A campaign encouraging students to opt out of QPIRG’s student fee continued throughout January’s add-drop period. QPIRG staff and members say that the scheme is having a detrimental effect on the organization’s ability to operate freely.
The campaign started last term, when Conservative McGill, the Liberal Party of Quebec at McGill, the McGill Hellenic Students’ Association, and three other groups started a Facebook group and web site encouraging students to opt out of the $3.75 per semester fee.
QPIRG internal coordinator Anna Malla called the group’s accusations that QPIRG is anti-democratic “ridiculous.”
“If people are actually interested in what we’re doing, then they should make an effort to participate in our democratic process which we believe in and which we have,” said Malla. She added that any student who has paid the opt-outable fee is welcome to attend the group’s annual general assembly, where they can elect QPIRG’s board of directors.
The opt-out campaign’s web site accuses QPIRG of hosting working groups whose politics “appall the mainstream of McGill’s student body.”
“We think that the majority of McGill students don’t want their money going to antidemocratic things, specifically the anarchist ones,” said Conservative McGill president Jess Weiser.
Weiser took aim especially at Tadamon!, one of QPIRG’s working groups, for its call for the federal government to remove the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from its list of terrorist organizations. Weiser also criticized QPIRG’s support for the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble, “an activist street band that organizes according to anarchist principles.”
“It’s our feeling that there’s a widespread opposition to the types of activities that QPIRG does on campus, and we feel that a lot of the people that are in opposition to those things don’t even know that their money is going to them to begin with,” said Weiser.
The opt-out campaign’s web site also criticizes QPIRG for attempts it made in the fall of 2008 to take the opt-out feature off of McGill’s web site.
Malla stated that QPIRG was the first organization on campus to fight for students’ right to opt out of fees. She explained QPIRG is dissatisfied with the online opt-out process because it is a violation of QPIRG’s memorandum of understanding with McGill, and because it does not impel students to make an informed decision before opting out.
“QPIRG believes in the democratic process that allows students to opt out. We believe in that process and we actually initiated that after QPIRG was founded,” said Malla.
Andrea Figueroa, QPIRG’s external coordinator, stated that the opt-out campaign’s assertion that QPIRG’s working groups should appeal directly to students for funding is the product of a basic lack of understanding of QPIRG’s structure. “It’s the same way that SSMU councillors get elected and they pick what to fund and what they don’t, so they have the same process as QPIRG,” said Figueroa.
Weiser later acknowledged that “not every single organization that they fund is radical.”
“There are some initiatives they’ve supported that do have merit,” he added. “We feel that the groups that would garner support from a majority of campus would be able to fund themselves, and we’d be happy to help them in that effort.”
The opt-out campaign’s web site initially included some factual errors, including the assertion that the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and Independent Jewish Voices are QPIRG working groups. It also claimed that QPIRG “supports and practices anti-Semitism” – a charge that QPIRG denounced as “offensive.” All of these errors were subsequently removed from the opt-out campaign’s web site.
Weiser stood behind the content of the web site, but added that changes to it could have been made by others involved in the campaign.
“There was nothing unfactual that we had to change,” he said.