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SSMU Council debates weapons research and Plan Nord

Budget and satirical motion discussed

Correction appended December 2, 2012.

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its final Legislative Council meeting of the Fall 2012 semester to discuss a range of motions as well as the revised 2012-2013 budget, which was prepared by VP Finance and Operations Jean Paul Briggs.

Among the motions debated was the motion regarding a campus free from weapons development, moved by VP External Robin Reid-Fraser, Senate representative Moe Nasr, and Engineering representative Farzan Subhani.

The motion resolved that SSMU oppose “all ongoing and future research on weapons [and] surveillance technologies with military application.” It also called on Council to condemn ongoing research such as the Shockwave Physics Group for “research on thermobaric explosives,” the Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab “that improves the design of drones,” and the Center for Intelligent Machines “that develops surveillance technology for drones,” among others.

“It’s a political stance we are taking,” said Subhani. “It is a stance against military research, at a university, that may lead to killing people at large.”

Others agreed with Subhani’s stance and the motion’s anti-violence language.

“The place for university in society is not to be developing weapons,” said Clubs & Services representative Zachary Rosentzveig. “If you want to develop weapons, you don’t work for universities.”

VP Internal Michael Szpejda was among many at Council who opposed the motion. “Things that we use every day can be used in military applications,” said Szpejda, referring to the first programmable computer, which was originally developed for military use.

Science representative David Chaim agreed. “Research isn’t inherently evil, it’s the people who use it,” he said.

In response to the criticisms about the broad language of the motion, it was amended to more directly target research used in military combat. The amended motion passed with 24 in favour, one against, and eight abstentions.

A motion regarding Opposition to Continued Colonialism in the North sought to address concerns surrounding the controversial Plan Nord. The motion failed to pass, with six in favour and 17 against.

Many councillors agreed with the spirit of the motion, but argued that it was too one-sided and lacked a desirable depth of research. “This is a complex, poly-centric issue,” said Law representative Andrew Baker.


Briggs introduced the revised budget, which included three series of cuts, bringing the final budgeted deficit to $211,320 for the fiscal year. According to Briggs’ report, SSMU has not exhausted “the opportunities to save money in the budget without making major cuts.”

The report prepared by Briggs also noted that the deficit is primarily a result of SSMU’s lease negotiation with the administration: “Due to the extraordinary nature of the circumstances surrounding the budget and the extreme uncertainty that [SSMU] faces at this time, the decision was made to not drastically cut the budget.”

Briggs also observed that expenses related to the rent are still pending as the lease has not yet been finalized, and discussed the increased expenses related to the renovation of the second floor cafeteria with its new restaurant tenants.

Nasr criticized the presented budget on its increased expenses on computer software, and he later motioned for Council to reconsider its approval of the budget. This motion failed.

“I’d like you to keep it in mind that [this] is a budget, and it has been done, one, conservatively….Expenses in here are justified by the people responsible,” concluded Briggs.

Other motions

Music councillor Katherine Larson, Science councillor Devin Dziadyk, VP University Affairs Haley Dinel, and President Josh Redel jointly moved for SSMU to lobby the provincial and federal governments – as well as the United Nations – to feature Lolcats, from the popular site I Can Has Cheezburger?, on their home pages.

Larson clarified that the motion was a “joke … meant to lampoon the fact that we always decide to lobby random things without deciding the allocation of resources [and] time.”

However, VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper expressed concerns about the motion negatively impacting the legitimacy of Council, even if the satire was clear.

In the end, the motion failed to pass, with a vote of eight in favour, eight against, and ten abstentions.

A motion regarding e-waste collection and a motion regarding the amendment of the by-law book both passed with the unanimous support of Council.

Council also passed a motion regarding effective representation, which resolved that “the SSMU contact other student associations in Quebec with large numbers of out-of province students and students who pay international tuition rates to encourage them to also actively lobby for the interests of these students.”

Dinel spoke in favour of the motion, saying, “I think we often forget about non-provincial students when we talk about tuition fees. … I’m very glad that SSMU is supporting its broader constituencies.”