Winter 2021 General Assembly reaches quorum for Divestment debate, but not for ratification

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

On February 16, the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) held the Winter 2021 General Assembly over Zoom. With 370 attendees, the GA reached quorum for the first time since Fall 2017, though it was not maintained after the debate on the Divest for Human Rights policy.

The GA began with the land acknowledgement, approval of the agenda, and approval of the Fall 2020 GA minutes. Afterwards, an auditor was nominated for the 2021 fiscal year, and the motion to adopt the Divest for Human Rights Policy was approved. The Board of Directors report followed, along with portfolio reports from each SSMU executive.

The Quorum Question

In response to the fluctuating attendance over Zoom, VP University Affairs Brooklyn Fizzle asked how the numbers would affect quorum and the ratification of policies. Hill made clear that even if the quorum of 350 voters had been hit, if it is lost during the time of voting, the General Assembly would thereafter be deemed a consultative forum, and the decisions made would be non-binding. This caveat would prove pivotal in the Divest debate.

Motion Regarding the Nomination of the Auditor for the Fiscal Year 2021

VP Finance Gifford Marpole moved the Motion Regarding the Nomination of the Auditor for the Fiscal Year of 2021, which was approved unanimously.

After online ratification, FL Fuller Landau LLP will remain the SSMU’s auditor.

Motion Regarding the Adoption of the Divest for Human Rights Policy

VP External Ayo Ogunremi and McGill Students for Peace and Disarmament representative Maya Garfinkel moved the Motion Regarding the Adoption of the Divest for Human Rights Policy, which was then approved, though not ratified.

The proposed 5-year policy calls for McGill to divest from “companies which enable and profit from multiple forms of systemic violence, including settler-colonial land theft, environmental destruction, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” Chief among these companies are TC Energy Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Re/Max, and Oshkosh.

The debate over this motion claimed the bulk of the GA’s nearly five-hour proceedings. Constituents raised many concerns, most of which focused on the broader Israel-Palestine conflict and issues of antisemitism, with much reference to SSMU’s 2017 decision that deemed a mandate supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement unconstitutional. Those against the motion argued that the policy featured companies linked with Israel disproportionately, despite its broad scope of global human rights activism, and that this could brew anti-Israel sentiments.

Councillor Jake Reed also expressed concern at the lack of “concrete and detailed measures of advocacy” in the motion’s mandate. “Despite the efforts of hundreds of advocates on our campus, our most visible form of advocacy as a society seems to be spicy Facebook posts that get a lot of heat,” Reed said.

The debate itself came to a sudden freeze despite hundreds of attendees. When it was time to call the question—decide whether to extend the debate period or go straight to voting on the policy—people left in droves, attendance dropping from 370 to 280. No longer meeting quorum, the fate of the contentious motion will be deferred to the Legislative Council meeting on February 25. The drop was so dramatic that one constituent, Tara Alami, urged the quorum rules be changed for online assemblies: “Leaving a general assembly to prevent quorum from being reached on Zoom is different from getting up and walking out in real life.”

Board of Directors Report

SSMU President Jemark Earle presented the BoD Report. Current projects in progress include reducing GA meetings from 2 to 1 per year, starting student-run operations at the UC (University Center), as well as opening 3501 Peel and Gerts’ Bar despite COVID-19 delays. As for completed campaign promises, Earle noted the recent implementation of a Fall Reading Week, the establishment of a SSMU 5-Year plan, as well as UC renovations and a “soft launch” when it is safe to do so.

VP External Report

VP External Ayo Ogunremi presented a few key developments, including several new roles in the External Affairs staff such as Black Affairs Commissioner and Political Researcher, a newly-established EA guide to political research, and the development of a policy library in conjunction with the UCRU. 

Finance Report

VP Finance Gifford Marpole gave updates on the 2022 Budget (completed Feb 19), ongoing automated monthly reports for department heads, and the development of a SSMU Finance website. The Finance Committee has released the Investigation into SSMU’s Student Fee Policies, and Marpole is working to fulfill some of the report’s recommendations. The health plan for 2020/2021 now includes free access to Dialogue, a telemedicine service for remote support with general health concerns.

Student Life Report

VP Student Life Maheen Akter announced that the club portal entered its demo phase after several years of development, with a tentative Fall 2021 rollout. She also noted that the Muslim Students’ Association service was approved as a service at the last Council meeting.

University Affairs Report

VP University Affairs Brooklyn Fizzle’s “new-A” portfolio was divided into three sections: university affairs and research, equity and advocacy, and academic resources.

For university affairs and research, Fizzle noted several achievements, including the extended winter break, the S/U motions for this semester, as well as the Preferred Pronoun Use research project. Their future goals include revising the University Student Assessment Policy, overhauling internal regulations in the Senate Caucus, and establishing a Research Ethics Committee.

For equity and advocacy, Fizzle has focused on “Insti-SSMU-tional advocacy” and social justice by establishing the Gender & Sexuality Advocacy Committee and the Accessibility Committee. Current goals include “expanding and empowering the Indigenous Affairs portfolio” as well as “challenging and redefining Academic Freedom.” Work on a harm reduction policy is also underway.

For academic resources, library improvement is the main goal. Fizzle put out a call for student proposals, whether they concern study spaces, accessibility issues, or library relations. Courtesy of the Library Improvement Fund Committee, the Schulich Library will have new lighting and furniture when it opens in Fall 2021. A fund surplus due to COVID-19-related cancellations also means more funds ready for student proposals.

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