On Monday, November 14, hours before around 1000 McGill students gathered for an open forum event called We Are All McGill in front of the James Administration building on campus, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum sat down for a fall round table discussion with campus media Le Délit, The McGill Tribune, and The McGill Daily. The round table took place four days after the events of November 10 when 30,000 demonstrators protesting tuition hikes concluded their march beside McGill’s Roddick Gates. As the tuition demonstration concluded, 14 students occupied Munroe-Blum’s office in the James Administration building for nearly two hours and 200 demonstrators, who had gathered outside the building, were pushed off campus by riot police using pepper spray and tear gas.
The round table involves each reporter taking turns to ask Munroe-Blum questions. Traditionally, the round table takes place in Munroe-Blum’s office in the James building, however on November 14 the round table took place in Vice-Principal External Olivier Marcil’s office. The following interview is a transcription of the interview. Others who were present for the interview included Marcil and Director of Media Relations Doug Sweet. Follow the links below to download the full interview.
The McGill Tribune: On November 10, why did it take 24 hours for the University to respond and what happened to the emergency text system?
HMB: Well the point of the investigation is to look actually at the sequence of events and what happened. And so I can’t prejudge it, I actually wasn’t on campus at the time. We do have emergency systems, we do actually have a number of broad communication mechanisms and Thursday was an unusual day. Somewhere between 15,000 to 30,000 students at the edge of our campus demonstrating and we happen to be situated right across from the premier’s office. So of course I want to understand what happened but it was not a usual day. There was communication, it’s also seemed to be that things moved very, very fast and changed very quickly.
MT: We had an interview with Mendelson and I understand that there was someone in charge of administering the emergency text message system. It was [decided] not to use that system because it would increase the amount of students on campus, in the area. Why did the University act with mistrust to students, that they would automatically engage in violence and that [students] would incite violence instead of acting in the best interest of students’ safety?
HMB: Well again, Deputy Provost Professor Mendelson was here and I wasn’t. So I think that will be part of the investigation– what actually happened I think is a big question. One of the issues, of course, with demonstrations that are called for the University is that, with social media, everybody knows about them, and anybody can come. One of the real considerations for us as a community is working to have a forum where there’s open debate and an exchange of views. To have the debates and exchanges for the community within the community, and distributed – you know we’re a big place – so these should be happening all across the University and generally are, but with social media, with tens of thousands of students or protesters, who knows, they’re not all students, right? Then the issue is not a question of distrust of students, it is a question of the mix of protesters you get in a climate, and just look around the world, a climate of activism. So any demonstration can become a bit of a lightning rod for activists across the city with a range of issues, that’s one of the things that has to be dealt with. But I understand as well for the text messaging we depend on people signing on to it. And one of the things that you might do is encourage people to sign on because it will only be as good as the sign on. We’ll find out whether it was used or if it was used when it was used, but it is, I understand, one of four or five ways that we have of communicating with people in an emergency. We have a very well developed emergency management, communication and other [programs], and one of the things that I want to know is how well did that work in this circumstance.
Le Délit: So you weren’t there that day, you’re saying you want to wait for the investigation to answer any question as to what actually happened–
HMB: And it’s an internal investigation right? This is not just – maybe I’ll say a couple of things about it. Have you seen my releases? So you’ll know that it’s an internal investigation, it’s an investigation of what happened on our campus and in our processes. And it is not, clearly, it’s not there to stand instead of any normal processes – disciplinary, legal or otherwise. So if there are complaints that people have those complaints can still be filed, if there are disciplinary measures that people feel should be taken – those can still be implemented. But my reason for moving quickly to appoint Professor Jutras as investigator and to have a December 15 deadline – that’s a pretty intense for him. That’s a one month turnaround – is I want to get the facts understood as best as we can. It will be a public report when it comes out and you’ll certainly get it.
LD: So my questions is,you want to wait for the investigation to answer any questions as to what actually happened, but there’s a demonstration happening today. What steps have you taken to avoid having the situation happen again?
HMB: Well we’ve worked very hard – as you can imagine – to be as planned as we can be for a peaceful demonstration. I want to stress as well, everybody has a responsibility to keep our campus safe. You know about community safety, community safety only happens when there is a wide spread engagement to have a peaceful healthy campus and or community and that’s what we have to count on, but we have, you can imagine, spent a lot of time.
LD: Will McGill Security Services look to adapt its policies for when security is called?
HMB: Well again, I don’t know exactly what happened, I’m waiting for the investigation to see that but we do have a line of decision-making set up for today.
LD: So it was adapted?
HMB: I don’t know if it was adapted because I don’t know exactly what happened. We have always had a sort of chain of communication on this. What exactly happened Thursday night is one of the questions of the investigation. I have been told that nobody in the administration called the riot police. I understand that when there was an occupation in the building and there were – and I’ve seen the video of the people who came in and occupied offices – there were a number of them who were hooded and masked, people were very afraid and I believe that within the building amongst those who were scared a call for security came and a call went out to the police. That’s to the police, not to the riot squad. And you have to understand our security people are not police. They have no policing powers. We’re not like many university campuses where police actually have policing powers, carry batons, and so forth. Our security people are there to help and encourage security to be of support where they can but they have no policing powers. And so normally, again we’re talking about ‘normally’ not Thursday night, every effort’s used to avoid calling the police unless there’s a sense that threats to, particularly to physical harm, cannot be prevented on the basis of the community measures that we have within the university.
LD: To be more specific, I think the word you used was disturbed, in a way disturbed by the protest.
HMB: I was disturbed. I was very disturbed. For Frosh week, we have the local community police on campus, and we’re actually proud of the relationship that’s been built with the community police over the last several years. The fact that they participated in our welcoming of new students on campus, because it’s also people are all out in that community, so the presence of a policeman or policewoman on campus per se isn’t necessarily bad. What I was shocked at was what was clearly a very dramatic exchange with the riot squad on campus, and that is not usual. That is very disturbing.
LD: What steps have you taken to avoid riot police presence today?
HMB: Again, it’s a two-way street right? It’s a two-way street. Once we call the community police, we have no control over the policing measures that are used. So as I understand it, no one called the riot squad. But the police have to use their own judgment about their ability to control the situation to prevent harm from happening. The best way to manage safety is for everyone to take responsibility for it. The question that’s been raised repeatedly is: did the administration call the riot squad? My understanding is no, but, again, Professor Jutras will investigate that. There will be a record of what happened and we need to understand that well. The question of who’s in charge when the police are called, we’ve had a protocol for that and we’ll see if that was followed, we have a protocol for today that has a senior member of the administration working with the security control centre monitoring the activities and making some judgments about that.
LD: Is it Jim Nicell [Vice-Principal, University Services]?
HMB: It is Jim Nicell. Professor Nicell.
The McGill Daily: Why was Professor Jutras chosen to do the investigation and why was is it decided to be an internal investigation?
HMB: My interest as principal is that we learn from what happened [and] to do the best that we can to not have that happen again. As I said, it was an abnormal day all around, in was an abnormal day in the city of Montreal, and it was certainly an abnormal day on the downtown campus, and it was disturbing. And a lot of people are hurting from what happened on Thursday. My deepest desire is to do whatever we can to ensure that doesn’t happen again. In that regard, I wanted someone who has deep loyalty and concern for the University and the well being of everyone in it, and yet who is known for impartiality, independence. He is a highly distinguished member, trained lawyer, [and he] has worked at the Supreme Court. He is a guy who’s beyond reproach in his character. In a university, we do a lot of things that depend on internal judgments; the whole peer-review system is us judging ourselves as a community. We have a very self-governed approach to our operations, and so choosing someone of the highest distinction who’s integrity is so highly regarded, who has training to look at facts and make judgments and who is willing to undertake to do this, he was the first person I thought of to do it who would be able to conduct it so those are the reasons. You’ve seen the terms of my letter? The terms of reference for it? He’s got complete autonomy, he doesn’t report to me in the course of doing this investigation. The report will be released with findings and recommendations, and I have confidence that he will serve the University, not any one individual, not any one special interest group, but he will serve the University. That’s the purpose of the investigation. He will have every freedom to call on whomever he wants to see whatever records or whatever he wants… but, again, he’s establishing his own procedures, which I think he’ll announce later in the week… I’ve asked for the full cooperation of the administration in giving him what he wants, my letter calls on every member of the community to cooperate with the investigation and I imagine that he’ll make a widespread call for people to make submissions to him of videos, depositions, formal reports and so forth.
MD: You made this decision unilaterally?
HMB: Yes. It was my decision. It was my judgment that this was the way to proceed.
MD: Will Jutras be compensated for this?
HMB: No, he’s a professor at the University.
MT: With the McGill name being out of the names of student organizations and services, there seems to be a perception that the administration is distancing itself from campus groups, and Thursday galvanized the opposition. Is this fair that people are viewing the administration this way? What do you have to say to members of the McGill community that view the administration as separate?
HMB: Maybe a couple of comments in that regard. One, there is always room to communicate more and there’s no question about that. And one of the things that we’re thinking about is how do you communicate with a community of 50,000 people who are on two large campuses and are spread out across affiliated teaching hospitals. There’s not one symbol of the administration – maybe it’s me – but in fact there’s administration throughout the university. Some of our administration is out on strike right now, so this is a very widespread.
Just to give you a little bit of background about McGill, we have more property than any entity on the Montreal Island. This is a blessing and a challenge, because we have over half of our buildings built before the Second World War. And that’s a big part of our economic challenge as well, with over a billion dollars in deferred maintenance and so forth, but we have a very large distributed community of people. We have a lot of resources that we manage, we have big accountabilities to several levels of government. It’s a complex organization – many faculties, many departments, many expressions of view; we have a huge diversity. So on the question of what does the University feel about administration, there’s been a very active voice of positioning, and, I would not say it’s a big voice in numbers. It’s a big voice in dominant sections of one of our student papers, the rhetoric of the leadership of the undergraduate society at McGill. There is a very, very clear position that is devoid of fact about what the administration is. I think the facts are there is a tremendous amount of consultation that goes on, there are many formal bodies for doing that, there’s a number of informal bodies to do that, but the questions is how do you have people feel that they’re being heard, feel that they’re being understood. Again, one of the challenges [is that] there’s no one solution to that because people want to he heard in different ways, they want to participate with in different ways. One of the things that struck me about [this] fall is that there’s a very vocal minority voice [and] there is a private voice that responds to that [minority, which] is in support of our administration. But I think that about eighty per cent of our community [is] working hard and getting on doing what they came to McGill to do.
I actually am finding the focus not on the academic issues, not on the quality of what is happening, not on the pedagogy, not on all the things, the kind of research that’s available, the kinds of work placements and other internships that are available – all those things are normally the subject of the place for professors, the environment for research and scholarship – those things have been ground out by a very singular focus on a theme of activism. Now that’s not only at McGill right? If you looked at the New York Times’ website this morning you would have seen an article with a very broad theme about how general societal activism is now coming full focus onto our university campuses. I was a teenager in the sixties, I was a university student in the early seventies – that was part of my life then, the themes were a bit different, but there are moments in society. I guess one of the things I’d like to see is more academic focus on what this means, more of an academic focus on what is the place of a university in responding to social programs. I’m not going to say an opinion is fair or unfair – people are entitled to their opinions. And maybe I’ll finish my response to that saying if there are other ways for us to communicate I’m more than happy to explore those.
It’s interesting, I started the town halls when I came in as principal, and there was good participation in them in the early years, but there was also a concern addressed by those who felt they didn’t get a chance to speak at them because – it’s always the way it is right? It’s that way in classrooms, some [students] talk more than others and are more comfortable doing that. Couldn’t we have a more structured town hall where people could send in the themes they wanted to talk about and we’d hear from more voices, more points of view? Now the feeling is that town halls are too structured.
It’s a constant process of trying to figure out what is the right thing. But I would say that no fora for an exchange between the vice principals and me, and the community are a substitute for dialogue, debate, academic – you know free and open exchange happening at the local level, at the departmental level of the faculties. And we need real engagement with us across the faculties of the university. And frankly, I hear there’s a lot of that… there are people who have very strong points of view in both directions and do I defend that? Absolutely, because that’s what you’ve got to do at a university, [that] doesn’t mean I associate myself with every point of view.
LD: So we’re waiting for the investigation and those results, but there are very serious allegations made against this university. Waiting would mean that maybe we have people who are currently on the job who have been, according to the students’ allegations, abusing students. Are you ready to take that risk of having that for a month?
HMB: Look, there are allegations of abuses in a number of directions. I believe in due process, and I believe in the legal system, and this does not preclude anybody to taking action that’s appropriate.
LD: If a student said that they feel like they were abused by an employee of this university should they go with a formal complaint?
HMB: Well depends what the complaint is, depends whether they … Well, we have normal processes. So for you, in educating the public, we have policies and procedures, whether it’s disciplinary, whether it’s a sense of abuse of authority and, frankly, if there [are] concerns about breaches of the law, there’s a legal process for that too. We really encourage that when things happen within a university that people use the local procedures that happen on the local level, with your local department or faculty, for example, if you’re a student with a complaint to file, would be a start. What happened Thursday is unusual, I don’t want it to ever happen again, but that was a mix of insiders and outsiders not just police and riot cops, so then the particulars really count. What the particulars are really counts, what a person feels, how they may have been hurt or wronged will determine where it goes.
LD: So you’re not concerned with the security of the students?
HMB: Of course, I’m concerned with the safety of the students. Every moment of every day.
LD: I mean, you’re not concerned in terms of what happened in your office, in terms of relationship with the security agents?
HMB: I’m very concerned with what happened, but I’m concerned in both directions. There are colleagues who feel they were hurt, there were people who were pushed aside by masked intruders who wouldn’t identify themselves.
LD: So you feel we can wait this month?
HMB: I think if anyone wants to file a disciplinary complaint or press legal charges, this does not get in the way of them doing that.
LD: And in the case that there was this agreement for the anonymity for those people…
HMB: Well that’s so that people feel that they can come and tell their story. So there’s nothing that Professor Jutras will learn that will identify any one individual, but that’s different than talking with students [or] talking with people you aren’t part of the university community [or] talking about the communication that happened with the police. All of that will happen, but I actually felt that it was very important that those who want to go talk have immunity – immunity with respect to what they tell professor Jutras and what evidence they present to him. That doesn’t prevent anybody from presenting the same evidence to someone else. So if you say wanted to file a legal charge or if you wanted to file a disciplinary complaint – or a complaint even – you take the same evidence to someone else at the same time. This doesn’t say that everything stops while this happens, but, as principal of McGill, for me to take measures that effect the University, that may change some of our systems, that may look at problems here or there, I’m waiting until that [report is made]. I deliberately wanted to give immunity to those that are making representation because I actually want to know what happened. But it’s only immunity from information that Professor Jutras has, it doesn’t prevent them from using the information anywhere else.
LD: Specifically the occupiers, would they lose immunity by doing that?
HMB: No, nor is anyone immune from doing anything in relation to them aside from the fact that they occupied the offices, everything goes every way. … They were let out with a one-time pass; no charges on occupation were made.
LD: So there could be other things that they did that they could be charged with?
HMB: Yeah, but I don’t know about them. That’s why we’re having an investigation. I hope you’re clear on this because it’s a real important point but it’s a bit of a complicated one, and the language – because I wanted the language to have value in the letter, [the language] is complicated language. So what it says precisely is that what happens between Professor Jutras and those who make representation to him, that is not going to have any names identified, nor will names being identified by subject to any legal or disciplinary action, so it will be very much vesting in him, the judgment to say – without naming names – here’s a series of what I understand happened, and what the facts [are] as I understand them, and here are the number of people and the number of submissions, something about the process that took place – which he’ll determine. And then, on the basis of that, here are some comments I have, and here are some recommendations that I have. Again, with a very precise point to do our utmost to prevent this [and] to make sure this not happen again. And so that doesn’t interfere with any other processes that other people want to engage in any direction.
MD: If there is some kind of dispute over the process which Professor Jutras goes through for his investigation, who would people go to in a situation like that?
HMB: Well, it’s all going to be public, so what won’t be public will be the names of people, and no person will be identified by names.
MD: If one of these anonymous people have an issue –
HMB: That’s what I’m saying, they can be using the disciplinary process, they can be filing a complaint, they can be taking legal action. And they don’t need to be waiting until the report comes out to do that, they have grounds to take action, and all the normal services and supports of the University are available to people who feel they need to. One [thing] is that this is not an investigation for people that are looking at perpetrators and victims. This is not an investigation to do that. This is an investigation to understand; did processes fail? How did processes work? Were there groups that could have done things differently? In general, is there a sense of responsibility in one direction or another to do things differently should a similar situation be on the horizon?
What do you think of it, of setting it up that way, the investigation?
LD: If you’re asking for my personal opinion I still have issues with the person doing the investigation being employed by the University.
HMB: [Professor Jutras is] a tenured professor, the most secure employment that exists.
LD: For instance, a common practice would be a person hired by the student society and the University which could create a –
HMB: That’s not a common practice.
LD: Having the ombudsperson being hired by both?
HMB: It’s not an ombudsperson.
LD: I was taking the example of the ombudsperson, which it’s not everywhere but it is common practice to have the student society paying half the salary. So that’s one thing and, to be honest, I’m surprised by that choice. Let’s say that the report is very positive they will always be a doubt cast on this report, and I’m surprised that you did not do everything to have someone from the outside because – I mean, I know you were expecting these kinds of concerns from people, it’s a natural one to have [but] I’m just surprised by that. In terms of the way that it’s set up, what you outlined in your letter made sense.
HMB: You know one of the questions that comes up, and it comes up from a particular voice this fall would actually challenge everything about the University. It would challenge our structure. It would challenge the ability for a broad range of opinions to be valid. It would challenge who owns the facts. It would challenge the legal system. You know an injunction; it’s a tough thing to have in the context of a strike. You can imagine that we didn’t take lightly the request for an injunction, but what’s interesting is that a Quebec judge has to make a decision on the basis of the request and both sides makes representation. And a decision was taken. So you have to understand then, without me wanted to air all the facts, of what caused us concern of all the way things were happening is that a judge, both with the same union, not with MUNACA but with PSAC, at the University of Sherbrooke and McGill, came to the same decision. So if you want to throw out the legal system and if you want to throw out the tenured process, and you want to throw out our academic self-governance and the way we operate in this university- that’s a whole different thing. But then you don’t have a university, and you don’t have civil society with rule of law.
LD: But beyond the tenure system the fact that [Jutras is] a dean is not set in stone so the fact that he’s a professor…
HMB: One might say, if you actually didn’t trust anybody – now I have to live my life with a lot of trust – that he’s the one who’s putting things at risk.
LD: What do you mean?
HMB: He’s doing an objective, independent investigation on his own terms, it’s going to stand on its own and it’s going to be there for all the world to look at. And he’s a lawyer so he’s got the highest professional standard to live up to in the objectivity that he brings. That’s why I chose him because of the confidence that he can bring that to the table.
MD: So I guess if I had a concern, it would be the fact that he’s not getting paid any additional [amount] for what I assume will be quite a strenuous task or be a lot of additional work – is he teaching classes? Because I’ve heard from different professors that they’ve had to change the way they’ve taught their classes this semester with regards to the MUNACA strike because that staff support is not there anymore –
HMB: You can imagine how you’d be feeling if I said that he was being paid to take on this independent review. I think that would be more problematic. I think that would be more problematic. People do serve us at the University; all of our employees and particularly our tenured professors have a duty of service in addition to their teaching and research responsibilities. And for someone who also holds an administrative role in addition to that I think this will be hugely demanding of his time over the month and that will mean he will put aside some things, and he’ll assign other duties to other colleagues while he takes it on. It’s going to be very intensive for him, but I could justify it both ways, but I actually think – and he does as well – that not being paid to do it is consistent with his independent role.
MT: On the note of the internal investigation not obstructing any other kinds of investigations, I think a lot of facts that have been going around are directly in conflict with one another depending on the source…
HMB: I think his job is to lie out the fact base, and that’s something that I want to see before we go into the holidays in December.
MT: Should another investigation, perhaps run by the police who claim to knowledge of what happened with police on Thursday when we spoke to them of Friday, should contradict what McGill’s internal investigation has outlined, what would be McGill’s course of action about it?
HMB: On that one, because that could go in a million different ways, I’d rather wait and see, and I’m happy to talk to you should that happen.
MT: What’s really bothered me and a lot of my peers [is] that there doesn’t seem to be any accountability. The police were called and then the riot police were called and it just spun out of control. This building is the building of administration where bureaucracy is supposed to be the most efficient. This is the place where you come for due process. The concern is where the accountability lies in this situation. You don’t have all the facts, but I was wondering where the buck stops in a case like this?
HMB: Administration is a broad responsibility. This building is a symbol of the administration and it’s broad responsibility, and there is an issue about when you call the police, and this is true, I think it’s true across Canada, it’s true in Quebec, when you call in the police, they don’t let you tell them how to do their job. And I might add as well, anyone can call the police. Anyone can pick up their cell phone and dial [9-1-1] and dial the police from anywhere.
I think it really gets back to what happened, so the facts actually count. We’ll see that from the investigation and, then how do we, as members of the McGill community, manage ourselves with the University. It is one of the things about saying we’re going to have a McGill conversation by calling on social media for open demonstrations, because then you have a whole realm of elements that are not under-control of having even those members of the University that may be planning the demonstration to manage it. Once you open that door you’ve got a much greater framework that you’re working in.
LD: Have you read the security report?
HMB: I have only seen some video footage, and as I said, I wasn’t here, so Friday I had a briefing. Thursday, I was off-campus and had a briefing in real time on it both while the occupation was going on and while the riot police were here. And then I had a pre-set meeting with a group of professors first thing in the morning on Friday so I met with them. And then, in full, I had asked Thursday night for all the people that I want to come in to give a full briefing so I could hear their point of view and, since I wasn’t here, I listened carefully and in the context of that I was shown some video footage.
LD: So from all the elements you had, if you had the knowledge – I’m not talking about professor Jutras report, I’m talking about formal disciplinary action – if you had any concern that one of the university employees had –
HMB: I saw no video footage that showed any of that. I have seen no evidence of what happened, what I was told by the people who were involved is that a majority of the students left voluntarily, and two or three were carried out of the inner area and they all sat down and I have heard no record of people being prevented from leaving, in fact people were being encouraged to leave, and the Provost and the Deputy Provost reported that they asked those who were occupying, by then the outer area, what do they want? They said the want to leave without any charges or disciplinary actions being taken and they left and the Provost and Deputy Provost escorted them down to the back door. That’s what I understand, but, again, I wasn’t here.
LD: So if you have any element in your knowledge that would let think that some of the employees had not been acting to the highest standards of ethics, would you wait for someone to initiate the process, would you wait for someone who claims to be the “victim” to come forward or would you initiate that process yourself?
HMB: I have not seen anything that would make me take action before December 15. I was very concerned about hooded masked people, breaking their way in, pushing staff, and not identifying themselves nor even saying what their purpose of being there was. That’s very concerning to me. If there was any abuse in any direction I expect that will come out in the report and that will form the basis of judgments of what to do next.
LD: If I understand correctly the report will not have any individual names. How will that affect your ability to take action in individual cases?
HMB: Well, there are a couple of things. Chain of command is chain of command, so there will be a record there. Remember, again, this is not a disciplinary investigation. This is a fact-finding judgment process that will lead to recommendations that will lead to how not to have this happen again – that’s the point of it. If others want to take action in any direction, people who felt they were hurt, in any place, this doesn’t stop them from doing that. I have not got evidence in front of me to call on any disciplinary or legal action at the moment. I don’t approve of people breaking in with hoods and masks and not identifying themselves, so just as a point of view, I think it’s very scary and I have a bunch of scared colleagues as a result of that. I understand that other people felt scared too on Thursday night, and people felt hurt and are hurting inside and out. And I expect that even people who aren’t part of the McGill community are feeling repercussions.
MD: So even though staff have said they were pushed or felt scared, there is not evidence to lay disciplinary charges?
HMB: No, I’m saying that it’s up to them, if they’re going to do that. If someone feels they were hurt and the only evidence I saw was a video clip. So do I believe that there were people who were masked and hooded in my office? Yes, because I saw a video of it, and some who weren’t.
LD: What about the allegations of assault?
HMB: I’ve actually seen no evidence that that happened. I’ve received no complaint and I’ve received no evidence that happened, and I’ve asked Professor Jutras to investigate for me. There are a lot of allegations out there, they’re very general allegations.
LD: They’re actually pretty specific, I don’t know if you’ve seen the coverage of The Daily?
HMB: I’ve certainly seen the coverage of The Daily, and I see no evidence presented in support of them. We do have due process here, and no one has filed a complaint through the normal channels for due process. The Daily is not a vehicle for due process.
LD: Do you understand what I’m saying?
HMB: Peut-être pas. I’ve talked to a lot of people over the weekend and the end of the week and people who have said they were inadvertently caught up in things and most of all concerned about their well-being, frankly, that’s been my initial concern. So I’ve reached out to a large number of people, people who have …
Doug Sweet: We need to move this along a little bit. If we need to clarify something afterwards maybe it’s best by email. Because I think I understand your question and I think we’re starting to do in circles and we’re running out of time. I’m trying to give one more question to everybody.
MT: I know from first hand account that psychologists have been the ones answering phones because the support staff have been gone so they haven’t been able to see their students and they’ve been conducting the day-to-day secretarial stuff the some support staff do… I also know that some students may not graduate… Students pay to get an education. What do you say to students who aren’t getting exactly what they were told they paid for and may not even get their degree?
HMB: I know of no students who will not graduate because of the strike. That’s interesting, that’s something that I’ll check into.
MT: The Dean of Medicine I think has issued a warning –
HMB: That that may happen. And that was one of the Associate Deans, who’s worried about enrolling student residents in the new year and getting them through the year in time. We’re working very hard to give support their so that doesn’t happen.
MT: But in the case that something like that does?
HMB: But the facts count. So I’d like you to give a particular example because we’re very aware of that, and taking a number of measures to make sure that folks coming in, in January, get registered and assigned as they should be.
MD: I do think that [the situation MT refers to is that] if the strike is not settled by tomorrow, that they would not make their year.
DS: I think you’re quoting the Dr. Meterissian letter to Dr. Benaroya. That letter was actually sent a month ago and since those concerns were raised a lot of steps have been taken.
HMB: All kinds of measures have been raised since then. We have daily meetings – and several of them – to look at contingency plans, we have several of them. We’re constantly revising them, shifting them, and updating them to make sure that we can take care of as many of the needs as possible and that you know from our communication that there is a very strong emphasis on making sure that to the best of our ability that the academic programs are delivered, and that people can get through in a timely fashion.
MT: What about students turned away at McGill Health Services who are being sent to private practitioners or students who may or may not be in danger because of the fact that people can jump over residences’ turnstiles? I know that nothing has happened yet, but doesn’t the University have a plan for these students, and a responsibility to these students to ensure that they’re safe?
HMB: We hear every single concern. You’re talking in a very general and very anxious way. We have daily reports in from every program. It’s not business as usual I don’t want to pretend that it is, I don’t think the people out on strike want us to pretend that it is either, but we’re doing our best to meet the needs that are there. And some things are coming slower than they normally would and some things aren’t happening at all, but we’re really looking to the priorities as defined by the constituents and at the local level and doing our utmost to – the cycle of an academic year is such that the needs are different, the need in September is to get people registered and set up and they are different as we go through the year and now exams will become a big focus, and we’re preparing around that too.
LD: There was no support provided to the students who were hurt by the police outside… and this is from eyewitness account, I saw seven security managers who were standing there and some of my fellow students were crying and really hurt. They were just watching. There was no help offered to them. How do you feel about that, why do you think that it happened?
HMB: You say you experienced this, I know a lot of people felt upset and felt isolated on Thursday evening and I feel terrible about it. If that’s what happened, I feel terrible about it. And then that raises a question of qualifications to do that and that’s something we’ve got to look at. But again it was an unusual situation on Thursday and what does seem [to] have happened was how quickly things moved, and that’s one of things that we’re going to learn more about.
LD: Do you have anything planned for today for the students who might get hurt?
HMB: Again, we’ve done everything we can to be plan-ful today. The fact is there are some circumstances you can’t control. No plans will control for every outcome and nothing will substitute. No plans will substitute for people behaving in a responsible fashion, everybody, not talking about any one group.
LD: Any specifics?
HMB: Yes be peaceful –
LD: I mean about measures you’ve taken.
HMB: Yes we have people who do emergency management in full, but there are no guarantees in life right? Life’s imperfect. So the question is the judgment that we have to take – are we doing things to the best of our ability given the resources that we have and the circumstances that we operate in.
MD: And my last question [goes] back to something that you said earlier about student leadership. What was your feeling on student leadership – SSMU’s role or any other student leaders on-campus?
HMB: In what?
MD: On November 10 and the aftermath?
HMB: Don’t know.
MD: Could I ask you about faculty leadership? With the MFLAG demonstration, the faculty members were outside. Why did you not come down and why were they not allowed inside?
HMB: Well, it was interesting. I was in meetings all day, so as soon as I got out of the meetings that were planned, and they were important meetings as I said, as soon as I got out of the meetings that were planned I invited two of them to come in and meet with me. What they had said was they wanted to present me, not anybody else – a number of people went down to get the letter, they wanted to present me with a letter, so I invited two of them; a student and a professor to come in and present it to me in-person and they did as soon as I was out of meetings.
MD: When you’ve been speaking about activism and generating a dialogue, do you feel that going down or having students come up –
HMB: I didn’t think that was a moment for dialogue. I’m not pretending that was in lieu of dialogue. I think dialogue has got to be a day-in-day-out thing distributed across many different fora.
MD: Yesterday there was a petition that was posted online calling for a resignation, for your resignation. Are you aware of it?
HMB: I am not aware of it.
LD: How do you feel about it?
HMB: Don’t know what it is, who it is, I don’t know about it.
Editor’s note: In an interview with Munroe-Blum on CBC Daybreak earlier that morning, a petition for her resignation was mentioned.
MD: For the public letter addressed to Professor Jutras, [which was attached in an email on November 13], why was that email delayed?
LD: It was dated the eleventh and we received it last night.
HMB: Because I wanted to develop the terms of reference very clearly. So there was a draft of them, but he had a right to…
LD: It was dated the eleventh.
HMB: Friday I did the letter and Friday I spoke to him about taking it on, and I said I would work over the weekend to have – getting the terms of reference right was really important.
DS: Was the terms of reference message that went out this morning dated Friday? Is that what you’re saying? I think that was an error.
HMB: Oh, that’s an error then. They were delivered as they happened.
MD: During the MFLAG demonstration, Amber Gross was the student who had come up, and she had asked whether there would be student consultation. At that time she had reported back that you said no.
HMB: She asked if the investigation would be a multi-person investigation that included students. And I said, “No. Students would be able to make representation to it, but it’s not a constituency approach to an investigation.” It’s one person who is assigned to do a one-person investigation calling on input from everywhere. So the invitation is, and I would recommend it, that those who want to make representation make representation. I think Professor Jutras will count on receiving a lot of submissions from all parts of the community, people who were there and people who have views about what happened.
—complied by Erin Hudson
Le Délit was represented by campus editor Anthony Lecossois, The McGill Tribune was represented by news editor Elisa Muyl and The McGill Daily was represented by news editor Erin Hudson.