Following a mediation session between U3 Arts student Alexei Simakov and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Courtney Ayukawa on October 28, SSMU will conduct a review of bylaws related to hiring Elections SSMU staff and reopen the hiring process for Elections SSMU positions after the review. As a result of the settlement, Simakov agreed to drop his SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board) petition challenging the legitimacy of Ben Fung’s reappointment as this year’s Elections SSMU Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). Simakov and Ayukawa announced the decision in a joint statement sent to The Daily on October 30.
“Through its Legislative Council, the SSMU is committed to working, with the input of students, to address any existing uncertainties [in the bylaws]. The parties will cooperate to engage undergraduates in the reform process and to clarify the organization’s governing documents going forward,” the statement read.
Fung and Elections SSMU Deputy Electoral Officer (DEO) David Koots have agreed to step down, but will continue to occupy their positions in the interim until the bylaw review is complete.
“[W]e didn’t mind stepping down and reapplying,” Fung told The Daily in an email. “We volunteered to step down as we do not have personal stakes in Elections SSMU or the positions, and so that SSMU can move forward to clarify and improve the process.”
Fung added that he and Koots will not be involved in the review. According to Ayukawa, the review will be conducted by Council and its By-law Review Committee.
Simakov told The Daily that he was pleased with the outcome, and felt that he and those who had helped him draft the petition had achieved their goal.
“I think, given the legal structure of SSMU […] we did the best we could,” he said. “The point of this was, effectively, to raise awareness and to keep SSMU reminded that they are accountable to students – and, I think, in that respect, we did do that.”
“We still stand by our position that the appointment was unconstitutional,” added Simakov.
Ayukawa told The Daily in an email that, in choosing to settle the case through mediation, the SSMU executive sought to reach a solution that would satisfy Simakov, but maintains that Fung’s hiring was done “in a fair manner that is in accordance with the bylaws and constitution.”
“Instead of pursuing […] quasi-legal proceedings [sic], we wanted to be responsive to students and their concerns, and find a solution that everyone was happy with,” she said.
Points of disagreement
In his petition, filed to the J-Board on September 22, Simakov argued that the decision to rehire Fung for the 2014-15 term was made without the participation of the Nominating Committee, as required by section 2.4 of SSMU’s By-Law Book I. Simakov requested that the First Year Council elections and the Fall 2014 referendum, carried out under Fung’s supervision, be declared invalid. The petition named the SSMU executive, represented by Ayukawa, the SSMU Board of Directors, and Elections SSMU as the respondents.
However, in a declaration submitted to the J-Board prior to the mediation session, the SSMU executive and its advocate Ben Rogers argued that the simple renewal of a contract does not require a recommendation from the Nominating Committee, and that Fung’s rehiring was carried out with the approval of the executive, as required by regulations. As per SSMU’s constitution, the executive has all the powers of the Board of Directors (BoD) between the BoD’s meetings; according to the declaration, these powers take precedence over the hiring process described in the bylaws.
The declaration further stated that the hiring process described in the bylaws was outdated, not having been followed for at least five years. It said that the original purpose of the Nominating Committee was to “prevent conflicts of interest and to ensure that only qualified staff were hired” – a purpose now fulfilled by SSMU’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Human Resources Advisor.
The declaration also noted that, because the appointments of members of the J-Board had not been reviewed by the Nominating Committee, ruling the Elections SSMU appointments invalid would simultaneously invalidate a portion of the current Faculty of Law J-Board appointments, which is the body that received Simakov’s petition in the first place.
Dissatisfaction with SSMU
In an interview with The Daily, former SSMU Services Representative Élie Lubendo expressed surprise at the SSMU executive’s agreeing to settle the case.
“I did not think that they would settle, just because in the past they usually don’t settle on cases like these – especially because this one had a lot of feedback from students as being a joke, it didn’t seem very serious,” said Lubendo. “To me, it seemed like this case would have been won by SSMU and it would have been better to just go to the trial.”
In light of the signing of the widely-criticized Shatner building lease, the invalidation of the presidential elections, and the re-running of the building fee referendum question, a portion of students have become increasingly dissatisfied with SSMU. Lubendo hypothesized that the decision to settle the case might have been made to mitigate a potential backlash from students.
“I think a lot of decisions are starting to be made to play on the safe side. I don’t think that they’re necessarily being made to please students, but they’re being made not to displease students,” he said.
Speaking to The Daily, Simakov was critical of SSMU, and said that the services it provides students do not make up for its mistakes. “It’s become an octopus-like situation […] this is consistent, and [SSMU has had] such diverse failures that students don’t even know what to complain about anymore because everything seems to be breaking. […] Pretending that [the fact that] they offer services in any way defends their gross failures is nonsensical.”
Lubendo noted that the recent General Assembly “had a great outcome” in terms of student engagement, but called on SSMU to be more proactive in strengthening its relationship with the student body in order to regain the confidence of its constituents.
“These types of discussions should not be started by students – these types of discussions should be started by the student union, and the fact that that is not happening is a problem,” he said. “With SSMU and its relationship with students being so fragile, you can’t really play it safe – you just have to be humble and take the backlash and learn from it, and I think that, at this point, that’s really not happening.”