Commentary  A false sense of security

Last Monday, approximately 40 students participated in a sit-in at the Y-intersection in the heart of campus. At times, up to ten security guards were stationed around the demonstration, even though it was peaceful and accommodating of campus traffic. Security guards asked for some students’ ID cards, including those who were simply standing on the sides. Security Services threatened that they would call the police on students – without any good reason.

This incident is not unique. Since September 1, Security Services has been more visible than usual at McGill, positioning guards at frequent intervals on campus. These practices create an atmosphere of continual surveillance. While their motto reads “working with you, for a safe community,” many Security Services’ interactions with the McGill community at and around demonstrations since the start of the semester throw the legitimacy of their services into question.

Tactics such as asking students for identification and threatening to call the police result in a feeling of widespread intimidation. Students should not feel intimidated by our Security Services when we express opinions on campus.

Even more unnerving, Security Services have repeatedly filmed demonstrators with a handheld camera. When asked, both security staff and senior administration refuse to disclose what said footage would be used for. Additionally, Security Services sometimes films from vantage points that are not readily visible to protestors. This means that we’re not always aware when we’re being filmed. For example, on September 30, a member of security staff was filming a demonstration from across the street, blocked from view by both moving traffic and parked cars.

The opaque operating methods and lack of accountability of Security Services amount to serious cause for concern for all members of the McGill community. Plainclothed security staff have had more of a presence in the recent weeks, making it difficult to even identify where security are. Though security staff wears ID badges, these are not clearly visible, making it more difficult for students to even identify with whom they’re interacting. This makes it a challenge to hold security guards accountable for their actions.

By using threats of police, unexplained operating procedures, and a disproportionate presence around demonstrators, Security Services subverts its own purposes, making students on campus feel less safe when they should be doing the opposite. The behaviour of Security Services since the start of the year, and last week in particular, calls into question what the job of McGill security really is. If they aren’t here to protect us, then what are they here for?