On September 13, the executives and representatives of Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) met for their first meeting this academic year. The meeting featured 2 guest speakers, Elections SSMU and the SSMU Gender Neutral Language researcher. A motion regarding the inclusion of both the Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter in the Standing Rules for the year was passed, and a policy regarding the VIP privileges of the VP Internal during events was debated.
In their presentation, representatives from Elections SSMU outlined their new elections timeline and goals for this year. They pointed out that during the 2018 Winter referendum, more people voted in just the questions portion than for SSMU executive positions. 1,500 people voted in the referendum, and 1,200 of those voted only on the question proposing a fall reading week. Longer nomination periods for elections are now in place, with hopes to open the internal regulations to also lengthen the extended nomination period. Elections SSMU also expressed desire to encourage more students to run for executive positions as most were uncontested. A motion to accept the proposed timeline was put forward later in the meeting and subsequently passed. Last February, SSMU passed a motion to de-gender their language; the Gender Language researcher position was set up and awarded a contract of 35 hours. At this meeting, the SSMU Gender Language Researcher presented some of their findings and recommendations, a few of which had already been implemented. First, the researcher spoke about their plans to address misgendering at council. They worked with Husayn Jamal, SSMU’s stand-in parliamentarian, to redraft Robert’s Rules, a manual used for parliamentary procedures, to accommodate instances of misgendering. “Councillors must address each other formally, usually in the form of councillor last name, and avoid referring to one another using third person pronouns to promote a cordial environment. Should the speaker notice the misgendering of another councillor, they should call this to the attention of the council in the form ‘before we continue with debate I would like to call attention to the pronouns specified on councillor last name’s placard.’ Should any councillor notice the misgendering of another councillor they should call this to the attention of the speaker on a point of personal privilege,” the researcher explained. While councillor placards already had gender pronouns on them, there were concerns of legibility. In order to address this concern, the Researcher implemented a colour-coded system for placards: green for councillors identifying as she/her, burgundy for those identifying as he/him, and black for those who go by them/them pronouns. While the researcher pointed out that these are not an exhaustive list of pronouns, they are the most common, and more pronouns and colours may be added as needed. This practice is now standard, unless a councillor requests otherwise, and a councillor may change their pronouns at anytime.
Council also passed the motion regarding the nomination of VP University Affairs, Jacob Shapiro to the SSMU Board of Directors. Shapiro was nominated to serve as the 4th member of the Board of Directors effective immediately as he is also the only executive eligible to be nominated to the Board. One of the more contested issues brought to the meeting was a concern raised by Law Faculty representative councillor Marie Pilote over point three of section 2.7, which outlines what “may be ruled as out of order by the Speaker at their discretion, subject to a successful Point of Order by Councillors.” Section 2.7.3 originally stated that any statements made which contravenes the the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Quebec Charter of Human rights and freedoms will not be tolerated. Pilote objected to the inclusion of reference to both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. “As a law student I find it odd that there is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms there because normally it’s for government and things, not for ruling relations between individuals […] It’s not that it is a bad document its just that the purpose of what I think is going on is more about respect between councillors, so it’s not the perfect tool to do this,” Pilote stated during debate. “The Quebec charter is more appropriate you could say because it can apply to relationships between individuals,” Pilote continued. “The Canadian charter […] is not the best fit.” Pilote continued fighting for the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms to be taken out of the standing rules, and only the Quebec Charter to be mentioned. There were protests from council members including Shapiro who said, “I definitely see councillor Pilote’s point, [but] I don’t [think] anyone’s trying to use this in a legal context. Both of these are documents that were […] supposed to set values. I think having them in our organizational structure is important for our values.” Arts Representative, councillor Rebecca Scarra expressed her thought on the matter: “As individuals who live in Canada and as a corporation that operates within Canada we should be held to the standard of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Arts and Science Representative Bryan Buraga was also in disagreeance with Councilor Pilote. “I understand what councillor Pilote’s arguments are […] but where I have problems with [removing reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] is the appearance of it—the symbolism [of] taking such a fundamental document, a document that’s supposed to encapsulate what it means to be Canadian out [of the section] I understand that it shouldn’t really apply to the situation, only the Quebec Charter should, but […] if there is no harm done by just keeping it in there, personally I’ll vote against it.” Councillor Sanchez put forward an amendment to the section which later passed. Section 2.7.3 now reads “statements that contravene the Charte des droits et libertés de la personne (Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms), and/or the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [may be ruled as out of order by the Speaker at their discretion].”
VIP Culture at SSMU Events
VP Internal Affairs, Matthew McLaughlin, proposed a policy to deal with the history of power abuses by the VP Internal regarding alcohol consumption. McLaughlin pointed to the commonality of having bottle service for both the VP Internal and the Student Society Programming Network (SSPN), a move which often resulted in members from both organizations being severely intoxicated and unable to perform their duties. The policy stated that no SSMU funds should be used for alcoholic purchases for the executive, and that the executive shall not become intoxicated at events, in order to maintain an optimal mental and physical state. The sentiment of the policy was applauded, but it’s wording was criticized as vague and there were concerns over an absence of any punitive measures if the VP Internal or SSPN members were to become intoxicated at their events. An amendment put forward by councillor Sanchez to change the title to Policy on VP Internal Intoxication and VIP Culture at SSMU event passed, but the motion itself was set aside in order to discuss further motions. Arts Councillor Andrew Figueiredo, Senator Buraga, and VP McLaughlin left to attempted to implement the recommended changes. After councillors were assigned to their committees for the year, the policy was again put forward. However the solution reached by the caucusing parties, that “any accusation that the VP Internal became intoxicated to the point of that they were incapable of performing their duties […] be brought to the legislative council for a discussion and vote on possible disciplinary measures,” was still deemed insufficient. Councillor Sanchez motioned for the policy to be debated at the next council on September 27; the motion carried.
The meeting closed with reports from SSMU executives detailing their accomplishments over the summer. All reports have since been made publicly available on SSMU’s website.