SSMU Statement On Discussions Around “Motion Regarding Free Trip Offers to Student Leaders”

SSMU Statement On Discussions Around “Motion Regarding Free Trip Offers to Student Leaders”

This press release is being sent by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executive to restore nuance to a situation we fear has become sensationalized. It regards the offer of free trips to Israel/Palestine by Hillel Montreal to Councillors/Directors Adin Chan and Jordyn Wright, who sit on the SSMU Board of Directors as representatives of the SSMU Legislative Council.

First and foremost, we want to extend our deepest sympathies to Councillor/Director Wright. Though there has been much contention around the topic of the free trips being offered, the SSMU Executive team would like to reiterate that each member of the Society has the right and the responsibility to uphold a safe environment, and that this should be our absolute priority; personal attacks are unacceptable. In particular, no student at McGill should ever be made to feel unsafe because of who they are and the religion they follow. Ideas should be debated, but these debates should never feel as though an individual is being put on trial. The SSMU Executive commits to standing with Councillor/Director Wright against all antisemitic comments and forms of personal harassment.

It is also important to address the allegation that the SSMU President actively encouraged attacks against Councillor/Director Wright. We wish to make it clear that during last Thursday’s meeting, at no point did President Buraga advocate for any form of harm or harassment or any other action that could be construed as an attack. His amendments sought to make actionable the items of the motion within the SSMU’s broader governance structures, and it is with deep regret that his comments have been interpreted as anything but that. We are student leaders, but first and foremost we are people, and the accusation that President Buraga intentionally and maliciously villainized a fellow Councillor/Director is one that must not be levied lightly. For students interested in reading what was stated by the President on the motion in question, it is available here.

In the interest of providing clarity to the McGill community, we feel the need to fill in gaps in the information that is currently in the public eye. It is not our place to dictate the political ideology of individuals on campus, student leaders or not. We serve simply to provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. It is in the pursuit of this service that we feel the need to clarify our governance and organisational structure, something that often remains a mystery for most students, and the Conflict of Interest Policy of our Board of Directors, specifically as it applies to the situation at hand.

Another aspect requiring deep clarification is that of the intentions of the November 28th Legislative Council motion as it pertains to individuals’ religious beliefs. Last Thursday’s motion was in no way driven by antisemitic or anti-Israel sentiments or reasonings. It makes no mention of Councillor/Director Wright as a Jewish student, nor does it disapprove of a trip to Israel in particular. The motion, written before Councillor/Director Chan declined to attend Face to Face, expressed disapproval of both Councillors/Directors Wright and Chan – Jewish and non-Jewish – accepting gifts of more than a modest value in their official capacities. It makes the claim that accepting the offer of a free trip, which was gifted to them based on their status as a leader on campus, compromises their ability to be perceived as impartial when representing the entire student body on the Board of Directors. Specifically, the motion communicates to the Board of Directors that a free trip given in one’s capacity as a student leader should be considered a gift over $50, an argument which is relevant when applying a Policy that reads, “[Individuals can] under no circumstances any gifts from any person in excess of $50.00 in value”.

While we recognize that the Legislative Council, a political body, does not have the legitimacy to execute Human Resources of the SSMU, they have the duty to communicate when the Board of Directors’s procedures are not in line with what the faculties would want to see out of a policy that affects their representatives. In approving the motion, Legislative Council has ruled that students do not think a Councillor/Director can reasonably be expected to act impartially if they are in the business of accepting trips offered to them by interest groups, when these trips are over $50 in value. In subsequently overturning Council’s decision, the Board of Directors recognizes that the student body is upset with the narrow scope of the Conflict of Interest Policy, but denies that the Legislative Council is the proper forum to make decisions regarding Human Resources.

Finally, we wish to address the communication sent by Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau on the morning of December 2nd, 2019 as well as his comments at Legislative Council on November 28th, 2019. We are extremely disappointed in the Deputy Provost’s decision to intervene so heavily in the affairs of the Society. While we appreciate Deputy Provost Labeau’s show of support for the safety of Jewish and pro-Israel students on this campus, he has yet to issue such support for Palestinian and Arab students on campus. Issuing such selective support only serves to reinforce the willful ignorance of certain individuals’ lived experiences and fears. Moreover, the fact that Deputy Provost Labeau’s written communication states his intent to “hold SSMU accountable” is of particular concern. When you are a member of the administration, occupying a role on the upper end of a power dynamic, you have no legitimacy to talk of holding students accountable. As a student union we require a certain degree of autonomy to effectively carry out our roles, and we fear that the Deputy Provost’s statement severely encroaches on this ability.

As student representatives, we strive, in everything we do, to improve student life at McGill University. We hope to be constantly engaged in a process of learning, and of unlearning. This requires commitment, empathy, and the ability to engage critically with all things that come before us. Misinformation and oversimplification of incredibly complex issues come at a heavy price. Our governance structures are often difficult to navigate and we recognize that these misinterpretations are not out of malice. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that they are improved. As we learn from this experience, we hope you will join us in doing better, being better, and striving to create a student community founded on love, deep understanding, and solidarity.

Signed,

Adam Gwiazda-Amsel / Vice-President (External Affairs) | external@ssmu.ca\
Billy Kawasaki / Vice-President (Student Life) | studentlife@ssmu.ca
Madeline Wilson / Vice-President (University Affairs) | ua@ssmu.ca
Bryan Buraga / President | president@ssmu.ca
Sanchi Bhalla / Vice-President (Internal) | internal@ssmu.ca
Sam Haward / Vice-President (Finance) | finance@ssmu.ca

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