On Thursday, March 24, McGill’s Media Relations Office (MRO) circulated a statement by Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau titled “SSMU Referendum Outcome.” The statement was prompted by the passage of the Palestine Solidarity Policy, an initiative which mandates SSMU to boycott all companies “complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians,” to advocate for McGill to do the same, and to campaign for McGill to condemn Canary Mission and other surveillance campaigns against Palestinian and pro-Palestine students. While the Policy does not explicitly reference the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement, Labeau states that the policy “echo[es] key tenets” of the movement. Immediately afterwards, he references the “Initiative to Prevent Anti-Semitism [sic.] and Islamophobia,” suggesting that he conflates anti-Israel/pro-Palestine sentiment with antisemitism. Labeau goes on to make several ill-informed, unjustified claims about the Policy:
“I am saddened to witness the unfolding of an initiative that can only bring more division to our community.”
Not only is this claim completely speculative, but it directly contradicts the referendum results. The Palestine Solidarity Policy was one of the most popular motions put forward during the Winter 2022 Referendum, having garnered 2,294 “yes” votes – more than any other motion on the ballot. Additionally, the Policy has received support from a number of faculty and staff. When asked whether Labeau had any data or student testimonials to verify his claim, the university failed to provide the Daily with evidence that the initiative is divisive.
“[I]nitiatives such as this one […] are in contradiction with the University’s values of inclusion, diversity, and respect.”
Considering that this is the same university which has refused to remove colonial iconography from its campus, employs a professor who makes LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe, and whose principal rushed to defend “academic freedom” after a University of Ottawa professor used a racial slur, this point is laughable. Moreover, the purpose of the Policy is not to discriminate against any group based on their ethnicity or religion; on the contrary, it aims to make the university more inclusive of Palestinian students.
“Robust debate is key to what we do and who we are as a University […] A policy such as this cannot be the way in which we, as a community, address serious and important questions.”
Again, this policy was passed in a democratic forum by an overwhelming majority, with 71.1 per cent approval. Students have ample opportunity to engage in “robust debate” through SSMU – McGill is the one suppressing students’ ability to debate on these initiatives, not our student union.
Labeau concludes the statement by disclosing that the university is prepared to terminate its Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with SSMU, which includes terminating the collection of fees going toward the operating expenses of SSMU. While the termination of the MoA would not result in the dissolution of SSMU, it would make the Society’s financial affairs significantly more cumbersome and prohibit SSMU from using McGill’s name. Regardless of Labeau’s misguided criticisms of the Policy, his threat to terminate SSMU’s MoA is unacceptable – he is attempting to bully our student union into abandoning a democratically-adopted policy. This is a threat to the autonomy of the Society; as Arts Representative Yara Coussa observed in an email to the Daily, complying with this ultimatum would “set a dangerous precedent […] [SSMU] needs to be independent of the administration since many of the society’s political stances stand explicitly against the administration and the board of governors.”
This incident is just the latest in a long history of the university attempting to suppress pro-Palestine activism on campus. In the 2016 Winter General Assembly, a motion mandating SSMU to support the BDS movement was put forward – despite the fact that the motion was not ratified in the subsequent online vote, Principal Suzanne Fortier still felt compelled to announce that the university is “steadfastly oppose[d]” to the BDS movement. In Fall of 2019, Labeau threatened to default the Daily’s MoA when the editorial board at the time refused to publish a Letter to the Editor which defended settler-colonialism in Palestine. Last May, Provost Christopher Manfredi sent an MRO email dismissing a student petition calling on the university to divest from Israel.
McGill has no shame in suppressing student democracy; it is crucial that SSMU does not acquiesce to the university’s demands. In an email to the Daily, the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) wrote: “Deputy Provost Labeau’s MRO was not only a threat to SPHR and to the SSMU, it was a threat to every single McGill student’s right to democracy […] In response, we, the student body, will make it very clear that we will not sit idly by while the administration pathetically attempts to silence us for choosing to end their support to a genocidal settler-colonial regime.”
It is our responsibility to hold SSMU Executives and Councillors accountable for their actions following Labeau’s MRO – to do so, attend Legislative Council meetings, email your faculty representative, and support SPHR’s advocacy within SSMU. To advocate for student democracy at the university level, send an email to Labeau using SPHR’s email template, which can be found on their Facebook page. Jewish students on campus can sign this open letter in support of the policy, published by Jewish Members of the McGill Community in Support of the Palestine Solidarity Policy in The McGill Tribune.
As long as McGill invests in companies like the Oshkosh Corporation and RE/MAX, we are all complicit in Israeli apartheid – students must advocate for divestment from these corporations. The McGill Daily is committed to engaging in pro-Palestine activism on campus; we ask that our readers do the same.