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Demilitarize McGill organizes walking tour

Students visit sites of military research

A walking tour of locations where McGill conducts military research started at 3690 Peel, home to McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL), on Thursday. The tour – organized by a new incarnation of Demilitarize McGill, a student group that has been dormant since 2010 – was attended by approximately 15 students.

The IASL, which was founded in 1951, conducts research for the U.S. Air Force. Their website notes: “For more than a quarter century, the US Air Force has been sending its best and the brightest officers to study Space Law at the IASL.”

Graduates from the IASL often go on to work with major governmental military organizations, such as the U.S. and French Air Forces, as well as major weapons manufacturers such as Boeing.

The group moved to the hallway in front of the Shockwave Physics Group (SPG) in the Macdonald Engineering building, where Cleve Higgins, a McGill graduate who uncovered the SPG’s links to the U.S. military in 2006, gave a presentation on their past and potential current research in thermobaric explosives.

Higgins, who was an activist with the now defunct GrassRoots Association for Student Power (GRASPé), was a founding member of Demilitarize McGill and wrote his thesis on McGill’s military ties.

Isaac Stethem, another member of Demilitarize McGill, told the group about how McGill filed a motion with the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec against 14 McGill students, seeking to disregard several Access to Information (ATI) requests.

“The details of these labs aren’t known anymore. That was one of the things that was included in the ATI requests [that McGill are refusing to provide],” Higgins said.

The last stop was at 688 Sherbrooke, which houses McGill’s Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) laboratory. Kevin Paul, another member of Demilitarize McGill told the group that the CFD has produced research on anti-icing technology and simulation software for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including attack drones used by the U.S. military.

According to Paul, after an ATI request was filed on the CFD lab relating to their funding by Lockheed Martin – one of the world’s largest military contractors, all mention of Lockheed Martin was removed from their website.

“This raises the question of the research priorities of the academics – whether the academics are neutrally pursuing their interests or the R&D departments of these companies,” Paul said.

Demilitarize McGill and the group moved across the hallway to the offices of Newmerical Technologies, which sells similar software to that developed at the CFD. Newmerical’s President, Professor Wagdi Habashi, is also the director of the CFD lab.

“According to NASA, [the systems marketed by Newmerical] are the ideal solution to the UAV de-icing dilemma, for General Atomics – who are the manufacturer of every attack drone in the U.S. military arsenal,” Paul said.

Today, McGill has no estabished position to evaluate the potential harms of military research, something Demilitarize McGill wants to change.

In 2009, McGill lifted regulations that made researchers who receive money from the military indicate whether the research they were doing had direct harmful consequences. The lifting of these regulations has left the University with no policy guidelines on military research.

“The line on military research [does not] appear in [any] other research policy guidelines at the federal level, or with any of our peer universities,” Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told The Daily in 2009.

But for Alicia Nguyen, a member of Demilitarize McGill, “This is not an acceptable excuse to lack an ethical review.”