Content warning: white supremacy
At an emergency meeting last night, the Student Representative Assembly voted unanimously to de-ratify the Dominion society due to concerns that the club had neglected to disclose its affiliation with an external organization with alleged ties to xenophobic individuals.
The Dominion society was ratified alongside 337 other clubs at the July 24 SRA meeting. Prior to ratification, concerns were raised about the club’s affiliations, but SRA members stated that they had no way to verify these claims.
Two days after the club was ratified, an anonymous Twitter thread published photographs of the Dominion society leader attending events hosted by the MacDonald cultural and historical society, an external organization with no stated ties to McMaster. The thread also showed pictures of other people attending the group’s events, and posted screenshots of explicitly xenophobic comments that these individuals had allegedly made in private Facebook groups.
The Dominion society, formerly called the MacDonald society, states that its aim is to celebrate Canadian culture and history. The leader of the Dominion society denies that the club has any connection to white supremacist individuals or organizations.
The release of information sparked considerable community backlash. The day after the Twitter thread was posted, McMaster students union president Josh Marando issued a statement urging SRA members to de-ratify the club in light of the new information.
During the emergency meeting last night, Marando reiterated that he had recommended de-ratification because the Dominion society did not disclose its alleged ties to the MacDonald cultural and historical society, and because people tied to that organization had allegedly expressed white supremacist beliefs.
Despite a delayed start while waiting to meet quorum, the meeting lasted only 15 minutes. All SRA members who spoke during the meeting agreed that the club should not be allowed to exist on campus.
For SRA (arts & science) representative Catherine Hu, this incident highlights the need to reform the ratification process so that the same thing does not happen again.
“If we have adjustment to our policy of how we go about ratifying clubs, it would solidify why we should or should not ratify certain clubs,” said Hu.
SRA (social science) member Vania Pagniello stated that the SRA needs to take concerns of white supremacy more seriously. Pagniello noted that, while not explicit, there were warning signs in the Dominion society’s application that warranted closer investigation. In previous meetings, concerns were raised about the club’s plans to run events celebrating Canadian colonial history, given Canada’s history of colonization and state violence.
“In the future we need to be a lot more thoughtful and stringent about the people that we’re giving resources to,” stated Pagniello.
The vote to de-ratify the Dominion society was unanimous.
“We made a mistake, but we’re going to fix it,” said SRA (science) representative Armand Acri.
Photo C/O Kyle West
By: William Li
Content Warning: White supremacy
On July 21, the Student Representative Assembly briefly discussed concerns about clubs engaging in foreign surveillance and white supremacy — but in a shocking move, put these concerns aside and simply ratified all proposed clubs anyway, triggering an intervention just three days later by McMaster Students' Union President Josh Marando.
Although Marando’s quick response to concerns of white supremacy and threats to marginalized students is a good start, this incident remains problematic: Why did the SRA ratify the Dominion society in the first place, even though these exact concerns were brought up in the SRA meeting prior to the ratification vote?
Currently, the clubs administrator processes club applications and provides a list of clubs to the SRA, which usually votes to approve all at once. However, the clubs administrator is an unelected person, and they are historically either unwilling or unable to act when clubs promote or endorse actions that put students at risk.
For example, they declined to take action in February, when the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) publicly declared that they reported an event on campus to the Chinese government for discussing China’s human rights violations against Uighur Muslims. Soon, there were international headlines and concerns that such surveillance on campus puts Uighur and Chinese students at risk, since criticism of the Chinese Communist Party is often grounds for imprisonment in China.
The clubs administrator then took months to prepare a memo in response, which the SRA quickly overlooked as they re-ratified the CSSA at their July 21 meeting without addressing the memo’s concerns of surveillance and harassment.
The still-unresolved CSSA fiasco is a great example of how the Dominion society is not a one-time thing, but rather, just the latest symptom of a much more serious problem: the MSU’s glaring inability to manage clubs, and an urgent need for major reform.
Although we have a new clubs administrator now, the systemic issues with this model of governance persist: the SRA expects the clubs administrator to manage problematic clubs, but the clubs administrator does not do much beyond preliminary research and providing information to the SRA upon request.
The result is that nobody does anything. Anybody who can successfully fill out forms simply gets stamped and approved. Clubs get away with everything from foreign surveillance to peddling false medical information, while MSU officials busy themselves tossing political hot potatoes at one another.
We saw such political runaround in action when SRA members tried asking clarifying questions about certain clubs, and the clubs administrator wrote in their response, “I strongly recommend ratifying the majority of clubs such that the MSU Clubs Department can move forward with our activities for the year. If there are still concerns about certain clubs, it would be better to bring your questions directly to them.”
Given this apparent urgency for SRA members to stop bothering the clubs administrator with questions about clubs and just move on, there should be no surprise that the Dominion society escaped the proper scrutiny that should have happened before—rather than after—the rushed ratification vote.
While the SRA and clubs administrator have rightfully gotten flak over these decisions, we must remember that the problem is systemic. The clubs administrator job description does not explicitly require them to supervise clubs, ensure truthfulness in club applications or even enforce the clubs operating policy. Meanwhile, the SRA appears ill-equipped to pick up the slack on this front.
In order to address this, the SRA should not simply rubber stamp whatever is put in front of them by the clubs administrator; rather, they should take the time to do research and get fully informed before voting. Additionally, as our elected representatives, they should make the political decisions that the clubs administrator cannot, which includes exercising their power to withhold club status.
Although some may argue that revoking club status should not be used as a tool for censorship, we must remember that club status is a privilege, not a right. If clubs expect to access funding, ClubSpace and other such perks paid for with student fees, then the SRA should hold clubs to the same standard as other MSU departments.
Next, the SRA must revisit the rushed July 21 ratification vote and actually scrutinize clubs properly (perhaps at the emergency meeting that Marando has called for, though it remains to be scheduled). Instead of having the MSU President intervene each time there is a problem or waiting for issues to blow up in the media, the SRA should proactively resolve issues. The consequences of inaction can be clearly seen in how Chinese nationalists have instigated violence on other university campuses, while white nationalists have been provoking violence right here in Hamilton.
Finally, in the long-term, we need systemic change. Even though the clubs operating policy was recently amended in June, the updated policy quickly flopped in action when it failed to prevent the Dominion society ratification about-face. Furthermore, even Human Rights Watch has felt compelled to provide recommendations for more substantial change to address the Chinese government’s threats to academic freedom. The recent amendment’s stunning failure, the recommendations from HRW, and Marando’s intervention show that band-aid solutions will be insufficient — the entire clubs operating policy is no longer viable and must be overhauled.
The SRA must now show leadership so that these troubling incidents do not happen again. If nothing significant is done, then this cycle — where the MSU condones clubs that endanger students and then pauses to reflect only after enough controversy is attracted — will simply continue.
Photo C/O Kyle West
Content warning: white supremacy
On July 24, McMaster Students' Union president Josh Marando issued a letter urging the student representative assembly to revoke a new club’s status due to its alleged connections to people and organizations with white supremacist ties.
The Dominion society, originally named the MacDonald society, describes itself as a club aimed at celebrating Canadian culture and history.
“The independence of Canada as a sovereign nation in its own right, its colonial history, and its British, French and First Nations heritage will be prevailing themes in this club’s activity and pursuits,” the club stated in its cover letter.
The club was first introduced to the SRA at their June 23 meeting alongside 337 other clubs applying for ratification.
At this time, some SRA members raised concerns about the club’s mandate of celebrating Canadian colonial history, given Canada's history of colonization and state violence.
“The celebration of Canada as a sovereign nation in its own right is absolutely false. Canada’s sovereignty is based off the genocide of Indigenous peoples,” said SRA (Social Science) member Vania Pagniello. “We have to think about McMaster as a space that we are trying to decolonize.”
There was also speculation about the group’s connection to the MacDonald cultural and historical society, an organization with no explicit connection to McMaster. The society has held recent events in the Hamilton area, according to its public Facebook page.
According to the MacDonald cultural and historical society’s social media accounts, the purpose of the group is to celebrate Canadian heritage and culture.
“The Macdonald cultural and historical society is a brotherhood of Canadians who hold dear the sympathies of our Founder; that above all else, our nation must be united together under shared bonds of loyalty, strength, perseverance and courage,” says the society’s description on Facebook.
McMaster community members raised concerns to SRA representatives that the MacDonald cultural and historical society used language that could be symbolic of white nationalist ties. In particular, the celebration of John A. MacDonald and the use of the red ensign were flagged as signs of potential white supremacist attitudes within the society.
There was discussion at the SRA meeting that there may be connections between the MacDonald cultural and historical society and the proposed McMaster club. However, some SRA representatives stated that they were unable to be certain that such a connection existed.
The SRA was hesitant to deny ratification outright. SRA (Science) member Simranjeet Singh stated that all viewpoints should be permitted, noting that it is not necessary for the SRA to agree with every club that they ratify. According to Singh, SRA members were working with the presumption that applicants were acting in good faith.
“We didn't want to prevent people from allowing their group to exist because of what a lot of us thought was hearsay and may not have been fully representative of the entire community as well,” said Singh.
The SRA considered further delaying ratification, but it was brought up that this would prevent the Dominion society from participating in clubs fest, a major opportunity for recruitment.
As a compromise, SRA members suggested monitoring the club over the course of the year to see whether their activities aligned with the clubs operating policy. It was noted that the SRA has historically never been responsible for monitoring clubs, and the monitoring strategy was not determined.
SRA members also suggested inviting Indigenous professors to speak to the Dominion society about decolonization and reconciliation, in the hopes that this would provide further context to the conversation around Canadian history. No SRA members indicated that they had done consultation with Indigenous people about the risks and feasibility of this suggestion.
On July 21, a month after the clubs were first pitched to the SRA, the SRA voted almost unanimously to ratify the MacDonald society.
RELEASE OF INFORMATION
On July 23, a Twitter thread was published showing a series of photos from the MacDonald cultural and historical society’s social media accounts. The thread identified certain individuals pictured attending events hosted by the society. It then posted a series of screenshots from a private Facebook group showing explicitly fascist, white supremacist comments allegedly made by the individuals in the photographs.
The thread also provided photographic evidence that the leader of the Dominion society had attended multiple events hosted by the Macdonald historical and cultural society.
The photographic evidence linking the Dominion society leader to the MacDonald cultural and historical society was visible to the public on the group’s Facebook page. However, neither the clubs administrators nor SRA members found this evidence while researching the club.
A day after this information was released, MSU president Josh Marando released a statement urging SRA members to deratify the club in light of the new information.
One major concern was that the group seemed to misrepresent its connections to an outside organization. This violates the clubs operating policy, which states that clubs must disclose all third party connections.
“Based on documentation circulated online and forward to us, it appears to me that applicants of this club misrepresented their connection to a third party, which is a condition of ratification and hence why I am recommending its revocation,” said Marando in an emailed statement.
In addition, Marando stated that the club seemed to have connections to other organizations or people with white supremacist attitudes.
“Such attitudes have no place in the MSU Clubs system or in campus discourse,” he wrote in his July 24 statement.
In a statement to CBC news following the release of Marando’s statement, the leader of the Dominion society denied connections to the Macdonald historical and cultural society was non political and stated that the club had no ties to white supremacist organizations.
IS IT ENOUGH?
In his statement, Marando highlighted the need to improve the clubs application process in order to prevent hate groups from using clubs as fronts for organizing. He called for an emergency SRA meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.
According to MSU general manager John McGowan, however, the situation does not represent a problem with the current approval process, which allows for deratification when new information comes to light.
“What's occurring now is proving that the system does work with regards to decisions being made but then being reflected on based on accurate information is being provided by the community,” said McGowan.
For others, however, the club should never have been ratified in the first place. According to the Hamilton student mobilization network, a local activist organization, the university has not done enough to oppose the growing threat of white supremacy on campus.
In their statement, the HSMN noted that white supremacist organizations are gaining traction on university campuses, and urged the MSU to meaningfully oppose these organizations.
“Had they treated concerns about the MacDonald Society’s white supremacist ties with the gravity they deserve, we would not now be in this situation to begin with,” said the statement. “We are calling on the MSU to permanently ban any organization that promotes white supremacy and implement measures to prevent this from ever happening again.”
The SRA has not yet scheduled an emergency meeting to vote on deratification. As the start of the school year draws near, the Dominion society’s club status remains uncertain.