The highest authority in SSMU met last Thursday to vote on recommendations about the future of the Judicial Board (J-Board).
The meeting followed the SSMU Board of Directors’ (BoD) decision on January 26 to suspend all J-Board activities pending a review of its structure within the SSMU Constitution.
The recommendations aimed to ensure SSMU’s compliance with the Quebec Corporations Act and the province’s Accreditation Act by constitutionally recognizing the BoD as the highest governing authority of SSMU.
Concerns over J-Board’s relationship to the BoD were raised in light of the current J-Board case, filed by students Zach Newburgh and Brendan Steven. The case contests the results of the QPIRG referendum question. Both students were present in the gallery at the BoD meeting.
The ad hoc Bylaw Review Committee met on January 30 to decide how to move forward. Its goals included protecting SSMU from liability while ensuring “a fair, unbiased method of addressing complaints/petitions.”
The committee decided it was in the best interest of all SSMU members for the J-Board to resume activity as soon as possible, and to hold hearings for current cases before reading week.
Members also agreed that the BoD must submit a question during the Winter Referendum period that would clarify the relationship between the BoD and J-Board.
The motion, debated Thursday by BoD members, sought to reinstate activities of the J-Board immediately, with consideration of the recommended constitutional changes. The motion passed with eight BoD members in favour, one against, and three abstentions.
Constitutional recommendations put forward by the J-Board – which were then reviewed by the Bylaw Committee – include amending the current provision that J-Board is “the final authority” on the interpretation of the SSMU Constitution and By-laws of the Society to J-Board having “the authority to adjudicate” on those matters.
Gabriel Joshee-Arnal, a law student and legal advocate in the current J-Board case, was in the gallery and asked for clarification regarding the motion’s application to the current case.
In response, VP External Joël Pedneault proposed an amendment and explained that the motion is only in effect until the Winter Referendum period is complete. The amendment read, “With the additional provision that decisions made by the J-Board which are unreasonable, or contrary to its procedures, may also be overturned by the SSMU BoD.”
Pedneault said that he hoped this would “keep the logic that the BoD can overturn a decision of the J-Board for clearly demonstrable reasons,” and maintain compliance with Quebec law as soon as J-Board activities resume.
During debate on the amendment, Newburgh said that he was “concerned about ‘unreasonable’ and whether it can be used to overturn a decision for political reasons.”
Arts Representative Isabelle Bi also expressed that she was “worried about the use of the term ‘unreasonable’,” but Joshee-Arnal clarified that it is a standard legal grading.
The amendment passed, along with one put forward by Arts Representative Jamie Burnett, which called for SSMU to create a working group “to investigate democratic avenues of resolving issues of constitutionality” in the spirit of placing SSMU’s general membership at the foreground of decision-making processes.
Review of the SSMU’s Constitution and Bylaws is ongoing. “The goal is to have a full by-law review done by the end of this year,” said SSMU President Maggie Knight.
Newburgh and Steven’s case will be heard Monday.