Senate voted in favour of adopting the administration’s Statement of Principles yesterday. The document, brought forward by the administration, proposes definitions for freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly to respond to dissent at the university.
The document arose from modifications to the protest protocol, which was met with fierce opposition earlier this semester. The protocol was then divided into two documents: The Statement of Principles Concerning Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, and the Operating Procedures Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations on McGill University Campuses.
Provost Anthony Masi presented the Statement of Principles for Senate approval at their meeting yesterday. The Operating Procedures document, however, was only presented for information.
Masi opened the discussion by stating that the community has been discussing the “fundamental matters” regarding dissent on campus for over a year. The Statement of Principles, according to Masi, “is an overarching document… this document [that] inform[s] the operating procedures and the people applying those procedures.”
The administration’s rationale behind the adoption of the document is that “the McGill community will be best served by an agreed-upon Statement of Principles which would protect the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly,” according to the document presented to Senate.
“The Statement will contain the overarching principles that guide decisions concerning the rights of members of the McGill community as they relate to these freedoms,” the document read.
Some Senators, however, questioned the existence of the documents altogether. SSMU President Josh Redel questioned the necessity of having those documents and added, “I feel it is a bit lofty for the University to attempt to define our fundamental rights in two mere sentences. Furthermore, the attempt to define peaceful is, in my mind, ideologically dangerous.”
Faculty Senator Derek Nystrom urged Senate to vote against the document and stated that the body should have also voted on the approval of the Operating Procedures document. “[The Operating Procedures] is where the rubber hits the road. Where we’re going to be defending our principles of freedom and peaceful assembly.”
Masi agreed that resolving specific conflicts using the Statement of Principles is a “question of judgment.” He also stated, however, that the separation of the two documents was an outcome of the consultation process.
Arts Senator James Gutman criticized the consultation process because of its failure to bring together all actors on campus, citing campus unions who “are very upset about this.”
Campus unions held a demonstration against the documents on January 23.
“If you didn’t take part in the consultation, quite frankly, that is your problem,” said Masi.
PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney, on the other hand, questioned the drafting process and committee. Pointing to the representation of students, staff members, faculty, and administrators in the Senate, he stated: “if Senate is going to vote on the adoption [of the document], why was a committee not struck with the same broad constituency to write the document?”
Masi said that the people involved in the drafting of the document came from the offices most involved in the consultation process this semester.
Following a failed motion to table the discussion, Senate approved the motion to adopt the Statement of Principles.
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael DiGrappa then presented the Operating Procedures that will accompany the Statement of Values. The document is set to “provide a framework for determining whether or not action or intervention is necessary in the case of demonstrations… and actions that contravene internal policies or the law.”
“Tolerance is expected for the expression of dissent, and for a certain degree of inconvenience arising from the means by which dissenting opinions may be expressed. At all times, decisions will be sensitive to context and will reflect the exercise of sound judgment by those in charge,” the document reads.
The document continues on to give benchmarks to decide whether demonstrations, assemblies, protests, and occupations are peaceful.
Redel questioned the role of the document.
“To define direct action is to restrict it. To restrict it, regardless of intent, defeats the purpose of having direct action in the first place, which is in direct contradiction to the statement that opens the documents.”
“Finally, it mentions that action takers are responsible for their actions, but it is crucial further that it mentions that McGill is as well responsible for its actions. This is clearly required as per the Manfredi report in regards to proper management of hired security agents, where it was made clear that security agents did not handle certain situations appropriately,” Redel said.
When asked by Nystrom why the Operating Procedures were not up for approval, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum replied that operational procedures are not usually approved though governance structures like Senate.
Senators also discussed the process surrounding McGill joining edX and the implementation of Massively Open Online Courses, (MOOCs) as well as changes to the student code of conduct to be voted on next time Senate meets.