Students protest in 2012

News | Committee rules in protest protocol grievance

Ruling upholds limits to students’ rights

The Senate Committee on Student Grievances has ruled that the “Provisional Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests, and Occupations on McGill University Campuses,” implemented in February 2012, did not violate the Charter of Students’ Rights. The decision, released on March 17, comes in response to a grievance filed in December 2012 by student Eli Freedman.

The Provisional Protocol, introduced following the five-day occupation of the James Administration building in February 2012, later became permanent policy without substantial changes, under the title “Operating Procedures Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations on McGill University Campuses.” This document outlines criteria for assessing whether or not a protest can be deemed peaceful, such as “the degree of disruption of University activities.”

Those who have criticized these regulations include student groups, three of the university’s unions, and the Quebec Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group.

“This document conflates mere inconvenience with violent disruption and therefore tramples on the right of McGill community members to express all but the weakest forms of dissent,” stated the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) in a March 2013 press release.

The Committee recognized that the Provisional Protocol imposed restrictions on students’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, but it did not consider them to be a violation of McGill’s Charter of Students’ Rights.

“The Committee felt that the restrictions on individual rights under the Provisional Protocol were reasonable, given the situation,” the ruling states.

Freedman deplored that the Provisional Protocol was enacted in a rush, without prior public consultation. “In what can only be described as an authoritative abuse of power, Provost Anthony Masi took the law into his own hands, ignoring his declaration that the university community would be consulted before making reforms to its protest regulations,” Freedman wrote in a press release sent to The Daily.

Before the adoption of the Operating Procedures, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi held the Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly in March 2012. He presented a report that called for slight clarifications to the language of the Provisional Protocol, but otherwise suggested no major changes.

Recently, the Operating Procedures were invoked to justify the dispersion of a demonstration in the Macdonald Engineering building, with the help of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). Demilitarize McGill, a campus group that organizes against military research at the university, had blockaded the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory.

Dean of Students André Costopoulos pointed to “obstruction” as a sufficient criterion to restrict the right to protest. “Obstruction – say, blocking doors, preventing people from going where they need to go – is a violation of their rights,” he told The Daily.

“If you look at the Manfredi report from a couple years ago, […] it said, we have to expect a certain level of disruption, but if it rises to obstruction, then there’s a problem,” said Costopoulos. “It’s a community standard, basically.”

For Demilitarize McGill member Kevin Paul, however, the protocol is symptomatic of the University’s role in the broader structures of repression. “The protocol exists to protect the interests of an institution that is inseparable from capitalist and imperialist systems of control by legitimizing the repression of actions that disrupt the institution’s support for those systems, including through violent police intervention,” Paul wrote in an email to The Daily.

“There was no reason to expect that the University’s own judicial process would annul [the protocol],” Paul added.

In an email sent to The Daily, Freedman noted, “The ruling at least admits that students’ rights are restricted more than previously as a result of the protocol […] This is a starting point for further organizing to protect students’ rights and interests.”