SSMU Council grills President

Transparency of Board of Directors and constitutionality of BDS questioned

On September 28, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for a meeting. Council heard presentations from the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), and from the McGill Office of Sustainability regarding a bike centre project that is part of the climate action plan. The meeting was followed by an extensive question period which focused on the constitutionality of the Board of Directors’ (BoD) recent decision regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Board of Directors is the highest governing body within SSMU and is responsible for running the business affairs of the society and ratifying certain political decisions. The constitutionality of the Board has recently been called into question because there are only three SSMU Execs currently serving, which is one too few, and eight members at large, which is four too many.

BDS is a pro-Palestinian movement that works to eliminate international support for Israel in its continued occupation and oppression of Palestine. BDS McGill is an on-campus branch of the movement that fights for the university to boycott, divest from and put sanctions on Israel.

Conflict of interest question

During question period, Councillor Vithushon Thayalan addressed a potential conflict of interest in the BoD’s ratification of the BDS reference. The reference declaring BDS unconstitutional was first issued in 2016 by the SSMU Judicial board. The board ruled that BDS violated the SSMU Equity Policy. At the time, current SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, served as one of the three judges who was assigned to the case. Tojiboeva currently sits on the BoD, which almost unanimously ratified the BDS decision September 2017.

According to SSMU’s conflict of interest policy, councillors with a conflict of interest must abstain from voting “on matters materially connected with their employment at the Society.” Failure to comply may result in a temporary suspension, a formal apology, or removal from the office.

When asked why she did not abstain from voting on the constitutionality of BDS, Tojiboeva answered, “I don’t have a personal conflict of interest because I don’t derive any personal interest from the [BDS] decision, I also don’t derive any financial gains from the decision.”

Missing BoD minutes

Referring to the same BoD meeting, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer asked Tojiboeva whether the Council can expect a report from the BoD on the BDS ratification. While such a statement has apparently not been prepared, Tojiboeva told Council that the meeting’s minutes addressing the ratification were already available online. However, a student present at the meeting confirmed that the last available meeting minutes were from April 2017, and thus that the minutes regarding the BDS decision were still unpublicized.

In response, SSMU’s General Manager, Ryan Hughes, pointed to some technical difficulties in transferring from SSMU’s old website to its new one. While the soft launch of the new website is scheduled for next week, Hughes explained that the minutes would still “not necessarily be available to the public.”

When reminded by SSMU VP Internal Affairs Maya Koparkar that the BoD must publicize minutes as well as report to council on all BoD decisions (per section 1.7 of the SSMU constitution), Tojiboeva answered, “I was unaware that a report needed to be made in terms of our presentation to Council.”

“I was unaware that a report needed to be made in terms of our presentation to Council.”

The BoD’s lack of transparency

Further into question period, SSMU VP Finance Arisha Khan asked Tojiboeva why the SSMU Speaker has not presided over BoD meetings. While the Speaker may not vote or be counted towards quorum, section 11.6 of the SSMU Constitution requires them to preside over all BoD, General Assembly (GA), and Legislative Council meetings.

In response, Tojiboeva claimed that the Speaker no longer facilitates BoD meetings since the Constitution was amended in March 2017. The amendments in question allow President Tojiboeva to chair the BoD instead of the Speaker, while retaining voting and quorum rights.

An audience member questioned the validity of amendments, however, pointing out that “[the] Winter GA didn’t reach quorum, so the constitutional amendments couldn’t have been made.”

“[the] Winter GA didn’t reach quorum, so the constitutional amendments couldn’t have been made.”

Tojiboeva then clarified that the amendments were ratified through an electronic vote after the GA. However, the documents regarding the motion are not available on elections SSMU. Neither is the BoD resolution book, which has not been updated since 2016. The question of the resolution book was brought up during the last BoD meeting, according to Khan.

While Tojiboeva recognized the concerns regarding the unpublicized documents, she did not provide a clear timeline on when the resolution book would be updated.

“I think that’s a very valid concern and we should address this seriously. In terms of the timeline […] I would like to inquire my secretary general who would most likely be addressing the issue […] because […] in terms of my own capacities as President, I would not be able to address this immediately on my own time.”

Motion regarding nominations to the BoD

A motion to appoint SSMU VP Student Life Jemark Earle to the BoD was passed, effective immediately. In order to maintain the requisite 12 member composition on the BoD, one member-at-large will resign from their position. The resignation is to be decided at the next BoD meeting.

“The approval of the VP Student Life is immediately necessary to have a functioning BoD,” said Koparkar. At the time of the BDS ratification, the BoD was composed of three SSMU executives and nine members-at-large instead of the required four executives, four members at large, and four councillors. The constitutionality of the BDS decision has been contested due to the composition of the BoD.