I am writing to you out of concern for two students – and members of the Mob Squad – Joël Pedneault and Micha Stettin. I learned from The McGill Daily on October 22 that these students are facing allegations that they breached the Code of Student Conduct because of a demonstration in support of the MUNACA strike that took place at the Y-intersection on October 11. I myself did not attend this demonstration because I was teaching. All I know about it is what I just said. But I have been present at two other demonstrations at the Y-intersection organized by the Mob Squad in support of MUNACA: one held on Monday, September 26 and one that took place the following Wednesday. The demonstrations I attended could only be described as peaceful assemblies designed to convey to the McGill higher administration – and indeed the University community as a whole – the views of the assembled students and faculty members. To that end, students and faculty sat in a circle and took turns speaking into a bull-horn.
Does the word ‘bull-horn’ send alarm bells? I don’t think it should. The injunction that went into effect on Friday, September 23, expressly prohibited members of MUNACA from using “amplifying devices.” But, none of the people at the demonstrations I attended were members of MUNACA, or any sort of union operative. Was it loud? It was certainly loud enough – on September 23 – that it drew my attention, as I ate a piece of pizza outside, in front of Redpath Hall. But before we think of using the word “disruptive” here, I would like to put things in perspective by inviting you to consider the following two cases.
My office is on the ninth floor of the Leacock Building, overlooking the Redpath Museum and the lawn where the Open Air Pub sets up shop every year at the beginning of September. When the live bands start playing, I must abandon my office, even though – at the beginning of September – my office is the most convenient place for me to work. I repeatedly complained about this disruption – and that is the right word for it – back in the mid and late 1990s. But I had to give up, because no amount of complaining seemed to make a difference. It has always been simpler to abandon my office. This is a disruption that the McGill higher administration thinks I must tolerate.
Here is the second case of disruption we must all tolerate: for two years in a row, the Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11 has involved a piece of heavy artillery borrowed from a local garrison that fires once every minute for 21 minutes. It is so loud that my colleague Calvin Normore, who attended the ceremony last year, told me that it caused him to “levitate.” I have deep respect for those who served, and who serve now, in the Canadian Armed Forces. I welcome the opportunity to reflect on their sacrifice and to hope that no such sacrifice will be required in the future. But a salvo of 21 shots over 21 minutes makes such reflection absolutely impossible. It disrupts all of those trying to work in their offices or trying to teach or learn in classrooms. Moreover, it may be torture, pure and simple, for the people in our university community – some of whom are surely veterans – who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Those people, and anybody who just does not want to “levitate,” must stay away from the campus for some part of the day on November 11. This is disruption that, for some of us, borders on abuse. Yet, we are expected to tolerate it.
When I consider the significant disruption caused by the Open Air Pub and the Remembrance Day ceremonies and compare it to the noise generated by the two demonstrations I attended at the Y-intersection, I infer that there is double standard at work. The McGill higher administration has no problem at all with disruption. But it flies into a panic when it encounters members of our community who support MUNACA and wish to exercise their right to express their criticism of the administration’s handling of the strike. In the case at hand, disciplinary action against Pedneault and Stettin, at least, appears to be worse than unfair. It has all the appearance of vindictiveness. The demonstration held on September 23 proceeded to the James Administration building, just as the Provost, Tony Masi, and the Vice Principal for Finance and Administration, Michael di Grappa, happened to walk by. They were recognized, and came to address the demonstration. The “archival material” shows that Di Grappa announced to assembled students that they did not have the right to demonstrate on campus. He was called on that: a student read to him the relevant section of the Charter of Student Rights, according to which – yes, indeed – students have the right to free expression and free assembly on campus. Under the circumstances, it is difficult for me not to infer that an example is being made of Pedneault and Stettin for no better reason than that Michael di Grappa made a fool of himself in public. But I ask: whose fault is that?
Alison Laywine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy. You can reach her at email@example.com.