The McGill administration issued a provisional protocol on Sunday strictly outlining students’ rights to demonstrate on campus.
The announcement came the same day that the 118-hour occupation of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s office in the James Administration building ended – the second occupation of the building this academic year.
The first occupation occurred in Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s office on November 10. It ended with Montreal riot police driving demonstrators outside the building off campus using pepper spray and tear gas. A report on the events of November 10 by Dean of Law Daniel Jutras recommended that the University clarify ways in which freedom of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly can be protected as a means of protest and dissent on campus.
According to the Jutras Report, McGill’s current Emergency Management Plan lacks directives or frameworks addressing “protests on campus, other than in reference to ‘Animal Rights Events.'”
In a statement accompanying the protocol, Provost Anthony Masi and VP (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa wrote, “The events of the last few days clearly indicate the need to issue an interim set of guidelines” regarding campus protests.
“The occupation of the sixth floor offices of the Deputy Provost by a small group of students, even though it came to a peaceful end, is not the way in which we would like to see differences of opinion expressed on our campuses,” the statement continued.
SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault said the provisional protocol does not introduce radically new positions regarding demonstrations and protests on campus, with the exception of what he called a “concerning drift towards authoritarianism” with regard to when police can be called onto campus.
“They’ve chosen [a] repressive path” in response to this week’s occupation, said Pedneault, adding that the protocol was broad with respect to when the police can be called.
“Anything disrupting University processes seems fair game,” he said.
The protocol states that occupations of private offices or spaces, laboratories, libraries, or other restricted areas “will not be tolerated.”
“If any type of occupation occurs, and the occupiers refuse to leave when requested to do so, civil authorities will be called,” the protocol states.
The protocol adds that, if a demonstration or protest takes place, McGill Security will monitor the situation.
“If demonstrators or protesters refuse to comply with instructions from Security Services personnel, appropriate actions will be taken, including calling civil authorities, if necessary,” states the protocol.
Police were called to evict occupiers from Mendelson’s office, but no criminal charges were pressed against the students.
Demonstrations and protests may occur on campus unless they violate certain rules outlined in the protocol, including compromising the University’s ability to “maintain a safe and secure environment” on campus, “impede the conduct of University activities,” obstruct access to buildings generally open to the University community, and “continue beyond the normal operating hours of the University facilities in which they occur.”
The protocol continues to add that demonstrators, protesters, and occupiers are “responsible for their actions,” and that action contravening the protocol may lead to disciplinary measures under McGill regulations and policies or under civil or criminal law.
“If anything, it’s going to create a more confrontational atmosphere on campus,” he said. “I don’t think it will make things any better.”
In their statement, Masi and Di Grappa said that “the administration does not intend to short-circuit the important consultative process under way about the expression of fundamental rights and freedoms and the responsibilities and obligations that accompany them,” adding that they look forward to input during upcoming University-wide consultations on the issue.
Pedneault said the administration has already begun consulting with student leaders about the process, but added that it is unlikely to resonate with students who have lost faith in the consultation process.
“If anything, the occupation of last week showed that [students] are fed up with these kinds of things,” said Pedneault.
“[The administration] will take things they think are interesting from the consultation, but the University will be as democratic as before,” he continued. “They’re basically going to do the same thing, only with a little dose of police repression.”
In their statement, Masi and Di Grappa said the provisional protocol will remain in effect “until further notice.”