Ariel Prado, U3 Arts student, is one of two McGill students arrested during the November 10 demonstration on campus. Prado talked to The Daily about his experience and how he feels McGill responded to the events.
The McGill Daily: Were you at the tuition march during the day?
Ariel Prado: I was at the march all day, and then at some point somebody said something about them wanting more people at James Administration, that there was something going on over there. So I walked with a group of friends – we really had no idea what was going on – over to James Administration to check it out.
MD: How many people would you say were there at that point? Was there any action?
AP: When we got there…maybe closer to 50. There were a lot of people yelling, there was a woman and two security guards in front of the main door of James Administration and a couple security guards by the other door, just preventing people from coming in. There were rumours and people yelling in the crowd that there were people being held on the fifth floor, abused by the security – it was a lot of people yelling, and it was hard to tell whether it was people trying to incite the crowd or what was actually happening.
MD: When did the human chain around James Administration start? Were you part of it?
AP: The human chain started probably ten minutes after [student and former Daily news and features editor Niko Block] was on the megaphone. Maybe a little less, but well before the police arrived. For a while I was [part of it], and then that kind of broke up when the bicycle cops came…because a bunch of students went to stand in front of the bicycle cops so that they couldn’t keep coming forward. And then, that got violent, the bicycle cops tried to lift their bikes so they could push through the crowd, and in response students started throwing things at the cops, I don’t know how many, but at least one stick went flying into the crowd of cops.
MD: From what you saw, did students begin to throw things first?
AP: I don’t know if I can speak to that. From what I saw, cops were lifting their bikes and trying to push through the crowd first; it was already an incited environment, it was already an environment that felt like something violent was going to happen.
Eventually I ended up in a human chain in front of the main door of James Administration and, I think, it was five or six of us, and the idea, I guess, was…to block the main door so that nobody else could get out of the building…until students who were trapped on the fifth floor were let out. And, at that point we were talking a little bit with the security guards who were in front of the door, in between us and the door, and they kept saying that they didn’t know what was going on, but that, of course, McGill Security wouldn’t be abusing our students, and if they were abusing our students, then why wouldn’t they kick our ass too, or something like that.
MD: When did you get arrested?
AP: I got arrested when the riot cops showed up. I was facing the building, so they came up behind me… I knew they were coming but I couldn’t tell where they were or when they were coming, and eventually one of them just started hitting me with his nightstick, I mean – they do it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt, it’s just forceful so it’s really pushing me to get out of the way – poking me with it, wrapping it around me trying to pull me backwards – and eventually he ended up grabbing [me] by the collar of my shirt and with the nightstick pulling me back out of this crowd and then three to four cops starting shoving me with their shields. They shoved me to a certain point and I kind of stopped there and just stood there because I didn’t want to leave… A bunch of my friends were in the crowd and I didn’t want to leave them. So another cop came and he shoved me a little further back with his shield… They kept coming up, shoving me to go back, and finally one cop came up and he started yelling in my face and he said that if I didn’t leave campus by foot I would be leaving in a paddy wagon. To which I, maybe stupidly, replied that he was going to have to arrest me because I wasn’t going to leave my friends behind until I knew that they were safe. And then he said ‘Okay, well then get on your knees.’
MD: Do you know why you in particular were arrested?
AP: I think partly because I was part of that [human] chain… I’ve been trying to think about why they targeted me, and I don’t know. I didn’t threaten them in any way, and I never raised my hands above my waist. I got charged with assaulting a police officer. And I never lifted my hands. I just stepped back every time they pushed me, and stopped [when] they stopped pushing me.
MD: Did they tell you what you were being arrested for?
AP: I didn’t know until I was getting my mug shot taken that I was being charged with assaulting a police officer. And then later on when I had a legal call I was told that because I’m an international student I was going to have to spend the night in jail… Then after being escorted to my cell, maybe an hour, two hours later – I don’t know I didn’t have a clock – somebody came and said that they were going to suspend the charges because, even though they knew I had assaulted a police officer, they couldn’t find the report, at the time, that said so, and so if they found the report maybe they’d call me back or something. Really – very clear that they just didn’t want to admit that there was no proof that I had assaulted a police officer.
MD: Were you near anybody that you knew, who might have seen the arrest?
AP: No, because the police pulled up from Milton Gates, so they were pushing everybody back towards Ferrier, and I ended up on the other side, in between the police and Milton Gates. At one point I realized that nobody was seeing me get arrested, and that kind of scared me because I didn’t want to get taken to jail with nobody knowing, so I started yelling that I was being arrested and asking for somebody to take pictures or do something. One of the cops came over and shoved my hat over my face so that I couldn’t yell any more, and then, at that point, I don’t know if anybody was watching me.
I was arrested at the same time as [U3 Engineering student] Alex Briggs, and we were both escorted into – I don’t know who was escorted off of campus first – but we were both, we ended up in the same cop car and were together for most of the night, so that was nice to have some kind of solidarity, that was cool. But I didn’t see anyone else – I saw him in the process of being arrested, but I couldn’t hear what he was being arrested for.
MD: When they released you, did they drop the charges?
AP: They said they’d get in contact with me if they were going to press charges, so I don’t know. But I don’t think they’re going to press charges. I hope that they don’t press charges.
MD: Where was the jail that they took you to?
AP: On Guy, just below René Lévesque… In the paddywagon, you have no way of knowing where they’re taking you. The way that you end up leaving the jail, there’s a key card that they have to swipe, so that they can open up the door and then they close that behind you, and you’re in a garage. I was in there for like a minute before anything happened, it was just this concrete garage with two garage doors, and I was kind of looking around, like, waiting for what’s gonna happen next. Then one of the garage doors opens, and there’s nobody there. I just assume that I’m supposed to walk out of this garage door and I walk out of it, and they close it, and its like a scene from a movie – you turn around and the door closes behind me, and [there’s] just no way I could go back in if I wanted to, and there’s just no sign that it ever actually happened. All of a sudden, I have all my stuff, I’m out on the busy street and nobody even saw me come out of this door.
This is less relevant to what actually happened, but I thought it was interesting the entire time, you’re constantly switching police…the majority of the people were so ready to assume that I was a criminal and so ready to really be angry with me – to the extent where, when I was being processed, I was in a room with six cops around me, two of them were actually talking to me, and one in the corner who, when they found a computer in my backpack, asked me, ‘Why would you bring a computer, something breakable, to a manifestation, where you clearly planned to throw rocks at police?’ I looked at him, and said, ‘I didn’t want to throw rocks at you, I wanted to do my homework after the manifestation, I was just going to go home or to a cafe or something.’ He said, ‘Okay, maybe think twice next time.’
MD: Did you actually throw rocks?
AP: No, no, no, I got charged with assault of a police officer, because I refused to leave the campus. But, at no point did I lift my hands above my waist, I mean I was standing there and that’s it.
That, more than anything, is what I want to emphasize, is that what was really terrible about last night was that, from both sides, there was just this complete willingness to be angry at the other side. This complete willingness to set up – and after the police show up, it’s pretty hard not to feel like it’s an us and them thing, when there’s people in uniform and people not in uniform – but even before that point, there was this complete willingness to really antagonize one another as opposed to discussion.
Even when it was [Block] who was up on the megaphone, when he was talking, there were people who were too riled up and too excited to be shouting at the security guards, and they had to be shushed for almost a full minute. People had to try to get them to calm down so that [Block] could talk. The whole way through, with the police and with everybody, there’s this feeling that nobody really wants to have dialogue, nobody really wants to really understand. I don’t even really know what happened with the people inside, I have no idea, and neither did most of the people on the outside; they were just going based on rumours. And the security guards didn’t seem to know either; they were just going based on orders.
For me, what would have been perfect would have been for all of us to sit there and just to wait for the kids to come out and in solidarity establish our presence and that’s it, but to have people storm in the building like it’s some kind of castle, people yelling, ‘We need more bodies, we need more bodies inside!’ doesn’t make sense to me. Bodies can be outside, inside, they don’t need to be rescued – they’re not hostages. It’s just wrong… ‘We’ll just wait until it’s rectified’ was how I would have liked to have seen it, and I think that that comes out of a climate where the students are so alienated from the administration, and from McGill… It’s really easy to see this line between the two groups: between students and the security, between students and the administration, and when the police show up, between students and the police, because it’s the simplest way to go about addressing the situation. I don’t think it really helps anyone.
MD: How did it feel to be arrested on your own campus?
AP: It’s – more than anything, that’s what pisses me off, is that cops were called into this. I think it’s evidence of the kind of environment that we have on this campus, that really alienates the students from the administration. Although I’ve heard since that the administration actually wasn’t responsible for calling the police, and that it was the security guards, which is still strange to me – that this group that we’ve contracted to keep us safe, as the McGill community, ended up calling the police on us. There’s just something strange there. And I don’t think that the police should have been on campus in the first place. There was no threat from the students towards the administration, or towards the security.
I’m scared now because there’s this huge protest being planned for Monday and a whole bunch of other things, and it’s so easy for this kind of climate to just keep escalating and to really create this division between the administration and the students – and I don’t see that going anywhere positive. I really hope that the administration, even if they don’t want to take full responsibility for what happened [Thursday] night, extends some kind of invitation to some kind of discourse because the simple emails we’ve been getting, and the minimal interaction we’ve had with the administration, has just completely alienated us from them.
MD: Are you aware there’s a sit-in outside of James Administration right now [Friday November 11]?
AP: It’s kind of surreal to be passing that, 18 hours later, after thinking – I thought I was going to spend the entire day in jail and then in court, and then trying to figure out with customs whether or not I was allowed to stay in this country… Then a day later to be passing the exact same spot and realize that it might, actually, just completely blow over – at least the me being arrested part.
I think I got out of jail around 7:45 p.m. or 8:00 p.m… On the way back from jail, I just found myself walking back across campus and there were students leaving the library, and, at the same time, just signs of something that had happened but nobody knew, kids talking about just where they were gonna get drunk. It was really strange. It was really, really strange.
—compiled by Queen Arsem-O’Malley and Erin Hudson