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SSMU Council addresses freedom of dress, Quebec student roundtable

Student society prepares for upcoming Winter referendum

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On February 6, one day after the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held its bi-annual General Assembly (GA), SSMU’s Legislative Council met for a double session that stretched past midnight. In addition to debating SSMU’s membership within the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ), councillors approved questions for the upcoming Winter 2014 referendum period.

Freedom of dress

A Motion Regarding Freedom of Dress in the SSMU Building was brought to Council after the Winter 2014 General Assembly (GA), where it was presented, failed to meet quorum, and instead passed in a Consultative Forum.

The motion was moved by a petition and originally stemmed from a ban on the lab coats of the Plumbers’ Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), an Engineering student group, due to offensive writing or drawings on the coats.

VP University Affairs Joey Shea pointed out that although the motion claimed freedom of speech was an integral part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “In Canada, one’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression is limited […] so for example, hate speech is not allowed.”

The motion was divided into three separate resolved clauses – one which stated that freedom of dress should not be infringed upon, one which stated that bans should proceed on a case-by-case basis, and one that overturned the standing ban on the PPO’s lab coats. All three resolved clauses passed.

The TaCEQ crisis

On January 24, 73.2 per cent of the University of Sherbrooke’s graduate student association, Regroupement des étudiants de maîtrise, de diplôme et de doctorat de l’Université de Sherbrooke (REMDUS) voted to disaffiliate from TaCEQ, a result that was later ratified by a GA of its members. The departure of REMDUS leaves SSMU without its main ally, SSMU VP External Samuel Harris told The Daily in an earlier interview.

When asked by a councillor about alternatives to TaCEQ for SSMU, Harris responded, “I don’t feel any other association right now suits the needs of SSMU members, especially because of the cost – we’re paying upward of four to five dollars per person, that’s around $80,000 [total].”

A motion regarding the creation of a referendum question to disaffiliate from TaCEQ passed.

Cover charges for charities

Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) VP Internal Sahil Kumar was on hand to present the Motion Regarding Gerts Retainment of Cover Charges. Currently, Gerts collects 50 per cent of cover and coat check charges. However, Kumar argued that groups hosting charity events that planned to donate 100 per cent of the proceeds of the cover and coat check charges to charity should have this commission waived if they advertised sufficiently in advance.

SSMU VP Finances and Operations Tyler Hofmeister disagreed strongly with the motion, adding that Gerts is also facing a $26,000 deficit – $13,000 over the budgeted deficit.

The motion passed after being amended to require that Gerts make its booking procedures more transparent and simpler for charities who wanted to book an event.

Referendum questions regarding fees

A Motion Regarding SSMU First Year Council (FYC) Fee Referendum Question resolved that a referendum question be asked to levy a $0.50 opt-outable fee to create a First Year Fund. With around 6,000 first year students, the FYC has a budget of only $3,000, limiting its ability to provide events and help, according to Services Representative Élie Lubendo.

Lubendo explained that due to exchange, transfer, and U0 and U1 students, it was “impossible” to charge only first-years, and pointed out that although the FYC targeted first-years, it technically serves the entire McGill student body.

The Motion Regarding Athletics and Recreation Facilities Referendum Question, which resolved to renew the non-opt-outable Athletics and Recreation Facilities Improvement Fee of $10 per semester, faced some frustration from councillors.

Arts and Science Representative Courtney Ayukawa expressed concern that this fee came on top of the already-existing $127.75 fee per semester for Athletics. Farnan explained that the $10 fee paid for various updates and renovations.

Due to the financial cost of complying with Quebec labour laws, Organic Campus brought forth a motion asking for a referendum to create a $0.22 opt-outable fee per student per semester. According to calculations by Organic Campus, its prices would have to rise threefold to compensate without a fee.

Arts Representative Ben Reedijk objected to the fee levy on the grounds that, as a business, Organic Campus should be able to satisfy its own financial needs.

However, VP Clubs and Services Stefan Fong pointed out that Organic Campus is in fact a service, not a business.

As the potential end of the four-year long negotiations for the lease of the Shatner building looms, the cost of rent and utilities is projected to increase immediately with the new agreement and on a yearly basis afterward. To deal with the increasing costs, Council approved a referendum question to ask for a University Centre building fee of $6.08 per full-time student, which will be indexed to increase at a rate of 5.6 per cent per year.

All three motions passed, and will be asked as referendum questions in the Winter 2014 referendum period.

Motions regarding the renewal of the SSMU Access Bursary Fund, the SSMU Ambassador Fund, the SSMU Campus Life Fund, and the SSMU Library Improvement Fund all passed, and will appear in the Winter 2014 referendum period.