Despite the university warning it could cut ties with its student union over the issue, McGill students have voted in favour of adopting a contentious pro-Palestinian policy.
In a vote that ended Monday, 78 per cent of students who participated voted in favour of the policy, titled Policy Against Genocide in Palestine.
The vote took place against the backdrop of tensions on university campuses over the Israel-Hamas war.
B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, took legal action to try to stop the policy from being voted on, and an open letter signed by Jewish students and alumni called for the university to remove the question from the Students’ Society of McGill University’s 2023 fall referendum.
The policy was one of several topics students voted on during the referendum. There are still several steps to go before it can be adopted, including being subject to a legal review.
McGill, however, has already stated that should the policy be adopted, the university could end its agreement with the student union that governs its funding and use of the McGill name.
The SSMU did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
In an email response, McGill said despite the voting results, the university’s stance on the issue remains the same.
“The proposed policy, if adopted, will sharpen divisions in our community at a time when many students are already distressed,” a university spokesperson wrote.
McGill noted the SSMU’s constitution stipulates the student union is supposed to facilitate interactions between all students and act in their best interests.
Adopting the policy would be a breach of that constitution, the university added.
McGill’s administration has already written to the SSMU to “outline the consequences of adopting the policy.”
McGill took a similar stance last year when students voted in favour of a Palestine Solidarity Policy. That policy was ultimately never adopted.
A video posted to social media Monday showed a group of students celebrating this year’s result on campus and calling out the SSMU, chanting, “If you revoke it, shame on you.”
Turnout for this year’s vote more than doubled from when students voted in favour of the pro-Palestinian policy last year.
Just over 8,400 students voted in the referendum, representing 35 per cent of eligible voters. In all, 5,974 voted for the policy and 1,620 voted against it. Another 807 students abstained from voting on it.
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Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), a student group that campaigned in favour of the policy, said Monday it was overwhelmed by the favourable response from students.
In an email response, the group said the vote shows students “will no longer tolerate our university’s remorseless complicity in the occupation of Palestine and the destruction of its people.”
“McGill students have demonstrated that we will remain steadfast in advancing the Palestinian struggle for liberation,” the group added in a statement, “despite intimidation and repression.”
(McGill is attempting to revoke SPHR’s use of the university’s name over what the school described as “abhorrent” posts the group made following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.)
The policy students voted on calls on the university to condemn the bombing of Gaza and cut ties with corporations “complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.”
It also criticizes public comments from McGill officials since the outbreak of the war, characterizing them as threats toward students who have voiced their support for Palestinians.
In an open letter circulating since last week, Jewish students and alumni voiced concerns the policy could make an already “unbearable” climate on campus even worse.
In its response on Monday, McGill said the university has taken steps in recent weeks to ensure the discourse on campus remains safe and responsible.
“And to put in place measures to support students and colleagues who feel especially vulnerable and hurt at this time,” the university added, “notably those who are Muslim, Jewish, and Arab.”
The following is excerpted from the policy passed in McGill’s student referendum:
Policy against genocide in Palestine
Be it resolved, that the students of McGill University and their student union:
- Demand that our university’s administration immediately and publicly condemn the genocidal bombing campaigns and siege against the people of Gaza, retract its abhorrent threats against Palestinian students and student groups, and provide concrete support to Palestinian and Arab students.
- Demand that our University immediately cut ties with any corporations, institutions or individuals complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
- Demand that our University immediately divest from all corporations and institutions complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
- Demand that our student union, the SSMU, make an immediate public statement condemning the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and reaffirming its solidarity with Palestinian and Arab students.
- Demand that our student union commit to a strong, consistent position in solidarity with Palestinian students, and with the Palestinian struggle against genocide and settler-colonial apartheid.
This Policy shall remain in force for a period of 5 years until May 1st, 2028.