Photo C/O Kyle West
On Nov. 3, the Student Representative Assembly rejected the McMaster Chinese Student and Scholars Association’s appeal to have their club re-ratified.
The SRA passed a motion on Sept. 22 to de-ratify MAC CSSA for violating section 5.1.3 of the Clubs Operating Policy by endangering student safety. This decision was partly based on evidence documents and a student testimony provided at the meeting. The evidence claims that MAC CSSA had surveilled and harassed the speaker of a Feb. 11 event, which discussed the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.
Most of the meeting was spent on a presentation from the CSSA’s legal council, Samantha Wu, and a question and answer period. Wu, on behalf of MAC CSSA, requested that the SRA reconsider its decision to de-ratify the club.
“The CSSA is a McMaster University club with thousands of members. It has benefited numerous newly arrived international students in the McMaster community for 35 years. The club organizes events celebrating Chinese holidays, food and performances as part of McMaster’s diverse community,” said Wu in her presentation.
During the Sept. 22 meeting where the SRA de-ratified MAC CSSA, the SRA presented what they believed to be evidence in support of MAC CSSA’s connection with the Chinese government. This evidence came from a 2018 report from the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The U.S. report stated that CSSAs across the U.S. have governmental ties with Chinese embassies and consulates, noting that similar operations could be taking place in US-allied countries.
While SRA’s final motion to de-ratify MAC CSSA did not point to governmental ties as a factor in the SRA’s decision, Wu discussed concerns raised about MAC CSSA in the SRA evidence report.
Wu refuted allegations that MAC CSSA had reported on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, stating that communication occurred between MAC CSSA and the Chinese consulate to raise awareness of consulate services.
“[The CSSA] has not informed on, and will not inform on any McMaster students or events critical to the Chinese government … the CSSA is an independent McMaster club and is unaffiliated with other CSSAs or the Chinese government,” said Wu at the SRA meeting.
In response to questions that the SRA sent to MAC CSSA on Oct. 8, MAC CSSA sent the MSU speaker a document of their answers on Oct. 27. In this document, MAC CSSA denied that Chinese authorities played a role in the club’s membership, elections, meetings and other activities.
MAC CSSA stated that Chinese consulate officials have attended informal MAC CSSA events.
“Recently, for example, MAC CSSA club organized an informal event that occurred on September 2, 2019. During this event, two Chinese consulate officials visited the McMaster campus to meet briefly with new international Chinese students attending McMaster to discuss adjusting to living in Canada,” wrote MAC CSSA in response to the SRA’s questions.
Wu claimed that the decision to de-ratify MAC CSSA was based on procedural unfairness, as the SRA failed to follow the procedures outlined in the MSU Clubs Operating Policy.
She also argued that the decision to de-ratify MAC CSSA violated the MSU Clubs Operating Policy, referencing sections 5.3.1 and 5.3.2 in the Clubs Operating Policy. The policy states that the Clubs Administrator may sanction an MSU club, and in the event of a more serious infraction the CEC may decide on a more severe punishment. According to Wu, this procedure never took place.
However, “Clubs Operating Policy section 5.3.2 is in reference to disbandment, not deratification, though it should be noted that the disbandment is subject to SRA final approval as SRA is the only body that can ratify the decision to disband the club,” according to a document titled “CSSA Statement,” dated Nov. 3.
At the Nov. 3 SRA meeting, MSU President Josh Marando clarified that all clubs are contingent on SRA ratification when asked by The Silhouette if the decision to de-ratify MAC CSSA followed the Club Operating Policy.
Marando also added there is no policy that states an appeal process for de-ratification is mandatory.
“The SRA decided to grant an appeal process in this case to ensure that the CSSA has the opportunity to present their side of the story,” said Marando.
Despite the time spent considering MAC CSSA’s alleged connection to the Chinese government, this was not a part of the final motion to de-ratify the club. The final de-ratification motion was based on the concern that actions taken by MAC CSSA members had endangered members of the McMaster community.
On Feb. 13, MAC CSSA was among the signatories of a letter that accused the event of publicizing national hatred. The letter stated that signatories had contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto about the Feb. 11 event discussing the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.
The SRA deemed the act of contacting the consulate to be dangerous. Citing a report from Human Rights watch, members raised concerns that students’ safety could have been jeopardized if the Chinese consulate found out that they attended the event.
When asked about whether they played a role in releasing the Feb. 13 statement and contacting the Chinese Consulate, MAC CSSA claimed that a McMaster alum, who was not currently a member of MAC CSSA, had contacted the consulate on Feb. 11. In addition, they claim that the same alum prepared and obtained consent from the then-president of MAC CSSA to place the club’s name on the Feb. 13 statement.
Even though they deny having contacted the consulate, MAC CSSA admits that they signed the letter.
“MAC CSSA agreed to place its name on the Statement out of concern for the safety of McMaster students and in order to exercise MAC CSSA members’ freedom of expression rights. By signing the Statement, there was no intention by MAC CSSA to censor or intimidate anyone in the McMaster community,” MAC CSSA wrote in their answers to SRA questions.
During the Nov. 3 SRA meeting, the SRA denied MAC CSSA’s appeal to reconsider the club’s de-ratification.
“The main sentiment coming out is that regardless of intent, we are talking about the actual action and that we are upholding the decision that we’ve made because students have come forward and said they feel unsafe,” stated VP (Education) Shemar Hackett.