the membership about what McGill has offered and how we respond,” said AGSEM Mobilization Committee Chair Mona Luxion, speaking as an AGSEM member. “I think it’s going to take a lot more than this to get major concessions from McGill, but […] I really see this as the first step in an ongoing process.”

The TAs’ current bargaining priorities are a wage increase and the codification of a limit on TA-to-student ratios. McGill countered the TAs’ demand for a 5 per cent yearly wage increase with an offer of an increase equal to that of the Quebec public service workers, with a one-year lag. As the public service workers’ agreement is currently in negotiations, the amount is as of yet undefined.

According to AGSEM TA Bargaining Committee Chair Giulia Alberini, the administration has staunchly refused to compromise on the TA-to-student ratios, as well as on the TAs’ other demands, such as a new harassment-related grievance resolution policy. The last two bargaining sessions were held in the presence of a mediating conciliator, and at least one more session is planned in the coming days.

“What I think is absolutely clear from this meeting is that the membership is really disappointed in what McGill has offered,” said Luxion. “I think that a visible action, especially one that is a strike and does have a real disruptive effect on McGill and in TAs’ lives, is going to start a lot of conversations […] and I think this is the perfect time to do it – while we’re talking about austerity across the province.”

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