Demilitarize McGill organized a teach-in addressing McGill’s military research ties on April 3, which outlined McGill’s history with weapons and warfare-related research, and Demilitarize’s quest to bring the issue to public light.
Originally scheduled to be held at the Y-intersection, organizers moved the event to the Macdonald Engineering basement in the face of the cold and wind. The event drew approximately ten people, most of whom were members of the organization itself.
At the teach-in, members discussed groups at McGill alleged to be involved in military research, pointing to three in particular: the Shock Wave Physics Group, the Computational Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the Institute of Air and Space Law.
The Shock Wave Physics group (SWPG), part of McGill’s Mechanical Engineering department, was discovered by a previous incarnation of Demilitarize McGill in 2006 to have ties to the U.S. military.
The Daily reported in January 2007 that a professor with the SWPG, David Frost, co-authored a paper on thermobaric explosives in which the acknowledgements state that the work had received partial funding from a program of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a division of the U.S. Department of Defense. At that time, Frost denied to The Daily that he had ever received direct funding from DTRA.
At the teach-in, members of Demilitarize McGill outlined the history and usage of thermobaric explosives. The bombs, according to group members, are a technology that proved useful to the U.S. military starting in 2001 in the war in Afghanistan, when the military used them in caves to fight the Taliban.
According to members of Demilitarize McGill, the University may still have ties involving research on thermobaric explosives. Information on current research, however, is difficult to attain, they said, and usually comes to light only after publication of academic papers.
Members described their recent attempt to glean some of this information from the University’s administration, filing several Access to information (ATI) requests under Quebec law. However, the University soon responded by serving 14 students with a “Motion to be authorized to disregard requests.”
According to the University, ATI requests are an “abusive” means of disrupting University affairs.
“With the recent legal action taken against 14 students for the right to refuse their ATI requests, McGill has effectively sent the message that they don’t want this kind of thing being discussed,” Cadence O’Neal, an organizer with Demilitarize McGill, told The Daily by email.
The organization purposefully held its teach-in at the same time as a hearing involving University ATI requests went on at the Quebec Access to Information Commission.
Ultimately, however, the transparency the group seeks with its ATI requests is one tactic for a long list of goals. Discussing transparency regarding military-related research at the teach-in, members of the group acknowledged that while transparency is the first step, their long-term aims are more far-reaching.
Kevin Paul, an organizer with Demilitarize McGill, ultimately noted the anti-war bent of the group.
“For me, personally, it goes beyond transparency to doing whatever is possible to disrupt and end military research at McGill,” he said.