SSMU Coun­cil sees ex­ten­sive de­bate

In­ter­nal reg­u­la­tions mo­tion tabled un­til next Coun­cil ses­sion

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Marina Cupido

On Thurs­day Feb­ru­ary 9, the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil of the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) con­vened for an ex­cep­tion­ally long and con­fronta­tional meet­ing, with Coun­cil last­ing over six hours and end­ing at one a.m..

Dur­ing the first two hours of Coun­cil, peo­ple speak­ing dur­ing Ques­tion Pe­riod pri­mar­ily voiced con­cerns over a tweet by Arts Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and for­mer Daily ed­i­tor Igor Sadikov, which has drawn in­tense crit­i­cism for its al­leged in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence.

Fur­ther­more, a mo­tion to amend SSMU’S in­ter­nal reg­u­la­tions was de­bated ex­ten­sively and then post­poned un­til the next Coun­cil meet­ing, on Feb­ru­ary 23. Coun­cil also dis­cussed six no­tices of mo­tion and three other mo­tions.

Coun­cil­lor Sadikov’s tweet

The day be­fore the Coun­cil meet­ing, on Wed­nes­day Feb­ru­ary 8, a re­cent tweet read­ing “punch a Zion­ist to­day” had sur­faced online.

The tweet, which was posted to Sadikov’s per­sonal ac­count af­ter work­ing hours on Feb­ru­ary 6, was a ref­er­ence to the re­cent “punch a Nazi” memes which cir­cu­lated online fol­low­ing the vi­ral video of white su­prem­a­cist Richard Spencer be­ing punched in the face at the in­au­gu­ra­tion of United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The tweet in ques­tion has since been deleted, but not be­fore screen­shots of it had been widely shared within the Mcgill com­mu­nity and be­yond.

Over the course of the fol­low­ing day, Thurs­day Feb­ru­ary 9, an in­tense storm of crit­i­cism de­vel­oped around Sadikov and his tweet, with many at Mcgill and in the wider world por­tray­ing it as an in­cite­ment to an­ti­Semitic vi­o­lence.

This in­ter­pre­ta­tion rests on the con­fla­tion of Zion­ism with Jewish­ness which, while widely be­lieved, is in fact a mis­con­cep­tion; many Jewish peo­ple do not iden­tify with the set­tler-colo­nial ide­ol­ogy of Zion­ism or the goals and ac­tions of the state of Is­rael.

More­over, it should be noted that Sadikov him­self is Jewish, a fact which has been ig­nored by many me­dia out­lets and in the dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing this con­tro­versy.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, the Arts Un­der­grad­u­ate So­ci­ety (AUS), of which Sadikov is a coun­cil mem­ber as one of the Arts Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to SSMU, pub­lished a state­ment on their Face­book page con­demn­ing the tweet and ask­ing for his res­ig­na­tion.

Mean­while, Christo­pher Man­fredi, Mcgill’s Provost and Vice-prin­ci­pal Aca­demic, is­sued a pub­lic state­ment call­ing the tweet “dis­turb­ing,” stat­ing that dis­ci­plinary ac­tion was un­der­way on the grounds that the tweet vi­o­lated Mcgill pol­icy, de­spite be­ing sent from a per­sonal ac­count af­ter work­ing hours.

Sadikov has been harshly crit­i­cized within cer­tain seg­ments of the Mcgill com­mu­nity, and in a va­ri­ety of lo­cal, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional me­dia out­lets. Nonethe­less, a move­ment in sup­port of him has also de­vel­oped.

A num­ber of stu­dent groups and in­di­vid­u­als in the univer­sity com­mu­nity ex­pressed pub­lic sup­port for Sadikov, us­ing the hash­tag #Bi­asedMcgill to call at­ten­tion to what they per­ceived as a dis­pro­por­tion­ate and un­just re­sponse to his tweet.

Ques­tion pe­riod

It was in this in­cen­di­ary con­text that SSMU Coun­cil met on Thurs­day evening. While such meetings are gen­er­ally only at­tended by the coun­cil­lors them­selves and a few mem­bers of the stu­dent press, this one had at­tracted a crowd of roughly 50 stu­dents.

Some came with the in­ten­tion of con­fronting Sadikov for per­ceived in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence, while oth­ers wished to stand in sol­i­dar­ity with him and call at­ten­tion to what they saw as po­lit­i­cal bias un­der­ly­ing the at­tacks against him.

Af­ter a num­ber of lengthy pre­sen­ta­tions which were pre­vi­ously sched­uled for that Coun­cil meet­ing, a ques­tion pe­riod be­gan dur­ing which mem­bers of the gallery could air their con­cerns, and have them ad­dressed by mem­bers of Coun­cil.

Arts stu­dent David Naf­talin opened the ses­sion by telling those as­sem­bled that he per­son­ally felt fright­ened by Sadikov’s tweet, and didn’t see “how a mem­ber of this board has a right to be here based on the SSMU con­sti­tu­tion, which prides it­self on in­clu­siv­ity and di­ver­sity.”

In re­sponse to this, en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent Laura Khoury said that as a Pales­tinian, she felt un­safe due to the pres­ence of Zion­ists on Coun­cil.

“Since SSMU has a so­cial jus­tice man­date,” asked Khoury, “why does it al­low Zion­ist coun­cil­lors on Coun­cil, when Zion­ist ide­ol­ogy is in­her­ently [linked to] eth­ni­cally cleans­ing Pales­tini­ans?”

“Your ques­tion I think is re­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” replied So­cial Work Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jas­mine Se­gal, “be­cause free­dom of speech [means that] peo­ple are al­lowed to be­lieve what they want.”

Se­gal pub­licly iden­ti­fied her­self as a Zion­ist, and char­ac­ter­ized Sadikov’s tweet as a “hate crime.” When this state­ment elicited crit­i­cism from some in the gallery, she stated that she had con­sulted thor­oughly with her con­stituents be­fore the meet­ing, and was us­ing vo­cab­u­lary which they had en­dorsed.

Much of the ques­tion pe­riod in­volved heated de­bate over how ex­actly to de­fine Zion­ism, and over who had ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence.

Iris Madeleine asked Coun­cil what would be done “to guar­an­tee Igor’s safety af­ter this hate­ful cam­paign against him.”

AUS Pres­i­dent Becky Gold­berg, who was present in the gallery, replied to Madeleine, mak­ing it clear that she was speak­ing as an in­di­vid­ual, not as the voice of her So­ci­ety.

“It seems to be a lit­tle bit of [...] a po­lit­i­cal witch-hunt,” said Gold­berg, “and I have tried to en­sure Igor’s safety just in pro­vid­ing my per­sonal sup­port [...] but we have been con­tem­plat­ing for­mu­lat­ing a state­ment that does not con­done the use of [...] defama­tion or [...] the pro­mo­tion of harm in re­sponse to some­thing that peo­ple per­ceived as harm.”

In­deed, on the fol­low­ing day, AUS pub­lished a sec­ond state­ment on its Face­book page, con­demn­ing the vi­o­lence en­acted or threat­ened against Sadikov in re­cent days.

“I am grate­ful for Pres­i­dent Gold­berg’s sup­port pro­vided on a per­sonal level,” re­sponded Sadikov at Coun­cil. “That said, I’m in agree­ment with [Madeleine] about the need for in­sti­tu­tional sup­port. Over the past 24 hours I have re­ceived hun­dreds of in­sults and threats on so­cial me­dia, my per­sonal in­for­ma­tion has been posted online, it has been re­ported to var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions and au­thor­i­ties. I can­not say that [...] I feel safe.”

In­ter­nal gover­nance re­forms mo­tion

Fol­low­ing the ques­tion pe­riod, Coun­cil dis­cussed a mo­tion to re­form SSMU’S in­ter­nal reg­u­la­tions which had been moved by Sadikov in col­lab­o­ra­tion with SSMU VP Univer­sity Af­fairs Erin So­bat. In essence, the mo­tion aimed to im­prove ac­count­abil­ity at the level of the SSMU Board of Di­rec­tors (BOD).

Last year, a se­ries of re­forms were passed which sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased the Bod’s power, in an ef­fort to al­low Coun­cil to func­tion more ef­fi­ciently. In do­ing so, how­ever, re­forms failed to put in place ad­e­quate checks and bal­ances; as a result, the BOD, an un- elected body, cur­rently has the unchecked abil­ity to make sub­stan­tive de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently of Coun­cil in cer­tain cases.

The mo­tion brought to Thurs­day’s Coun­cil meet­ing aimed to ad­dress this prob­lem by oblig­ing the Chair of the BOD to present a full re­port at ev­ery meet­ing of Coun­cil.

The mo­tion also made a slight ad­just­ment to the reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of opin­ions from SSMU’S Ju­di­cial Board (J-board). Cur­rently, ev­ery time the J-board is­sues an opin­ion, it is pre­sented to the BOD to be ei­ther rat­i­fied, re­turned for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion by the J-board, or over­turned. In or­der to over­turn an opin­ion, a four-fifths ma­jor­ity of BOD mem­bers is re­quired; this thresh­old can be dif­fi­cult to reach in cer­tain cases, re­sult­ing in in­sti­tu­tional paral­y­sis.

As Sadikov put it, “At the BOD, we had this sit­u­a­tion where the Board was not able to rat­ify [a cer­tain] opin­ion, nor over­turn it. So this opin­ion is ba­si­cally not in ef­fect be­cause it hasn’t been rat­i­fied, nor over­turned, so it re­mains in this pro­ce­dural gray area or limbo.”

In or­der to ad­dress this is­sue, the mo­tion pro­posed by Sadikov and So­bat only re­quired a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of BOD mem­bers to over­turn an opin­ion from the J-board. How­ever, this small pro­ce­dural change sparked a heated con­tro­versy. Many stu­dents had ex­pressed firm op­po­si­tion to the mo­tion in the days lead­ing up to Coun­cil, con­tend­ing that this change was mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to thwart J-board favourable opin­ions to­wards Zion­ism.

Some of those who spoke against the mo­tion dur­ing Thurs­day’s Coun­cil meet­ing ref­er­enced the ju­di­cial opin­ion is­sued in May 2016 which ruled that a Gen­eral As­sem­bly mo­tion in sup­port of the pro-pales­tinian Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment & Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paign had vi­o­lated SSMU pol­icy. This con­tro­ver­sial J-board opin­ion was never rat­i­fied by the BOD; nor was it over­turned.

In ad­di­tion to al­le­ga­tions that So­bat and Sadikov’s mo­tion was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated by anti-zion­ist in­ten­tions, some of those who spoke against the mo­tion at Coun­cil ap­peared to be un­der the er­ro­neous im­pres­sion that the BOD does not cur­rently have the power to over­turn J-board opin­ions at all. No­tably, VP Op­er­a­tions Sacha Magder ar­gued re­peat­edly and at length that, as he put it, “as you al­low J-board de­ci­sions to be over­turned, you re­move its sepa­ra­tion from some of the po­lit­i­cal lev­els of gover­nance.”

Magder’s con­fu­sion about the pre­cise na­ture of both the mo­tion at hand and SSMU’S own gover­nance struc­tures was em­blem­atic of the pro­tracted de­bate which fol­lowed. Ul­ti­mately, En­vi­ron­ment Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tu­viere Okome ex­pressed the opin­ion that “this mo­tion was badly ex­plained,” de­spite the fact that both So­bat and Sadikov had ex­plained it at great length be­fore­hand, and that no­tice had been given at Coun­cil two weeks pre­vi­ously, as re­quired by SSMU by­laws.

Close to mid­night, af­ter more than two hours of de­bate on the mo­tion, Coun­cil voted to post­pone the dis­cus­sion un­til the next meet­ing, on Feb­ru­ary 23.

Other busi­ness

The mo­tion re­gard­ing the en­dorse­ment of the Mcgill com­mu­ni­ties’ coun­cil let­ter to the Board of Gov­er­nors was tabled un­til the next meet­ing, as well.

The mo­tion re­gard­ing the amend­ment of the SSMU elec­toral time­line and the mo­tion for SSMU to ad­vo­cate for an im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of the Cana­dian-u.s. safe third coun­try agree­ment passed.

At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, the SSMU ex­ec­u­tive team had yet to re­lease a state­ment re­gard­ing Sadikov’s tweet or the events of the Coun­cil meet­ing.

Conor Nick­er­son | The Mcgill Daily

SSMU Coun­cil.

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