The Quebec Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group based in Quebec, expressed concern on Monday over McGill’s decision to implement new regulations on campus protests. The regulations, first introduced in provisional form in response to the five-day occupation of the James administration building last February, drew the ire of three of the University’s thirteen unions and of major student groups shortly after its announcement.
In an interview with The Daily, Philippe Robert de Massy, a lawyer and spokesperson for the group, described the protocol as “unrealistic” and “seemingly authoritarian.”
“There’s already plenty of laws and charters that regulate freedom of speech,” he said in French. “It gives the impression that McGill wants to turn the screw [on protests.]”
Some of the protocol’s most controversial passages stipulate that the more “intense” the protest, the greater the “likelihood that it will be deemed not to be peaceful.”
“It seems that [the University] wants protests that aren’t bothersome. It’s not realistic. [Protests] are obviously political and they usually involve a certain degree of emotion,” he added.
Another clause in the document states that the University might notify “civil authorities” if protesters “refuse to comply with instructions from Security Services personnel, such as requiring demonstrators to reduce the level of noise, to identify themselves, to leave a particular location, to move to a more suitable location or to disperse.”
“For me, the fact that [McGill] reiterates these rules in a protocol signifies that it won’t be the same in [future demonstrations],” de Massy said. “It means, ‘next time, if we find that the level [of noise] is too high, expect us to intervene and watch out if you haven’t obeyed the rules.’”
In December, U3 Philosophy student Eli Freedman filed a grievance to the University Senate alleging that the new set of regulations violates the school’s charter of student rights, and likely infringes on provincial as well as international law.
The Montreal Gazette quoted prominent civil-rights lawyer Julius Grey as saying that he agreed with Freedman’s cause. Grey noted a shift in the University’s attitude regarding protests.
“It is the nature of students that they protest and this should be understood and accepted,” he added.
“I’m not asking for a better policy, I’m asking for no policy,” Freedman told The Daily. “This isn’t about me, it’s about any one that needs to use space at McGill… [McGill] needs a healthy tolerance for dissenting views.”
Freedman was told by the Senate grievance committee that he would be notified after winter break concerning whether or not he would be granted a hearing, though he had not yet received further communications from them as of yesterday.
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa, who is in charge of revising the protocol along with Provost Anthony Masi, told The Daily in an interview in December that he did not believe the protocol “violate[d] any rights,” and that instead it effectively “[balanced] between the rights of all parties.”
According to an email sent on the behalf of Di Grappa and Masi on November 30 to the university-wide community, the last date for students to return comments on the protocol via a confidential email address was January 7.
The document is set to go before Senate on January 23 and to the Board of Governors – McGill’s highest governing body – on January 29 for final approval.
—with files from Lola Duffort