Two graduate students in the Faculty of Medicine faced threats from McGill Human Resources after writing a petition in support of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) strike. The students – who wish to remain anonymous in the press – began the petition in late September in response to McGill’s first injunction against MUNACA picketers.
The students, who work in the McIntyre Medical building, said that they found the injunction to be an “overreaction” on the part of McGill, and that they had never been denied access to their building or experienced any sort of harassment or violence from MUNACA picketers.
The petition is addressed to Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and Provost Anthony Masi. “We are writing this petition to show our concern with recent measures taken by McGill University to restrain the freedom of expression of its valuable MUNACA/PSAC [Public Service Alliance of Canada] employees,” the letter begins, and stresses the peaceful nature of the MUNACA strikers.
“Basically, the petition complains more about trying to prevent them to strike and trying to humiliate them and take away their dignity as workers and as citizens,” explained one of the authors in an interview with The Daily.
After creating the petition, the students hung posters to encourage people to add their signatures.
“Someone from Human Resources called a lady from our department and told her, ‘Look, if the people continue with this, not only they will have troubles, but also their supervisor will have problems. So, I advise them to take the posters off, and they cannot collect signatures inside the building,’” explained one of the authors of the petition.
The students asked for clarification of the complaint, and asked for a document or regulation that states that signatures cannot be collected within a University building or on University property.
According to the students, the Human Resources department changed their position upon questioning, and stated only that the students would need permission from the building director for posters.
The building director denied the request.
“He told us, ‘No, because this is for MUNACA; you are MUNACA, you are on strike,’” said one of the students. The students are not represented by any union, and had no correspondence with MUNACA in the writing of the petition.
The text of the petition was posted on the Facebook page of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), despite the fact that the union represents neither of the students involved in writing the petition.
AGSEM President Lerona Lewis said that the union felt it was “really inspiring that [the students] didn’t need an organized group to champion their cause. They decided to do it on their own, which is why we posted it.”
Lewis said that she was not surprised by the response from McGill, citing similar problems with the course lecturers’ unionization drive last year, when Masi ordered posters to be taken down. The orders prompted an open letter from professors, who denounced the administration’s actions.
“It’s the same kind of desire to stifle free speech,” Lewis said. “It’s not really a good trend at a university,” she added.
The authors of the petition are continuing to collect signatures and still plan to send the document to senior administration.
“When I arrived at McGill, I felt really comfortable. I felt [it] was a good place, a good environment for knowledge,” said one of the authors. “I don’t have the same type of feeling that I had when I started here, because I don’t feel safe.”
“Sometimes, I feel like this is not a university, it’s a corporation,” added the second student.
“For sure, we are super disappointed, and we feel really hurt,” they added.
Personnel from Human Resources or from the McIntyre Medical building were not available for comment at the time of press.