The results of the controversial vote on members of the board of directors of McGill University’s undergraduate student union at its fall general assembly have been suspended.
In a 12-page decision, the judicial board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) ruled that the motion passed at the Oct. 23 assembly to split the ratification of the 10 nominations into separate votes, rather than one bloc vote, as is customary, requires “further evaluation.”
That means that Noah Lew and Alexander Scheffel, who were seeking a renewal of their mandates, will remain on the board for now. Their bids, along with that of newcomer Josephine Wright O’Manique, were rejected at the assembly, which was attended by over 200 students. The meeting was open to all McGill undergraduate students.
Lew, who is Jewish, and several Jewish organizations, charged that the three were shut out from the board, SSMU’s highest governing body, because of anti-Semitism. Scheffel and Wright O’Manique, while not Jewish, are said to have stood up against discrimination directed toward Jewish students.
A new pro-BDS faction, called Democratize SSMU, had lobbied against the election of the three, claiming they were in a “conflict of interest,” because they are too supportive of Israel. Lew was singled out for his activism on behalf of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Democratize SSMU later apologized for being “insensitive to anti-Semitic tropes” in its campaign material.
The judicial board decided on the issue, in response to a petition brought by board member Jonathan Glustein against SSMU speaker Jad El Tal and Maya Koparkar, its vice-president of internal affairs. Glustein alleges that splitting the vote contradicted SSMU’s constitution.
The five-member judicial board said that an “official hearing procedure” will now determine the constitutionality of the motion. The current board of directors will remain in place until a decision is made.
The judicial board also noted that every general assembly motion is subject to ratification in an online referendum, including the ratification of directors.
In his petition, Glustein had sought an interim order that all 12 directors’ names be submitted directly for ratification by means of an online referendum during the referenda period starting on Nov. 8.
In other developments, McGill principal Suzanne Fortier announced that Spencer Boudreau, a retired professor of education and former ombudsperson for students, has been appointed to head an investigation into the “disturbing allegations of anti-Semitism” surrounding the vote.
Boudreau is to report back to the administration, with recommendations, by Dec. 15.
In a memo to students and staff, Fortier said, “As a former ombudsperson, Dr. Boudreau is … accustomed to working in a role that requires impartiality and independence.”
He is currently on the board of McGill’s Newman Institute of Catholic Studies.
“I have asked him to undertake immediately a thorough identification and examination of the facts of the events of the SSMU general assembly, for the purpose of determining whether these facts substantiate the allegations of anti-Semitism,” she said.
‘This is a positive development after what was a very troubling decision.’
“He may also examine the facts of any antecedent events, which may bear on the Oct. 23 vote.”
His report is to be made public, she added.
In addition, Fortier said that, “The Principal’s Task Force on Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life” is being established to “examine more broadly questions that have arisen concerning matters of respect and tolerance within our community.”
Also in the works is a support line for students, faculty and staff who have “experienced exclusion or discrimination.”
Meanwhile, more than 5,200 signatures have been collected through an online petition urging Fortier to “unequivocally condemn the anti-Semitic motivations of the group that removed the three SSMU directors from office,” as well as discipline “the ringleaders” of the group behind it.
“This is a positive development after what was a very troubling decision made by students,” commented Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre president and CEO Avi Benlolo. “However, we must not forget the clear anti-Semitism that took place during (the Oct. 23) vote and demand that an investigation into the matter continues regardless of the suspension’s outcome.”