McGill Senate met on Wednesday, the same day that rabble.ca published the “Letter from the Fifth Floor Occupiers,” definitively identifying eight of the fourteen occupiers of the James Administration building on November 10.
Student Senator Matthew Crawford announced during his speech at the “We Are All McGill” rally on Monday that he had been on the fifth floor. In addition to Crawford, Arts Representative to SSMU Micha Stettin also signed the letter published on rabble, as did McGill students Jean-François Faucher, Ethan Kyle Feldman, Kevin Paul, Ben Patrick Stidworthy, Alex Timmons, and Derek Tyrrell. The other six occupiers wish to remain anonymous.
Senate suspended procedural rules to allow for a Committee of the Whole in which the events of November 10 could be discussed – including the inquiry to be conducted by Dean of Law Daniel Jutras.
With a room capacity of 125 people, administrators warned students and professors that space for spectators would be limited. As a result, over 50 students who did not make it inside gathered outside of the room. A live stream of the event was set up so that those outside of the room could watch the discussion.
In Senate, Jutras explained the process for his inquiry. As he spoke, many members of the gallery rose and turned their backs to the rows of senators, to show their disapproval of the administration’s decision to appoint Jutras to head the inquiry.
Senators were invited to talk about issues surrounding November 10. Management Senator and former Daily Web Editor Tom Acker read a statement regarding the events. “Thursday marked the day [students] stopped seeing their campus as a safe space,” he told senators.
Acker also referenced the fact that, despite an entirely peaceful gathering on Monday, at which numerous senior administrators were present, “McGill still had police cars waiting outside three campus entrances,” leaving students – still reeling from their November 10 experiences – uncomfortable.
Darin Barney, a Senator and associate professor in Art History and Communication Studies, urged the administration to “reverse the trend of the securitization of this campus.” He further called on the Principal to rename James Square “Community Square” – to honour the decision made by students at “We Are All McGill” – as well as to designate November 10 “Freedom Day” at McGill.
Crawford addressed the room as he recounted his experience on the fifth floor. “I really, really hope that our efforts were not in vain, and that this sees a new era at McGill where we see frank discussions about student representation of the student voice on campus,” Crawford said in an interview before the Senate meeting.
Gallery members stood in support as Crawford explained that McGill Security should not be able to lay hands on students, deny giving their names when asked, or “wantonly call the police when a clearly peaceful demonstration enters campus.” Crawford assured those listening that the “fifth floor of the James Administration building was entirely peaceful.”
Provost Anthony Masi, who had previously been identified as participating in negotiations with the fifth floor occupiers on November 10, spoke minutes after Crawford.
“I actually witnessed some of the things on the fifth floor,” Masi said, claiming that staff was “subject to attack by individuals who were wearing scarves and hoods.”
Gallery members stood and turned their back to the room as Masi began to speak, hissing when Masi commented, “You can’t turn your backs on the truth.”
“The only thing we wanted to do was make sure that every one of them got out safely and securely,” Masi added, referring to office staff.
Crawford rose and left the room at Masi’s comments. Students in the gallery began to walk out after Crawford, crying “lies.” Timmons, another occupier, shouted, “Students were assaulted… Shame on McGill” as he walked out of the room. The students joined a group of peers still outside, who began to chant “no more lies” and “shame on McGill.”
After the meeting, Timmons said he felt that Masi was “skewing the reality of what happened” on the fifth floor.
“As someone who had no voice [in Senate]… I feel that my voice had to be heard,” he added.
Crawford also expressed reservations about Masi’s monologue. “I felt [Masi’s] narrative was problematic, planted in a particular bias that did not fully respect what the students [occupying] were trying to do,” he said. However, Crawford did say that he thought the Principal’s remarks on the subject “were extremely productive…even if they were somewhat late.”
—with files from Erin Hudson and Michael Lee-Murphy