Commentary  Detached, disturbing, and vague

An open letter from the Philosophy Students’ Association

We are writing to you on behalf of the Philosophy Students’ Association in order to voice our disagreement with the proposed implementation of the new draft Protocol on Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations in the strongest possible terms.

Our community holds open meetings on Tuesdays in our lounge – Leacock 931. We attempt to make decisions in a non-hierarchical manner and do our best to run by consensus. During the Winter 2012 semester, we voted to take up a one-week mandate to strike our departments’ classes and simultaneously develop new spaces for alternative education during the period of March 28 through April 3, 2012.

The ability for the PSA to continue to act autonomously is at risk  under the draft protocol.

On December 4, 2012 at our final general meeting of the fall term, we voted unanimously to take an official position in opposition to this protocol and to act in solidarity with other campus groups who have adopted similar mandates – including the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Assocation (MUNACA), the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), plus the McGill Tribune, The Daily, and Le Délit. In what follows, we would like to outline some of the key reasons our members expressed in the course of adopting this position.

First of all, the proposed protocol outlines criteria for the assessment of demonstrations which are in many instances exceptionally vague, including the sections which attempt to delineate what constitutes a “peaceful” demonstration.

The factors chosen by the administration for judging the legitimacy of an action are detached from reasonable markers of peaceful assembly. The size, duration, location, or emotional level of a demonstration bear no necessary relation to its peaceful character. Large, noisy, and emotionally-charged demonstrations can be both inconvenient and wholly peaceful.

Furthermore, no consideration is given as to how these provisions will be interpreted – or who will be making these decisions. In our view, this leads to an exceptional and dangerous arbitrary power being granted to senior administrators when they react to demonstrations from behind a cloud of obfuscation.

As it stands, the Protocol systematizes the University’s habit of deploying security guards or armed police agents against people, instead of allowing for listening and discussion. The only thing McGill can promise to demonstrators  is that they will call the police.

We find the language and vagueness of the draft protocol disturbing. The University plans to limit our rights, under the guise of supporting free and open expression on campus. The document itself offers no clue as to who decides when a half-dozen on a picket or a thousand with tambourines are declared to be “not-peaceful.”

We would also like to note that the proposed “period of consultation” is being held at a time most inconvenient for authentic community discourse. The senior administration likely does not actually believe that the proposed Protocol is “an important document that deserves thoughtful consideration,” as they have written in official communiques.

And so we have taken up where they have left off. We write to The Daily because the creation of an anonymous feedback e-mail account during exam period is not sufficient to give voice to students. It is already tough enough for students to participate in McGill’s bureaucracy during the semester – when they’re actually on campus.

Drafts of this document have circulated since February 12, 2012 – and they have seen no significant changes since then, despite the ongoing roars of campus dissent through every available channel.

This style of smoke-and-mirrors consultation is the last gasp of a senior administration which feels power slipping from their grip. This process is not a legitimate method for vetting a document. The Protocol will have far-reaching consequences on campus – for labour unions, student groups, and any other member of the McGill community that seeks to genuinely hold a position.

The Philosophy Students’ Association meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Leacock 931.