Two McGill undergraduate students were arrested on lower campus last Sunday when at least eight Montreal police officers swarmed onto campus to break up a small crowd of marijuana smokers.
About 200 students had gathered on the hill on lower field that afternoon to observe “4/20,” an international event that celebrates marijuana use and to calls for its legalization.
According to Associate Director of McGill Security Pierre Barbarie, McGill Security called the downtown police to campus after some people with illegal drugs refused to leave.
“Obviously we can’t handle criminal activities on campus,” Barbarie said, explaining that Security officers do not have the authority to arrest or charge people.
However, neither of the two arrested students – who were rolling a joint containing less than a gram of marijuana, which they said belonged to friends – said they were approached by McGill Security prior to being handcuffed.
“They did not give us a warning…. [If they had], I would’ve left for sure,” said one of the students arrested. Both international students, the arrestees asked to remain anonymous.
They also accused the police of mistreatment once they found out they were international students, alleging that officers exaggerated the consequences they would face – insisting that immigration offices would be notified, and joking about torture.
“I knew it was a joke, but it was not cool to say,” he said.
As well, the students said they were not told why they were arrested until officers searched them and found no other marijuana or paraphernalia. They were then issued a summons to appear in court for small possession charges.
Provost Anthony Masi, who left his research office on campus to observe the scene after the police’s four squad cars arrived, said that although he was surprised by the heavy police presence, the large gathering and nature of the offense warranted the response.
He added that police have rarely, if ever, come onto campus in the past three years.
“I don’t like to see police presence on our campus – it concerns me,” Masi said.
SSMU VP External Affairs Max Silverman argued that the arrests were excessive, considering people often smoke marijuana in large groups around Montreal, especially on April 20.
“With a campus full of young, progressive intellectuals…it’s outrageous for anything [like this] to happen,” Silverman said.
Many other 420 celebrations went unchecked by police this year. Hundreds also gathered in Mount Royal Park without incident; at the University of Colorado, 10,000 people gathered without incident even though campus security officers have similar powers as police.
After speaking to a lawyer, the arrested students said they are confident they will only have to pay a fine for their offence.
“I’m pretty stressed – trying not to think about it during exams,” the student said, adding that he thought Canada was more tolerant of marijuana smoking.
“I really thought it was an accepting culture. I was pretty surprised.”
Montrealers will again push for more lenient drug laws at the international Marijuana March on May 3, starting at Berri Square.
The Montreal police did not return The Daily’s requests for comment.