Four students were subject to a five-day ban from campus over the past week for incidents related to the ongoing student strike. The students were banned under article 21(a) of the Student Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Procedure by Associate Dean of Arts André Costopoulos.
The suspensions followed a week of tension on campus surrounding departmental strike votes and picketing, particularly around hard picket lines attempted by the Department of English Students Association (DESA) and graduate students from McGill’s School of Nursing.
Article 21(a) states that when a disciplinary officer has “reasonable grounds to believe that the student’s continued presence in said area is detrimental to good order, or constitutes a threat to the safety of others, immediately to leave and remain away from said area or a part thereof, as the case may be, for a period not exceeding five working days.”
The definition of “good order” and “safety of others” is interpreted by the disciplinary officer.
Ethan Feldman, a U4 Arts student, was banned beginning last Wednesday, March 21. The other students, which included SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault, were banned for incidents that took place on Monday, the same day that a McGill student was allegedly hit by a security guard while students picketed classes at Concordia.
Two of the students, who wished to remain unnamed, were informed verbally by Costopoulos of their suspension from campus, and were escorted from campus by security agents, while Pedneault and Feldman were notified via email.
Costopoulos spoke to article 21(a), which he said is rarely invoked, and is separate from disciplinary action.
“It’s actually quite rare that I find a situation on campus that justifies excluding a student. It’s really a last resort,” Costopoulos said.
Pedneault said that he was not aware of his suspension until Costopoulos asked why he was on campus and informed him of the decision, which had been sent via email earlier that day.
Pedneault said that the incident for which he was banned involved the presence of a Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) class on McGill’s downtown campus. Several UQAM students wished to conduct a discussion about the student strike during the class, and contacted Pedneault to serve as a liaison with McGill Security.
According to Pedneault, the class was a peaceful discussion, and ended when both pro-strike students and class participants left at about 9:45 a.m. He added that there was “no confrontational atmosphere,” and while there was one security guard present for part of the class, he “was surprised to get a letter from the University which essentially says that, in relation to events that took place in Adams 348… I was considered a threat to good order.”
One of the students suspended said that they were not actively participating in picketing classes, but had been handing out flyers next to a picket when they were removed from campus.
The written notice of suspension sent by Costopoulos to three of the students had no description of the incidents in question other than the number of the room outside of which they allegedly occurred.
In the current form of the Code, there is no appeals process for a 21(a). Costopoulos called this a “flaw in the Code.”
“I would like to see in 21(a) some CSD [Committee on Student Discipline] oversight to shield students against abuse,” he said.
“I can’t speak for any other [disciplinary officer], but, personally, if a student said, ‘Well, I want CSD to review your decision, I want to appeal it to CSD,’ I would look at the Code and I would say, ‘There’s nothing in there that prevents it,’” Costopoulos explained.
The suspended students said that they provided no identification, but were identified through recognition by security personnel or by Costopoulos.
“This [issue of identification] is brought up again and again, and the only thing I can come up with is being recognized is not an infringement of rights. If people know who you are, they’re not infringing your rights by that very fact, just like people know who I am when I walk around campus,” Costopoulos explained.
Security personnel also enforce the ban. According to Feldman, Costopoulos told him that Security’s mandate includes physically removing suspended students from campus if necessary. A “valid academic reason” must be cleared with Costopoulos for exceptions. Costopoulos also granted Pedneault limited access to the Shatner building in order to be able to work from his office during the suspension.
On Tuesday morning, a letter was sent to Costopoulos and several administrative figures questioning their disciplinary practices by a lawyer representing several students facing disciplinary charges from the University, including some of the students banned from campus.