Commentary | An inadequate investigation

On November 11, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum called on the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Daniel Jutras, to write a report that would review the events of November 10 and make recommendations regarding future practices, processes, and policies at McGill University in order to avoid a repeat of similar events.

The report included some positive aspects. For example, it contained testimony from the fifth floor occupiers who identified themselves publicly, and it called for the University to “revisit standard operating procedures with a view to articulating clear directives or frameworks in relation to demonstrations, protests and occupations on campus.”

However, the terms of reference set by Munroe-Blum demanded that there should be no findings regarding individual responsibility or disciplinary action. These parameters rendered the report toothless and somewhat futile.

In addition to Munroe-Blum giving inappropriate parameters for the report, she also designated the wrong person to write it. While Jutras has an excellent record as a distinguished academic and member of the Quebec Bar Association since 1984, these qualifications do not necessarily designate him fit to undertake the investigation. As a dean at McGill, he has a vested interest in maintaining the reputation of McGill and its administration. His position creates a conflict of interest that undermines the report. Someone from outside the University could have produced a report untainted by questions of possible bias.

The report’s flawed design was made in some of the findings. Most glaringly, some of Jutras’ statements appeared to have a bias. For example, regarding allegations of police assauling protesters with their bicycles he states, “I find somewhat unlikely that six or seven police officers violently charged their bicycles into a crowd of several dozen protesters, given the risk at which they would have put themselves in doing so.” This willingness to trust the police rather than students’ statements indicates a troubling tendency to put faith in authority figures such as police. Jutras should have cast a skeptical eye on the testimony of police as well as students rather than blindly accepting either side’s account. Further, Jutras’ personal opinion regarding the credibility of testimonies should not have been included in the report, as it not a factual finding.

Moreover, Jutras drew a seemingly inaccurate conclusion in at least one case. When discussing the police gathered in front of the James Administration building, he declared that “Six or seven police officers on bicycles moved in the direction of the crowd gathered in front of the James Building”, despite YouTube evidence that suggested there were many more officers than that. This apparent willingness to make declarative, factual statements about ambiguous situations casts doubt on the veracity of the report’s findings.

As a result of the flaws in the terms of reference of the Jutras investigation, students started their own investigation on november 11.  This investigation will offer a different viewpoint than that of the Jutras report, and may potentially reveal facts that the Jutras report did not. The Student Inquiry’s Preliminary Report is now available; however, a final version is forthcoming, pending the return of access to information requests. Students should make sure to inform themselves of both points of view, and to be as educated as possible about the realities of what happened on November 10.

Professor Jutras’ Report of the Internal Investigation into the events of November 10, 2011 can be found at http://www.mcgill.ca/dean-jutras-report/.  The November 10 Student Inquiry’s Preliminary Report can be found at http://independentstudentinquiry.blogspot.com/.


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.