News – The McGill Daily http://www.mcgilldaily.com MORE NUANCE since 1911 Fri, 19 May 2017 16:46:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/cropped-logo2-32x32.jpg News – The McGill Daily http://www.mcgilldaily.com 32 32 Convicted rapist living in Milton-Parc http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/05/convicted-rapist-living-in-milton-parc/ Sat, 06 May 2017 01:17:22 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50444 Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence that may be triggering for some readers.

Recent reports confirm that Michael Giroux, a convicted rapist released from prison in the fall of 2016, is currently living in the Milton-Parc neighborhood adjacent to McGill.

A National Post article about Giroux’s current residence, published on May 2, was shared within McGill groups on social media. One student, Julia Métraux, provided a link to the article and included a plea for students to stay safe.

In the days that followed, dozens of other students repeated Métraux’s sentiment, tagging friends and warning each other of the possible threat.

Giroux sexually assaulted women in Toronto in the 1980s, and became known as the “High Park rapist.” He stalked women ranging from 23 to 42 years old, broke into their homes, and sexually assaulted them after threatening to kill them.

Giroux sexually assaulted women in Toronto in the 1980s, and became known as the “High Park rapist.”

In 1996, Giroux pled guilty to five counts of sexual assault and over 30 related crimes. After serving 13 years, annual hearings of Giroux’s case were held, considering statutory release until the end of his sentence. Statutory release, which allows an individual to serve the final third of their term in the community, is applicable for federally-sentenced prisoners who have already served two-thirds of their term. However, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) may issue a detention order, keeping the individual incarcerated, if it finds there to be a strong likelihood that they will do further harm.

Despite yearly hearings with the PBC, Giroux was denied statutory release all seven times. He served a full sentence of 20 years in prison, during which the PBC noted that Giroux demonstrated little remorse.

According to the National Post, “Giroux refused treatment during his imprisonment and continued to minimize the harm caused to his victims.”

Apparently, both the PBC and Correctional Services Canada found that Giroux was “considered at high risk to reoffend.”

According to the National Post, “Giroux refused treatment during his imprisonment and continued to minimize the harm caused to his victims.”

Giroux’s unwillingness to accept treatment sparked debate on social media. Some McGill students felt that Giroux’s sentence should have been longer in order to protect the public. Others felt that his lack of remorse demonstrates failures within the Canadian prison system.

“Prison needs to be as corrective as it is punitive. The fact that this guy didn’t change after 20 years can be rectified by locking him up for longer, or we can reform our system so that guys like this fundamentally change and can rejoin society,” wrote McGill student Tim Min.

Another student, Andrew Figueiredo, responded, “It’s easy to start pontificating about the ethics of punishment, but the fact of the matter is that a serial rapist who refused treatment is now living near McGill students.”

Since his release, the authorities have imposed 21 restrictions on Giroux’s behaviour under a peace bond. He must stay at the address informed to the court between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and must obtain permission to leave Quebec. Giroux is forbidden from contacting his victims, or anyone under the age of 16 without supervision. Other precautions include restrictions on possessing or using firearms, weapons, alcohol, drugs, internet access, and pornography. However, Giroux will reportedly be under these terms for only two years.

“It’s easy to start pontificating about the ethics of punishment, but the fact of the matter is that a serial rapist who refused treatment is now living near McGill students.”

According to the National Post, Giroux is currently living in four-story building on the edge of the McGill Ghetto with a banner outside that reads “Welcome McGill.”

The Daily contacted Graeme Hamilton, who wrote the National Post article in question.

“Since the article was published,” wrote Hamilton, in an email to The Daily, “I heard from people in the McGill community who had established where [Giroux] was living, and have been informed by the landlord that he is moving out as early as this weekend so the information may soon be out of date.”

The McGill administration, meanwhile, is aware of the situation and has made an announcement to the university population.

“We [have sent] a message to our community reminding them of safety precautions they should take,” said Doug Sweet, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications, in an email to The Daily. “We cannot legally send a message around identifying a specific individual or sharing a photo.”

“I heard from people in the McGill community who had established where [Giroux] was living, and have been informed by the landlord that he is moving out as early as this weekend.”

This message to the community came in the form of an email from Pierre Barbarie, the director of Campus Public Safety. The announcement, sent to all students and faculty on May 4, detailed general safety precautions. While the email did not explicitly mention Giroux, the timing of the email indicates potential safety concerns for students in Milton-Parc.

The administration’s response is similar to another safety reminder sent last November, concerning “reports of a small number of incidents near the northern portion of the lower downtown campus.” That email referred to the experiences of several women who were verbally assaulted and, in some cases, chased by a sexual predator. In both cases, McGill’s email failed to mention the gendered nature of the violence involved.

Erin Sobat, VP University Affairs of the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), responded to the administration’s handling of the situation in an email to The Daily.

“We are concerned that this information [about Giroux’s residence in Milton-Parc] was not communicated directly to students by either the police or the university,” wrote Sobat. “[SSMU] members should not be expected to learn about something like this through the press, social media, or word of mouth. If the authorities are expecting students to take their own security precautions, they at least deserve to have a real sense of the threats present.”

In both cases, McGill’s email failed to mention the gendered nature of the violence involved.

In a follow-up conversation with The Daily, Sweet stressed the difficult nature of this situation. Even though Giroux may pose a threat, he is a free citizen as long as he meets the conditions of the peace bond. While breaching conditions have legal consequences, thereby have a deterrent effect, peace bonds are not permanent. There is little the administration can do, said Sweet, as authorities are not required to inform the public of the convicted sex offender’s presence in their neighborhood.

Update: According to La Presse, Giroux was scheduled to report his new address at the Montreal Courthouse on Friday May 5. However, he failed to appear for unknown reasons. Under the Canadian Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the offender is obligated to report their new address within seven days of changing residence. Failure to comply can result in fines or imprisonment for up to two years.

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Hundreds protest capitalism on May Day http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/05/hundreds-protest-capitalism-on-may-day/ Wed, 03 May 2017 15:04:49 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50430 Content warning: violence, police brutality

On Monday May 1, several hundred people gathered in Phillips Square to participate in a May Day protest through Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. This year’s demonstration was the tenth annual May Day march organized by the Convergence des Luttes Anticapitalistes (CLAC), a Montreal group committed to opposing capitalism through direct action.

Unlike other demonstrations held concurrently around the city, including a large union march in Côte-des-Neiges, the CLAC’s event was explicitly anti-capitalist. Most prominently, the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR) and Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) were in attendance, and handed out red flags symbolic of the communist movement.

Contingents from across Montreal and Quebec assembled to hear speeches from organizers prior to the march at 6PM. One speech addressed the intersections of capitalism, imperialism, and racism:

“People from the global south have paid the highest price of global capitalisms and imperialisms expansion, falling victim to not just the occupation in Iraq, not just the occupation of Palestine, not just what’s happening in occupied Kurdistan, not what’s happening in Yemen, and also now Syria.”

“When [immigrants] come here they’re met with racism and xenophobia to ensure that migrants and immigrants remain exploited simply for the needs of capital,” continued the above organizer. “Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”

“Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”

Diverse participation

McGill Against Austerity (MAA) was one of the many groups to participate in this year’s march, with a contingent of approximately a dozen students. The Daily spoke to a member of MAA who chose to remain anonymous.

“Being an economics student, I see how capitalism is made to look attractive, and I […] read a lot of other scholarship that really disagrees,” she said. “I feel that especially right now in the current [political climate] with […] head of states being right-wing, nationalist, and the rise of religious intolerance.”

“Where I come from, May Day is a recognized formal holiday. […] People openly talk about the history of May Day in the newspaper,” she continued, explaining that she referred to her Bangladeshi heritage. “I found it very surprising that Canada has a very different labour day and it’s not May Day. Even in America it’s called loyalty day which is weird. […] I find it strange that North America is so uncomfortable with the actual history of May Day. And that’s kind of another reason why I [am here] today: […] because I feel very strongly about workers’ rights and I feel it absurd that North America tries to distract people from a significant point in history.”

Another member of MAA who participated in the march, Kyle Shaw, spoke to The Daily about the event’s heavy police presence.

“As always, [the police presence] is excessive, but it’s sort of in the nature of these demonstrations,” said Shaw. “That’s because fascism doesn’t quite conflict [with] or contradict capitalism as thoroughly as communism or other anti-capitalist ideologies. May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”

“May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”

At around 6:30 p.m., the PCR  set off flares to mark the start of the march. They initially led the crowd east along Saint Catherine Street, before circling back towards the downtown core chanting anti-capitalist slogans and flanked by dozens of police officers.

As the crowd made its way through the Golden Square Mile, the Daily interviewed Nathan McDonell, a member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal.

“We’re here because we want to change the world and we’re inspired by […] the Kurdish movement in the Middle East and in particular the social revolution happening in Rojava which is in the northern part of Syria,” said McDonell. “It’s an incredible society based on direct democracy, ethnic harmony, women’s empowerment, and going beyond the state and capitalism, and it’s an example for all of us to be inspired by. It’s in such a delicate situation […] surrounded by the Syrian civil war, [Turkish attacks], ISIS […] so it really needs our international solidarity [and] it’s important for us to be here to show that.”

Another member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal, wishing to remain anonymous, also emphasized the importance of mobilizing support internationally.

“I am originally Kurdish from east Turkey,” he said. “The people who are here, they are the voice of the people right now under the occupation of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. […] I believe it is a very important issue, bringing their voices to the world. I see these people around here, and it’s making me so happy as a [Kurdish] individual and Canadian second.”

Confrontation with the police

Roughly half an hour into the march, a brief confrontation occurred between police officers  and a small subsection of protesters. The crowd had been moving west along René-Lévesque Boulevard when they encountered a cordon of police officers from the Sureté du Québec (SQ) in full riot gear, who appear to have been guarding a TD bank building. A few protesters began throwing projectiles at the police, consisting mainly of smoke bombs and rocks. In response, a group of officers attacked the individuals involved with batons and tear gas, arresting at least one person and violently dispersing the rest.

An anonymous protester who was injured in the incident described their experience in a message to The Daily.

“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons,” they wrote. “I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion. As I was trying to get away, a cop tripped me up and I fell onto a staircase.”

“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons […] I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion.”

Following the confrontation, the protest was temporarily scattered into several small parties, most of which eventually regrouped on McGill College Avenue. They were soon joined by another large group of CLAC supporters that had assembled at the Frontenac metro station, and had marched downtown from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The demonstration then continued without further incident, counting close to a thousand members.

Last year’s May Day was dispersed after a police station window on Saint Catherine street was smashed. The police used stun guns and copious amounts of tear gas in response, violently scattering the crowd. This year, police cordons were preemptively set up whenever the march approached a police station, but the march consistently changed course to avoid them, and no major stand-offs took place.

Indeed, apart from the altercation on René-Lévesque, police intervention was considered relatively minimal this year. Protesters marched for approximately two and a half hours despite heavy rain, before entering the metro at Place des Arts and dispersing peacefully after some exuberant cheering inside the station.

May Day as a McGill issue

Connor Spencer, VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and a member of MAA, spoke with The Daily about the importance of May Day and its relevance to McGill students.

“The austerity measures that the province is facing right now specifically target bodies that are already in precarious positions and makes profit off of them,” said Spencer. “So, today being May Day, […] this is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”

“This is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”

“It’s a McGill issue as well,” Spencer continued. “It’s so often that we think we live in this bubble that separates us from the rest of Quebec, when the things that these people are protesting right now and that we’re on the street protesting is something that affects McGill students directly.”

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SSMU forum addresses gendered and sexual violence http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/ssmu-forum-addresses-gendered-and-sexual-violence/ Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:59:47 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50412 On Tuesday April 11, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Community Disclosures Network (CDN) hosted an open forum addressing gendered and sexual violence. The purpose of this forum was to discuss new reporting and recourse procedures for survivors within the context of the SSMU. New measures were outlined, including mandatory response training for SSMU leadership, a “pro-survivor framework”, and a transformative justice approach toward abusers. This presentation was followed by a discussion period, during which attendees gave feedback, asked questions, and introduced their own ideas.

The open forum followed two high-profile resignations within SSMU’s executive team this semester. Within weeks of each other, Ben Ger and David Aird both resigned from their respective posts as President and VP External of the Society amid allegations of gendered and sexual violence. In the wake of these incidents, SSMU has faced intense scrutiny over its failure to handle systemic misogyny more effectively.

At Tuesday’s open forum, a representative of both the CDN and SSMU summed up the current situation: “It is important at this time to recognize that SSMU is complacent, whether intentionally or not, in perpetuating gendered violence. For that we are truly sorry.”

A pro-survivor approach

Following this statement was a presentation that highlighted SSMU’s planned course of action, formulated from information collected in survivor focus groups. This new policy outline rested on what the presenters called a “pro-survivor framework.”

The presenters defined this pro-survivor approach as “[being] able to support the survivor in their experience and assist them in the exploration of avenues as well as acting with integrity.”

“You have to 100 per cent believe the survivor,” a CDN representative explained, “and fully be there for them, and if for whatever reason you don’t think you are able to do that, to […] help them find someone else who could help them navigate any of these avenues.”

“It is important at this time to recognize that SSMU is complacent, whether intentionally or not, in perpetuating gendered violence. For that we are truly sorry.”

The presenters then outlined some concrete measures for implementing this pro-survivor strategy. These included the possible suspension of abusers from SSMU, training for SSMU executives on the handling of disclosures and reports, and the creation of a public guide outlining the disclosure and reporting process.

“We want to really emphasize a step-by-step, ‘if you choose this avenue this is what will happen’ [approach],” explained a presenter. “We spoke about the creation of a guide that will complement [a soon-to-be-developed] policy […] on how to deal with situations of disclosures and reporting.”

Discussing challenges to implementation

The CDN members later facilitated an open discussion with attendees in order to receive feedback and suggestions. The concept of temporarily suspending an alleged abuser from the SSMU became a point of concern.

“I’m concerned that there’d be backlash against the survivor,” explained an attendee. “Let’s say you have this person removed. If you do an investigation and you don’t find anything you can act on and you have to just revert back to the status quo, […] that might make everything worse.”

Presenters were unable to offer a solution to this potential issue, admitting that it must be addressed before a policy is implemented.

The conversation later evolved into a discussion about the role McGill Athletics must take in the area of sexualized and gendered violence. With a history of inaction in cases where players were accused of sexualized and gendered violence, such as in the Redmen sexual assault scandal of 2013, students have expressed concern over the future of disclosures and reporting. One student asked whether or not there were current conversations happening between the administration and McGill Athletics on this topic.

According to a member of the CDN, “one conversation between Athletics and the administration is […] ‘why are you pointing all your fingers at [McGill Athletics] when you have frosh?’”

“There’s kind of an animosity right now,” they continued, “that Athletics is getting a lot of the pressure. […] They’re a little resentful that they […] were targeted first.”

“You have to 100 per cent believe the survivor, and fully be there for them.”

Another student condemned this claim, calling it “deeply problematic.”

“I don’t know how they can continue to have these events functioning the way they do,” the student continued, “and say they care about gendered and sexualized violence.”

The discussion also touched on topics of current and new ways to educate students on sexualized and gendered violence, particularly involving the pre-frosh consent education video and Rez Project.

“A lot of people,” commented The Daily’s reporter, “were way more willing to find ways to get around the video, skip through the video…there needs to be a more full-proof plan of how to get people to [participate in consent training] without finding loopholes.”

Rez Project – the training programme on issues of gender, sexuality, and sexual violence which students in residence are ostensibly required to attend – was criticised for similar reasons.

“It’s a really good start,” said one attendee, “but that doesn’t even address any of the off-campus students or anybody that isn’t in rez, and I know that is a vast majority of students. We need to find something else as well.”

The proposed “transformative justice” approach to taking action against abusers sparked debate. This term was defined by the presenters as “purposely trying to keep someone within the community, but change their behavior,” or more colloquially, “love the person, hate the behavior.”

“I’m concerned that there’d be backlash against the survivor.”

One student saw major faults in this approach:

“At what point, when someone refuses to take responsibility, do you say that transformative justice is not working?” they asked. “Doesn’t [this approach] just open up the possibility of [violence] happening again? […] Couldn’t that possibly be taking advantage of the survivor’s benevolence in the first place?”

“There could be repetition of behavior with either option,” a CDN member responded. “Ultimately, it is a decision the survivor has to make.”

Training measures are also expected to be implemented, according to the CDN. There is a possibility that this training will be added to the workshops which club executives are required to attend in order to maintain “active” status. If the executive members fail to attend these workshops and a club remains inactive for more than two years, the group will lose its club status.

After concluding questions, comments, and remarks, a presenter from the CDN finished the event with an open question to consider.

“Right now we are in a campus crisis” she stated, “How do we continue these conversations when this is not the hot topic in September anymore?”

The final decision was to create a listserv of interested parties to which information could be relayed and conversation could continue into next year.

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Pregnant Concordia student stuck in Gaza http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/pregnant-concordia-student-stuck-in-gaza/ Sun, 16 Apr 2017 09:10:44 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50406 Bissan Eid, a 24 year old Concordia graduate student, has been prevented from leaving the Palestinian territory of Gaza for four months. Her family launched #BringBissanHome, a campaign appealing to the Canadian government to intervene on behalf of Bissan, a Canadian citizen since 2005.

On Thursday April 13, Bissan’s father, Hadi Eid, held a press conference alongside two supporters: Norma Rantisi, a Geography professor at Concordia, and Rami Yahia, the Internal Affairs Coordinator of Concordia Students’ Union (CSU). “We’re asking the Canadian government to help us, to let Bissan come back to Canada as soon as possible,” said Hadi Eid.

Bissan travelled to Gaza in June 2016 to visit her grandparents and get married. She is now eight months pregnant and due to give birth in the first week of May. According to a press release, when Bissan tried to travel back to Canada, she was prevented from leaving due to the slow processing of her exit visa by Israeli authorities, “who seldom prioritize the applications of Palestinians from Gaza who hold other passports.”

“She needs [medical] support because her doctor told her that she has a difficult pregnancy. It’s better that she gives birth in Canada,” said Hadi Eid. In 2009, according to data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the infant mortality rate in the Gaza Strip was 21.5 per 1000 live births – compared to 4.9 per 1000 live births in Quebec in 2013.

“We’re asking the Canadian government to help us, to let Bissan come back to Canada as soon as possible.”

“In December, Bissan contacted the Canadian embassy at Tel Aviv, and she told them about her situation, and they told her, ‘We can’t help you,'” explained Eid. Eid has also contacted his Member of Parliament, Pierre Nantel of the New Democratic Party with Bissan’s medical reports, to no avail.

Entry to occupied Palestinian territories is controlled by Israeli authorities. Travellers must apply for entry and exit, and even if approved, Israeli authorities can turn them away with no explanation. Since 2007 there has been a land, air, and sea blockade that restricts medical supplies, construction material, and certain food items from entering and leaving the Gaza strip. 1.8 million Palestinians are currently being held captive in the Gaza strip, unable to move freely within the rest of the territory.

“The movement of people into and out of the Gaza strip is highly restricted,” explained Rantisi. “Residents are largely cut off from the outside world and from access to some of the most essential services like healthcare and education. At the same time, Gaza has been subject to recurrent bombings – and this includes bombings that have occurred since the time that Bissan had arrived there.”

“This is an ordeal that no Canadian – or Palestinian – should have to endure,” continued Rantisi. “And yet, after trying again and again to leave for the past four months, she’s been denied an exit permit.”

“This includes bombings that have occurred since the time that Bissan had arrived there.”

The CSU and the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) are also calling on Concordia to support Bissan, by pressuring the Canadian government to intervene. Concordia has a responsibility to “a member of its own community – a member whose freedom of movement and even physical health is being compromised because of their Palestinian nationality,” said Rantisi.

In December 2014, Concordia’s undergraduate students voted to approve the CSU’s support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. “After the massacre in Gaza [Operation Protective Edge], the CSU was given the mandate by the students through Council to hold a position against illegal settlement and disproportionate use of force, as well as the blockade on Gaza,” explained Yahia.

“This is an ordeal that no Canadian – or Palestinian – should have to endure.”

Though the Canadian government says that “Canadian consular officials have very limited ability to intervene on behalf of Canadians who choose to enter or remain in the Gaza Strip,” there is precedent for government intervention for Canadian citizens in Gaza. In August 2014, Canadian officials escorted 8-year-old Salma Abuzaiter out of Gaza, after she became trapped in Gaza city when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.

“The Canadian government can make an appeal to the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv, the foreign affairs department, and resolve the situation,” said Stefan Christoff, a community organizer who has been helping the Eid family with their campaign. “It’s been done before, and it can be done now.”

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Inadequate care prompts petition http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/inadequate-care-prompts-petition/ Sun, 02 Apr 2017 20:00:04 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50335 On March 31, the McGill Students’ Mental Health Working Group sent an open letter to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens and Executive Director (Student Services) Martine Gauthier, criticizing McGill’s “insufficient and inaccessible mental health services.” The letter was accompanied by a petition circulated via Facebook, which at the time of writing had garnered 81 signatures within 5 hours.

The letter outlines a number of concerns with Counselling and Mental Health Services (CMHS), and makes three demands: address concerns that have arisen over the failings of CMHS; stop diverting Student Services funding away from wellness services; and implement a “comprehensive, campus-wide, evidence-based” plan that would focus on mental health literacy and mental illness prevention.

A short history of inadequate care

The beginning of this academic year saw McGill Mental Health Services (MMHS) and McGill Counselling Services combined into Counselling and Mental Health Services (CMHS). While the two services were previously siloed, students are now processed by a single system.

The change came with the introduction of a “stepped care model” whereby a variety of new treatment options – online therapy, group therapy, and referrals to other organizations such as the Peer Support Centre – act as “steps” to one-on-one psychotherapy.

The new model aimed to reduce strain on an overloaded mental health care system, but many students have continued to experience long wait times and inadequate care.

“I used to be able to go to MMHS for drop-in [appointments] if I was having waves of panic attacks or side effects I couldn’t deal with [from medications],” explained Marie*, who has been accessing mental health services at McGill for 4 years. “But with their new conditions that’s impossible.”

In December 2016, Nancy Low, the Clinical Director of McGill’s Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS), was suspended from her position on “administrative leave.” According to Erin Sobat, VP Student at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Low had been advocating for the concerns staff and students regarding the new stepped-care model, though the University refused to disclose the reasons for Low’s suspension.

In January, the former Director of McGill Mental Health Services, Norman Hoffman, told The Daily in an email that “a stepped care system for a Mental Health Service makes no clinical sense.”

Hoffman said he had “been told directly from Mental Health and Counselling staff that the stepped care system is not working well,” but that staff “were told that they are not allowed to object to the stepped care system.”

“I used to be able to go to MMHS for drop-in [appointments] if I was having waves of panic attacks or side effects I couldn’t deal with [from medications]. But with their new conditions that’s impossible.”

“While not all of these [changes to CMHS] have been negative, we are appalled by their hasty implementation without due consideration for the impact on students and staff,” the open letter explains. “Communication regarding major changes has been treated as an afterthought, with limited efforts to involve service users and student leaders in the decision-making process despite their repeated requests.”

Students who access services at CMHS are randomly assigned to a counselling or clinical psychologist, without any triage process.The open letter calls for CMHS to hire specialized triage staff and to dedicate more clinical psychologist time to specialized therapy, while also expanding the range of lower-intensity and prevention initiatives.

Other Canadian universities have also implemented stepped-care mental health services, sometimes with greater transparency than McGill. On their website, the University of British Columbia has a clearly outlined stepped-care triage model. It involves a 15-minute online assessment, followed by a 15-to-20-minute consultation with a wellness advisor, at which point the student is directed to one of six levels of care ranging from self-directed programs and tools to psychiatric care.

Mental Health horror stories

“In early November, I had rushed to the [CMHS] office in hopes of getting an emergency appointment as I had been undergoing an anxiety episode that left me sure of my immediate death” explained Leila*.

Leila was told that there were no available appointments for the next month. When she was eventually able to book an evaluative appointment for three weeks later, she was left lacking coping mechanisms or long-term treatment plan. “The waiting room time as well as the apathy towards my condition shocked me at the time, since no one seemed concerned considering my ailment was neither physical nor would it require me to “do something to hurt myself.’”

“This sort of limit on mental health resources only yields an insufficient resource for a huge undergraduate body that might require immediate care and attention as well as longterm plans for treatment,” Leila continued.

In January, the former Director of McGill Mental Health Services, Norman Hoffman, told The Daily in an email that “a stepped care system for a Mental Health Service makes no clinical sense.”

After being sexually assaulted by a male Frosh leader during their first year at McGill, Lucie accessed Mental Health services. Lucie’s first therapist, after repeatedly asking whether they were comfortable talking to a man, abruptly refused to continue therapy and reassigned Lucie to a female therapist. “He referred me to another therapist who was really helpful, but who told me that at the end of 16 sessions I could never access mental health services again,” Lucie told The Daily. For the following year and a half, Lucie was left commuting and paying out-of-pocket to access affordable therapy.

Lucie identifies as non-binary and uses “they” pronouns, and says that they have been repeatedly misgendered by multiple therapists at CMHS, despite constantly correcting them. “I also spoke to the director of MMHS, Giuseppe Alfonsi, about the situation, and he addressed them one-on-one. They still continued to constantly misgender me despite this,” explained Lucie. “I was constantly on edge, hoping they wouldn’t speak about me, only to me, so I wouldn’t have to hear them misgender me again.”

Marie*, who sees a psychiatrist at CMHS for severe depression and anxiety, told The Daily that her doctor had overprescribed her medication. “I felt that for the most part I was just prescribed medication at random,” explained Marie, “at times at very high doses and switching from one medication to another pretty quickly. A lot of time this ‘pill-pushing’ was justified by my doctor as a way to get me ‘better as soon as possible,’ which for her meant before finals or midterms.”

As a result of switching rapidly between high doses of different antidepressants, Marie experienced severe side effects. “Some of them could have been potentially fatal if it wasn’t for the support of friends,” she explained. “I was pretty much left on my own and unmonitored to deal with those side effects.”

“They still continued to constantly misgender me despite this. I was constantly on edge, hoping they wouldn’t speak about me, only to me, so I wouldn’t have to hear them misgender me again.”

“I often feel like the underlying causes for my mental illnesses are sort of ignored because [my psychiatrist and I] only have 15 to 30 minutes together every two weeks, and so it’s easier to just prescribe meds and numb/sedate/maintain a certain chemical balance than to address anything else. It almost feels like these sessions are for liability reasons than providing actual help.

Underfunded and overexerted

“Reconfiguring psychological services without also addressing structural and environmental conditions that exacerbate mental health issues is short-sighted,” notes the open letter. As such, it demands a “comprehensive, campus-wide, evidence-based Mental Health Strategy that addresses the spectrum of mental health needs” – a strategy that was first promised by Dyens in 2014.

These programs would look like mental health literacy initiatives, and “consistent, fair, and accessible” procedures for requesting academic accommodations.
In October 2016, the process through which students obtain medical notes suddenly changed, provoking student outcry. Now, students can only receive same-day notes if they are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, or if they have already been assigned a counsellor or a clinical psychologist.

The letter also raised issue with the fact that $650,000 in annual overhead is deducted from the Student Services budget by the central administration – money which is being diverted away from wellness initiatives. Further, over the past seven years, $2.5 million has been pulled from Student Services in the name of “overhead charges” and cancelled university transfers.

“These critical services, which include Counselling & Mental Health Services and the Office for Students with Disabilities, are unable to keep up with dramatic increases in demand due to a lack of resources,” reads the letter.

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Desmond Cole speaks at McGill http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/desmond-cole-speaks-at-mcgill/ Sun, 02 Apr 2017 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50333 On Monday, March 27, students and McGill community members gathered for a talk by acclaimed journalist Desmond Cole on the language and logic of white supremacy.

Kiana Saint-Macary, the President of the McGill Debating Union, opened the event by introducing Cole, describing him as “a Toronto-based journalist, activist, and author whose work […] focuses on issues of race in Canada and abroad – including his much celebrated piece, The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police 150 times, all because I am Black.”

The language of white supremacy

Cole began his talk with a ‘Be it resolved’ statement, a common format used in debates.

“Be it resolved that white supremacy informs all aspects of Canadian life, particularly our language,” he said. “The way that we use language informs pretty much everything that we do. It describes everything that we do. It influences and phrases our thoughts and our actions in this country.”

Cole explained that, in our society, individuals are conditioned to the language of white supremacy and often use it even when fighting to dismantle oppressive structures. This enforces the power of white supremacy by implicating its opponents in the very system they are trying to destroy. As Cole put it, “One of our big problems with white supremacy is that [its] power forces those of us who want to destroy it to engage in an endless debate with it.” Cole insisted that eliminating the harmful and insidious language of white supremacy is a necessary step in dismantling the system entirely.

“Be it resolved that white supremacy informs all aspects of Canadian life, particularly our language.”

He then discussed James McGill’s enslavement of Black and Indigenous people: “This institution, like so many institutions in Canada, was founded by somebody who […] actually owned, if you can say that, human beings.”

The way that people talk about influential figures such as James McGill, he explained, illustrates the power of the language of white supremacy; the word ‘slave’ itself is part of this language.

“Nobody is actually born [a slave],” said Cole. “A slave is not an occupation that you can aspire to, a job title that you can hold. The biggest problem with [the word] is that when we say ‘slave,’ […] we’re describing the condition of somebody who had something done to them rather than describing the condition of the person who’s doing it. […] That’s not really talking about the issue, that’s talking around it.”

Cole went on to point out that when people say “James McGill [and others like him] was a slaveowner,” they use the passive voice and fail to assign appropriate blame. In order to dismantle white supremacy, he argued, we need to be specific about these atrocities.

“As a reflex,” Cole explained, “people start saying, ‘Yeah, but that’s not all [insert slaveowner here] did […] how can you just limit their whole character and their identity?’”

Apologism in Canadian politics

He then provided a recent example of this phenomenon: Lynn Beyak of the Conservative Party and her recent remarks to the Canadian Senate about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The biggest problem with [the word] is that when we say ‘slave,’ […] we’re describing the condition of somebody who had something done to them rather than describing the condition of the person who’s doing it.”

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission […] was an incredibly thorough investigation into the residential school system in Canada,” explained Cole, “that system which took untold thousands of Indigenous children away from their parents. About 6,000 children that we know of died in residential schools, but I would more accurately say they were killed. Those who were not killed […] were denied the ability to speak their own languages, denied the ability to practice their own spiritual and religious practices. They were denied the ability to have contact anymore with their communities […] The philosophy behind residential schools was to kill the ‘Indian’ in the child. That’s white supremacy.

Cole went on to quote Beyak’s speech to the Senate: “‘I speak […] mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants, …] whose remarkable works good deeds and historical tales of the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part,’ she said. And Bayak went on to say ‘Mistakes were made at residential schools, in many instances horrible mistakes that overshadowed some of the good things that also happened at those schools.’”

“This is how every politician is either taught to speak or learns how to speak” said Cole. “Its particularly effective as a tool in what I’m calling this language and logic of white supremacy. Who made the mistakes, Lynn? […] If she’s saying ‘I don’t want to erase that, I’m not trying to paper over that, I realize it’s horrible,’ why do you use this language of passive voice? Why do you hide the perpetrator if you’re not ashamed of it yourself? […] This use of language informs a whole way of thinking and dodging accountability and shifting blame and erasing genocide and huge atrocities that have happened around the world.”

Common arguments in defense of racism

Cole continued by outlining a series of defenses and concessions designed to maintain white supremacy.

“’Race has nothing to do with it.’ Now this is not a concession. This is actually the starting point for white supremacy,” he said. “This is white supremacy’s sweet spot. 95 per cent of the discussions that I see or am forced to engage in in this country about this issue start with this sentence. […] This is the denial that we always have to overcome with people, particularly people in power, who want to tell us that we somehow do not know what we’re talking about.”

“Why do you hide the perpetrator if you’re not ashamed of it yourself?”

Cole proceeded to share recent stories of police violence and brutality towards Black people. For example, he told the story of Andrew Loku, a Black man with a history of mental illness who was killed by Toronto police in his apartment building in July 2015. Loku had been carrying a hammer and having a conversation with his upstairs neighbours about a noise complaint when a police officer arrived at the scene and shot him.

Following the incident, the head of the Toronto police force’s most powerful lobbyist group wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star.

Cole quoted the op-ed: “The fact that he was Black had no bearing on the officer’s decision. […] Those who are promoting baseless accusations of race being a factor in Mr. Loku’s death have no legitimate place in this debate. Collectively, we need to ensure that the mentally ill are provided treatment by continuing to work to improve mental health care accessibility and support.”

This is an example of this logic of white supremacy in action, said Cole. Instead of acknowledging race as an issue in the incident, the lobbyist focused on mental illness.

“‘[It’s] not race, look over here, it’s the other thing,’” he said. “And in this case it’s mental health. We’ve heard this time and time again.”

Even when people concede that racism may be a factor in a given act of violence, said Cole, another common argument is “don’t judge until you have all the facts.”

“’Race has nothing to do with it.’ Now this is not a concession. This is actually the starting point for white supremacy.”

“White supremacy loves this,” Cole explained. “It’s one of its favorites. You can’t know anything for sure as long as white supremacy’s getting fingers pointed at it […] ‘Let’s not jump to the conclusion that it was about race. Let’s wait till all the facts are in.’”

This is a problematic mechanism which aims to run out the clock on an important issue, he explained. In most cases, the public never gets all the information, and denial by those supporting white supremacists can continue indefinitely.

Another part of this logic, Cole continued, is the suggestion that racists are ignorant and can’t help themselves.

“Well, doesn’t somebody have to teach you how to call a Black person a n****r or are you just born that way?” he said. “You don’t accidentally pick this stuff up if you don’t have contact with Black people. […] It is never a mistake. If you enable racism you are part of the problem. If […] you say that somebody who wants to come on McGill campus and give a talk who is advancing white supremacy, ‘Well I defend their free speech’, [then] you defend their white supremacist speech. Period. You’re enabling this to happen.”

“What we’re up against is willful ignorance,” Cole continued. “What we’re up against is the passive voice, ‘mistakes were made.’ We’re up against obtuseness, we’re up against people [feigning ignorance] when they know full well what we’re talking about because that allows them to keep running out the shock clock.”

Cole finished his talk by arguing that white privilege is a construct, and those who have that privilege must exist in a space of discomfort where they are forced to recognize and dismantle white supremacy.

“‘[It’s] not race, look over here, it’s the other thing.’ […] We’ve heard this time and time again.”

“I’m not saying ‘white privilege’ […] anymore,” he told his audience. “Again, it’s not something you were just born with and inherited. It’s something that you have to work everyday to protect and keep away from people. So I don’t want to talk about privilege. I want to put you in that uncomfortable place that you’ll be forced […] to interrogate yourself to turn the mirror back on yourself instead of asking me all the questions.

At the end of the talk Cole opened the conversation up to audience members.

“People are often in media and social commentary these days talking about racism as a disease,” asked one attendee. “What do you think about that in terms of how it shifts or removes responsibility from people for their own racism?”

“We have to be careful with that language,” answered Cole, “because […] you’re not a victim of racism by perpetuating it. […] [Racist logics] are also things that we do and introduce into the world as human beings that were not here before us. I think that a good way to deal with that is again to say, who is suffering from this disease and who is benefitting from it? […] What do the people who benefit do when they realize they’re benefitting from somebody else’s illness?”

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On “leftover” women in East Asia http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/on-leftover-women-in-east-asia/ Sat, 01 Apr 2017 23:00:32 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50330 On Thursday March 30, around 35 students gathered in the Shatner Building to attend a panel discussion called “The ‘Leftover’ Women in East Asia.” The event, organized by the McGill University Society of China Studies (SCS), centred on ‘leftover’ women, a term that stigmatizes those unmarried by their mid-twenties. The discussion highlighted the origins of the term and the social stigma toward working women who choose to set aside marriage to advance their careers.

The panel featured presentations by Jeremy Tai, an Assistant Professor in History and Classical Studies specializing in modern China; Wanming Wang, a Ph.D Candidate in East Asian Studies; and Brian Bergstrom, a course lecturer in East Asian Studies.

The talk opened with an introduction by Yolanda Zhang, the Event Coordinator of SCS. The discussion focused on the ways in which social and political institutions in China and Japan perpetuated the stigma of being a ‘leftover’ woman.

“We agreed to do this talk because we observed that it was a hot topic on social media in China, and it definitely relates to the direction of feminism today,” Zhang told The Daily in an interview. “The topic of leftover women resonates strongly with women with higher education, so it’s really pressing in an academic setting like McGill.”

Scholarly presentations

Jeremy Tai discussed the history of the term ‘leftover women’ and how it became widely used in Chinese society. The term was popularized by Leta Hong Fincher’s 2014 book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. According to Tai, the stigma around ‘leftover women’ – or shengnu – has existed in Sinophone communities for over ten years. The term originally applied to women over thirty, though the age limit involved has gradually decreased to 25.

“The Chinese state is currently invested in pressuring women from a certain class and educational background to marry for the sake of social stability,” Tai explained. China’s existing gender imbalance resulted from the increase in sex-selective abortions following the one-child policy introduced in 1979.

Currently there are twenty million more men than women under thirty which, according to Tai, explains why marriage is a state concern in China.

“The Chinese state is currently invested in pressuring women from a certain class and educational background to marry for the sake of social stability.”

“The theory is that within the context of a slowing economy, these restless single men will ferment political unrest out of personal dissatisfaction,” Tai said. “I think we all should be very troubled here by the seeming quantification of self-worth.”

Wang’s presentation was centred on the pushback against the misogynistic label of ‘leftover women’ by individual women and activist groups. Wang mentioned the ways in which the ‘ticking biological clock’ concept is entrenched and accepted across different cultures. She displayed viral posts made on Chinese social media expressing anger and indignation against the social pressures to marry out of obligation.

“Leftover women are becoming more and more confident,” she said. “They choose to be so-called leftover women and this is a gesture, a strong reaction, to the propaganda of the state that has been prevalent for decades in China.”

Brian Bergstrom’s presentation discussed the Japanese context, elaborating on the term makeinu, referring to a single woman in her thirties who has not had children. The translation of makeinu is “loser dog.”

“When makeinu became a sort of word in the late 90s, it was more about makeinu women who had not succeeded, which meant that they were not married,” Bergstrom said. “In response to makeinu discourse, you had people like Sakai Junko who wrote books that were like, ‘Yeah, I am a makeinu.’”

Student reactions

Zhang, an organizer of the event, stressed that the discourse around ‘leftover women’ often excludes the non-middle-class population: “One thing I want to point out […] was the concern with intersectionality in the context of middle-class women, because the whole topic still speaks to a middle-class audience.”

Thomson Yu, the President of SCS, spoke about the relevance of ‘leftover women’ to North America in an interview with The Daily.

“The topic of leftover women is directly relevant to the experiences of ‘career women’ in North America,” he said. “It’s important to realize that Chinese women in North America have the so-called east-west culture clash they need to deal with. Again, you have an immigrant culture that celebrates and values family life clashing against the North American culture that celebrates individual freedom and liberties.”

Yu mentioned that the issue is a result of competing expectations. “In my opinion, the issue of ‘leftover women’ emerges due to the frictions between these two cultures. And for the foreseeable future, will likely to continue to be a hot issue as Chinese communities continue to negotiate and adapt to social changes,” Yu said.

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Floor fellows reach tentative collective agreement with McGill http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/04/floor-fellows-reach-tentative-collective-agreement-with-mcgill/ Sat, 01 Apr 2017 20:42:06 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50324 Negotiation between representatives of the McGill administration and the Floor Fellows’ unit of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) have finally produced a tentative collective agreement which suits both parties involved. This agreement would defend Floor Fellows’ collective values, workers’ rights, and guarantee them payment for their work – all of which have been lacking in recent years. This represents a major achievement for students and union organizers who have been working for more equitable working conditions for nearly three years.

A history of exploitation

Floor fellows are upper-year students who live in McGill residences, offering support and guidance to first-year students making the transition to university life. In recent years, the precarity of floor fellows’ position has come to light, as decisions about their working conditions, duties, and rights have repeatedly been made without their input.

This represents a major achievement for students and union organizers who have been working for more equitable working conditions for nearly three years.

The most notable cases of this include the 2008-2009 Director of Residences’ attempt to change the residence alcohol policy from harm-reduction to zero-tolerance, which directly contradicts floor fellows’ collective values. In the 2012 winter semester, two floor fellows were dismissed for taking part in 6party, an occupation of the then-Deputy Provost’s office in opposition to the McGill administration’s attempt to override the student referenda defending the existence of CKUT and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG). In the fall of 2013, the residence leadership structure was reorganized to the detriment of floor fellow support systems, with no input from floor fellows themselves.

Furthermore, while floor fellows receive room and board as part of their position, they are not paid for the extensive and highly taxing work.

Negotiations with McGill

Motivated by these factors, and seeking a voice in negotiating their labour and living conditions, floor fellows voted to unionize in May 2014, forming “Unit B” of AMUSE. Since then, they have been in constant negotiations with McGill’s administration to develop a collective agreement defining their rights and responsibilities as university employees.

In recent years, the precarity of floor fellows’ position has come to light, as decisions about their working conditions, duties, and rights have repeatedly been made without their input.

In December 2016, the two parties reached a consensus on the terms of the collective agreement, and planned to formalize it after confirming the decision with their respective constituents. However, come January, the McGill administration backed out of the agreement. This was frustrating for floor fellows, who had been working towards a collective agreement for years. Alex Levesque, a floor fellow of two years and the Building Steward at New Rez, described his experience of this incident in an interview with The Daily.

“I was definitely very excited when I heard that something had been agreed upon,” said Levesque, “especially because, normally, when something’s agreed upon at bargaining, it’s pretty set. I was starting to get a little wary in January, when I hadn’t heard anything, but was definitely very disappointed, very frustrated, when we found out in January that they had backed out. It was so ridiculous and unheard of.”

In response to the administration’s actions, the floor fellows filed an injunction against McGill demanding immediate payment for those floor fellows who wished to be involved, in accordance with Quebec labour laws.

“I was starting to get a little wary in January, when I hadn’t heard anything, but was definitely very disappointed, very frustrated, when we found out in January that they had backed out. It was so ridiculous and unheard of.”

For the past three years, many floor fellows have been keeping time sheets of their active work hours, and filing for “back pay” through the Quebec Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). If the injunction were successful, McGill would be required to pay floor fellows for their documented hours of work.

A tentative agreement

This month, with the court date approaching, the McGill administration offered to settle the injunction, meaning that the two parties would agree on a compromise rather than bring the case to a judge. Informal negotiations took place last week on March 22 and 23, and resulted in a tentative agreement between representatives of the floor fellow union and McGill.

Isabelle Oke, current Vice President of floor fellows at AMUSE, was part of the recent settlement negotiations. She explained that, according to the tentative agreement, former floor fellows will be partially compensated for the work which they filed for back pay. This year’s floor fellows would be paid a “lump sum” for their hours this year, and in the new collective agreement, McGill is offering a $13.15/hour wage.

“Floor fellows have a base of 13 hours per week that they’re compensated for without having to provide time sheets,” explained Oke. “Any hour above that, they have a time sheet system.”

This year’s floor fellows would be paid a “lump sum” for their hours this year, and in the new collective agreement, McGill is offering a $13.15/hour wage.

The major difference between the collective agreement that was rejected in January and the one currently on the table is that floor fellows will now be required to pay McGill for their food and housing. However, as Oke explained, “the Quebec Ministry of Labour sets the maximum amount that employees can be asked to pay for these things if they live where they work. So that would be $54.16 a week that Floor Fellows would have to pay back to the university.”

Thus, they will be paid more for their work than they pay for food and housing.

Preserving core values

However, despite the focus on equitable pay, however, many floor fellows told The Daily that monetary compensation is not the issue at the core of their collective bargaining initiative. Graham Kasper, a floor fellow at La Citadelle and a member of the Unit B Grievance Committee, explained that “a lot of people I’ve mentioned it to […] immediately jump to ‘We want money!’ And that’s really not why we unionized. It was to protect our core values, to protect our working space, and the things that floor fellows have, over the years, gradually built into their culture.”

“The Quebec Ministry of Labour sets the maximum amount that employees can be asked to pay for these things if they live where they work. So that would be $54.16 a week that Floor Fellows would have to pay back to the university.”

These values have been further challenged in the bargaining process, as former floorfellow and current Bargaining Committee member Vithushon Thayalan said: “Working with the others to preserve the core ideas that make the job what it is has proven to be surprisingly difficult in the bargaining room […] It was really disheartening to be told in training and throughout the year the importance of the work we were doing and how we were doing it, and then to go to bargaining with McGill where that same importance did not carry over, or at least that was the way it felt.”

Moving forward

In April, all current floor fellows, as well as former floor fellows who filed back pay claims, will have the opportunity to vote on the official adoption of the collective agreement. This time, the McGill administration will not have the opportunity to vote it down at the last minute. If the agreement is passed, this will certainly be an important step forward for Unit B; however, the implementation of this agreement remains uncertain.

“It was to protect our core values, to protect our working space, and the things that floor fellows have, over the years, gradually built into their culture.”

As AMUSE President Claire Michela said, “We don’t know how this is going to work, going forward. What are the problems going to be with the collective agreement? What are the things we like about it, what are the things […] that we’ll want to see changed next time? So it’s totally new territory […] but it’s definitely exciting!”

Phoebe Colby, a floorfellow at New Rez and a member of the union’s Grievance Committee, also expressed optimism. She hopes that observing the bargaining process “is encouraging to people – that you can create new structures within communities, and community action has pretty tangible, real effects sometimes.”

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Referendum question: Athletics ancillary fee increase http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/referendum-question-athletics-ancillary-fee-increase/ Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:00:23 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50257 Between March 29 and March 31, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) members will be voting in the online referendum concerning a possible increase to the Athletics and Recreation ancillary fee.

Like all ancillary fees, the Athletics and Recreation fee is non-opt-outable. It ostensibly serves to run and maintain McGill’s Athletics facilities, yet the University routinely deducts hundreds of thousands of dollars in overheads from the Athletics budget, meaning that much of the money raised through this fee doesn’t actually go where it’s supposed to. Moreover, many of McGill’s sports facilities are not fully accessible, and the University has rejected student initiatives to improve accessibility in the past. McGill has also failed to release the results of both its 2015 working group on athletics accessibility, and its investigations into sexual violence and hazing within Athletics.

In addition to the administration’s poor record when it comes to responsible spending and improving facilities, The Daily takes issue with McGill’s unsustainable reliance on ancillary fees to fund services important to students. Furthermore, the very fact that SSMU had no choice but to put this fee increase to referendum, because of an agreement signed in 2010 which limits the Society’s financial autonomy, demonstrates a shameful level of administrative interference in student democracy.

For these reasons, the Daily endorses a “NO” vote on this question.

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SSMU says “NO” to fee increases http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/ssmu-says-no-to-fee-increases/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 01:39:56 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50198 On Thursday March 23, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council gathered for its penultimate meeting of this academic year. Council heard one notice of motion regarding amendments to the internal regulations of finance, two presentations (one of which was an update from VP University Affairs Erin Sobat on Memorandum of Agreement negotiations), and four motions brought forward by councillors.

The motions included a “NO” endorsement for the referendum on an increase to the Athletics and Recreation ancillary fee, a motion regarding continued SSMU participation in the Association for a Voice in Education in Quebec (AVEQ), a motion regarding revisions to the Equity Policy, and a motion regarding undergraduate senatorial elections, all of which passed. Council also heard reports from committees and executives.

Saying “NO” to fee increases

A motion was presented to Council which would endorse a “NO” vote in the upcoming referendum question regarding an Athletics and Recreation ancillary fee increase.

Earlier in March, a Winter 2017 SSMU General Assembly (GA) motion was presented which, if enacted, would have mandated SSMU to reject referendum questions seeking to raise ancillary fees until McGill acknowledged students’ concerns with these fees. Moreover, the motion demanded that McGill provide yearly financial reports to SSMU executives about the allocation of ancillary fees, and that a moratorium be imposed on increasing overhead charges.

Simply put, overhead charges are incurred when the University bills student-fee-funded units for central administrative services, which are automatically provided through the operating budget.

Overhead charges were vehemently contested during the 2012 Quebec student protests, and yet despite years of student advocacy, little has been done to curb them at McGill.

Although it initially passed at the GA, the motion concerning the Athletics ancillary fee was invalidated when SSMU learned of a pre-existing contract with the administration, negating their ability to enact such a motion.

At Thursday’s council meeting, movers of the motion to endorse a “NO” vote said that “recent Athletics and Recreation budget numbers indicate that it is within the university’s financial capacity to not only reduce overhead charges, but to increase funding transfers from the central operating budget to fee funded units.” They felt that a “NO” vote would send a clear message to the administration that students were no longer comfortable with overhead charges.

“[The administration] has set up this unsustainable budgetary model where every few years, their costs are increasing, and every few years, they come back to us for [a fee] increase, and they say ‘Don’t you care about these services? Give us an increase,’ and they have no incentive to change their budgetary model around the overhead charges,” said Sobat, in defense of the motion.

“[The administration] has set up this unsustainable budgetary model where every few years, their costs are increasing, and every few years, they come back to us for [a fee] increase.”

“They have a blank slate, or a free pass basically, to keep increasing [overhead charges and ancillary fees] because we’ve never rejected that kind of increase,” he continued. “It’s in the interest of showing the administration that as a collective student body, we are not in support of this funding model, and want to see a reinvestment – not even a reinvestment – but a reduction of those overhead charges, so that the money that we pay to Athletics actually goes in fact to Athletics and not back to the central administration to redistribute elsewhere.”

However, Athletics Representative Yue Jiao raised concerns with the motion.

“Why is it the understanding that having a ‘NO’ vote will result in the [administration] understanding that these overhead charges are too much?” she said. “The reality is that a ‘NO’ vote is actually going to cause Athletics and Recreation to put themselves in a situation where they have to re-evaluate their budget and that will affect the services that are being provided to students.”

“Especially if a ‘NO’ vote is associated with a strong message over overhead charges,” Sobat responded, “it is sending a message to the University that actually their financial practices do need to change. We’ve seen from the Athletics budget that they at times have been able to reduce those overhead charges or increase the transfers of money that they’re giving back to Athletics for particular initiatives.”

“[A “NO” vote] shows that students want to see that kind of funding model, and it is not the same thing as us just wanting to cut services,” he added. “This is a better message than us just saying, ‘No, we just don’t want to increase the fees.’”

“[A “NO” vote] shows that students want to see that kind of funding model, and it is not the same thing as us just wanting to cut services. […] This is a better message than us just saying, ‘No, we just don’t want to increase the fees.’”

A number of councillors agreed with Sobat. Science Representative Caitlin Mehrotra said that the administration’s demand for fee increases does “kind of sound like a threat,” and Senate Caucus Representative William Cleveland agreed that the administration had to be shown that “this is not acceptable.”

In concluding the debate, Jiao asked Sobat “Who do you think would benefit from the fee increase?” Sobat simply answered, “the administration.” The motion endorsing a “NO” vote passed with 13 in favor, four against, and five abstaining.

Restructuring the Equity Policy

Council approved a motion regarding revisions to SSMU’s Equity Policy, which had been tabled since February.

“[The motion] was primarily a restructuring of the policy to make it more clear and accessible to people trying to access it, as well honestly to interpret it for the Equity Commissioners,” explained Sobat. “The next step once it’s approved will be to develop some new communication tools around it: we’d like to have to flow chart to clearly outline the process, and some resources to make it as accessible as possible because we don’t want people to dive into this document as a first step if they’re looking for recourse in SSMU.”

Sobat explained that the motion also outlined the scope and jurisdiction of the Equity Policy, clarifying plans when issues outside of SSMU in other faculty associations arise, and how to refer said issues to other faculty equity committees. The motion passed unanimously.

SSMU participation in AVEQ

Council also approved a motion regarding SSMU participation in AVEQ. Last year in referendum, the student body rejected an offer to join AVEQ, but SSMU nonetheless serves as an official observer to the student federation. SSMU executives have argued that joining a student federation would greatly influence the Society’s ability to influence provincial and federal politics at a higher level.

Despite the student body voting “NO” to joining AVEQ, more students voted to abstain in the referendum than voted for or against, with some positing a “lack of awareness of the role of student federations in general and of the AVEQ in particular.”

The motion approved at Thursday’s council will allow SSMU to remain an observer at AVEQ until the end of 2017, and allow SSMU delegates to continue attending AVEQ member assemblies. The motion also stipulated that SSMU will continue to “educate its members regarding the existence and role of AVEQ,” and bring another referendum question regarding affiliation to AVEQ to Council for consideration in the Fall 2017 semester.

The motion passed with 14 in favour, six against, and three abstaining.

Senatorial elections

In November, Council allowed undergraduate Engineering senatorial elections to be organized by the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) rather than by Elections SSMU. At the time, it was argued that holding senatorial elections alongside the election of EUS executives would increase voter turnout and interest in Senator positions, without overburdening the EUS.

“[The motion] was primarily a restructuring of the policy to make it more clear and accessible to people trying to access it, as well honestly to interpret it for the Equity Commissioners.”

During the Winter 2017 senatorial elections, this was expanded to all faculty associations. Senate Caucus Representative Joshua Chin presented a motion to standardize this practice, officially amending both the Internal Regulations of Representation and Advocacy, and the Internal Regulations of Elections and Referenda.
The motion passed with no debate, 22 in favor, and one abstention.

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SSMU bound by contract on fees http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/ssmu-bound-by-contract-on-fees/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 01:16:11 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50183 Executives of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) were recently informed that SSMU is contractually bound to put any ancillary fee increases requested by the University to referendum. Under the provincial act governing the accreditation of student associations, SSMU’s Legislative Council would ordinarily have the power to debate and reject such fee increases; this newly-discovered contract with McGill negates that power.

Although this contract has been in effect since 2010, the current SSMU executive team only became aware of it in the context of a motion against ancillary fee increases which passed at SSMU’s most recent General Assembly (GA). Following the passing of this motion, which had been moved by VP University Affairs Erin Sobat, the administration apparently informed SSMU that the pre-existing contract effectively rendered it nonviable.

What are ancillary fees?

McGill undergraduates pay six different ancillary fees to the University. These fees finance a range of services and programmes, from the Office for Students with Disabilities to McGill’s Athletics facilities. Ancillary fees are non-opt-outable, and they are initiated and governed by student referendums.

These fees are automatically adjusted to reflect inflation, but every so often, McGill requests a significant increase. Sobat sat down with The Daily to explain why this happens.

“The way [McGill has] set up most of these units – in particular ones like Student Services or Athletics – is to be very reliant on student fee funding,” he explained, “and there are increases to their costs for salaries, for inflation, for maintenance of their facilities and buildings over time, and so as a way to address those increased costs, [administrators], on a pretty regular cycle, come back to students requesting an increase.”

“The way [McGill has] set up most of these units – in particular ones like Student Services or Athletics – is to be very reliant on student fee funding.”

According to Sobat, this pattern of financing is unsustainable, hence his attempt to freeze increases on the Athletics ancillary fee through the aforementioned GA motion. He told The Daily that this reliance on student fees to run certain services is allowed to occur because the services in question are considered non-essential.

“In something like Athletics or student services we have obviously been advocating for quite a while that the University stop charging overhead fees […] to those units,” Sobat continued. “For example, in the case of Student Services in the Brown Building, that has been deemed not central to […] the purpose of the University and so the central operating budget doesn’t pay for maintenance of the Brown Building – that comes out of the student services budget.”

Limiting SSMU’s independence

In 2010, SSMU’s executive team signed a contract with McGill which stipulates that whenever the University requests an ancillary fee increase, SSMU must send that increase directly to a referendum. SSMU Council, which is composed of representatives from every McGill faculty and is intended to act as the Society’s main legislative body, has no opportunity to debate and potentially reject the requested increase.

In an email to The Daily, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens explained his view of this contract. When asked if, in his opinion, it limits student democracy at McGill to a damaging degree, he responded emphatically in the negative.

“In something like Athletics or student services we have obviously been advocating for quite a while that the University stop charging overhead fees […] to those units.”

“We believe this Agreement actually strengthens ‘robust student democracy’ because it gives students – all students, not just a small group – the power to accept or reject a proposed fee increase,” Dyens replied. “That’s direct democracy.”

Another issue that has caused concern is the fact that this contract has no end date, meaning that it could theoretically remain in effect indefinitely. It’s unclear why this is the case, but Sobat explained that he’s committed to doing whatever he can to challenge the contract.

“I think that’s something certainly that should be looked at,” he said, “and obviously the ideal time would be in the context of the current Memorandum of Agreement [MoA] negotiations […] I hope that the incoming executives will be interested in and concerned about. I’m going to do more research both in a legal sense [ and] in the political sense […] and perhaps also working with other associations through a provincial student federation.”

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AUS Council appoints new VP Finance http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/aus-council-appoints-new-vp-finance/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 01:07:43 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50180 On Wednesday March 22, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council assembled for one of its final meetings of the academic year. Council voted on a motion to amend the AUS Equity Policy, appointed replacements for former Arts Representative Igor Sadikov and former VP Finance Deepak Punjabi, and discussed new information concerning possible renovations to the Leacock terrace.

Resignation of the VP Finance

Before giving her routine executive report, AUS President Becky Goldberg made a statement concerning Punjabi’s resignation, which occurred on March 20.

“There’s a lot of speculation spinning around about why Deepak resigned,” she said. “Just to clarify, he found a job off campus, that’s the reason. […] It shouldn’t necessarily be encouraged to find a job part way through another job, but I’m glad that he’s doing what he needs to do.”

“Just to clarify, he found a job off campus, that’s the reason. […] It shouldn’t necessarily be encouraged to find a job part way through another job, but I’m glad that he’s doing what he needs to do.”

This announcement followed the passing of a motion to appoint the Arts Financial Management Committee (FMC) Representative Noah Lew to the position of acting VP Finance. Weeks earlier, Lew had been elected VP Finance for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Amendments to AUS Equity Policy

A motion to amend the Equity Policy bylaws was moved by Amanda Hills of the Political Science Students’ Association, Nick Milum from the International Development Studies Students’ Association, and Equity Commissioners Jad El Tal and Leah Damo. The proposed amendment stipulated that AUS executives must undergo training on consent, responding to disclosures of violence, and being an active bystander.

“We feel like it’s really important that student executives are really prepared to handle the situations that come their way,” noted Hills. “Especially because a lot of the events we run have alcohol and that really affects the nature of consent.”
The motion passed unanimously, and without debate.

Renovations to Leacock terrace

In his executive report, VP Academic Erik Partridge revealed the Faculty of Arts Committee’s plan to renovate the Leacock terrace to include an amphitheater. The project would involve a complete re-sloping of the area in order to incorporate green space and a new outdoor gathering place for students.

“This is somewhat problematic,” Partridge said, “because it would be an amphitheater probably without a roof, and I don’t know how many of you […] want to stay outside in the middle of the winter.”

“We feel like it’s really important that student executives are really prepared to handle the situations that come their way. Especially because a lot of the events we run have alcohol and that really affects the nature of consent.”

This prompted a question regarding whether or not the administration had considered using the money to instead create an indoor study space which would be fully accessible year-round.

“We suggested that they put some sort of potential ceiling over it,” he responded, “which they’re open to exploring. It would definitely not be heated in the winter.”

It was made clear that the administration had already gone far ahead with this project and it should soon be implemented despite these critiques.

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PGSS Council discusses fee increase referendum http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/pgss-council-discusses-fee-increase-referendum/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 01:02:22 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50177 On Monday March 20, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Council met for its eighth council meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year, and its second General Meeting (GM). At Council, a motion was approved to create a special referendum regarding the graduate innovation culture fund, councillors were appointed to the appointments board by a lottery system, and a motion was brought from the floor to endorse a letter to McGill requesting that the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM)’s referendum question be blocked.

At the General Meeting, PGSS members heard announcements, as well as reports from each of the executives. They also discussed ways to increase engagement at PGSS Council meetings in the future. Quorum was lost roughly half way through the GM, and as a result, new business was tabled until the next meeting.

Motion to block LICM referendum

From March 20 to 26, the LICM is hosting a referendum which asks graduate students, “Do you agree to increase the non-opt-outable Legal Information Clinic at McGill association fee paid by all graduate students on the downtown campus, excluding post-docs, from $2.00 per student per semester (excluding summer) to $4.50 per student per semester (excluding summer), starting in Fall 2017?”

During the Council meeting, a motion was brought from the floor by PGSS Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Manmeet Rai. The motion initially sought to block the LICM referendum, but according to PGSS Council bylaws, this would have been illegal. In view of this, it became a motion to endorse a letter to McGill requesting that the referendum be blocked, regardless of the result.

The motion brought by Rai stated that the LICM presented the referendum question before PGSS Council at its January 2017 meeting, and it passed. However, “the next day certain discrepancies were found in the information provided by the LICM representatives at the Council.”

It further alleged that the LICM lacks financial transparency and has adopted “skewed” procedures in running the referendum, and called for a PGSS representative to be placed on the LICM’s board to report on the organization’s workings and suggest improvements.

It further alleged that the LICM lacks financial transparency and has adopted “skewed” procedures in running the referendum.

At one point, a student from the Computer Science Graduate Society asked for more details regarding the procedural discrepancies. In response, Rai said that the LICM had provided a provision for a preamble to be added before the voting period begins.

According to Rai, the LICM claimed the preamble would only add factual information, but “what is happening with this factual information in technicality, [is] if a ‘No’ Committee goes out and garners a lot of support, and you add new information which is going to show up on the ballot, it takes away that element of all your campaigning that you’ve done.”

“This is something which is absolutely rigged and should not be allowed, and this is not how referendums take place,” Rai said.

Moreover, Rai said the LICM has allowed anyone to join the ‘Yes’ committee, but students who would like to be part of the ‘No’ committee would have to go through a nomination process. He added that this process is unclear.

Rai also claimed that on a ballot, LICM is allowed to provide a link to the statement of the ‘Yes’ Committee or the ‘No’ Committee. However, Rai claimed that the link LICM provided leads directly to LICM’s website.

The motion also noted a number of financial concerns with regards to LICM, and questioned whether a fee raise from $2.00 to $4.50 was necessary.

“This is something which is absolutely rigged and should not be allowed, and this is not how referendums take place.”

One student, Matthew, asked the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of LICM to address the concerns brought up by Rai.
Colby Briggs, CEO of LICM, claimed that there is no preamble on the ballot, as LICM is using an omni-box system which provides a link to a version of a candidate system, something which is typically done in PGSS elections.

In addressing the claim that a nominations process is required only for students wishing to join the ‘No’ Committee, Briggs said that “LICM obviously wants the fee levy to pass, so it’s not really logical to have a distinct nomination process, but if they did have a nomination process, it would be a matter of ‘Hey, CRO, I would like to be on the ‘Yes’ committee.’”

The nomination process for the ‘No’ committee would be the same. Briggs added that no student emailed him saying they would like to form a ‘No’ Committee.

In response, Rai said “I don’t see any statement out there which says that if you are applying [to be part of] a ‘No’ Committee, it will only be, ‘Hey, CRO, put me on the ‘No’ committee.’”

He added that, according to the LICM’s procedures, the LICM Yes Referendum Committee will be exempt from nomination procedure.

“In practice, I’m not sure it really matters if there is a nomination process or not,” Briggs responded. “The Yes Committee is automatically the Legal Information Clinic because the Legal Information Clinic is holding a referendum to increase the fee.”

“LICM obviously wants the fee levy to pass, so it’s not really logical to have a distinct nomination process, but if they did have a nomination process, it would be a matter of ‘Hey, CRO, I would like to be on the ‘Yes’ committee.’”

Mina Anadolu, PGSS Internal Affairs Officer, also pointed out that in an email sent out by Elections LICM on February 27, LICM called for the formation of yes or no committees.

However, the motion was then tabled, as the Council meeting had reached its time limit.

Increasing engagement

At the end of the General Meeting, PGSS Secretary-General Victor Frankel asked PGSS members how they thought engagement could be improved.

In response, Andrew Dixon, PGSS Health Commissioner, suggested that awards for PGSAs could increase engagement at Council. Jacob Lavigne, PGSS External Affairs Officer, said that people might feel disengaged because they may have a lack of understanding of many of the issues discussed at Council, and thus suggested further training at the beginning of the year.

In response to these suggestions, Anadolu announced that awards for PGSAs are in the works, as is an increase in orientation sessions and training.

Finally, a student named Matthew from the Graduate Students’ Association for Neuroscience said, “One of the things that I’ve noticed this year on Council is that there’s really not a lot of motions to discuss. When we get to Council we’re really just hearing reports, there’s no actual discussion going on. I don’t know if that’s because nobody knows how to actually write a motion [but] I think a workshop at the start of the year on how to write a motion, how to present it to Council, and how to actually make a difference here would be very interesting.”

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Panel discusses strategies for an academic boycott of Israel http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/50134/ Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:00:26 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50134 On Tuesday, March 14, a group of around twenty students and community members attended a panel arguing in favour of an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Following the panel, participants held small discussion groups to present their own strategies for implementing such a boycott.

Held in McGill Arts Building as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, the event featured Michelle Hartman, a professor at McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies; Ralph Haddad, a member of McGill BDS Action and an editor at The Daily; and a representative of the Anthropology Graduate Student Association (AGSA) of McGill, who wished to remain anonymous.

Academic boycott

On an international level, the movement for an academic boycott is spearheaded by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). PACBI, in turn, is part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The aim of BDS is to pressure institutions and governments into complying with international law by upholding Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

According to PACBI’s website, “Israeli universities have played a key role in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, while maintaining a uniquely close relationship with the Israeli military.” The organization also holds that the majority of Israeli academics have, directly or as a result of their silence, contributed to maintaining Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

“Israeli universities have played a key role in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, while maintaining a uniquely close relationship with the Israeli military.”

“People think that the academic boycott is against freedom of speech and expression,” said Haddad, in an interview with The Daily, “but we need to rethink these rights as universal and start thinking about them as rights that some people have and some don’t.”

Haddad added that Palestinians do not have the same access to education as Israelis do.

“For example,” he said, “Israel has repeatedly closed schools and universities throughout the West Bank as part of its military regime of the area. In one famous documented case, Israeli soldiers are seen throwing tear gas at a group of children on their way to school.”

Academic boycott of Israel, according to PACBI, includes measures such as refraining from participation in academic collaboration with Israeli institutions, and withholding funding from such collaborative initiatives. Instead, PACBI calls on the international community to support Palestinian academic institutions, and to pass motions in support of BDS at universities around the world.

McGill’s ties to Israel

At McGill, the only direct Exchange Programs in the Middle East are with Israeli universities. Students wishing to study at universities elsewhere in the region do not benefit from the same institutional support as Exchange students do, and must arrange their own Independent Study Away singlehandedly.

“People think that the academic boycott is against freedom of speech and expression, but we need to rethink these rights as universal and start thinking about them as rights that some people have and some don’t.”

“Many of these universities are built directly above a razed Palestinian village,” Haddad continued. “The Technion Institute of Technology manufactures weapons for the Israeli occupation forces, which are fieldtested on Palestinians in Gaza. McGill students actively participate in this research by going on Exchange to the Technion, oftentimes given special awards by McGill in order to make it easier for them to travel and study there.”

Breakout groups

The AGSA representative discussed the successful passing of a BDS motion within AGSA last January, and shared insight with those present.

Then, once the issue at hand had been contextualised by the panelists, the attendees broke up into small groups to strategize and troubleshoot possible obstacles to an academic boycott campaign.
According to the participants, one of the issues faced by Palestinian solidarity activists is the unwillingness of other like-minded individuals to show their support for fear of harassment. Many people keep their support of the cause private, as it can lead to being profiled and targeted.

Another difficulty identified by the participants concerned community outreach. While interested in fostering open and constructive conversation, participants said they often it difficult to present themselves as approachable to those opposing BDS. As one student attending the panel told the room, “if we really want to counter the anti-BDS campaigns, we should go to their events, sit, listen to their arguments […], and then counter them during the Q&A.”

Moving forward

In an email to The Daily, written in French, organizer Abir Haddade explained the rationale behind the panel and discussion:

“The goal was […] to offer more space for the [BDS] movement,” she said, “and particularly to the academic boycott, which is still not discussed very much as compared to other forms of boycott.”

“I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the event,” Haddade continued. “Several innovative ideas were raised, actually. Michelle [Hartman] emphasized the importance of strengthening ties between the different universities in Montreal. Montreal is a student city par excellence and knowing that the BDS movement has been particularly successful on university campuses, it’s a shame for each of us to work on our own.”

“The goal was […] to offer more space for the [BDS] movement, and particularly to the academic boycott, which is still not discussed very much as compared to other forms of boycott.”

One of the breakout groups, she added, had also suggested organizing wine-and-cheese events from time to time.

“We disagree? Our ideologies are in opposition? That’s OK, let’s discuss it over drinks. It’s as simple as that,” Haddade said.

“I think that this meeting allowed us to get a valuable sense of the challenges and obstacles we face,” she finished, “but also to engage with approaches which will allow us to overcome them. Discussing with students from neighboring universities (Concordia and UQAM) was very promising with regard to future collaborations. […] Linking McGill to the rest of student life in Montreal will only strengthen our local BDS network.”

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Will SSMU adopt a sexual assault policy? http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/03/will-ssmu-adopt-a-sexual-assault-policy/ Sat, 18 Mar 2017 03:06:50 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=50125 Content warning: sexual assault, domestic abuse

The recent resignations of two Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives – former President Ben Ger and former VP External David Aird – over allegations of gendered violence have sparked intense criticism of SSMU’s nominal commitment to transparency and accountability. Moreover, many are calling for the Society to adopt a sexual assault policy (SAP) which would apply to its Executive Committee.

While the University did recently adopt its own Sexual Violence Policy (SVP), which applies to all students registered at McGill, a SSMU SAP would in theory give undergraduates at the University more recourse in holding their elected officials accountable.

The SVP cannot be used to suspend or remove SSMU executives from their positions. This means that if any future executive were to be accused of sexual assault, SSMU members would have to wait for the University to take action against that executive as an individual – something McGill has historically been reluctant to do.

A SSMU SAP, or more administration involvement?

Nevertheless, many students have argued that it should be McGill’s administration, rather than SSMU, which takes a larger role in countering sexual violence on campus.

In a letter published on March 2, 2017 in The McGill Daily, 18 SSMU representatives, all of whom sit on the Society’s Legislative Council, addressed McGill’s administration. The letter recognized the “insufficiency of the SSMU executive team in the handling of their response,” but felt that this didn’t excuse the Administration’s silence on the matter.

“The problem of sexual violence is not limited to the SSMU,” reads the letter. “It affects everyone on campus, especially those survivors that have come forth. Principal Fortier, the administration is accountable to every one of its students and shoulders the burden of the responsibility to take action. The silence from the Administration throughout this process is alarming.”

The letter called on the administration to collaborate with SSMU to “to emphasize section 8 of the sexual violence policy and push the active working group to hold workshops and presentations concerning sexual violence at McGill residences and campus as a whole for the remainder of the semester.”

The letter also called on the administration to follow and adopt the CDN’s demands, and “to take direct measures to ensure the continued safety of students and survivors on and around campus.” Measures listed included timely disclosures, safety planning, section changes. Most importantly the letter called for “screening of [SSMU] executives.” Nowhere in the letter is there a call for SSMU to adopt its own SAP to counter its own shortcomings.

Hence, a large part of the debate over a SSMU SAP revolves around how much independence SSMU and its members should have in regulating its own Executive Committee, and when the University’s administration should step in.

The Executive Committee talks a SSMU-specific SAP

VP Student Life Elaine Patterson, who has taken on the role of SSMU spokesperson following Ger’s resignation, told The Daily in an email that there “have been conversations amongst the SSMU executives regarding a policy and a set of protocols that can be put in place in order to create a structure to better manage reports of disclosure of sexual harassment to an exec.”

“In terms of first steps,” she added, “we hope to organize a time for the current executives and the [newly elected SSMU] executives to attend a workshop on reports of disclosure offered by Consent McGill. Additionally, [VP University Affairs] Erin Sobat is in touch with representatives from the Community Disclosure Network (CDN) to ensure consultation while this policy and these protocols are in development.”

In a statement to The Daily, Sobat spoke about the process of creating such a policy. “By their request I am working […] to help meet the requests in [the CDN’s] statement, re: sexual violence in general not just harassment,” he explained. “However this is really […] labour of policy/protocol development based on consultation and outreach to different groups and oversight from our governance bodies.”

“We are looking into the best ways to facilitate sensitive consultation and dialogue on moving forward, through CDN and staff resources,” he added. “We recognize that people do not necessarily feel comfortable reaching out to the executive right now and that there need to be multiple avenues for involvement and input.”

“Well intentioned but dangerously half-baked”

While many on campus have called for such a policy, some students feel that this simply isn’t enough.
Silence is Violence (SiV), a survivor-led collective of community members at McGill which “advocate for institutional accountability and tackle rape culture on campus” released a statement last Thursday detailing their thoughts on a hypothetical SSMU SAP.

While the collective expressed outrage at Ger and Aird’s behaviour, and understood the calls to action, they expressed concerns that calls for a SSMU-specific SAP are “short-sighted, narrow and lack adequate context.”

“Since the adoption of SVP last winter, and, indeed, in the past few years when a SVP has been under development at McGill, [the] McGill Administration has constantly used the SVP to make a show of its supposed commitment to responding to sexual violence – and shut down any criticism of its shortcomings in that regard,” reads the statement.

“While a policy can indeed provide structure for addressing sexual violence,” the statement continues, “calling for the creation of a policy without holistically confronting – in this case – the dynamics that encourage, sustain and tolerate abuse in activist communities is a cheap way out of assuming liability for past incidents and committing to their prevention in the future.”

SiV also raised concerns about whether or not this meant that clubs, faculty and departmental associations, and other groups on campus would themselves also adopt a sexual assault policy of their own.

“How much time and resources would that take?” SiV wrote. “How many sexual assault policies does this institution need?” SiV stated that, instead, they felt McGill would “benefit more from a campus-wide initiative to use already existing structures to extend the SVP to all other separate legal entities at McGill.”

The collective cited the Office of the Dean of Students signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Management Undergraduate Society to extend the Code of Students’ Conduct and a variety of other forms of oversights to Carnival, an event which involved heavy drinking. “Participants would hence be subject to this Code in case they cross the line,” the statement reads.

Disagreements between the CDN and SiV

In an email to The Daily, the CDN confirmed that the Network was working with SSMU in the hopes of creating a stand alone “Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy,” or a GSVP.

“Our goals in working with SSMU are to create a pro-survivor document that protects the SSMU community, and also to ensure that resources and outlines of procedures are made as accessible as possible to survivors without them having to disclose anything,” the CDN wrote.

“This requires a dialogue within the creation of a policy of what these processes or a recourse of action will look like,” the email continues, “and how SSMU can work with other student groups on campus to make sure that such a policy and the procedures it outlines are implemented properly.”

When asked how the Network felt about SiV’s comments on a SSMU-specific SAP, they responded that they had been in contact with SiV but didn’t share the collective’s feelings.

“We reached out to them as soon as we saw [SiV’s] statement, to inquire that they remove [CDN’s] name,” explained the Network. “As their statement outlined that the creation of a SSMU GSVP would not be useful (we think it is crucial), and that we are calling for an apology or further accountability on the part of Erin Sobat (we are not), we did not want to be perceived as sharing these concerns. They responded quickly to our communication and have since rectified their statement.”

At the time of publication, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) had yet to sit down with SSMU executives to discuss the Society adopting a sexual assault policy, and hence were not comfortable speaking with The Daily about their recommendations on the subject.

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