Keren & Prescott resign

Commissioner of Social Issues and incoming AMS Speaker both issue written resignation notes after heated 72 hours in student governance

Credit: 
Journal file photo

After 72 hours of fervor over a decision by the incoming AMS Assembly to elect Alexander Prescott as their Speaker, both Prescott and Commissioner of Social Issues Lea Keren tendered their resignations to the AMS on Wednesday. 

April 2 

On Sunday evening, incoming members of Assembly and ex-officio members gathered for their first “mock” Assembly of the new academic year. 

The meeting was charged with electing a new Speaker, whose duties involve granting speaking rights and facilitating Assembly meetings for the next year. Prescott, who was the only individual who put their name forward in the meeting, was voted in unanimously and without debate. 

In 2013, Prescott — who sat on Assembly as an ASUS representative — was formally censured by Assembly during a Special Meeting for his Facebook comments about partial “onus” being placed back on survivors of sexual assault.

Then-Assembly members Daniel Basilio, ASUS representative to the AMS, Chelsey Morphy, chair of ASUS Board of Directors, and Greg Allan, ASUS representative to the AMS publicly announced their resignations during the same meeting.

Immediately after Sunday night’s meeting, current and former student leaders took to social media to express support for survivors of sexual violence and chastise the AMS’ decisions. Former AMS Commissioner of Social Issues Emily Wong discussed the impact of comments like Prescott’s, and how the AMS’ decisions could affect the student body. 

“I was in second year during the ASUS special assembly in 2013. I went to support a friend of mine who was sexually assaulted when we were in first year,” she wrote in a statement to The Journal. “There’s something seriously wrong with the social environment when you need to have a professional counsellor who specializes in sexual violence present at assembly (which there was).”

Though she said that everyone is capable of going through “the process to unlearn oppression,” Wong maintained that comments like Prescott’s contribute to rape culture on campus, and that listening to the voices of survivors on campus was then — and still is — critical. 

April 3

On Monday, a joint statement from the current and incoming AMS Executive teams called for an emergency Special Assembly, intended to hold a re-vote. 

In an email to incoming Assembly members, incoming AMS President Jenn Li, Vice President (Operations) Brian McKay and Vice President (University Affairs) Palmer Lockridge wrote that “while [Prescott] was the only candidate to present himself for the position, he is decidedly the wrong candidate.”

“If Assembly is to truly be a safe space open to all, this issue will undoubtedly put this to the test. We hope that all parties will come together to discuss this issue fairly, openly, and in line with established Assembly decorum,” they wrote.

Immediately after their statement was issued, Team JBP said that AMS Secretariat Miguel Martinez informed them they were in violation of AMS Constitution, policy and procedures.

At this point, JBP asked the AMS Judicial Committee (JCOMM) to convene and clarify some sections of policy that were unclear, including whether the AMS Speaker counted as an AMS volunteer and would thereby be privy to the volunteer policy and procedures, and whether the Speaker was a member of Assembly. Both questions were ruled to be a yes.

The definition of “just cause” as it appears in the AMS Constitution, Section 5.5.5 was also clarified to be “any action or behaviour precluding a member of AMS Assembly from being able to effectively uphold one or more of the tenants of the AMS Mandate as contained in the AMS Constitution.” The definition should rightly reside with legislative bodies of the AMS, not the judiciary, the report concluded.

This information was then taken to a meeting of President’s Caucus for the incoming year, which includes faculty society executives and ex-officio members like the Rector and Undergraduate Student Trustee. The body then decided that an Emergency Assembly wouldn’t be “a safe space to have constructive dialogue around this issue,” Li said. 

MacKay added that there was historical precedent for such meetings getting out of hand, referencing the 2013 Special meeting when Prescott’s original comments were called to question. 

April 4

Five and half hours before the Special Assembly — slated for Tuesday evening at 10 p.m. — JBP issued a statement cancelling the event. 

“We must be mindful of our long history of following principles of restorative justice, due process, and fair treatment of all students,” the statement read. “We recognize now that calling this emergency Assembly was the wrong thing to do. It explicitly violates those principles.”

On Tuesday morning, Team JBP met with Prescott to discuss the issues raised. Li told The Journal that JBP outlined their concerns and expectations of Prescott in his role, as well as a detailed “action plan” for how the issue would be handled. The action plan, they said, would have included training relating to human rights and sexual violence and sensitivity.

Both Li and MacKay said they knew nothing about Prescott’s 2013 comments during Sunday’s Assembly when he was voted in, adding that almost no one — except individuals like Rector Cam Yung, who they pointed out doesn’t hold voting rights but had the chance to speak — has been around long enough to remember. 

Speaking to The Journal, Yung said that if he could go back to the meeting, he would. “It was quite challenging for me to dissociate myself from my personal opinions and representing the opinions of the student body. Trying to formulate a question within that five to ten minutes was so challenging for me that I couldn’t.”

In their interview with The Journal, MacKay also pointed out the poor “institutional memory” in the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), of which he is currently finishing his term as Vice President, for not keeping the minutes from the 2013 Assembly somewhere accessible. 

April 5

On Wednesday morning, prior to Prescott’s resignation, current Commissioner of Social Issues Lea Keren wrote a public note of resignation from her position in the AMS.

“I’ve decided to make my resignation public for a few reasons. Primarily — as a message of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, from whom I’ve heard from over the years, and more profoundly, over the past few days,” Keren wrote. 

While she expressed pride for how current AMS Executive team LWT has “embraced and championed” efforts to combat sexual violence, she wrote that she wasn’t proud of the way JBP handled the week’s events. 

“A leader who makes light of sexual assault is no leader at all. I must formally and publicly distance myself from the AMS’ role in giving this type of behaviour a free pass,” she wrote. “I no longer feel comfortable earning a salary from the AMS with the expectation of defending its latest decisions.” 

At approximately 5:30 p.m., Prescott relayed his own resignation to members of Assembly via Martinez, saying that the resignation was passed along by his own will.  

“If anyone had approached me before the meeting to express their concerns, I would not have offered myself. If anyone had raised their concerns when I spoke in front of you all, I would have withdrawn my name,” he wrote.

Prescott also issued a written statement to The Journal. “What I said back in 2013 was callous and immeasurably hurtful to members of the Queen’s community. I regret them and apologise for them to the core of my being. I wish to retract them entirely,” he wrote. 

“No survivors of sexual violence should be faced with such a lack of understanding of their individual experiences, and for that I am truly sorry.”

Incoming Secretariat Neil Sengupta and current Secretariat Martinez will be in touch with Assembly members in coming days about electing a new Speaker. 

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