The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Board of Directors’ (BoD’s) decision to approve a referendum question to raise the General Assembly (GA) quorum to 350 members violated the SSMU Constitution, according to a Judicial Board petition filed on November 6.
The SSMU Constitution and Internal Regulations provide for two ways to initiate a referendum: through a motion of the Legislative Council or through a student-initiated petition, the deadline for which was on October 25. According to the Judicial Board petition, the BoD approved the referendum question on October 29, four days after the deadline, without consulting the Legislative Council and without a student-initiated question having been submitted to Elections SSMU.
“This decision is a wholly unprecedented intrusion of the Board of Directors on the jurisdiction of the Legislative Council,” the petitioners, Meara Kirwin and Gregoire Beaune, wrote in a statement sent to The Daily. “No extraordinary circumstances justified this decision: nothing prevented this question from being brought to the November 2 meeting of the Legislative Council, during which elected student representatives could have debated it, and, if they found the matter to be truly urgent, waived the submission deadline to put the question on the ballot.”
When questioned about the BoD’s power to send questions to referendum at the November 6 meeting of the BoD, SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, who is named as a respondent in the petition, appeared to confirm that the BoD knowingly violated SSMU’s governance documents.
“We consulted a lawyer, since before that we’ve never had the members submit so many constitutional amendments […] and what they said is basically our IRs [Internal Regulations] are not necessarily representative of what our real legal obligations are,” said Tojiboeva. “What our legal counsel said is that [a constitutional amendment] cannot come unilaterally from the membership.”
The student-initiated constitutional amendments to which Tojiboeva referred were rejected by the BoD on October 29. They are unrelated to the quorum increase referendum question, which, in contrast, was not submitted as a proper student-initiated question.
The petitioners’ statement goes on to say, “This decision is part of a disturbing pattern in which the Board of Directors has used questionable legal loopholes to make decisions that contravene the spirit and the letter of SSMU’s governance documents, thereby violating the checks and balances inherent in SSMU’s democratic institutions. […] We denounce the Board of Directors’ disregard for students attempting to use the proper decision-making pathways. We call on the Board of Directors to respect the SSMU governance documents and refrain from exceeding its legal, financial, and operational oversight role.”
According to the petitioners, the BoD’s rushed approval of the question prevented necessary Council debate on the proposal’s potential negative impact and on possible ways to improve it.
“Considering the amount of students present in the GAs throughout my time at McGill, it is clear that this will ensure that quorum will never be met,” Beaune told The Daily. “This impression is reinforced by the fact the current president has been incapable of doing the bare minimum to facilitate timely motion submission, and to advertise the GA itself.”
“Deciding to increase quorum without taking clear steps to increase student participation […] is indicative of the lack of thought given to the reform at hand,” added Beaune.
Kirwin emphasized the potential deleterious effects of an increasingly unchecked BoD on student democracy.
“We are concerned about the power currently held by the Board of Directors – an unelected body whose power has been increased through constitutional amendments in the past few years,” Kirwin wrote to The Daily in an email. “We must insist that constitutional modes of decision-making are upheld, and that power is not taken from the General Assembly and consolidated at the top of the ladder.”