News  McGill to institute a permanent demonstration and protest protocol

Campus unions condemn the drafted versions of the proposal

Preliminary consultations between student, staff, and faculty unions and the administration concerning revisions to the University’s Provisional Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations on McGill University Campuses have elicited strong responses.

A provisional version of the Protocol was released in mid-February by Provost Anthony Masi to the McGill community immediately following the conclusion of the five-day occupation of Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson’s sixth-floor office in the James Administration building.

In an email sent to the McGill community last Friday, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum stated that work was “under way on adapting the Provisional Protocol into a permanent protocol,” and that an updated draft would be released on November 30 to solicit feedback from McGill staff and students.

McGill’s non-academic workers’ union (MUNACA), its teaching union (AGSEM), and its support employee union (AMUSE) have all signed a statement, published in the Commentary section of this issue of The Daily, stating that it “condemns in the strongest possible terms the proposed [protocol] that was released to campus unions on November 9.”

It goes on to say that the proposed protocol “contravenes the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which explicitly protects the freedom of all citizens to engage in principled, nonviolent protest,” and concludes that they are particularly worried that the proposed protocol could be manipulated to “criminalize the activities of labour union members and their supporters, whose right to participate in campus demonstrations, rallies, and lawful picketing is clearly violated by these terms.”

An updated version of the Protocol – dated October 30, though still in draft form – released to student unions and obtained by The Daily includes several passages not included in the original Protocol.

One of them is the stipulation that, “The more intense (in terms of degree of inconvenience to normal university activities, number of participants, level of noise, tone of discourse, level of anger expressed, etc.), and/or the more deliberately disruptive, and/or the longer (in terms of duration of inconvenience) and/or the more confined the space in which it takes place, the greater the liklihood [sic] that the assembly, protest or demonstration will be deemed not to be peaceful.”

It is this passage that AGSEM–McGill’s Teaching Union president Lilian Radovac takes particular issue with.

“How do you quantify the level of anger expressed? And more to the point, who judges? The tone of discourse? That’s even more vague,” she said. “The University says this will mean that a demonstration will be deemed to not be peaceful, which is the pretext by which they can take measures under civil and criminal law.”

When solicited for feedback on the updated draft of the Protocol, Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) executives also responded to this passage in their communications with Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration & Finance).

“The current criteria are more subjective and could be misused to stop people from demonstrating or protesting.  For example, using a metric like ‘number of participants’ or ‘duration’ or degree to which the space is ‘confined’ to determine whether an assembly is peaceful is absurd on the face of it,” they wrote.

Their response also stated that the Protocol “seem[ed] to make more of an issue of ‘disruption’ by threatening students with increased penalty based on ‘intensity’ and ‘duration’ of protests as ‘disruptions’ rather than as ‘nonviolent acts,’” and argued that “there is a contradiction in working to protect students’ rights to protest and then simultaneously stating that protests are forbidden if they become inconvenient to some people.”

Executives from AGSEM, AMUSE, and MUNACA all told The Daily that they did not understand the need for a Protocol on demonstrations at McGill in the first place, given already-established provincial and federal laws on the subject.

“There are already government laws and regulations that govern how we would form protests and demonstrations and McGill does not need to go above and beyond the law,” MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker told The Daily.

Reached at 5 p.m. on Friday, Director of Internal Communications Doug Sweet said that the administration did not have time to prepare a comment, but referred The Daily to the consultation process outlined in Munroe-Blum’s Friday email to McGill community members.