Over the last two weeks, students who attended the January 31 Board of Governors (BoG) meeting dressed in pirate regalia, and who and sang a rendition of “Barrett’s Privateers” at the meeting, have had disciplinary action taken against them by McGill.
On February 22, the students were made aware of the allegations against them in an email from Associate Dean (Student Affairs) and Disciplinary Officer (DO) for the Faculty of Arts, André Costopoulos.
In the email, Costopoulos asked students to attend a private interview to “inquire into a possible violation of Article 5(a)” of the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.
Article 5(a) states: “No student shall, by action, threat, or otherwise, knowingly obstruct University activities. University activities include but are not limited to, teaching, research, studying, administration, public service.”
Within the group of students who participated in the action, six have confirmed with The Daily that they were brought up on disciplinary charges. So far, five of the students have received an admonishment from the University.
The Code defines admonishment as the official note that a student’s alleged violation of the Code was “supported by clear, convincing, and reliable evidence.”
Costopoulos described admonishment as the “lighter of the two sanctions” that he could have give out. The second sanction is a reprimand. “The main difference between admonishment and reprimand is the permanent discipline record,” he explained. An admonishment will not result in a disciplinary record; a reprimand would.
According to Costopoulos, an admonishment does not set a precedent for future cases. However, if a student is already on conduct probation, the case is referred to the Committee on Student Discipline, a Senate standing committee empowered to, among other things, suspend or expel.
According to students summoned to an interview with Costopoulos regarding the January 31 meeting, three sources of evidence were shown to students – though evidence shown varied depending on the individual student.
Evidence included a letter from Secretary-General Stephen Strople, three security reports filed by Security Services Operations agents, and a brief video of the action.
Students were told they could consult the evidence basis of their respective allegations twice, until 24 hours before their interview with Costopoulos.
Several students told The Daily their name was written on the security reports, or they were identified as being in the video. Students said all other names, aside from their own, were whited out on the security reports.
It is unknown who filmed the video used as evidence in the disciplinary cases. Within the section on McGill’s website pertaining to attendance and security at BoG meetings, article 3 states that “no tape, video, or other means of recording sound or images are permitted whether prior to, during, or after a Board meeting.”
Article 39 of the Code states that, in a hearing, “The rules of evidence applicable in civil and criminal court proceedings shall not apply… So long as the evidence has been obtained in good faith and by reasonable means.”
It is unclear whether Article 39 applies to an interview.
Costopoulos said that an exclusion of evidence in a general case would depend on whether “the source and the manner of obtaining the evidence makes it fundamentally unreliable…but if the evidence is reliable, and it documents a serious breach of the Code, then I would use it.”
“As long as it’s legal, ethical, and doesn’t breach any other provision of the Code, then the DO has some discretion,” he continued.
The University declined to comment, citing the confidential nature of the disciplinary process. The disciplinary process at McGill is confidential at the discretion of the student.
Costopoulos spoke to sources for evidence from which an allegation may result. “Security reports, which can, of course, contain mistakes like anything else, are one element of the evidence that I use, but mostly it’s eye witnesses,” he said.
One student who received a summons to an interview with Costopoulos, however, was not present at the January 31 BoG meeting. The student provided evidence of their absence from the meeting and received notice on Tuesday that McGill was dropping its allegations.
Other students who participated in the action have received no disciplinary action. Costopoulos explained that “everything starts with an allegation, and if a student is identified in an allegation, and I find that there’s substance to the allegation, then I call the student in. If the student is not identified in the allegation, then I can’t call them in.”
“I can’t investigate allegations that are not sent to me,” he continued.
When asked whether, in general, the system allowed for potential bias as to which students were victim of allegations, Costopoulos responded, “Yes, of course, the reporting is imperfect.”
However Costopoulos said he didn’t think the bias could be accounted for, “Unless you want to live on a Big Brother campus, in which we have face recognition software everywhere, and pictures are taken and name and ID is sent to my Blackberry live…and I wouldn’t want to live on that campus.”