Article updated Nov. 11
Fourteen students claim to have been assaulted by McGill Security while they occupied the fifth floor of the James Administration building for two hours last Thursday afternoon.
The occupation coincided with a 30,000 person-strong demonstration against tuition hikes, which ended at McGill College and Sherbrooke.
The students occupied several rooms on the floor, including Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s office, before negotiating an end to the occupation with Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson and Provost Anthony Masi. The protestors have been granted immunity.
“Each person occupied for their own reasons, even though those reasons intersected, I think,” said one of the students. All students involved in the occupation spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to an interview with three of the occupiers, the students entered the building around 3:45 p.m. and encountered no security. Once they reached the fifth floor, four of the students occupied Munroe-Blum’s office, while three other students controlled the door to the main hallway and two students controlled the door to the stairs. The remainder of the students occupied the reception area on the floor.
Office staff videotaped the demonstration. “We informed them this was a peaceful occupation,” said one of the occupiers.
At a demonstration outside James Administration on Friday morning, Susan Aberman, chief of staff for the office of the principal – who was working in the office Thursday afternoon – told students and staff that she was threatened by occupiers the day before.
“I was in my office when people with hoods and masks broke their way into my office, they pushed their way through locked doors, they pushed my colleague, and they pushed me and they came into my office and they threatened me,” she said.
Upon entering the office, the students dropped a banner, reading “10 Nov – Occupons McGill,” from one of the fifth floor windows.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson was alerted to the situation and arrived on the fifth floor, where he said events were “already in progress.” According to Mendelson, the students barged into the offices, some wearing masks and hoods.
Occupiers have said that some of them wore bandanas covering their faces, but that none of them wore masks.
“Security was called by the people in the office, who were quite disturbed by their presence,” said Mendelson in an interview Friday afternoon with reporters from The Daily, the McGill Tribune and Le Délit.
According to the occupying students, a security guard tossed an occupier to the ground and dragged him by the legs into the reception area. The student had been sitting in Munroe-Blum’s office chair.
“At some point during that altercation he was hit in the stomach, either by a leg or by an elbow, and he was injured,” said one occupier.
According to another of the occupiers, the student who was hit in the stomach “went into mild shock for a while and was winded. Luckily, there was a person who knew first aid.”
One occupier, who spoke to The Daily, said he has osteoporosis. The occupier said he was seized from behind by one security guard, and pushed and dragged by several security guards into the main reception area.
“I was dropped on the floor and he kept jumping on me,” he said, “and literally [they] like threw me out.”
“A single punch could probably break my rib cage,” said the student. “In the end I didn’t get much, I think I just got a little bruised on my right side, near the ribs.”
The student told McGill Security “very, very clearly” that he had osteoporosis. “They completely disregarded it and threw him out of the room,” said a witness.
Mendelson said that Security was “concerned about the safety of the situation.”
“You don’t think it’s confrontational to storm into an office, to swing open a door, walk by people, have a mask on – you don’t think that’s confrontational?” he asked, in response to a question from the Tribune as to whether he thought Security had exercised their mandated amount of force.
According to Mendelson, the University has the right to ask students to leave when they are “in an inappropriate place.” According to several of the occupiers, the 14 students were not made aware of any rules or laws that they could have been violating.
“I’m 99 per cent sure that did not happen, and definitely no one read to me from the student handbook,” said one of the students.
According to Mendelson, “when a student was asked to leave and didn’t, the student was in violation of the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.”
The students said they were in the main reception area for approximately 45 minutes, during which Masi and Mendelson came in to speak with them. Mendelson said he was the first to speak with the students, before Masi arrived on the fifth floor.
“They wanted to tell me what their position was on tuition. I reminded them what the University’s position is on tuition. They weren’t willing to listen to me. I have heard their position before. It’s clear that there wasn’t going to be a settling of that issue,” Mendelson said.
He said that, when Masi arrived, they asked the occupiers what they wanted.
“We thought maybe they’d want to have a conversation, whatever, and at that point they said they wanted to leave, and we said, ‘Fine, we’ll take you out.’ And then they said they wanted to have some assurances,” said Mendelson.
According to both the students and Mendelson, the students asked to be allowed to leave without any arrests, charges, disciplinary action, or names taken. The occupiers also said they refused to leave unless students who had forced their way in to occupy the second floor of the building were allowed to leave under the same conditions.
According to the students, Masi originally stated that they wouldn’t be allowed to leave without non-academic probations or charges. However, Mendelson claimed that Masi never made such a statement.
According to Mendelson, talks between the two parties concluded in less than five minutes, after Masi and Mendelson had consulted with each other and the Montreal police, and subsequently accepted the students’ terms. The students on the second floor negotiated with a member of McGill Security and a Montreal police officer. One student occupying the second floor said later that the sit-in was non-violent.
The police assisted Mendelson and Masi in negotiations with the students, though the officers never had any direct interaction with the students.
“They’ve had experience in this sort of thing,” said Mendelson. “We needed some advice about security in the building, because the building was surrounded… People were very disturbed. They offered some advice about what we should have people do.”
Mendelson added that, “What happened inside [actually] unfolded reasonably well.”
The students disagreed. One said on Thursday night that, “The only violence that we experienced was at the hands of McGill Security.”
Mendelson said he would not be obtaining the McGill Security report on the incident, as Security reports to Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell.
“Obviously, we don’t know everything,” Mendelson said.
— with files from Queen Arsem-O’Malley and Erin Hudson