After four open discussions and a half-day symposium, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi released three recommendations in his Report of the Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly last week.
The report summarizes the discussions that took place from March to May and recommends that language in the Code of Student Conduct be clarified, that the James Protocol be less restrictive, and that Security Services review its training program.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum mandated Manfredi to head the process of organizing the Open Forum on February 13.
The mandate originated from the Jutras Report on the events of November 10, 2011 – an internal investigation conducted by Dean of Law Daniel Jutras – which stated that “University authorities should provide and participate in a forum open to all members of the University community to discuss the meaning and scope of the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly on campus.”
Munroe-Blum’s announcement of the Open Forum project immediately followed the release of the Provisional Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests, and Occupations on McGill University Campuses and the five-day occupation of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s office.
Munroe-Blum announced in Senate yesterday that the Provisional Protocol would be reviewed and discussed during the November Senate meeting.
The number of community members who took part in or watched the Open Forum discussions was not available. The Daily previously reported that the first discussion, which took place on March 1, saw a “handful” of attendees.
Students interviewed at that time expressed a lack of faith in the process. Manfredi’s report notes, “some students had engaged in a boycott of the process” due to “skepticism about the efficacy of the Open Forum and criticisms of both its style and substance.”
Manfredi wrote in an email to The Daily that he became aware of the boycott in a meeting with authors of the November 10 Independent Study Inquiry (ISI) “after the Open Forum sessions were complete.”
ISI member Amanda Murphy said that she was not among those who boycotted, but described the environment of the second open discussion as “hostile.”
Murphy said she was among the few students present who were not members of Manfredi’s Advisory Committee or involved with SSMU Council.
“[The discussion] was not conducive to dialogue at all, unless you were very certain of your viewpoint,” Murphy recalled.
The report also includes concerns about concealing identities during protests, a discussion that mainly revolved around the use of masks to preserve anonymity during #6party. After the occupation, several staff members in James brought up concerns that masks added to an atmosphere of intimidation and made them feel threatened.
Manfredi also notes the contrasting concern that easily-recognized students could be targeted by security and administrative personnel, discouraging on-campus demonstrations.
Another major discussion is that of public versus private space. The report clarifies, “in strictly legal terms, McGill University’s campuses are private property…and open to the public by invitation.”
It also states that differentiation of space – including restricting access to some locations such as those where research is conducted – is reasonable and done at other universities.
Manfredi’s call to clarify language in the Code of Student Conduct hinged largely on the fact that the Code does not define the term “disruption.” Section 5 of the Code, which discusses disruption, was the basis of much of last year’s disciplinary action following the #6party occupation and several other incidents on campus.
According to the report, clarifying this term would “identify activity that is clearly exempt from disciplinary proceedings.”
The recommendation to review the James Protocol – the security procedure to enter the James building, which became very strict following #6party – has been addressed to some degree by the fact that Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa announced in September that the building would no longer be on card-only access, and that McGill community members would be allowed to enter the building during work hours as long as they signed in.
At yesterday’s Senate meeting, Munroe-Blum referred to an incident last week in which “two students went in and created a sense of intimidation in the [James Administration] building.”
Doug Sweet, director of Internal Relations, told The Daily that it was an isolated incident in which two students accessed the James Administration building and “reacted aggressively” to staff members who asked them to make an appointment.
Sweet pointed to the need to balance community building access rights with creating a safe environment for those working in the building.
Manfredi’s final recommendation is that Security Services “review their training program.”
The report discusses participants’ concerns about the securitization of campus and enhanced surveillance of public events, but does not factor these into the recommendation, which focuses more on the procedural recommendations such as, “security personnel must be well trained in the substance of University regulations and the preparation of incident reports.”
—with files from Juan Camilo Velásquez