Commentary | Intensive English classes should be gun-free

Hyde Park

I’ve been living in Montreal for two and a half months. My time here as a Special Intensive English student at Mcgill has gone by too fast. I feel privileged to have studied in McGill’s Continuing Education building, located in the heart of downtown behind the McCord Museum. Of course, I’ve seen many parts of Montreal, and compared to my home of Jakarta, Indonesia, I’ve enjoyed living in such a stable and well-functioning city.

While I personally haven’t seen any slums or crime, I understand that Montreal still has its fair share of problems – the August shooting of Freddy Villenueva in Montreal North, for instance. I mostly kept up with the issue by reading the student press, as publications at both McGill and Concordia had continuing coverage of the event.

This incident really shocked me. When I left Indonesia – where the Military has ruled for almost three decades – I never thought I would hear of a shooting like this in Canada.

Even though some people accepted the shooting because of Villenueva’s alleged and unfounded gang connections, this does not justify the actions the police took. As the issue continued to be discussed in newspapers and around the city, it brought back bad memories of my previous life under Indonesia’s military rule.

McGill Special Intensive English is a good course, with most students coming from all over the globe. Today, English as a second language has become an indicator of globalization (people fly to Canada to take English courses). Two weeks in we had a lecture about “Cops.” This was the oddest experience I’ve had in Montreal. For almost two hours, a Montreal police officer from the Prevention Division gave a general presentation about various law enforcement institutions and practices.

He told us he gets $70,000 per year, and claimed that his institution was the cleanest and least corrupt institution in the world.

All of a sudden, the students got excited and began asking many questions about his job and Canadian legal issues. Some students were even taking pictures of him, with one volunteering to play the role of a “bad guy,” who the cop subsequently handcuffed. The atmosphere changed when the officer told us in-depth information about his tools: badge, stars, uniform, blue jeans, bullet-proof Kevlar vest, pepper spray, and a 9-mm gun ready to shoot, plus 48 bullets with two separates sets of ammo. While he was presenting the gun, the officer clearly explained that he was permitted to use it only when he felt his life was in danger.

In reality, some police officers may not follow this strict principle. Consider the case of 18-year-old Nashwan Abdullah, who, less than two months ago, was shot and wounded by police after being chased on foot. And early on the morning of Tuesday, October 21, a police officer opened fire inside the ProGym in the city’s East End.

After asking why the police officer was invited to give the presentation, I found that one of my teachers had asked him to come. Although this presentation was not required by the McGill curriculum, the Centre of Continuing Education had to sign off it. I also told Amnesty International-McGill about the officer’s lecture-gun-show-off, though two members had differing opinions on the appropriateness of the event.

This was an intimidating and unnecessary message to deliver to international students. Should we be forced to accept such acts simply because we are not Canadian citizens? On the contrary, we need our campuses to be free of such militarism. We really don’t need a presentation about 9-mm guns to learn the English language.

Clarification

As the author of the this article, I would like to clarify that during the police presentation the gun that was brought to the presentation was never removed from the holster. As a part of the presentation, the students were given information about the gun worn by the officer (including the caliber, when it can be used, number of bullets) and shown the ammunition, Kevlar bullet-proof vest, pepper spray, and given a handcuffing demonstration.

-Andri Cahyadi

Andri Cahyadi just finished a nine-week special intensive English course at the Centre of Continuing Education. You can reach him at andri.cahyadi@mail.mcgill.ca.


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