QPIRG and Opt-Out campaign clash

Competing charges of violence fuel tensions between groups

Last Thursday, September 24, tensions peaked in the ongoing battle between QPRIG (Quebec Public Interest Research Group) and the Opt-Out campaign against it, as the two groups clashed in the hallway between Macdonald Engineering and the Adams Building.

The Opt-Out campaign accused QPIRG of attacking their “private property,” including the fliers and posters on the Opt-Out table, while two QPIRG board members reported that a member of the Opt-Out campaign grabbed a QPIRG board member and briefly prevented her from leaving.

Last Thursday’s incident led the Opt-Out campaign to call McGill Security. According to Pierre Barbarie, Associate Director, University Safety, who was not on campus Thursday to witness these events firsthand, “The people wanting to hand out fliers called us to make sure everything went smoothly while they were handing out their fliers.”

When asked if any physical attacks had occurred, Barbarie said, “Not according to our log entry. We didn’t witness physical incident. Often times, we arrive and things are over, and I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I didn’t read anything that tells me that there was a physical altercation.”

However, Maddie Ritts, a QPIRG board member, said she was grabbed by Jess Weiser, former Conservative McGill president and current Opt-Out campaigner, after Ritts removed a pile of fliers and posters from the Opt-Out table.

“I had to push and fight him off of me…he would not let go of me,” she told The Daily.

According to an article this week in the McGill Tribune, Weiser denied any allegations that he touched Ritts.

However, Kira Page, a QPIRG board member and a witness to the event, confirmed that at one point Weiser physically held Ritts.

“Maddie was very frustrated [with the Opt-Out campaigners],” Page told The Daily. “She wasn’t there for long, but she ended up grabbing the fliers off the table. Then, Jess grabbed her and wouldn’t let her go. She was yelling ‘Let me go, let me go,’ and at that point I intervened and said physical assault is really a different thing than taking fliers, and I think you should probably let her go right now. … and he let her go, and she ran.”

In an email to The Daily, Weiser said it was QPIRG that acted violently. “QPIRG’s board members as well as their group of supporters grew in number, and their verbal attacks on campaign members became increasingly vial [sic], including racial slurs and stereotyping,” he wrote. The slurs included the phrase “rich white boy,” according to the Tribune.

Addressing Weiser’s charges of racism, Ritts said, “I believe that calling someone out for speaking from the stance of white privilege does not constitute a racial slur.” She said she was not speaking on behalf of QPIRG.

Ritts added that she was “frustrated and saddened” that Weiser would not “own up” to grabbing her. “I think that’s it’s deeply troubling when statements get made that emphasize harm to private property – which I don’t even think removing a stack of fliers constitutes – [and are then] conflated with physical restriction on to some one else’s movement,”  she continued.

Wesier maintained that “members of QPIRG board of directors” argued “aggressively with members of our campaign.” He also alleged that QPIRG board members “physically obstructed members of our camapaign from distributing flyers.”

Citing an Opt-Out press release disseminated the night of the confrontation charging that QPIRG “physically attacked” the campaign table, Page said the incident “is being turned into a ‘QPIRG is violent’ thing, and [the campaigners] are really playing into the line, which is that QPIRG is funding terrorism and anarchists and building pipe bombs, and this whole lie about what QPIRG does, which is totally incorrect.”

The period during which students could opt out of paying QPIRG’s $3.75 per semester student fee ended yesterday.