News | Private security in a public university

The first in a multi-part series on University security

The first in a multi-part series on University security

 

Over the course of the fall semester, numerous incidents, including the treatment of non-academic staff on strike and the events of November 10, transformed the public image of McGill Security in the views of many and made security on campus a regular topic for discussion.

Dean of Law Daniel Jutras noted, in his report on the events of November 10, that several submissions he received referred to the “securitization of campus.” The report also states that “for some people on campus, security agents were the outward manifestation of the injunction [against MUNACA].”

The Independent Student Inquiry into the events of November 10 noted that a common theme throughout its 33 testimonials was “a strong sense of disapproval and disappointment at McGill Security’s response [to November 10].”

Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell stated in an interview that relations between Security Services and students have been damaged – “there’s no question about that.”

“It doesn’t take many incidents to tarnish the image, at least in the views of some,” Nicell added.

In an email to The Daily, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa stated that the University has the “utmost confidence in the qualifications and experience of those who manage our Security Services.”

Agent breakdown

McGill Security contracts its agents from a private security agency, Securitas.

According to the Jutras Report, under regular circumstances at McGill’s downtown campus, there are up to 12 agents on duty. Due to construction projects, between 15 and twenty additional agents are on duty in order to secure the construction sites.

Last semester, additional agents were assigned to “strike-related duties.” On November 10,  six agents were performing such duties.

Agents on “strike-related duties” amounted to a maximum of twenty additional agents, according to Jutras’ report.

Five McGill employees are responsible for managing Security Services’ operations and have managerial authority in circumstances necessitating a response or intervention.

Training

Securitas agents who regularly work at McGill receive between 64 and 144 hours of on-site training in specific operating procedures, depending on their position.

All McGill employees within Security Services are trained in non-violent crisis intervention. Since last June, training on social diversity and equity issues has also been provided to these employees.

Securitas agents are subject to the Private Security Act, which establishes regulations and standards for Quebec’s private security industry. The Act applies to private security activities, which are provided to a client for a fee and generally occur on the client’s property.

To obtain an agent license in Quebec, an applicant must demonstrate to the Bureau de la sécurité privée, the body enforcing the Act, that they have the professional and practical skills necessary – an interview and/or examination process may be instated at the Bureau’s discretion, along with meeting the requirements specified in the Act.

The Act requires an applicant to be of “good moral character,” to never have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code (unless they have been pardoned), be a minimum of 18 years old, and have completed the required training.

For security guards, required training is the completion of a 70-hour training course offered by a private security guarding program, which provides a transcript of marks issued from the school board. The course costs about $500. However, the Bureau will also accept applicants whose “level of knowledge and skills [are] equivalent to the training required.”

The Act states that, in a context like McGill where private security is not the University’s “business,” only persons whose main activities are private security activities are required to hold an agent license. Under the Act, the immediate superior of a security agent, who must hold an agent license, is not required to have undergone any training, as long as they personally do not carry out any private security activities themselves.

Nicell explained his role in incidents involving security at McGill.

“Security Services are a people that are trained to respond to an emergency situation, mobilize in a very short term. In some situations, what they require is authorizations or they may require input, advice on how to react. This is not about a protest per say,” he said.

On November 10, Nicell said that he immediately went to the scene “to be a resource person.”

It is unclear if McGill employees within Security Services – in particular, the seven employees who are deployed in the event of a security intervention or response – or their superiors, are required to hold agent licenses. Security Services declined multiple requests to comment on this article, citing an interview as “premature” in light of Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s forthcoming plans to implement recommendations from Jutras’ report.

 

Perceptions of McGill Security

Josh Redel, president of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS), said EUS has worked closely with McGill Security’s community relations team on events like Open Air Pub and Frosh.

The team was created about a decade ago to emphasize prevention and community relations. Two McGill employees are responsible for the team.

Though Redel described the community relations team from past years as “very polite, very approachable – good at what they did,” he noted a recent change in EUS’s relationship with the team.

Redel described EUS’s interaction with McGill Security on November 10. Redel was inside the entrance of the McConnell Engineering building when two Securitas agents arrived on the scene, searching for the EUS office.

“They were instructed to search EUS and all other student lounges in the building to see if we were housing protestors,” he said.

The agents searched the EUS lounge and found no protestors.

“That’s really offensive to send Security to search our office. That’s really not okay with us, especially [since] we have a really good relationship with them,” Redel added.

Nicell explained his view on changes to the operation of the community relations team.

“It used to be that there was one person, [who] just kept visiting place after place after place.”

“We want to broaden it a little bit because it’s not about an individual – it’s about communicating. It’s about every person in a responsible position constantly trying to renew and maintain good relationships,” he continued.

Nicell said McGill Security’s community relations team is “probably less overt than it used to be, but it’s not a dead issue, that’s for sure.”

“We’ve been shifting our resources here and there because of the limited resources. I think what we’re going to try to do is beef it up a little bit more,” he said.

The “human-on-human approach”

McGill Security does not have a complete monopoly on campus security. In the Shatner building, SSMU employs its own security force that operates separately from McGill Security.

SSMU Security Supervisor Wallace Sealy explained that, “There used to be a time when I would solely report to McGill, but over the years I’ve broadened that to have a better relationship with the police. So we do more communication with the police than we do with McGill, but we do advise them of anything that’s going on that’s detrimental to the students.”

The SSMU security force consists of five agents that report to Sealy. SSMU agents receive different training than McGill’s agents, being trained directly by Sealy in what he calls the “human-on-human approach.”

“Since I’ve been at SSMU, I’ve made it one of my top priorities that anybody that works for this department understands that we’re providing a service,” Sealy explained.

When Sealy started working at SSMU in 2004, he explained that both McGill administration and students were looking for a change in security operations at SSMU.

“The only problems that we do get into [are] when we’re using outside companies and they’re dressed in our shirts,” Sealy said.

SSMU, like McGill, contracts private security agents from external companies for special events when additional personnel are required. All of SSMU’s agents are holders of agent licenses as recognized under the Private Security Act.

SSMU executives are also incorporated into Shatner’s security operations. SSMU President Maggie Knight explained that executives receive training from Sealy at the start of their term.

“We are part of that team…because we know the building well, people will know us, and hopefully recognize us as some people who are supposed to know what’s going, who are supposed to be able to direct things,” Knight said.


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