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VP Finance suspended from SSMU Board of Directors

Procedural legitimacy of decision questioned

Arisha Khan, VP Finance of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been suspended from her position on the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) for a period of two weeks, from October 15-29. Although the decision was never formally announced to the public, it eventually emerged that her suspension had been enacted in response to an alleged breach of confidentiality, as Khan had forwarded an email exchange between SSMU executives to a non-executive member of SSMU’s staff.

The decision to suspend Khan was made during a BoD meeting on the night of October 15 which, though nominally public, occurred in a locked building without official notice given to either the press or the public. Moreover, although the minutes from the discussion pertaining to Khan’s suspension have now been made public, it initially took place during a confidential session of the BoD, meaning that no non-Directors were permitted to witness it. In addition to this, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, VP Internal Maya Koparkar, and VP Student Life Jemark Earle, all three of whom sit on the BoD, left the room for this discussion. It remains unclear why they did so; in an email to The Daily, Tojiboeva explained that “the Directors felt it [was] appropriate for executives to leave the room while a breach of confidentiality concerning executive members were discussed,” but this has no basis in SSMU procedure. Despite having left the room while the other Directors discussed the context behind Khan’s breach of confidentially, the executives concerned re-entered the meeting in order to vote on her suspension; all three reportedly abstained.

Khan herself was absent, as she was in California attending a conference for improving access to education for youth from foster care. Tojiboeva told The Daily that “this [vote] was scheduled in advance, […] meaning if Director Khan wished she could have participated even though she was out of the country,” but Khan maintains that, on the contrary, she was not notified ahead of the vote.

Khan herself was absent, as she was in California attending a conference for improving access to education for youth from foster care.

“The Board had ample opportunity to provide me with notice that my standing was up for debate during the meeting,” she wrote in an email to The Daily, “and I of course would have made myself available in order to make a fair case for myself.”

Tojiboeva also claimed that Ryan Hughes, SSMU’s General Manager, notified Khan of her suspension on October 17; Tojiboeva did not offer The Daily any explanation of why this allegedly occurred two days after the decision was made. Khan, however, told The Daily that this too is untrue.

“I still have not received an official notice,” said Khan on October 19. “As well, [notifying me] was [Tojiboeva’s] responsibility and when I called the General Manager […] he was surprised that Muna had not informed me. I emailed the board 24 hours after the decision for an official notice but still have yet to receive one.”

Tojiboeva has not responded to The Daily’s requests for proof that Khan was told in advance that her standing as a Director would be up for debate, and that she was notified of her suspension following the BoD meeting on Sunday night.

At the SSMU Legislative Council meeting which occurred on October 19, the McGill Tribune asked why the BoD had decided that a two-week suspension was the optimal choice for SSMU in response to Khan’s breach of confidentiality, rather than, for example, a censure.

In response, Isabella Anderson, a Senate Caucus Representative to Council who also sits on the Board of Directors, explained that she herself had brought up the possibility of a temporary suspension.

“I suggested the suspension only because the other options that were being thrown around by other Directors made me extremely uncomfortable,” said Anderson. “I did make it clear at the time though that I was also uncomfortable suggesting a suspension, which is why I personally abstained from the vote. I will be honest, I felt like a minority voice, and uncomfortable for most of the time, and I do feel quite bad that I did not speak up at any time about the discomfort I felt with the process of that conversation and how it was handled. But I did make it clear that that suggestion, for a vote on suspension, was the lesser of several evils […] that were being passed around. […] But I did ask for input from the executives when they came back into the room, and no one spoke, no one asked about why or anything, which I found unsettling too.”

“I did make it clear at the time though that I was also uncomfortable suggesting a suspension, which is why I personally abstained from the vote.”

With Earle, Koparkar, and Tojiboeva out of the room, Khan out of the country, and Director Ellen Chen absent from the meeting, the individuals who participated in the then-confidential discussion of Khan’s suspension were members-at-large Jonathan Glustein, Simon Shubbar, Noah Lew, Alexander Scheffel, Sophie Schaffer-Wood, Dany Morcos, and Anderson herself. All but Anderson voted in favour of the two-week suspension.

Following her account of the discussion, Glustein, who had attended Thursday’s Council meeting as a member of the gallery, addressed the room. He described other options which had been considered, including temporarily suspending Khan from confidential sessions of the Board, setting up “an email-monitoring system or person put on the VP Finance’s account” until a given date, or the release of a public statement to the SSMU membership.

Later on during the Council meeting, the Tribune asked whether an investigation is underway into allegations that confidential information from a BoD meeting was leaked to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). On September 17, the BoD ratified a reference from the SSMU Judicial Board which declared the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement unconstitutional; within an hour of the decision, the CIJA announced it in a statement, breaking the news before the SSMU executive team, the press, or the membership had been informed.

“Why was this leak not pursued with the same haste as the VP Finance’s leak?” asked a reporter from the Tribune.

“The approval of the Judicial Board decision was done in public session, so there was no leak whatsoever,” responded Tojiboeva, “however in this situation, the VP Finance basically leaked information that was only available to executives. […] So the difference between the two is that one of them was in public session and there was absolutely no need for confidentiality – this [CIJA statement] is just coverage that no one can control, however actually leaking information to outside sources that don’t usually have access to the information is why the Board was very concerned.”

Tojiboeva did not elaborate on her assertion that the passing of information to an external advocacy organization such as the CIJA did not constitute leaking to outside sources. She also declined to respond to a question sent in by The Daily over email earlier in the week, which asked why the sharing of an email exchange between executives, reportedly concerning BoD nomination timelines, constituted a serious threat to SSMU – particularly since the email exchange was shared with a long-time SSMU employee.

“If we are regarding all correspondences between executives as confidential,” Khan told The Daily, “that could be very dangerous and all of us at some point would have been in breach of confidentiality per the Board’s decision. I will note that the [non-disclosure agreement executives are required to sign] does not specifically describe the nature of what could be confidential so this should be stated as an opinion on the Board’s part and not a clear violation of the [non-disclosure agreement] or any of the governing documents.”

Editor’s note: This article was amended on October 21 to reflect the fact that the discussion of BDS from the September 17 meeting of the BoD did not take place in a confidential session. The Daily regrets the error.