On March 14, Demilitarize McGill, a campus group that works to oppose military research at the university, led a blockade of the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory in the MacDonald Engineering building. Despite the blockade being peaceful, McGill called the police, invoking the controversial Operating Procedures Regarding Protests and Occupations on McGill University (the ‘protest protocol’), which states that any obstruction of work at the University is not allowed. The blockade was organized in response to access to information requests revealing that researchers at the Laboratory received over $500,000 in contracts from the Defence Research and Development Centre – an agency of the Department of National Defence – to develop research linked to drones. While researchers at the Laboratory argue that the research has potential applications outside of military use, the fact that some of these applications cause harm is enough to give cause for student opposition.
The drone research at McGill is not a solitary case, as McGill has been home to many forms of research with harmful implications in the past. Recently, McGill was pressed to defend research by Professor J. Corbett Macdonald, who conducted industry-funded research into the health effects of asbestos in the 1970s. The University’s claims that this research was neutral were heavily contested. Further back in history is McGill’s involvement with project MK-ULTRA, a program partially funded by the CIA and the Canadian government, and another example of the University accepting money from sources with questionable motives. When researchers deny the connection between the source of the funding and future uses, they ignore the influence on research exerted by financial investment.
In the past the University dealt with the issue of questionable research funding poorly, for example, holding a forum on asbestos research but failing to address the implications of corporate funded research. But even though students form such an integral part of university life, they have little say in its affairs. This makes direct action one of the most effective options for students when opposing the wishes of the university. Demilitarize McGill’s blockade of the laboratory is just one example of students voicing opposition to university research. That McGill called the police to respond to the blockade illustrates that direct action is not considered an acceptable form of political opposition.
The protocol rules against demonstrating if it obstructs work at McGill, which defeats the purpose of protest. Direct action should be able to take up space and obstruct work in order to draw attention to the issues at hand. Students, who hold such a large voice on a university campus, should be able to voice opposition to research at this University, especially when it is evident that the research has harmful applications. Students should support efforts by Demilitarize McGill to demand answers from the University. If a university campus does not allow students to occupy space in order to voice their concerns, the implicit message is that opposition to authority is not to be tolerated. Inaction legitimizes authority; this makes resistance necessary.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board