Commentary | Putting our own house in order

McGill student societies must take independent institutional action on sexual violence

Note added March 8: Readers should note that, since the article’s publication, relevant information regarding the author’s own history of behaviour toward women has been made available. The Daily regrets that it was not aware of this information at the time of publication, and that the author was given a platform to discuss gendered violence in this manner. The following is a response to the original article, which can be found further below.

Igor, I am disappointed by the article you recently published in response to your colleagues’ letter regarding David Aird. I do not appreciate that you place your admission to participating in rape culture in parentheses. That is not a side note that readers should take for granted or gloss over for one reason: all men benefit from patriarchal structures, but not all, in fact, have a history of abusive behaviour like yours.

You said in one of your (many) recent public Facebook posts: “I know what it means to do harm and commit violence. I have inflicted harm and violence on others in the past, and I have not always been held accountable for it.” Speaking as one of those “others” – specifically, the ex-girlfriend/colleague that you subjected to a significantly damaging amount of psychologically abusive behaviour over the course of a 1.5 year relationship – I can corroborate that statement. With these vague references you’ve made to your history of and complicity with gendered violence, you appear to be under the impression that this behaviour has given you some sort of epistemic privilege on the matter. It has not.

Frankly, I am not convinced that an accountable community or student society is something in which you are genuinely interested. Going back to your post on violence (made about two weeks before David’s resignation), you also said: “I understand and share the indignation at the fact that people who commit violence continue to hold positions of power. I navigate this as best I can, and I understand the importance of taking responsibility and experiencing the consequences of one’s harmful actions.”

What form does this indignation take given that you yourself are, as you admit, a person who has committed violence and holds a position of power? Given that you said nothing about your colleague’s behaviour? Based on David’s statement, it seems that prior to resigning he admitted that he had caused harm and had sought therapy – do you think these things sufficiently constitute “taking responsibility and experiencing the consequences of one’s harmful actions”? Finally, is centering yourself in – more than that, positioning yourself as someone fit to lead – the discussion about gendered violence in our student societies really an appropriate way of “taking responsibility” for your own behaviour? If I may be so fucking bold as to pass judgement, I think it looks more like a self-serving grab at rad points that only piqued your interest when it became politically opportune for you to act.

Now don’t get me wrong: you are not “just like” David, and implying that this is the case would be unfair to you and, more importantly, disrespectful to the people he physically harmed. But a willingness to disregard the well-being of others – particularly women – when it gets in the way is something you two seem to share. You are not the self-reflective, “woke bae” foil to David’s archetypal abusive leftist man, and I am concerned that this article and the general faux-humbleness with which you’ve been referring to your past behaviour lately has been an attempt to position yourself this way. Perhaps the “Robert’s Rules Hero” thing has gone to your head.

I don’t disagree, in principle, with much of what you wrote. Yes, SSMU must take responsibility for its failure. Yes, accountability structures are critical. But your article provides no original analysis or concrete suggestions for implementation. All it offers is (1) an empty apology that only highlights that the factors with which you were most complicit are the ones least likely to be impacted by institutional mechanisms – you cannot regulate people into genuinely caring about gendered violence and the well-being of their peers, and the wealth of anti-oppression training that I know you’ve undergone did not prompt you to speak out about David; (2) a vague political promise that could just as easily have been made at Council instead of in a newspaper you used to edit; and (3) the arrogant implication that you are the single person in all of student government – including those authors of the letter who had been harassed by David – to have best understood the Community Disclosure Network’s arguments and demands.

Your insight as someone with a history of abusive behaviour, which I really do think is your most relevant characteristic on this front, is not a leadership qualification. I invite you to keep that in mind and exercise some humility as you focus your energy on implementing the necessary institutional changes within our student societies in the coming weeks.

— J.M.B.

As a SSMU councillor, I am disappointed by the letter recently drafted and circulated by some fellow councillors in response to the resignation of former SSMU VP External David Aird. By exclusively targeting the McGill administration, the letter in question fails to acknowledge our share of responsibility as SSMU councillors for the institutional failure of SSMU in responding to disclosures of gendered and sexual violence committed by Aird.

There is no doubt that the McGill administration’s record in responding to sexual violence deserves sharp criticism. The University has shown a lack of support for survivors and a lack of disciplinary action toward perpetrators, and has used procedural and confidentiality arguments to sidestep its responsibility to address sexual violence. Over the past years, members of the McGill community have sought to redress these failures through the development of the sexual violence policy, which will require ongoing monitoring and review during its implementation. It is justified and necessary to make demands to the administration to that effect, and in particular to demand collaboration and support from the administration as we respond to the current situation.

But this cannot be done without first critically assessing the role of our student institutions in perpetuating rape culture and excusing gendered and sexual violence – one that I have witnessed (and participated in) within both SSMU and my faculty association this year. The authors of the letter write: “Students regularly raised their discomfort with [Aird], but their concerns were ignored and not taken seriously. As councillors sitting on the SSMU Legislative Council, we witnessed the number of survivors who spoke up, and there are far too many to deem this campus safe.” If this is true – and it is – SSMU councillors, as a group, are in no position to deny responsibility.

The SSMU executive must be held accountable for its mishandling of disclosures. However, as councillors, we have also been complicit (some more than others, based on information and identity) in sustaining an environment where a person who had committed sexual violence felt welcomed and comfortable. Some of us were aware, in one way or another, of reports of discomfort or harassment. We should have made it clear that such reports were not ‘business as usual’ by speaking out forcefully and unambiguously. Our failure to do so implicitly condoned Aird’s behaviour, and made it more difficult for survivors to come forward. Speaking for myself, I want to apologize to all those who have been harmed by Aird for my silence and inaction within SSMU.

Our priority going forward should not be to shift the blame onto the administration, but rather to contribute however we can to institutional change within SSMU and within our faculty associations. In doing so, we should be guided by the Community Disclosure Network’s demands – which, it must be noted, are directed specifically toward SSMU as an independent student institution, rather than at the McGill administration. Our student associations enjoy independent legal status and a degree of autonomy from the administration; this means that our institutional failures are ours to correct. I invite my fellow councillors to join me in focusing their energies on implementing the necessary institutional changes within our student societies in the coming weeks.

Igor Sadikov is an Arts Representative to SSMU and a former Daily editor. To contact him, email

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