QPIRG responds to opt-out campaign

The McGill chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) publicly responded on September 28 to a campaign encouraging students to opt out of fees paid to the group. QPIRG Opt-Out – which is composed of members of the Anatomy and Cell Biology Student Association, the Liberal Party of Quebec McGill, Conservative McGill, Free the Children McGill Chapter, and the Student Network for Economic Development – began its campaign during the opt-out period in mid-September by setting up a web site and a Facebook group.

In a statement addressed to QPIRG on its web site and facebook page, QPIRG Opt-Out states that QPIRG represents a “radical fringe of the McGill community, which is often completely antithetical to the mainstream beliefs of students on campus,” that it adheres exclusively to a far-left and “antagonistic” agenda, and that it has failed in its commitment to the public interest.

Anna Malla, QPIRG’s Internal Coordinator, said that the opt-out campaign tries to speak on behalf of “mainstream” McGill.

“It worries a lot of us that they attempt to understand what most McGill students think, how they think, and what their political beliefs are,” said Malla. “We’re very much a non-partisan organization, whereas this [campaign] is coming from Conservative McGill and Liberal McGill.”

The QPIRG Opt-Out Facebook page also says that QPIRG’s support for Tadamon!, Young Jews for Social Justice, and Israeli Apartheid Week indicates that the group supports and practices anti-Semitism – an allegation Malla said was offensive and nonsensical.

“To criticize a state – that is in fact imposing apartheid policies upon the Palestinian people – has nothing to do with criticizing Jewish people, and we actually find that really offensive,” Malla said. “We’re an organization that operates under an anti-oppression mandate; that includes all forms of oppression, all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and I think it dilutes the real issue of anti-Semitism, [by using it] to dismiss accusations against a state.”

QPIRG’s working groups include the Anti-Gentrification Group, Campus Crops, the Filipino Solidarity Collective, the Montreal Indigenous Sovereignty Week Organizing Committee, and a group called Tadamon!, which is committed to Palestinian solidarity activism.

Malla responded to the campaign’s accusations that QPIRG is an undemocratic organization by stating that its “objective is not to make us more democratic; it’s to shut us down.”

In fall 2007, QPIRG tabled a motion at SSMU’s General Assembly (GA) demanding that the Society resist the administration’s new electronic opt-out system, which they feared would lead to an increase in student opt-outs. Both GAs that academic year, however, failed to reach quorum and the motion was never adopted.

QPIRG has seen a rise in opt-outs since the new system was installed, and has seen a further rise in opt-outs this semester.