McGill gives students’ society ultimatum on its Palestine Solidarity Policy


The president of the Students’ Society of McGill University says it’s upholding “the student body’s will and democratic vote” and says the administration’s threat undermines the SSMU’s autonomy.

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McGill University’s administration is threatening to terminate an agreement with the undergraduate student union that would withhold its funding after the student union adopted a Palestine Solidarity Policy in a campus referendum this week.

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The president of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) says it’s upholding “the student body’s will and democratic vote” and says the administration’s threat undermines the SSMU’s autonomy.

However, the university’s administration says it considers the SSMU’s referendum “on a so-called Palestine Solidarity Policy to be inconsistent with the SSMU constitution.”

“The current initiative by SSMU will lead to polarization that fosters a culture of ostracism and disrespect on the basis of students’ identity, religious or political beliefs, is contrary to the university’s core values of inclusion, diversity and respect and will not be tolerated,” university spokesperson Cynthia Lee wrote in an email response. She added that the administration is looking into allegations of irregularities in the voting process.

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“Should SSMU leadership not take prompt and appropriate remedial action, consistent with SSMU’s obligations under its Memorandum of Agreement with the university, the university will terminate the agreement,” Lee wrote.

The policy, which takes effect for five years, states the SSMU is to boycott and divest from “all corporations and institutions complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Pales
tinians”; campaign for the university to do the same; form a Palestine Solidarity Committee with members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill; campaign for McGill to condemn “surveillance or smear campaigns against Palestinian and pro-Palestine students”; and make “at least one public statement each semester … reaffirming the SSMU’s solidarity with Palestinian students and with Palestinian liberation from settler-colonial apartheid.”

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B’nai Brith condemned the policy and referendum process and urged McGill to withhold funding to the SSMU.

The SSMU is an elective body representing about 24,000 undergraduate students at McGill.

The question asking whether the SSMU should adopt the policy was one of seven matters put to a vote on the society’s winter 2022 referendum ballot. The student body voted 71.1 per cent in favour when results were tallied on Monday.

The referendum question was initiated by students who collected signatures from SSMU members, SSMU president Darshan Daryanani said. Voter turnout was 16.5 per cent, he said.

The SSMU is not violating its constitution, Daryanani said, but rather “it is our responsibility to protect and defend causes for human rights and social justice. These commitments are deeply enshrined in our constitution.”

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If the SSMU were deemed to have violated its constitution, the society would be considered in default of its Memorandum of Agreement.

Among other things, the agreement enables the SSMU to collect fees from students to cover its operating expenses and to pay for clubs and activities. The agreement also allows the SSMU to run clubs and activities out of a campus building, use the McGill name and operate revenue-generating activities on the campus, notably Gert’s Campus Bar and Café.

The administration can’t unilaterally determine whether the SSMU has violated its constitution, Daryanani said. In the event of a default, the agreement provides 30 days for the defaulting party to remedy the situation, he said. And if a default is disputed by one of the parties, the agreement calls for arbitration.

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“Despite the pressure from the McGill administration, we will not stand down,” Daryanani said. “We will do everything in our power to defend and implement this democratically approved policy.”

If the Memorandum of Agreement were terminated, it would make financing “cumbersome,” but the university can’t unilaterally dissolve the SSMU, he said. However, finances would be placed in a trust fund managed by equal representation from the SSMU and the university, he said.

The policy’s inclusion on the referendum ballot was challenged and removed on March 14, the day that voting was to begin, but then reinstated. Voting was relaunched on March 15 with the question on the ballot.

The SSMU Judicial Board had ordered the question be dropped “until a legal determination on the merits of compliance can be rendered.” However, Elections SSMU then issued a statement saying the question would be included on the ballot. The statement also said the Judicial Board may render a decision even after the result of the referendum has been released.

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