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McGill seeks exception from Access to Information requests

University alleges it is victim of a “complex system”

Correction appended January 22, 2013.

The University is pursuing litigation to exempt itself from fulfilling any Access to Information (ATI) requests filed by McGill students and student journalists.

In a motion filed on December 7 to the Commission d’accès à l’information – the provincial body that oversees ATIs – the University alleges that a “complex system” has been put in place by the 14 respondents named in the motion “as a retaliation measure against McGill in the aftermath of the 2011-2012 student protests.”

The motion argues that the “systematic” and “repetitious” nature of recent ATIs is abusive, and that responding to the requests would represent “serious impediments to [the University’s] activities.”

The motion asks for authorization to deny similar requests submitted by or linked to any McGill student, student journalist at The Daily or Concordia’s The Link, or the website McGilliLeaked.

This would “allow [the University] to basically deny [ATI] requests at will, for an indeterminate amount of time,” according to Mona Luxion, a Daily columnist and one of the motion’s respondents.

For U3 Economics student and McGilliLeaked founder Christopher Bangs, the motion’s breadth and preemptive spirit is worrisome.

“The most upsetting thing is that any request related to the 14 of us, related to The Daily, related to The Link at Concordia, if they make a request that has anything to do with the website I started, McGill has the blanket right to deny it if their motion succeeds. Some of the categories on McGilliLeaked are entire years,” he said.

Sibel Ataogul, the president of the Association des juristes progressistes, will be representing the respondents before the Commission.

This is not the first time that the University has filed motions to the Commission arguing that the scope of certain requests rendered them impossible to return. McGill filed one last February against The Daily Publications Society, which publishes The Daily and Le Délit, and has filed three against Bangs since last year.

But one respondent, who spoke anonymously to The Daily, said that they had no idea that they were submitting too many requests.
“This was very sudden, this request asking for tremendous authority to disregard all future requests without even ever having heard that we were causing them a problem,” they said.

Several respondents reported filing numerous requests for review with the Commission when the University failed to fulfill ATI requests within the legal time frame or provided documents that they believed were unreasonably redacted.

McGill’s motion groups together 14 McGill students and alumni – despite their ATIs varying in subject matter, and some of the respondents saying they had never met until the motion was filed.

“They’re lumping all of these information requests together in order to make the point that there are too many requests being made, that there’s some coordinated effort,” Luxion said.

The ATIs named in the motion generally fall under three categories: military research, fossil fuel investments, and administrative finances at McGill. Respondents who spoke to The Daily said that while those submitting ATIs on similar topics communicated, there was no coordination between groups or across projects.

“There’s no coordinated effort to destroy the University through Access to Information requests,” said Bangs, adding that he had “tried to get a lot of information through non-legalized channels… and I’ve been told like four or five times, you have to submit an access to information request.”

Secretary-General Stephen Strople, responsible for responding to ATI requests at the University, reiterated that requests had strained the University’s administrative capacities.

“We could not, in good conscience, continue to allow the University’s limited resources to be used trying to satisfy such an enormous demand for information when other mission-critical and pressing matters must be attended to,” he wrote.

But some respondents argue that the real reason the University is pursuing this motion is simple: information, particularly regarding military research at McGill, would be embarrassing.

“They don’t like it when people publicize the really abhorrent research that some professors do…It would be a problem for them if we had access to some of this information because we’re running campaigns right now around getting McGill out of the business of war,” said Bangs.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that the Association des juristes progressistes (AJP) was representing the respondents. The AJP, though in part an advocacy organization, does not take on mandates to represent parties.