One week after the events of November 10, students and faculty are questioning the inquiry launched last week by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum to investigate the events.
The inquiry, led by Dean of Law Daniel Jutras, was announced the day after Montreal riot police broke up a student demonstration outside of the James Administration building. The demonstration formed in solidarity with 14 students who were occupying the fifth floor of the building in protest of numerous McGill positions, practices, and policies.
In an interview with The Daily, Jutras said he “thought it was important that I [lead] it,” adding that the fact-finding inquiry “relates to the hopes that this will not happen again.”
“If there are appropriate recommendations to be made with this purpose in mind, I will make them,” he continued.
“The process is not meant to assign blame to anyone,” Jutras said. “The effort is to identify the facts, determine the facts, and report them to the community.”
Jutras said he has never performed an investigation similar to this one before, and added that he was unaware of any precedent for such an inquiry on campus.
Students and faculty have been quick to speak out against the Jutras Inquiry, however.
At a student meeting in the SSMU cafeteria the same day that Munroe-Blum announced the Jutras Inquiry, three students – U2 Economics and Political Science student Christopher Bangs, U4 Anthropology student Allison Cooper, and U4 History and Canadian Studies student Matt Dowling – helped to form an independent student inquiry into the November 10 events.
“We think that there are some real problems with the idea of the Dean’s investigation,” said Bangs. “I’m sure the Dean will conduct a very comprehensive institutional review, but that’s not a student perspective.”
In response to a question about how he hopes to stay impartial in conducting his inquiry, Jutras stated that, “I stand on my own reputational integrity.”
Jutras said he would not have the authority to compel the Montreal police to give testimony to the inquiry, saying it “most likely will be up to the police itself.”
Furthermore, Jutras said similar parameters applied to dealing with McGill Security. The James Administration fifth floor occupiers have alleged that they were shoved, dragged, and kicked by McGill security guards.
“I have no power of constraint, or to compel testimony, so I’m inviting people to communicate with me, and I will solicit interviews whenever I think it’s useful – but if people don’t want to speak to me, I won’t be able to force them,” said Jutras, adding that he will be asking McGill Security to provide testimony.
Regarding the occupiers themselves, Jutras said he will “see whether they communicate with me in writing” before interviewing them. He also stated that he had been unaware that student Senator Matthew Crawford was among the 14 occupiers.
Lerona Lewis, president of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill – who have called for an independent inquiry – said she was troubled by a perceived focus on police intervention in the inquiry.
“I don’t see much emphasis on what took place for the [fifth floor] occupiers,” said Lewis. “The fact that the security guards could actually physically assault students – I mean, this is what has been said – so I think that’s where we want to place emphasis, too. Who gave them the authority to do that?”
Lewis also questioned the impartiality of the Jutras Inquiry, saying that an investigator from another university would understand the “culture of universities” without having close ties to McGill itself.
The independent student inquiry is hoping to release a preliminary report by the end of November, and a final report in January. The deadline mandated by Munroe-Blum for the Jutras Inquiry is December 15.
Bangs said the students hope to offer a wide range of student and community voices in their inquiry.
“If we issue recommendations, they won’t be political or biased,” he said.
At the Senate meeting yesterday, both student and faculty representatives voiced concern about the Jutras Inquiry. Post-Graduate Students’ Society Senator Lily Han said that the way the investigation is set up is “highly problematic.”
“It’s not merely the events that occurred that should be investigated, but the actual structures and systems that led to those events,” said Han. “The position of Dean is an inherent part of the administrative structure of a university, so the fact that [Jutras’] running the investigation is pretty problematic.”
Arts Senator and Anthropology professor John Galaty proposed that Jutras be assisted and accompanied in the investigative process by one faculty member and one student. Despite his recommendations, Galaty added that Jutras is “probably the best person in the University to head this investigation.”
Addressing concerns about his impartiality as lead investigator, Jutras told Senate that, “In this investigation and report, I will speak for no one but myself, and serve no one but the McGill community as a whole.”
Jutras also admitted that, given the mandate for the inquiry, “I will not necessarily receive [testimonies] from all sides of every story.”