News  SSMU Legislative Council Debates Israel Trips

On November 14, the SSMU Legislative Council convened for their second-to-last session of the fall semester. On the agenda were a number of motions, but also a number of recent controversies and concerns that had arisen over the prior two weeks. In addition, there were presentations by Lester Asset Management, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (who came to announce their unionization drive), FL Fuller Landau LLP, and the McGill Scarlet Key Society.

Motions

Regarding motions, the Motion Regarding Amendments to the Committee Terms of Referencepassed unanimously, and the Motion concernant la Loi resserrant l’encadrement du cannabis passed, with two No votes (Councillors Andrew Chase and Evelyn Silverson-Tokawtlidis) and two abstentions (Councillors Kevin Franceschini and Beatrice Courchesne-Mackie). The latter motion, presented by Councillor André Lametti, mandates SSMU to oppose the recent changes passed by the provincial government on November 1 – raising the minimum legal age of cannabis consumption to 21 years and prohibiting the use of cannabis in any public space (outdoors or indoors).

The Motion Regarding Suspension of the Management Representatives, which arose due to the representatives’ failure to attend mandatory sexual and gendered violence training, also passed unanimously. Finally, there were two notices of motions, namely the Notice of Motion Regarding Adoption of the Climate Justice Policy, and the Notice of Motion Regarding Changes to the Internal Regulations of the Society’s Finances.

Question Period

Of particular note was the discussion that took place during question period, which covered a few controversial topics that had been brought to Council’s attention. During this time, Councillor Lametti asked what the SSMU listserv review process was, in light of the recent incident regarding the November 11 listserv, in which VP Internal Sanchi Bhalla was criticized for not having acknowledged Remembrance Day. In addition, Councillor Lametti asked why the VP Internal was not a signatory on the recent SSMU statement on Indigenous allyship, to which it was announced that Bhalla would be putting out a separate statement on the matter.

Councillor Jo Roy also asked about the status of the SSMU mini-courses, to which VP Student Life Billy Kawasaki stated that they were still being organized.

Councillor Bruno Marcoux brought up concerns over the use of profanity in a Facebook post from VP University Affairs Madeline Wilson condemning anti-Indigenous racism amongst the student body. In response to these concerns, Wilson responded that “I tend to use it […] specifically with regards to issues or topics I feel quite strongly about and that I feel deserve strong language, such as explicit racism directed at individuals, which is the reason I chose to use profanity in those communications.” Councillor Roy also pointed out that the debate over language amounted to tone policing, in addition to throwing support behind the VP University Affairs on the issue.Concerns about Free Trips Offered by Hillel

Finally, councillors discussed the recent offers of free trips to Israel from Hillel Montreal, given to a number of campus leaders – news of which was published in the Daily earlier that week. A number of SSMU staff – including Andrew Chase (Arts Representative), Adin Chan (Arts Representative and SSMU Director), Paige Collins (SSMU Director), Jonah Levitt (SSMU Director), and Jordyn Wright (Science Representative and SSMU Director) – all planned to attend the free trip at the time of Legislative Council. (As noted in The Bull and Bear, Councillor Chan has since declined the offer.) During the discussion there were concerns over both whether this represented a potential conflict of interest, as well as whether it would be possible to go on this trip as an individual completely independent of one’s office.

The feature, co-authored by McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and McGill Students’ Chapter of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), noted the expansion of Maccabee Task Force – an overt anti-BDS organization (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement) – to Canada in 2018. “Given that the first trip of this kind was allegedly offered by Hillel Montreal in the same year (2018), it is reasonable to suspect that MTF is providing much, if not all, of the funding for Hillel Montreal’s initiative,” SPHR and IJV wrote in the Daily. In response to these concerns, Councillors Chan and Chase read statements to why they felt this would not violate conflict of interest, as did Councillor Wright.

Following their statements, Wilson addressed Council, saying, “do not think it is possible to separate your position as arts representative, or whatever your position may be, from your personal interest in this trip. Whether you are compliant with the conflict of interest policy of not, I do not think is relevant in this case.” These sentiments were further echoed by VP External Adam Gwiazda-Amsel, Councillor Noah Meralli, and Councillor Jo Roy in separate statements.

Additionally, Councillor Lametti brought up concerns that “we have two different stories, one saying that members of council received these offers on a personal basis, and one saying they received it on the basis of the position they hold.”

“To me,” Lametti continued, “if it is the case that if they did indeed [receive] it based on the position they hold, this may or may not constitute a conflict of interest. I don’t think councillors should be receiving monetary gifts of a significant value based on their position.”

This article was originally published in print on November 24, 2019 as part of the Labour, Body and Care joint issue.