The Winter 2010 General Assembly (GA) approved five motions on Wednesday, mandating that SSMU divest from the tar sands, support a cap on ancillary fees at McGill, restore $5 ATMs, create a corporate social responsibility committee (CSR) to oversee McGill investments, and take an active policy against the self-funded tuition model. A motion originally banning pro-life groups from campus failed, in spite of numerous proposed amendments.
While several SSMU councillors said they were happy that all motions were discussed and that the GA maintained quorum, some were less pleased by the actual debate. SSMU VP (Clubs & Services) Sarah Olle said that she was “upset by the lack of constructive dialogue that was had and I think our community, as demonstrated today, is just incredibly divided about issues external to the University, and I wish that people could focus more on the university experience itself and bringing people together.”
Arts Senator Sarah Woolf described the GA’s proceedings as “messy,” and was “disgusted and depressed with how the beginning of the GA went,” but added that the structure is constantly being improved, and was pleased that students stayed to see every motion through. “I don’t think this is the death knell of the GA,” she said.
At its peak, the GA exceeded the capacity of the Shatner cafeteria, with over 600 students present. The CSR motion, which referred to the the occupied Palestinian territories in its preamble, contributed to the sizable turnout, but also prompted Speaker Zach Newburgh to issue warnings to students about adhering to decorum soon after the call to order.
Twenty minutes into procedure, the GA was bombarded with complaints about the inability to hear speakers, repeated calls for decorum, and motions to reconsider almost every decision made, leading to a record five-hour duration.
Before debate could begin, the agenda was amended to move the CSR motion to the top of the docket. After Khaled K, the motion’s author and an executive for Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – McGill (SPHR), spoke in favour of the motion, an amendment was passed to strike two clauses in the motion’s introduction.
The clauses specified that McGill has ties to “organizations that engage in and profit from unethical practices including but not limited to profiting from the unlawful occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Debate quickly became heated during discussion of the amendment and the motion; one student was asked to put away their Israeli flag while another accused Newburgh of a conflict of interest as SSMU speaker, because he is president of Hillel Montreal and his roommate is president of Hillel McGill.
An inability to estimate majority decisions during discussions of the amendment led to an hour and a half of inaction as various votes were counted to strike clauses, and then to reconsider the decision to strike. Debate resumed, and after a failed attempt to adjourn the GA altogether, a simple majority vote passed the motion, without reference to occupied Palestine.
Prior to the GA, the Facebook account of a member of SPHR was hacked, and a message was sent to members of SPHR’s GA event claiming that voting had moved online, including a link to Elections McGill. SPHR coordinators and SSMU executives took immediate action to correct the misunderstanding.
The motion against McGill adopting a self-funded tuition model was moved by SSMU VP (External) Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan.
During his motivation speech, Ronderos-Morgan pointed to other Canadian universities’ substantial tuition increases, and saw McGill’s attempt toward a self-funded model as a sign that they were making a “serious statement about what it sees as means necessary to balance the budget.”
The motion passed, quickly followed by a motion to reinstitute $5 ATMs on campus, and a motion demanding SSMU’s refusal to accept mandatory ancillary fees. Both were debated for several minutes.
A motion calling for SSMU to investigate investments with ties to tar sands in Alberta was passed by a simple majority, despite debate about the economic feasibility of the motion and a failed amendment which would have eliminated references to the financial institutions with ties to the tar sands. SSMU currently owns over $230,000 in bonds with the Royal Bank of Canada, which finances tar sands projects. SSMU councillor Joël Pednault recommended SSMU move its investments to banks like Desjardins, which does not finance such projects.
The final motion, on banning discriminatory groups on campus, was led by statements from authors Maddie Ritts and Liam Olson-Mayes explaining their choice to single out pro-life groups, stating that they are necessarily discriminatory and that “by allowing pro-life groups, we condone and accept their position,” and targeting the Silent No More campaign. After extensive debate and votes on multiple amendments, including one to strike direct reference to pro-life groups in the resolution, the entire resolution failed to pass.