On Tuesday June 21, lawyers representing McGill University gave 600 pages of documents to Cadence O’Neal, a member of Demilitarize McGill, a student group that protests military research on campus. This follows a nearly four-year-long legal battle during which McGill contested numerous access-to-information (ATI) requests to the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec.
According to The Globe and Mail, McGill received 170 ATI requests in 2012, a huge increase from the 37 it had received in 2011. In December 2012, the University submitted a motion to the Commission which would allow McGill to disregard ATI requests from any McGill student, any member of a McGill or Concordia University student newspaper, or anyone who “could reasonably be linked” to people who had made requests that McGill deemed problematic. In October 2013, this motion failed to pass.
“[Requests] are abusive because of their systemic character.”
The McGill administration argued that the requests were part of a coordinated attempt to overwhelm the University and waste its time and resources. The motion read that the requests “are abusive because of their systemic character,” and that the University had “serious grounds and reasons to believe that the same system will be used in the near future by the respondents and others in order to achieve the same illegitimate purposes.”
O’Neal believes that the University’s accusation that she was “participating in a complex system to undermine university functioning by overwhelming the system with access-to-information requests” was a ploy to avoid releasing sensitive information. “Many of us [the students deemed to be making so-called problematic requests] didn’t know each other,” O’Neal continued.
“There’s a lot of information and a lot more detail than we’ve ever really had before.”
Although O’Neal described the University’s allegation as “absurd,” she also expressed cautious optimism following the release of the documents.
“There’s a lot of information and a lot more detail than we’ve ever really had before,” she said. However, she added that “other current and former organizers of Demilitarize McGill are still waiting for their response to the access-to-information requests they made in 2012-2013.” The documents received pertain to requests that were made prior to 2013 which is “one of the most frustrating things about this information,” she added.
When asked about the documents’ contents, O’Neal said that she hadn’t had a chance to look through them thoroughly with other members of Demilitarize McGill. She elaborated, however, that “the nature of the documents that I have so far is extremely dense, [including] mathematical and engineering equations […done] by and for engineers.”
“Other current and former organizers of Demilitarize McGill are still waiting for their response to the access-to-information requests they made in 2012-2013.”
Also included in the documents are Powerpoint presentations and progress reports, mostly consisting of “presentations done by Professor [Wagdi] Habashi or his research assistants or PhD students,” according to O’Neal.
Professor Habashi is the director of the McGill Computational Fluid Dynamics (C.F.D.) Laboratory, and Demilitarize McGill has long documented his research. The group cited one of his articles on their website to demonstrate his involvement in military research, in which Professor Habashi noted that “UAV Missions during the NATO ‘engagement in Afghanistan’ were marked by mid-level icing encounters.’” According to Professor Habashi, this signalled “a need for new forms of ice protection, to be modeled and refined with FENSAP-ICE,” which refers to a technology he researches.
“I’m thinking I’ll find more juicy information about the applications and motivations for the research when McGill gives me 6,000 pages of emails that I’ll be looking at over the next few months.”
Demilitarize McGill hopes that information on Professor Habashi’s research will become clearer as they study the documents. “I haven’t found the nuggets of information that I’m looking for yet,” O’Neal stated.
However, O’Neal made it clear that for her, the best may be yet to come. “I’m thinking I’ll find more juicy information about the applications and motivations for the research when McGill gives me 6,000 pages of emails that I’ll be looking at over the next few months.”
The administration chose not to comment on the matter. Doug Sweet, Director of Internal Communications at the University, said in an email, “the University does not comment on matters that are or have been before a tribunal or court.”
Professor Habashi could not be reached for comment.