In honor of Remembrance Day, Council passed a resolution last Thursday that calls for SSMU to remember and appreciate the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers. The motion, which was amended several times, spurred significant debate amongst councillors because of its initial inclusion of the clause, “Whereas, 152 Canadians have died in the war in Afghanistan, and continue to fight in defense of Canada, liberty, democracy, and human rights.”
Many Council members pointed out that the mention of the war in Afghanistan was divisive and took issue with the resolution’s implicit support for the war. Maggie Knight, a Clubs and Services Representative, explained her reasoning for supporting an amendment that would strike the second half of the controversial clause.
“I’m in general support of remembering the sacrifice made by soldiers. However, whether or not the war in Afghanistan is in defense of Canada is highly up for debate,” she said.
Radney Jean-Claude, the Social Work representative, echoed Knight’s sentiments, saying, “What’s important is to remember the sacrifice we made in the war, but including the words ‘and continue to fight in defense of Canada’ implies that SSMU supports the war in Afghanistan, and puts it in an ideological position.”
Spencer Burger, an Arts representative and author of the motion, addressed concerns that his resolution was too divisive to be debated at Council, and explained his motivation for writing the resolution. “This isn’t meant to be a divisive issue,” he said. “I meant it purely as recognition of the sacrifices of Canadian men and women in uniform. It’s an important issue on campus and for students.”
Anushay Khan, SSMU’s VP Clubs and Services, voiced her opposition to the resolution during Council, stating that as an entity that represents the McGill student body as a whole, SSMU does not have a right to take a stance on a political issue.
“I don’t think that this body [Legislative Council] has the authority to represent one side’s point of view or the other, and that’s why our clubs exist. As long as [the resolution] continues to say that Canadians die fighting for defense of liberty, democracy, and human rights, there’s a problem, because it’s something a lot of people may not agree with,” she said.
Eli Freedman, a Management representative, spoke in support of the un-amended motion, justifying his views in an emotional plea to council.
“I’m deeply disturbed that we would slight our veterans. I would be embarrassed if I told people that our student body did not just quickly approve this motion as I think any respectful Canadian would do. … I find it extremely insulting not to honour veterans.”
In response to the amendment’s passage, Freedman suggested that “those who voted to strike [the clause mentioning the Afghanistan War] down should publicly record their vote so they can be held accountable,” in the view that supporting such an amendment was humiliating for SSMU. Cathal Rooney-Cespedes, the Speaker of Council, struck down this motion, deeming it out of order.
The resolution passed by a large majority with an amendment that struck out the words, “and continue to fight in defense of Canada, liberty, democracy, and human rights.”
Knight defended the removal of the clause in an interview with The Daily.
“What we tried to do by arguing on behalf of an amendment to replace the controversial clause was to allow us to support the sacrifice of veterans without having a political aspect,” she said. “I think that many people would not unilaterally support the actions of the Canadian military, and I think that to truly value the sacrifices of our veterans, we need to disconnect their sacrifice from the politics of the particular conflict they’re involved in.”