As approximately 200 students took to the streets of Montreal on January 17 to demonstrate in opposition Law 21, students of the McGill Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) were also organizing against the Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) controversial secularism law. Coordinated by SSMU VP External Adam Gwiazda-Amsel and a number of departmental associations, the AUS held a General Assembly (GA) that same Friday night in attempts to strike in solidarity with the Faculties of Education, Law, and Medicine, as well as UQAM, on Monday, January 20. Though a Facebook event that was created on January 13, the GA was officially communicated by the Faculty via email just over 40 hours before it was scheduled to begin.
The GA was held in Leacock 132 and was slated to begin at 4:30 on Friday evening. However, the following 30 minutes were spent with students filing in and out of the lecture hall, as the AUS counted attendees to try to meet quorum. Official attendance count was recorded at 90 students – about one per cent of the Arts undergraduate student population. The meeting failed to meet quorum, which was set at 500, accounting for approximately six per cent of total enrolled Arts undergraduate students. Failing to meet quorum meant that the AUS was unable to pass either a binding or nonbinding motion to be passed online, and at 5:01 p.m., the GA was called to a close.
Speaking to the Daily after the meeting dissolved, Gwiazda-Amsel expressed his disappointment with the lack of mobilization beforehand, but also his satisfaction at the “impressive turnout” despite sudden notice and the fact that “only four [SSMU executives did] classroom announcements.” He cited “getting 90 people out to hear about the opportunities that are going on and encouraging them to start conversations” as a “great beginning,” also emphasizing that “this is not the end” of student mobilization against Law 21.
Looking ahead to the next week, Gwiazda-Amsel stressed the importance of supporting Education students and those affected by Law 21, despite a strike not being officially endorsed by AUS.
“I look forward to working with the executives who are interested in serving their student body on the issues that are important to them. I think it’s very easy to say that, well, if people aren’t mobilizing themselves or if they’re not coming to us during office hours and telling us what they want us to work on, then it’s not really our problem,” he explained. “It’s very easy to disengage in that way. It takes real courage to go consult students, make classroom announcements, ask what students want you to work on, and then mobilize yourself so you’re not shifting labour onto other people and to everyone who did that, I say ‘congratulations.’”
The Education Undergraduate Society (EdUS) had its own struggles ahead of the strike, as their initial GA on January 10 failed to meet quorum. However, the strike was later ratified online, with the vote taking place on January 14 and 15, exceeding quorum and obtaining 24.4 per cent of votes from the student body, with 94.6 per cent voting in favour. According to GwiazdaAmsel, it had the largest turnout of any EdUS vote, including this year’s elections.
A soft picket line was held by the EdUS outside the Education Building on McTavish Street on Monday, January 20, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Gwiazda-Amsel, who picketed in solidarity with Education students, tells the Daily that “people were generally receptive” during the action. “Some people were frustrated, and people always are. Generally I feel like people on campus support the action against Law 21 and want to further that conversation.”
Elaborating on the strike, the VP External stated, “[we’re] reclaiming the space from the Quebec government, and saying we’re not going to become teachers or file into the ranks when certain members of the faculty are systematically not able or allowed to do this.” Student action against Law 21 will continue to be organized outside of official strikes: student group McGill contre la loi 21 is holding its next meeting on Tuesday, January 28 at 12 p.m. at QPIRG-McGill offices and a follow up demonstration is being organized on March 21, coinciding with the International Day Against Racial Discrimination.