Commentary | A letter to the fifth floor occupiers

Criticism from a supporter

It is with admiration and anger, exasperation and love, that I write this letter expressing my gratitude and frustration regarding the occupation of Heather Munroe-Blum’s office on 10 November.  Having read your statement of November 11, “Letter From the Fifth Floor Occupiers,” and as a supporter of the student movement, I must congratulate and agree with the eloquently worded sentiments behind your brave action. However, as a member of the McGill community and as a friend, I feel that I must also respectfully point out some perhaps unconsidered consequences of your decision to occupy.

To preface, let me thank you for your courage, which seems to me beyond doubt.  It takes stern stuff to stand up to the likes of the administration, considering all the wealth and power and force of arms at their disposal.  Yet I must question the platform you chose to make your stand: why this day and why at McGill? Last Thursday marked a province-wide movement of thousands of students directed at the provincial government of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, from which the decision to raise tuition fees stems.  I fear that the occupation, in drawing the attention of our campus – and of the media – away from the message of Thursday’s protest, may inadvertently cause the community to lose sight of the stakes in the battle ahead.

In this vein, I also question the secrecy with which the decision to occupy was made.  I understand why, perhaps, you did not consult the greater movement – you did not want an information breach to alert administration, who would, in all likelihood, have pre-empted your efforts.  But, in keeping this knowledge from us – from the hundreds of students who followed you, the students who reacted passionately and forcefully to try and liberate you from the police – you participated in the creation of a situation of conflict for which we were not prepared.  I do not think I exaggerate in saying that we would have moved heaven and earth to ensure your safety, and, in attempting to do so, some of us were harmed.  We are your supporters and community – we deserved to know what we were getting into.  Furthermore, it is democracy and true empowerment that you fight for, is it not?  I must remind you to please remember that, whether you intended to or not, your actions represent us to the greater world, and so the decisions that affect us all must be made openly, or else we risk replicating the very administration and government we fight against.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.  I do not intend to impugn your integrity, only to query your forethought and to make a suggestion for the future: speak not for me, but with me.  Be not my martyrs, but my brothers and sisters.  Stand not ahead of me in the storm, but beside me, and together we will usher in the future we deserve.

In solidarity,

Ryan Thom is a U2 Social Work Student. He can be reached at