In the fall of 2015, Sean Cory, president of the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), used McGill’s Policy on Safe Disclosure (“whistleblowing policy”) to bring allegations of improper behaviour against a McGill professor.
According to the administration’s response, there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
In February 2015, students working for the professor in question had begun approaching AMURE with various complaints. The most serious of these concerned hidden cameras allegedly installed in labs under the professor’s management, and allegedly connected to a password-protected digital video recorder (DVR) which could be accessed remotely.
Signage was in place informing the public that the labs in question were under surveillance. But in an email he sent to a departmental administrator in February 2015, Cory said, “While there is indeed a sign, a reasonable person would conclude that they are not being remotely monitored and not being viewed in areas not under overt surveillance.”
In response to his email, however, the administrator wrote “anyone seeing that sign would conclude that they could be observed, whether by conspicuous or hidden cameras.”
Cory filed several access to information requests (ATIs) and received access to certain documents.
“Anyone seeing that sign would conclude that they could be observed, whether by conspicuous or hidden cameras.”
“There was a lot of stuff there, and it was enough that I thought McGill should look into it,” explained Cory.
He began by filing an official grievance report with the department, but this was denied on the grounds that the cameras had been installed for “ethically approved behavioural research purposes.”
But when he filed an ATI asking for the relevant ethics approval forms, Cory said no such documentation was produced.
“Either [the surveillance] was for valid research purposes – well, show me some of that – or it was not, and it was potentially used to monitor students,” said Cory.
Met with the dismissal of his official complaint, Cory decided to report his concerns using McGill’s whistleblowing policy. He filed a report in September 2015 that detailed the various complaints described above, attaching evidence to support some of his allegations.
When asked to comment on the matter, in an email to The Daily, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Angela Campbell questioned AMURE’s decision not to pursue the official complaint, and “advance [the] case to arbitration if [AMURE] does indeed have the evidence of improper activity which it claims.”
Two months after filing the report, Cory was informed that the University had investigated the matter thoroughly, and that a report of their findings had been filed with Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi. No further information was provided, however, and Cory only found out about the outcome of the investigation – that his allegations had been deemed unfounded – from a Montreal Gazette article about the case, which he had brought to the newspaper’s attention.
“They said they did an investigation, but if you don’t even talk to anybody, […] really, how much effort did they put into it?”
“They didn’t say if I was right, they didn’t say if I was wrong,” he said.
“They never asked me a single question. […] They didn’t interview me, they didn’t ask if I had any proof. They said they did an investigation, but if you don’t even talk to anybody, […] really, how much effort did they put into it?”
The Daily contacted the University to ask why no details of the investigation or ethics approval documentation for the cameras had been released, and to inquire about the possible ramifications of such a lack of transparency.
Campbell replied that she was “not in a position to discuss the specifics of any case,” but that “investigations under [McGill’s Policy on Safe Disclosure] are strictly confidential, with a view to protecting the parties involved (crucially, whistleblowers). Investigations carried out under this Policy follow the letter of the Policy’s terms, and are conducted in a rigorous and impartial manner.”
The professor involved did not reply to a request for comment from The Daily.