News  Civil rights group reps decry new protocol

Operating procedures ambiguous, give University too much discretionary power

Story updated February 8, 2013.

The University’s latest demonstration guidelines do not adequately protect rights of association and assembly, and reflect no substantial changes from the protest protocol that was withdrawn two weeks ago, representatives from prominent national and provincial civil rights groups said this week.

Following the protocol’s hasty withdrawal amid mounting off-campus criticism, the administration released two new documents this Monday. The first, a statement of values, will be based on the protocol’s uncontroversial preamble. The second consists of “operating procedures” defining acceptable forms of protest.

Like its predecessor, the operating procedures defines when a protest will be “deemed to be peaceful” according to the metrics of “intensity, intentionality, duration and location.”

According to Cara Zwibel, a director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), who authored the CCLA’s statement last month denouncing the University’s demonstration protocol, “the same concerns remain.”

“They recognized in the preamble language that some measure of inconvenience is expected, [but] the nuts and bolts of the protocol seem to suggest that really any interference with everyday activities […] might not be tolerated. That problem of not establishing a high enough threshold still exists with the new operating procedures,” Zwibel told The Daily.

For Philippe Robert de Massy, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ligue des droits et libertés, a prominent provincial human rights group, the operating procedures are too ambiguous, and grant too much discretionary power to the administration to determine whether a protest is acceptable.

“The responsibility is put on protesters to conduct themselves in a manner which is respectful of non-participants, but at the same time somebody else gets to determine when the party is over, and according to very subjective criteria,” he told The Daily in French.

De Massy plans on bringing the University’s new guidelines to the Ligue in order for them to determine an official position on the matter, he told The Daily. De Massy noted that the Ligue was currently studying similar measures at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

The administration will hold two consultations – one downtown, and one at Macdonald Campus – this month to solicit feedback on the documents. Although the statement of values will be brought before Senate and the Board of Governors (BoG) for final approval, the operating procedures will not be ratified by either body.

Student groups and campus unions also say the new operating procedures are more of the same, and have expressed serious concern that the operating procedures will not go before Senate or the BoG before permanent adoption.

This is “shockingly undemocratic,” said McGill’s teaching union (AGSEM) President Lilian Radovac, who added that, “AGSEM has not had faith in the administration’s consultation process. And given the divorce between that process, and the ultimate means of implementation, it seems we have reason to have even less faith.”

“I wasn’t aware that this was a dictatorship,” McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) President Kevin Whittaker told The Daily in response to the administration’s decision not to bring the operating procedures to the University’s governing bodies.

MUNACA, which represents the 1,700 non-academic workers at McGill, has a representative on the BoG.

The University’s graduate students’ society (PGSS) executive noted some positive changes reflected in the operating procedures following consultations with administration, but believes the document “still [puts] too much power in the hands of McGill security personnel, with little oversight or accountability, and a vague sense of how they should make decisions,” according to their External Affairs Officer, Errol Salamon. “Who will measure the ‘intensity’ and ‘duration’ of actions, and how will they measure these criteria? Can these criteria even be measured?’”

The provisional protocol regulating campus protests, released in February 2011 following a five-day occupation in the James Administration building, will remain in effect until the adoption of both documents.