SSMU Pres­i­dent re­signs

Ben Ger sec­ond ex­ec­u­tive in two weeks to re­sign amid al­le­ga­tions of abuse

The McGill Daily - - News - Ma­rina Cupido & Xavier Richer Vis The Mcgill Daily

“The Pres­i­dent rec­og­nized his own in­ad­e­quacy in han­dling the David Aird case, and has failed his re­spon­si­bil­ity in up­hold­ing the safety of our mem­bers.” —Elaine Patterson SSMU VP Stu­dent Life

Patterson clar­i­fied that no one ex­cept So­bat had been aware of the al­le­ga­tions of vi­o­lence un­til af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive’s first state­ment re­gard­ing Ger’s res­ig­na­tion had been re­leased.

“The VP In­ter­nal [...] sent a winky face, as though this was some­thing cute, some­thing funny to him, some­thing that didn’t de­serve the emo­tional labour that was put into hav­ing to ad­dress this. [...] I think there’s a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, there’s a lack of care for peo­ple, and there’s a lack of ac­count­abil­ity.” —Is­abella An­der­son Arts Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Coun­cil

Con­tent warn­ing: sex­ual as­sault, do­mes­tic abuse

On March 9, the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil of the Stu­dent’s So­ci­ety of Mcgill Uni­ver­sity (SSMU) gath­ered for a tense and pro­tracted meet­ing, at which it was re­vealed that for­mer Pres­i­dent Ben Ger, who had re­signed hours ear­lier, had re­port­edly com­mit­ted gen­dered vi­o­lence. At the same meet­ing, VP Ex­ter­nal Daniel Lawrie was sharply crit­i­cised for his mis­han­dling of an­other case gen­dered abuse by a SSMU politi­cian. De­spite knowl­edge that for­mer Sci­ence Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ashby Gan­garam had been ar­rested for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, Lawrie failed to en­sure that Gan­garam was re­moved from his po­si­tion on the SSMU Events com­mit­tee.

At Thurs­day’s meet­ing, Coun­cil also de­bated mo­tions to, among other things, amend the So­ci­ety’s in­ter­nal reg­u­la­tions, and sup­port floor­fel­lows in their on­go­ing labour ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Mcgill ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ben Ger’s res­ig­na­tion

Shortly be­fore 2 p.m. on March 9, SSMU’S ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee is­sued a state­ment to the ef­fect that Ger had re­signed for “per­sonal rea­sons.” The state­ment thanked him “for his ser­vice to the So­ci­ety,” cit­ing some of his key ini­tia­tives from his time in of­fice, and stated that he would “be dearly missed as a mem­ber of our team.”

At the start of that evening’s Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil meet­ing, how­ever, VP Stu­dent Life Elaine Patterson read an ad­den­dum to this ear­lier state­ment.

“The Pres­i­dent rec­og­nized his own in­ad­e­quacy in han­dling the David Aird case,” said Patterson, “and has failed his re­spon­si­bil­ity in up­hold­ing the safety of our mem­bers. [...] Fur­ther­more, it was re­quested that he not fur­ther be in­volved in his re­sponse to the de­mands made by the Com­mu­nity Dis­clo­sures Net­work and other groups. [Ger] was un­suc­cess­ful in up­hold­ing the stan­dard and his con­tin­ued pres­ence on the ex­ec­u­tive was not con­ducive to the well­be­ing of our cam­pus or this com­mu­nity.”

Fol­low­ing this state­ment, Coun­cil dis­cussed sev­eral mo­tions be­fore a ques­tion pe­riod be­gan dur­ing which coun­cil­lors and mem­bers of the gallery could voice in­quiries and have them ad­dressed. The first ques­tion asked was di­rected at Patterson: why had she stated that Ger had been un­fit to han­dle the David Aird case?

In re­sponse, Patterson ex­plained that af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee had re­leased its first state­ment con­cern­ing Ger’s res­ig­na­tion, they had been made aware by one of their team – sub­se­quently iden­ti­fied as VP Uni­ver­sity Af­fairs Erin So­bat – that al­le­ga­tions of “gen­dered vi­o­lence” had been made against Ger.

“The ex­ec­u­tive rec­og­nizes,” said Patterson, “that some­body who has al­le­ga­tions of gen­dered vi­o­lence against them is not equipped to han­dle the sce­nario that was brought for­ward about two weeks ago at this point, re­gard­ing David Aird and the rea­sons for his res­ig­na­tion.”

As the ques­tion pe­riod con­tin­ued, Jen­nifer Yoon of the Bull & Bear re­peat­edly ques­tioned the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee over the cir­cum­stances in which Ger’s gen­dered vi­o­lence be­came known.

Patterson clar­i­fied that no one ex­cept So­bat had been aware of the al­le­ga­tions of vi­o­lence un­til af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive’s first state­ment re­gard­ing Ger’s res­ig­na­tion had been re­leased.

So­bat him­self, in re­sponse to fur­ther ques­tion­ing from Yoon, ex­plained that he had been made aware of the al­le­ga­tions by the Com­mu­nity Dis­clo­sure Net­work ( CDN) roughly two weeks ear­lier, and that “the pri­or­ity at the time was to make sure that the Pres­i­dent took a step back from the re­sponse to [ the David Aird case].”

“I re­gret not tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion those al­le­ga­tions in the ini­tial state­ment that was re­leased to­day,” So­bat con­tin­ued, vis­i­bly emo­tional. He added that he had also been in­flu­enced by se­ri­ous con­cern for Ger’s men­tal health.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion from En­vi­ron­ment Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tu­viere Okome, Patterson fur­ther ex­plained that the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee would be dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of re­leas­ing a pub­lic state­ment clar­i­fy­ing the rea­son be­hind Ger’s res­ig­na­tion. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, such a state­ment has not been re­leased; how­ever, a state­ment was sent out to cam­pus me­dia on March 10, for­mally stat­ing the in­for­ma­tion re­vealed at Coun­cil the pre­vi­ous night.

Asked by Arts Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Maria Thomas how the Pres­i­dent’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties will be met in the com­ing weeks, Patterson re­sponded that, for now, Ger’s duties will be del­e­gated among the re­main­ing five ex­ec­u­tives. More­over, “the peo­ple elected to the VP Ex­ter­nal port­fo­lio and the Pres­i­dent’s port­fo­lio [at the end of next week] will be of­fered a man­age­rial con­tract. They won’t be con­sid­ered an of­fi­cer of the So­ci­ety, but they would have a man­age­rial po­si­tion, [...] start­ing their tran­si­tion process early.”

Ashby Gan­garam

Later in the ques­tion pe­riod, Arts Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Is­abella An­der­son took VP In­ter­nal Daniel Lawrie to task for his mis­han­dling of yet an­other case of a SSMU politi­cian re­sign­ing amid al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

In Novem­ber 2016, Sci­ence Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ashby Gan­garam re­signed from his po­si­tion on the Sci­ence Un­der­grad­u­ate Soci- ety ( SUS), and, by de­fault, from SSMU Coun­cil. On Novem­ber 16, a blog post was pub­lished, de­scrib­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence of do­mes­tic abuse; linked at the bot­tom of the post was a pho­to­graph of a po­lice re­port, iden­ti­fy­ing Gan­garam as the per­pe­tra­tor. The pho­to­graph was sub­se­quently re­moved for le­gal rea­sons.

No state­ment ex­plain­ing the cir­cum­stances of Gan­garam’s res­ig­na­tion was re­leased by SSMU or the SUS at the time. More­over, he re­mained on the Stu­dents So­ci­ety Pro­gram­ming Net­work ( SSPN) ( Events) com­mit­tee of SSMU, a body which falls un­der the VP In­ter­nal’s port­fo­lio. At Thurs­day’s coun­cil meet­ing, An­der­son de­nounced this sit­u­a­tion.

“I had a ques­tion for the VP In­ter­nal,” An­der­son be­gan. “Un­for­tu­nately, this is the sec­ond time in a row that I’ve had a ques­tion for him, and he has been ab­sent from Coun­cil with­out a let­ter to the Speaker [jus­ti­fy­ing his ab­sence]. [Lawrie] has re­sponded to pre­vi­ous con­cerns that I’ve raised with him with a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and a lack [of re­gard] for the sen­si­tive na­ture [of the case at hand].”

Halt­ingly, and vis­i­bly over­come with emo­tion, An­der­son de­cried the fact that “[ Gan­garam] was al­lowed to [...] con­tinue his mem­ber­ship on SSPN, a com­mit­tee run by the VP In­ter­nal.”

“That frankly was un­ac­cept­able to me,” she said. “What was also un­ac­cept­able to me was [the fact that Gan­garam was] in­volved in plan­ning events that also in­volved al­co­hol, which was some­thing that was in­volved in his as­sault.”

An­der­son ex­plained that Lawrie had ini­tially failed to re­spond to her con­cerns over this sit­u­a­tion, and that, in­stead, Gan­garam was some­how made aware of her ef­forts to have him re­moved from the SSPN com­mit­tee.

“I was con­tacted by for­mer coun­cilor Ashby,” con­tin­ued An­der­son, “who tried to sway my opin­ion [...] and that was not ok. Ashby shouldn’t just have been able to mes­sage me. I’m not sure who’s de­ci­sion that was, which is why I wish that the VP In­ter­nal Lawrie was here.”

More­over, she told Coun­cil that when Lawrie fi­nally had re­sponded to her con­cerns and in­formed her that Gan­garam had at last been re­moved from the com­mit­tee, his tone had been deeply of­fen­sive.

“When the VP In­ter­nal fi­nally got back to me [...],” said An­der­son, “and I had said my con­cerns, that it had taken months for this to hap­pen, he replied that no for­mal com­plaints had been made un­til like this week, and then [sent] a winky face, as though this was some­thing cute, some­thing funny to him, some­thing that didn’t de­serve the emo­tional la­bor that was put into hav­ing to ad­dress this. [...] I think there’s a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, there’s a lack of care for peo­ple, and there’s a lack of ac­count­abil­ity.”

Im­me­di­ately af­ter this ex­change, The Daily reached out to Lawrie to ask him to ex­plain his ac­tions in this mat­ter. His re­ply failed to ad­dress the con­cerns around his be­hav­iour, on the grounds that he was cur­rently busy or­ga­niz­ing the Fac­ulty Olympics. Lawrie stated that he was “col­lect­ing all the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion” to re­spond to these con­cerns, and that he would re­spond more fully on March 13.

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