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.