On November 2, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for the fifth time this semester. This week’s agenda contained motions regarding a contestation of Quebec Provincial Bill 62, an endorsement of the Daily Publications Society (DPS) referendum, and proposed amendments to the SSMU Constitution.
On October 18, the National Assembly of Quebec passed Bill 62, which prohibits individuals “from wearing face coverings when giving or receiving a public service.” Although the bill does not specifically mention members of the Muslim faith, many of its detractors have cited the bill as being Islamophobic, stating that it would disproportionately marginalize Muslim women who cover their faces.
The Legislative Council debated on whether or not to adopt a motion concerning Bill 62, which states that the bill is in opposition to the SSMU’s values. Arts Representative Jennifer Chan, mandated by Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) legislation on Bill 62, proposed an additional ‘be it resolved clause’ that specifically asks the SSMU to call upon the federal government “to invoke their constitutional power, to infer the constitutionality of Bill 62 to the Supreme Court of Canada for an advisory opinion.” The amendment caused some weariness from other members of Council.
Social Work Representative Matthew Savage commented on the proposed clause, stating that “an English school going straight to the federal government to deal with provincial problems is not going to do anything to win us any favour with those who may be on the fence on the issue.” A compromise was reached, with members of Council agreeing to reach out to other student unions for consultation and collaboration before moving forward on the proposed amendment.
The Daily Publications Society
The non opt-outable fee that finances the Daily Publications Society, which publishes both The McGill Daily and Le Délit, is up for renewal this referendum period. Xavier Richer Vis, a member of the DPS’ Board of Directors and chair of the “yes” committee, came to Council seeking its endorsement. The DPS undergoes a referendum vote every five years for its continued funding.
Members of the Legislative Council took issue with the DPS receiving funding through non opt-outable fees. SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva raised a point about the Daily’s inclusion of all voices, stating that “[Council] shouldn’t endorse a paper that marginalizes certain voices on campus.” This comment was in reference to The McGill Daily’s editorial stance on not publishing Zionist voices as well as accusations in a 2016 Equity Complaint against the Daily for claims of anti-Semitism. In defense of the Daily and its ability to represent a diverse range of views, Science Councilor Yazan Abu Yousef stated that “the editorial lines, whether it be anti-Semitism, or whatever it is […] are dynamic […] what isn’t dynamic is if this referendum goes through and fails.”
The journalistic integrity of the DPS’ member publications were also called into question. Arts and Science Representative R’ay Fodor asked, “What mechanisms [are] in place to ensure that publications that are run through the DPS are being held to standards of journalistic integrity and objectivity?” Representative Fodor made reference to the recent General Assembly: “There was something very concerning at the GA. There were publications who had people who were representatives of the media, and voting, which to me represents a conflict of interest.”
Fodor posed his question about standards to maintain journalistic integrity several times before Vis responded to his satisfaction, stating that “No, the DPS does not have what you’re asking, the reality is that most newspapers in the country don’t.”
Various councillors cited the diversity of viewpoints that the DPS’ member publications give voice to on campus, and many concurred that the existence of a French campus newspaper was vital. Ultimately, however, the motion for the SSMU’s endorsement failed. Twelve councillors were opposed, ten voted in favour, and two abstained.
A motion for a special referendum period resulted in another heated moment at Thursday’s Council.
VP External Connor Spencer introduced the motion, which reasons that the referendum is necessary to retroactively address the inability of certain students to submit their proposed constitutional amendments on time for the Fall General Assembly.
President Muna Tojiboeva stated that Elections SSMU had received an unprecedented number of constitutional amendments in the past several days. She commented further that the amendments proposed were around one hundred pages long, which she felt made them inaccessible for the student body to vote on. She also raised the omnibus nature of the amendments and the number of inherent contradictions in them as problematic from a constitutional standpoint. Tojiboeva reminded Council that all amendments have to undergo a professional legal review. Given the length of the documents, she maintained, this could cost the SSMU upwards of $10,000 in legal fees.
In addition to the the alleged inaccessibility of the amendments proposed, controversy arose due to the alteration of the language of certain amendments without the consent of the constituents who wrote them.
Arts Senator Isabella Anderson raised the concern on behalf of AUS President Erik Partridge, who wrote one of the amendments in question. Anderson asked: “Why was the language tweaked without his consultation and knowledge?” In response, VP Spencer stated that the wording was changed in order to avoid contradictions, and that the document needed to be approved by the BoD before going back to the movers to see if they accepted the word changes.
However, Anderson stated that there was an obvious discrepancy between the amendments Spencer had presented to Council and the ones that students had helped write. She pressed Spencer to explain why signatures had been collected on the iteration that Council was reviewing, and why Spencer had said that the amendments were a collaborative effort. To this end, Engineering Councillor Vivian Campbell stated, “you can’t just change [the amendments].”
The motion was tabled until the next Legislative Council meeting in order to provide more time for deliberation and consultation with constituents and the faculties.
The next Legislative Council meeting is set for November 16 at 6:00 p.m.
A previous version of this article spelled two names incorrectly. The Bull & Bear apologizes for this error and has updated the article with the proper spelling.