Many at last Thursday’s demonstration promised that the record-breaking action was “just the beginning” of student resistance to tuition hikes scheduled to begin in September. At McGill, this remains to be seen.
Strike activity at McGill last week culminated in nine student associations – representing almost 13,000 students – declaring a strike for the March 22 provincial day of action against tuition hikes. Many of those strikes, however, were held on a limited basis. The morning of March 23, that number dropped by almost 11,000 students.
Members of McGill’s Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC) are inquiring into the legitimacy and constitutionality of many of the strike votes held at departmental General Assemblies (GAs) in advance of the March 22 demonstration.
Brendan Steven, ModPAC organizer, said the group was inquiring as to whether the SSMU Judicial Board could “clarify the constitutional status of departmental GAs.”
A ModPAC press release attributed to Steven calls Arts departmental strike GAs “illegitimate, unconstitutional shams,” citing the March 13 Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) GA as the legitimate strike vote. The AUS GA voted against a motion declaring an unlimited strike 609 to 495, with 16 abstentions.
The press release quotes Article 8.7 of the AUS Constitution: “Departmental Associations shall recognize the supremacy of the AUS Constitution, the AUS General Assembly, By-Laws, and Council.”
Steven’s press release added that ModPAC would soon be sending a letter to the administration “calling on them to take action.”
The departments respond
A March 16 email sent from AUS VP Internal Casey McDermott to the Society’s departmental associations asserted that “after consultation with students, departments are free to encourage or discourage participation in protests pertaining to the tuition hikes in Quebec.”
Later in her email, McDermott sought “to clarify the difference between a strike and a boycott, as Concordia and other Quebec universities are only acting under the latter.”
“Unlike a strike, a boycott can be initiated on an individual basis. I would encourage all associations to inform themselves of the opinions of their constituents, and to represent those opinions accordingly,” read McDermott’s email.
The Department of English Student Association (DESA), the largest McGill student association currently on strike with over 1,000 members, claims it has the constitutional authority to hold a strike GA. DESA voted to strike last week, and will hold a GA to continue the strike tonight.
Article 2 of its constitution states that DESA “shall have jurisdiction and final authority over all its activities” and that it “shall not be regulated or subordinated by any other constitution or council” other than its own.
DESA President Zoe Erwin-Longstaff said, “because of those clauses, we were perfectly within our rights to hold the Town Hall and to take this sort of vote.”
The Gender, Sexual Diversity, and Feminist Studies Student Association (GSDFSSA), along with the School of Social Work, are the other two McGill student associations still on strike. Both will also have renewal votes this week. GSDFSSA President Molly Swain spoke to concern about the legitimacy of the departmental GAs.
“The students of the department [came] to us with a request to hold this General Assembly, and then students overwhelmingly voted to do it. So we are mandated to do it,” said Swain.
“We simply exist for our students and our student body. I think that’s all the legitimacy that we need,” she continued.
Steven’s press release also contends that departmental associations have no procedures in their constitutions for GAs. As such, quorums for the GAs “are being invented on a whim.”
Erwin-Longstaff said quorum for last week’s DESA GA had been set at 75, roughly 7.5 per cent of their membership, “which is very high quorum as things go at McGill.” She noted that quorum for the March 13 AUS GA had been 150 students, roughly 2.5 per cent of membership.
The Art History and Communications Studies Student Association (AHCSSA) will be holding a strike vote tonight at its “Town Hall,” after discussing other possible voting procedures, including making a ballot box available all day. AHCSSA co-President and former Daily Health & Education editor Joseph Henry said the Town Hall will also serve as a “space for people to discuss how legitimate [the Town Hall] is in terms of representationality.”