There are few parts of the legislative process as controversial as the “rider.”
Typically attached to bills that are politically impossible to veto or postpone, riders are unrelated provisos tacked on, usually in order to pass unpopular legislation that would not get approval by itself. The idea here is that politicians would rather pass the bulk of the bill than defeat the rider. This is how, for instance, a 2003 anti-drug law was tacked onto the U.S. bill that created the AMBER Alert system for missing children. Effectively, riders help eager legislators bypass democratic checks and balances.
This week at the General Assembly (GA), SSMU has some legislation coming through, and among them is a piece loaded with a rider: “Resolution for the Defense of Human Rights, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection.”
The resolved clauses themselves are probably commendable, though not groundbreaking. They reaffirm SSMU’s commitment to “human rights, social justice, and environmental protection,” and call for an expansion of the role of SSMU’s ethical investments overseer – so that it acts in an advisory capacity to the administration (supposing they’re interested).
The problem is in the whereas clauses. These provide justification for the resolution, and so SSMU’s acceptance of the resolution is also an acceptance of this premise. But these cannot be debated or amended at the GA. This resolution’s preamble, in its outline of potentially unethical McGill investments, mentions SSMU’s previous divestment from Pepsi because of ties to the Burmese junta, before embarking on its only other example: two lengthy paragraphs on the Palestinian territories. Out of a world full of disasters, Israel is singled out as the chief executor of the tragedy. Like all suffering, that of the Palestinians is deplorable. But demonizing Israel with no allowance for nuance, such as legitimate security concerns, or as if it is the worst or only global offender, is unfair targeting. This has been said before, but it begs repetition.
There is also a methodological concern: the resolution asks SSMU to affirm a commitment to human rights, but only if it accepts the rider – condemning Israel.
We are willing to accept that the intentions behind this resolution are benign. The result, however, is that under the guise of a moral imperative comes a convoluted excuse to bring up one group’s political agenda at the GA. Moreover, it effectively gets SSMU to accept a political position, but – by doing it through palatable, resolved, and un-amendable whereas clauses – avoids actually asking students at McGill for their permission. And we understand that the preamble merely outlines “facts,” but a fact is never simply objective – it is shrouded in context and narrative.
When you vote on this motion on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Shatner cafeteria, think about whether you want GAs to be used as forums for political groups on campus to air their worldly grievances, or as opportunities to make important policy decisions for SSMU. And even if it’s the former, think about if you want 600 students, speaking for thousands more, to take their positions because of a democratically-sought broad mandate – or because of a rider.
Mookie Kideckel is president of Hillel McGill and a U2 History student. Corey Omer is vice-president (external) of Hillel McGill and a Law II student. Write them at firstname.lastname@example.org.