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Legislative Council debates endorsement of DPS

SSMU fails to endorse free press for first time in 30 years

On the evening of November 2, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened in the Lev Bukhman room of the Shatner Building.

Council began with a presentation by SSMU VP External Connor Spencer. Spencer gave an overview of Our Turn, a nationwide movement against sexual violence on university campuses. Our Turn’s National Action Plan provides a framework for prevention, support, and advocacy.

Spencer stressed the report’s strengths, saying it details “what you should look for within your own policy, and what you should make sure it doesn’t have…. It gives [student unions] something very concrete to start working with their admin on, rather than just going in blind.”

After announcements and a brief question period, two previously submitted motions, the Motion to Create an Ad Hoc Committee on Provincial Representation and the Motion Calling for an Immediate Contestation of Bill 62, both passed. The first mandates the creation of an ad hoc committee to report regularly to Legislative Council on the activities of two province-wide student unions, the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) and the Student Union of Quebec (UEQ). The second motion commits SSMU to take a stand and actively campaign against Bill 62, a recent piece of Quebec legislation widely decried as Islamophobic. After a brief discussion and several amendments, the motion passed unanimously.

Several motions were submitted from the floor for voting and discussion. The most contentious motion of the night called for SSMU to endorse the Daily Publications Society (DPS) in its upcoming existence referendum. The DPS is the umbrella organization that publishes The McGill Daily and Le Délit. After a lengthy debate the motion failed with ten representatives in favour, twelve opposed, and two abstentions.

Motion concerning Daily Publications Society

Vocal opposition to the motion centered around two main sources of debate. A member of the audience asked if it was a conflict of interest to seek “an endorsement from the organization which campus media is supposed to be critiquing and actively working to hold accountable.” Councillors reiterated this point throughout the debate. Spencer responded, saying, “I think it’s really important that we as an institution support those that are holding us accountable. I would be very wary about not endorsing someone who has been heavily critical of SSMU.”

Indeed, it is not considered a conflict of interest when government institutions support the continued existence of the free press. In fact, supporting journalism has long been a hallmark of democracy in Canada, Quebec, and even within SSMU itself. SSMU has voiced their support for the DPS during their referendums for the past 30 years, consistently endorsing the continued existence of The Daily and Le Délit.

The Daily’s political stances were the second main discussion point, as councillors reiterated their opposition to institutional support of The Daily’s editorial line, best described by The Daily’s anti-oppressive Statement of Principles.

President Muna Tojiboeva, who has described The Daily as operating under “the sole purpose of discrediting [her] character,” voiced her concerns: “Seeing that this is a student referendum, we should let the students make their own individual decisions. […] We shouldn’t endorse a paper that marginalizes certain voices on campus.”

Tojiboeva did not clarify which voices The Daily allegedly marginalizes. In fact, The Daily is the only paper on campus that has an explicit mandate to give a platform to communities that have been marginalized “on the basis of gender, age, social class, race, sexuality, religion, ability, and cultural identity.”

Councillors argued that constituents should not have to fund campus newspapers if they do not agree with the views those publications express; one councillor argued that he didn’t want to support the motion because he disagrees with the paper’s editorial line, in particular, The Daily’s support for pro-Palestinian movements on campus. 

In response, DPS representative and former Daily editor Xavier Richer Vis countered that SSMU has endorsed the DPS for the past 30 years, not on the premise of agreeing with everything they publish, but in support of the free press. As Matthew Savage, the Social Work Representative, put it, “We live in a society right now that continuously takes away the rights of our press, and I for one am for anything that this student union is going to do to make sure that we have as many different views as possible.”

During the debate, Arts and Science Representative R’ay Fodor repeatedly criticized The Daily for an alleged lack of journalistic integrity. He argued that since The Daily’s journalists voted in the past SSMU General Assembly (GA), which they were there to report on, the paper lacked integrity.

In fact, reporters from Le Délit and the McGill Tribune also voted in the GA. Fodor noted that Bull & Bear staff did not vote, stating, “there is a standard being held somewhere.” Fodor went on to applaud the Bull & Bear for their funding mechanism; Bull & Bear editor Molly Harris detailed the paper’s reliance on corporate funding to operate. Fodor also asked if it were “possible to fund Le Délit on its own.” This called into question whether the issue of voting in the GA was his true concern. In response to the tone of these questions, councillor Savage reminded the room that “it’s important for us to remain respectful when addressing each other.”

While most of the discussion centred around The Daily, some councillors did mention Le Délit. One councillor said, “especially when Le Délit is the only francophone newspaper on this campus, we really need to understand that if the DPS does not exist, there’s already a minority voice that’s not going to be heard.”

Other business

Council discussed a motion to put forward a special referendum on student-submitted changes to SSMU’s constitution. These proposed changes would then be sent to the BoD for approval, after which they would be sent to the Judicial Board for review. Before the discussion, Tojiboeva and Spencer read aloud an email correspondence between legal counsel and a mover of the motions respectively. Spencer clarified that although the motion came from different movers, the proposed changes were submitted in the same document. If separate, every possible combination would need to be submitted to the Judicial Board for review. President Tojiboeva added that per Article 91 of the Quebec Companies Act, constitutional amendments had to be approved by the BoD before proceeding to the membership.

The meeting wrapped up with reports from the Executive and Steering Committees, as well as reports from several councillors and the SSMU Executive.

[Ed. note: This article was amended on November 10 to clarify that Article 91 pertained to the Companies Act in Quebec law.]