2011-2012 : Our campus

An in-depth look at the issues that made headlines this year


Munaca strikes Back

When a union representing 1,700 non-academic workers at McGill voted to strike, the University experienced its largest organized labour action in recent memory. The strike lasted for just over three months, and in that time, the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) was served three injunctions by the University, halted work at one major construction site, and saw one of its members arrested.

After arduous negotiations, a collective agreement was ratified by MUNACA members on December 5, 2011, but stumbling blocks continue to plague labour relations between the union and McGill. In late February,the review of wording and interpretation of one article stalled agreement again. Three weeks later, when the University had not supplied the union with information regarding the article’s interpretation, MUNACA members gathered to demonstrate on campus once again.

This is not the first time relations between the union and McGill have broken down.

In November 2010, MUNACA member Ron Zahorak, a technician who sustained a permanent injury while working at McGill, was fired due to his subsequent limited lifting abilities.

Zahorak claimed that he could still do 80 per cent of his job – and that the remaining 20 per cent “I could probably do – just not repetitively, all day, every day. But [McGill] said it had to be 100 per cent, every day.” McGill failed to reassign the former Security and Telecommunication technician, and after seven months of reduced duty, consisting of small “chores” such as answering phones, the single father  was put on suicide watch at Lakeshore General Hospital in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. McGill fired him.

A month later, MUNACA presented a 300-signature petition to the University, demanding that Zahorak be placed in a job – he never was.

Associate Vice-Principal of Human Resources Lynne Gervais told The Daily that “jobs that are given here are based on qualifications. If he didn’t get accepted, that’s because he didn’t have the qualifications.”

—Erin Hudson


PGSS looks into McGill’s relations with the private sector

Just over 14 per cent of research funding at McGill is supplied by corporations. Where exactly this all comes from and where exactly it all goes is unclear. Frustrated by the lack of information – and nervous about what it might mean for students, and the future of the University – PGSS VP External Mariève Isabel set out this year to answer these questions.

This past June, PGSS voted to hire a researcher to look into McGill’s dealings with corporations. A  researcher was hired in August, but did not finish the project, so a second researcher was hired in January. “It’s been delayed, but I am still hoping it’s going to be finished before I leave [office],” said Isabel, whose term ends in May. PGSS also collaborated this year with the third annual Science and Policy Exchange at McGill, a conference that aims to be a “forum for stakeholders to discuss the future of the knowledge economy in Quebec.” This year’s conference included a panel titled “Who should fund research?”

Isabel explained that PGSS’s current policies on research reflect her view that corporate partnered research is not inherently harmful, given that especially in medicine and engineering there is a demand for it. The policy states that graduate students should “understand the ethical and moral guidelines that apply to their research, and to make every effort to conduct it in a moral, ethical and legal way.” For many PGSS students, this was a compromise from taking an unequivocal stance against corporate partnered research.

Isabel hopes that the research into McGill’s corporate partnership will offer insight to refresh PGSS’s policy, if needed, and perhaps make the hazy language more specific. McGill’s ethics policy is getting less specific: in 2009, sections that required transparent reporting on all military research were removed – to “take the onus off of us to review our own research proposals,” Heather Munroe-Blum explained to the Daily in 2009. The new Chief Scientist of Quebec elected this past July, directed his first public communication to the Chamber of Commerce – leading many, including Isabel, to raise the concern that his first commitment  is with science that can make money.

Further than potentially squashing creativity – and practical innovation that might not be profitable – corporate science can have very visible negative impacts on society. Isabel brings up the asbestos debacle, which McGill – after coming under heavy media fire for allowing a corporate sponsored study in the 60s and 70s that downplayed the substance’s negative health impacts – is looking into.

“If the allegations are true, it’s an example of what we do not want,” she said. —Shannon Palus


Lying through your teeth : How the McGill administration has used the life and legacy of Madeleine Parent

Too often, women are written out of history. What’s worse, however, is when they are exploited, and written back in when it’s convenient. Such is the case of Madeleine Parent: feminist, labour union activist, and general McGill rabble-rouser. Parent, whose long life was spent fighting for those marginalized by society, passed away on March 12, 2012. She was 93 years old. Parent was born in 1918 near Parc Lafontaine to an upper-crust Francophone family. However, she recognized the hypocrisy of her class, and was appalled by the treatment of servant girls at the Villa Maria convent where she was once a border. At an early age, Parent managed to perceive the social injustice around her, and it was those perceptions that lead to a long career in advocacy and labor organization.

During her time at McGill ¬– a rare choice of university for a French Canadian woman – Parent was an ardent feminist, often advocating for financially disadvantaged students. As a student at McGill, she fought for greater access to higher education, and increased loans and bursaries. “In university,” she once said, “I was the most comfortable among the underprivileged and the socially conscious.” During those formative years, she became aware that men were “a predominant force and of predominant significance” on campus and that women “took second place.” According to Parent, the most effective way of fighting these inequalities was for women to earn a better living through higher education.

After graduation, Parent shifted her focus to labour activism and rights during a pertinent time in Montreal’s industrial history. In 1946, around 6,000 textile workers from Montreal Cottons Ltd. walked out of their jobs. Unbearable working conditions and an intransigent management had pushed the workers to go on strike, and Parent was among the crowd. A few years earlier, she had organized the workers into their first union, the United Textile Workers. However, the company refused to recognize the union, and the strike was declared illegal as a result. The company owners were determined to break the strike, but when police moved in, the workers fought back. They showered the factory and the police with slabs of stones from the pavement. “Every strike teaches the workers how to fight,” Parent once said. “Nothing is ever wasted.”

This wasn’t the last strike Parent would organize. A few weeks later, she was in Valleyfield, demanding higher wages with the workers there. The year after that, she was with the textile workers of Lachute, where clashes with scabs and the police occurred on an almost daily basis. Parent was arrested three times in a single week. Maurice Duplessis, the Premier of Quebec at the time, labeled her a communist and ordered an arrest warrant against her for “sedition.” She was sentenced to two years in prison in 1948, but the charges were later dismissed. In spite of this, the threat of prison never deterred her from pursuing her struggle in Ontario, where she organized several local unions. In addition to the scare tactics of Duplessis’s governement, Parent faced the usage of derogatory gendered language such as for her feminist advocacy, as well as false accusations  during the Cold War. However, in the face of such hatred, Parent ventured forward, working, as always, for workers and the poor. Parent’s life paints a striking portrait of Quebec’s political history, a history that often repeats itself. Her story seems particularly relevant to the 2011-2012 school year here at McGill. The bitter dispute between McGill administration and the University’s non-academic workers’ union, MUNACA, and the current student movement opposing Premier Jean Charest’s proposed tuition hikes, are certainly causes Parent would have stood behind. These are also social injustices that the McGill administration has refused to recognize or resolve. The McGill administration’s negotiations with MUNACA and support for the proposed tuition hikes make their comments on Parent’s passing all the more troubling.

“We would like to honor the remarkable determination demonstrated by Madeleine Parent. From early adulthood, she fought tirelessly against the inequalities she saw around her,” said Principal Heather Munroe Blum on the McGill website. Munroe-Blum continued, “From her advocacy on behalf of financially disadvantaged students to her relentless defense of the rights of Quebec workers, she served as a role model for social engagement and as a source of inspiration for all of us.” The irony of Munroe-Blum’s statements is stinging. She praises Parent’s “relentless defense of the rights of Quebec workers,” and “advocacy on behalf of financially disadvantaged students.” If only Munroe-Blum practiced what she preached, particularly in regard to the MUNACA strike and student activism on campus. In the past month, two floor fellows were dismissed for engagement with campus activism, four students have been suspended from campus for five days, and over thirty students are facing disciplinary charges for involvement with #6party, including members of student media who were covering the occupation.

History teaches us that the struggle for social justice will often be opposed by those in power. If the McGill administration wishes to honour Parent’s legacy, then it needs to stop criticizing every form of student activism on campus.  Madeleine Parent deserves more than feigned admiration from Munroe-Blum. She deserves a place in McGill’s historical consciousness – along with other former students who dared to stand up for their convictions. —Christina Colizza and Laurent Bastien Corbeil


SACOMSS : We’re here to listen”

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) is a volunteer-run organization that supports survivors of sexual assault and their allies within the McGill community. The organization describes itself as a “pro-survivor, pro-feminist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-classist, queer-positive, trans-positive and anti-oppressive organization.” Founded in 1991, SACOMSS aims to empower survivors of sexual assault and to raise awareness of sexual assault in the McGill and Montreal community. To achieve this goal, SACOMSS offers services from crisis intervention and support groups to advocacy and outreach programs.

As part of its crisis intervention program, SACOMSS runs a confidential, non-judgmental sexual assault helpline, in addition to a walk-in service. According to their website, “We’re here to listen.” SACOMSS also provides support groups for the healing and empowerment of survivors, facilitated by trained volunteers. Support services are available not only for survivors, but also for their partners, family, and friends. In addition to these services, SACOMSS’ A-Branch performs a number of important advocacy activities on campus, from advocating on behalf of community members to helping students, staff, and faculty navigate McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law.

In an effort to debunk common myths and foster dialogue on sexual assault issues, SACOMSS coordinates workshops, projects and events across campus. Among these is Rez Project, in which SACOMSS has partnered with Queer McGill, the Union for Gender Empowerment, and the McGill Residences to facilitate discussions with first-year students in residence on sexual assault sensitivity, gender awareness, and queer/trans-positivity. This year, SACOMSS took on a unique advocacy role in the case of the assault of a queer student at Macdonald campus in February. The group provided important phone and in-person support services for concerned students, and lobbied strongly to get Rez Project into Mac residences. For students who are interested in getting involved, SACOMSS holds interviews and trainings every fall and occasional winters. For more details, visit www.sacomss.org. Contact information is available online.  —Annie Shiel


McGill’s first student-based labour union is born, ratifies its first collective agreement with McGill

This year, the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) ratified their first collective agreement with McGill University. The union represents approximately 1,500 nonacademic, casual or temporary workers, many of whom are students at McGill. This agreement marks the latest step in a process of unionization that began in the fall of 2008. According to AMUSE President Jamie Maclean, it was at this time that casual workers on campus started to notice that they were being treated unfairly by their employers.

“One of the problems that we can see with casual workers at McGill is that often they’re taken for granted,” she explained. “There’s an attitude of ‘you’re a student here, you’re not really strictly an employee, and you’re lucky to have a campus job.’” That fall, workers began the original drive to unionize casual workers at McGill. While they originally intended to unionize only students, the drive to form a union soon grew to encompass non-student workers as well.

In the fall of 2009, the drive was followed by a referendum held by the Quebec Labour Board on whether or not to unionize. In a show of overwhelming support for unionization, 85 per cent of casual workers voted to form a union. AMUSE received its accreditation in 2010, and held its first General Meeting and elected its first executive that spring. Since then, AMUSE has played a dual role on campus. First, they’ve represented the casual workers at McGill – both students and non-students – by negotiating the collective agreement with the University and filing grievances under the Quebec Labour Standards Act for employees who felt that their employers had mistreated them.

Second, according to Maclean, the union has tried to ”raise awareness and consciousness [among its student members] on of the role labour unions have on campus.” As a mostly student-based labour union, AMUSE seeks to educate students about the presence of labour unions and struggles at McGill. As Maclean said, “there is still a role that labour unions can play for every employee, no matter where you are.” —Joan Moses


Queer McGill celebrates it’s forty years : As SSMU’s oldest student-run service, Queer McGill (QM) is celebrating forty years of providing social, political, and service resources that have benefitted the visibility and lives of queer individuals in McGill and in Montreal. The non-hierarchical Executive Committee, made of 12 individuals with diversified project portfolios, works together to bring together marginalized groups on campus and further the presence of queer peoples on campus. Among the group’s regular events are Guerilla Gay Bar – the semi-annual amateur Drag & Burlesque show held during Pride Week – and the Queer Retreat held in Shawbridge, Quebec. This year, QM has introduced a number of new events. In January, they held a discussion with Thought Catalog editor Ryan O’Connell in collaboration with Leacock’s Online Magazine, followed by a fisting workshop featuring a live fisting demonstration by Andrea Zanin in February.

QM also has a history of political activism. In recent years, the group has protested Canadian Blood Services for openly discriminatory donor policies, raised awareness regarding the youth suicide wave of 2010 (most notably the Tyler Clementi case at Rutgers University), and advocated transgender issues within the Canadian healthcare system.In addition to social and political events, QM used to run two services, QueerLine and Allies, that extended their presence beyond the reach of the University. QueerLine was a queer hotline that provided support to all ages and demographics, from CEGEP students to senior citizens. Allies worked in high schools to address basic discrimination, body politics and transphobia. Both have since been discontinued due to lack of organization, but QM hopes to jumpstart these services in Fall 2012. —Vidal Wu


Tracing McGill’s history of radicalism

Tracing McGill’s history of radicalism : On January 14, 2008, the Grass Roots Association for Student Power (GRASPé) wrote on their blog: “last week, GRASPé kicked off the new semester with an occupation of the James Administration building.” Some would say that the student demonstrations on campus this year were symptomatic of a new, more radical, McGill. Not so. McGill has a radical history. Since 1968, there have been student groups that have opposed decisions made by the McGill administration, attempted to maintain student services on campus, and fought for accessible or free education. In the early 2000s, it was GRASPé; now it is, among others, a group of students that organize under the name Mob Squad. The students comprising Mob Squad have, this year, demonstrated in solidarity with MUNACA, rallied in support of QPIRG and CKUT, and participated in #6party actions and negotiations. Plus, they’ve been fighting tuition increases for years now: in December 2010, a McGill contingent went to Quebec City to participate in an anti-tuition hike protest and, among other actions, in March of 2011, they organized the event “FlashMOB – Dancing Against Tuition Increases.” This year, they have demonstrated both on and off campus in opposition to tuition hikes, including as part of the 200,000 person strong march on March 22.

Mob Squad’s actions are reminiscent of the work of GRASPé. At its peak, GRASPé worked to demilitarize McGill by protesting military recruitment on campus, keep the Arch Café running under student control, and protest tuition hikes, believing that the government should bear the cost of education. Like current student organizers, they occupied the James building, organized boycotts of McGill food services, and called for students to strike.

In many ways, the events on McGill’s campus this year have been a reminder of GRASPé’s actions. In the same GRASPé blog post that proclaimed the occupation of the James building was the following statement, more prophetic than the writers could have anticipated: “the McGill students’ occupation of the James Administration building is the beginning of a province-wide semester of resistance as students everywhere stand up against the tuition hikes and in defense of an affordable, accessible education for all.” Four years later, the students in Mob Squad continue the resistance.  —Anqi Zhang

The McGill Daily – Over 100 years and still kicking : Making its campus debut on October 2, 1911, The McGill Daily was originally a four-page sports rag published four days a week and sold for five cents by McGill University. It has since grown to become one of the largest and most well respected student papers in Canada, known for taking strong stances on issues affecting the McGill student body and Montreal at large. Publishing twice a week, and with a circulation of over 11,000, The Daily has emerged as a reliable source of information as well as a venue for student opinion and debate. Last October, the publication celebrated its centennial year. Alumni travelled from all over the world to attend a weekend of celebration and to attest to the impact The Daily has had on their lives. Editors from the 1940s recalled reporting on the war in Europe; those from the 1960s spoke of the radical political change taking place on campus and worldwide; alumni from the 1980s remembered their own struggles against rising tuition fees.Now, at the end of year 101, it may seem that The Daily is a firmly established institution at McGill. However, in 2007, the administration introduced existence referenda, which means that every five years the student body votes on whether or not to continue funding certain groups and organizations. QPIRG and CKUT ran their referenda earlier this year.

The Daily is not exempted from this process: having won our first-ever existence referendum in 2007, we will face our second in the 2012-13 academic year. Not everyone agrees with what appears in The Daily – but this is exactly why it must be preserved. Students must continue to challenge mainstream opinions – as well as their own – and continue their education in critical thinking outside of the classroom. The Daily is a deeply embedded part of McGill’s history, involved in the movements, the challenges, and the controversy that sweep our campus. We hope it will be just as much a part of its future.  —Jessica Lukawiecki and Erin Hudson 


Out of the ashes of the Arch Café: student-run food at McGill:

Throughout the year, sustainability and student-run food initiatives seem to have blended and fed off one another, quite literally. The closing of the Arch Café may have occurred well before some students this year were even enrolled at McGill, but for many its closure is fresh in mind. Students are looking forward, however, and student-run food services are again coming to the forefront of student issues. As food services have become increasingly corporatized, students have noticed and are looking for alternatives. Earlier this year SSMU executives – led by VP Finance and Operations Shyam Patel – expressed their commitment to the creation of a student run cafe in the Shatner Building.

“It is something students care about, and even the University criticizes us for not having a student-run cafe,” Patel told The Daily in September. The Daily spoke to Patel again in March, when he said that the incoming VP Finance and Operations would now be responsible for the ongoing project. “I’ll be moving forward and it’s sort of letting my baby go. But, I think it is going to be in good hands and a lot of students are interested and really care. So I don’t think they’ll let the project go,” he said. Since the very beginning, environmental concerns have represented an important component of the proposed cafe. To this end, SSMU launched the Sustainability Case Competition as a way to foster the creation of new ideas. The main objective of the competition was to find sustainable solutions to problems related to the student run cafe.

The design of the winning team, Fireside Café, will be taken into consideration while the SSMU Student Run Café Working Group develops a business plan. AUS Snax has also promoted sustainable and student-run alternatives food services on campus. The snack and beverage counter has been taking steps to improve sustainability with a price-incentive campaign to encourage reusable mugs. Jennifer Cox, a manager, spoke to The Daily earlier this year about the initiative. “I think we’re going to continually raise our coffee prices little by little as an incentive. The cost of that cup is something we would like to take out of our expenses all together,” said Cox. —Christina Colizza and Juan Camilo Velásquez


Tune into CKUT at 10 p.m. on a Monday and you’ll hear Drastic Plastic, a punk show that will shake your windowpanes. At 11 a.m. on Thursday, there’s Under the Olive Tree, a Canada-wide Palestinian community radio show. And if you turn your dial just right at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, you’ll hear the McGill Daily’s own radio show, Unfit to Print. Broadcasting on the FM dial since 1987, CKUT 90.3 reflects as many communities and styles as they can squeeze into their packed 24-hour a day schedule. Though the narrow hallways of CKUT remain jammed with programmers and volunteers, this year has been a tough one for the community station. Since 2007, students have been able to opt out of their four-dollar CKUT fee online, resulting in an ever-shrinking budget and increasing difficulties balancing the books and planning for the future. This past November, a referendum was held in which CKUT asked students if they were in favor of reversing the online opt-out system. The reformed system would reflect the method prior to 2007, which required students to turn up in person at the CKUT offices to opt-out of fees. Although 72.3 per cent of voters were in favor of opt-out system reform, the referendum results were invalidated by the administration, citing a lack of clarity in the question. CKUT was thrust back into the spotlight again this February, during the #6party occupation of the James Administration building. The occupiers demanded that the administration recognize the results of the November referendum.

This past March, the question of ending the online opt-out system was put forward to students yet again, and this time was voted down. Students are still able to log into their Minerva accounts and withhold their four-dollar fee. Confusion among CKUT’s supporters reigned, largely because those voting “no” to in-person opt-outs remain faceless, with no visible committees campaigning against the station. The listeners, contributors, and staff of CKUT have reason to be anxious. A rapidly declining budget will continue to hurt the quality of the station’s programming and jeopardize its existence. We’re sure to see CKUT in the headlines again soon. Until then, tune in, and check out what you’ve been missing. —Kate McGillivray


The McGill name, surrendered

This year, SSMU Council voted to settle an imbroglio with the McGill administration that began when many of them were in high school. Council voted to sign SSMU’s new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with McGill, which included the administration’s stipulation that 132 clubs change their names in order to distance themselves from the McGill logo. The administration cited liability concerns as its primary motivation for requesting the name changes, as well as possible confusion among potential donors. “The University has to protect the brand and the logo very vigorously so that it has true meaning, in the same way that Nike would do everything possible to protect its swoosh,” said Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson in September 2010, when it was revealed that TVM (formerly TVMcGill) and the McGill Student Emergency Response Team (M-SERT, formerly the McGill First Aid Service) might have to change their names.

The issue dates back to the fall of 2006 when, entering its first ever MoA negotiation with McGill, CKUT (formerly CKUT Radio McGill) was asked to drop “McGill” from its name. CKUT had been carrying the McGill name for almost ten years and resisted the change, but relented almost a year later after McGill withheld the radio station’s student fees until the request was honored. While TVM and M-SERT became the embattled poster children for the issue last year, this year saw an escalation in the number of groups involved, including the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (formerly the McGill Legal Information Clinic), and the McGill Student Outdoors Club (formerly McGill Outdoors Club), founded in 1936. An October 2010 SSMU General Assembly motion temporarily changed SSMU’s official name to the “Students’ Society of The Educational Institute Roughly Bounded by Peel, Penfield, University, Sherbrooke, and Mac Campus” (SSTEIRBBPPUSAMC) in opposition to the administration’s position.

“This is a joke, but it is a joke with a very serious punch line,” said former Management Senator Eli Freedman, author of the motion, at the GA. “Using the new title will force an uncomfortable conversation with the administration.” Faculty associations were also subject to name changes, including the Engineering and Management Undergraduate Societies. The Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) wasn’t made aware they weren’t allowed to use the McGill watermark in their logo until McGill Secretary-General Stephen Strople ordered the tearing down of posters bearing the logo in the McConnell Engineering building last September. While SSMU closed the book on the use of the McGill name by their clubs last semester, EUS is still in discussions with McGill. —Henry Gass