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AUS & POLI 339: Secretary General Suspends Exec Vote

On January 30, during AUS’ biweekly Legislative Council, members discussed POLI 339. POLI 339 is a proposed summer course for McGill students that would take place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As mandated by provincial law, any course with additional fees must be approved by a student body. The $1000 fee for POLI 339, to be paid by each student in the course, was subject to lengthy debate. Those in favour argued that it was an “academic opportunity,” while those opposed argued that this “academic opportunity” discriminated against Palestinian students, Arab students, and students who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as they could be denied entry at the border and detained by Israeli officials. Ultimately, in a confidential vote, 14 AUS representatives voted against the course, 13 voted in favour, and nine abstained.

On February 12, AUS issued a statement via email claiming that “necessary information” was not provided or present at the council meeting of January 30. Due to the “time-sensitive” deadline for the course approval, “the decision was brought to the Executive Committee [Exec]” rather than back to council. The Exec voted in favour of the course by a slim majority. According to anonymous sources, four members of the Exec voted to overturn Legislative Council’s vote, two against, and four abstained. Arts Representatives also participated in this vote on the basis that they are paid as though they are Executives, a depart from standard procedure. Senators are also paid as though they are Executives, but they did not have a vote.

From comments made at the February 14 AUS Legislative Council, it seemed that the Arts Representatives all voted to overturn the original decision.  Sources suggest that former VP Internal Billy Kawasaki also voted in favour of overturning the Legislative Council vote. He has since resigned. At Legislative Council on February 14, AUS President Maria Thomas suggested that he resigned after feeling pressured to vote a certain way.

The internal proceedings of the Executive vote are unclear, as they happened last minute via Facebook and Slack. Executives gave contradictory reports of their conversations when questioned during the February 14 Council meeting . While there was debate over the constitutionality of publishing Slack and Facebook communications as though they were minutes, the discussion was inconclusive.

It was implied that Arts Representative Andrew Figueiredo, the initial motioner of POLI 339, put pressure on the Exec to overturn Legislative Council’s vote. Figueiredo admitted to having sent a member of the Exec messages asking, “is there anything I can do to get you to vote yes?” He was asked if he intended to resign by Bee Khaleeli, a member of the gallery. He said he was not.

The Secretary General, a neutral third-party observer charged with maintaining the accountability of AUS, has launched an investigation into how the Exec handled the situation. As a result, the Exec’s vote has been suspended. At Legislative Council, AUS President Maria Thomas said that the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning (DPSLL)) had said that they would cease action if SSMU agreed. SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer stated that SSMU would take measures to stop action based on the Exec’s vote in favour of POLI 339 as long as the DPSLL agreed. Neither SSMU nor the DPSLL has yet confirmed that they are halting action taken by the AUS Exec.

On Saturday, AUS posted a statement from the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General on their Facebook page. The statement said that the Secretary General had been receiving information requests regarding the Exec’s vote and related Facebook chats. They went on to say that Facebook messages are not confidential according to AUS’ constitution. At Legislative Council, some said that the vote was confidential, while others said they were not aware of any such decision. According to the statement, the Secretary General concluded that the Exec did not conduct such a vote, and thus the meeting notes “are deemed public.”

According to various sources, there is mounting pressure on AUS to release screenshots of Facebook messages and Slack conversations related to the vote. The Secretary General’s statement suggests that there is no constitutional basis to not do so.