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University releases heavily redacted access to information requests

Anti-military research campus group to continue quest for information

Correction appended March 25, 2014

As part of its ongoing fight for access to information (ATI) requests from McGill concerning the University’s military research, Demilitarize McGill, a campus group that aims to end military research at McGill, has recently released selections from its ATI requests to the University. The group aims to make all such documents public in the upcoming weeks.

The disclosure of the documents is the result of a settlement in January between the University and a group of respondents. The settlement, which gave McGill until late February to begin to disclose the long-standing ATI requests, also ruled that the University could not deem requests systemic or abusive in nature.

Despite the disclosure of the documents, the actual information remains heavily, if not completely, redacted. “For […] my request of the documents [that I received from McGill], there was quite a bit of redaction, quite a bit of black marker. Dozens of pages were blacked out,” Isaac Stethem, a member of Demilitarize McGill, told The Daily.

Stethem noted, “In a couple of cases, the University wrote to us that third parties had essentially vetoed the release of any documents, so we didn’t even get black documents, we just have mysterious research agreements – we don’t necessarily know what […] they’re for.”

In a press conference held on March 7 for campus media, Line Thibault, McGill’s General Counsel, told The Daily that one of the reasons behind documents being heavily redacted could be “because the third parties told us, ‘We don’t want you to [release the information].’”

According to An Act Respecting Access to Documents Held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information, the University is required to consult third parties whose information may be disclosed in an ATI before releasing the request. If the third party rejects such disclosure, the University cannot reveal the information in question.

“But the students could decide to go to the [Commission d’accès à l’information] and say, ‘This is incorrect. The third parties are applying the exceptions too broadly,’” stated Thibault. “And the Commission will try to [do] a mediation, and then [if] that’s not successful, we will call a hearing […] and then the Commission will decide whether or not the documents [should be] disclosed.”

When asked whether they would appeal to the Commission, Stethem said, “It’s a possibility […] It’s something we’re trying to figure out.”

Although most of the information provided in the documents received by Demilitarize McGill was redacted, Stethem described one of his received ATIs, which included the unredacted name of a company with which the University is currently conducting military research.

“I received one in terms of military research between McGill at the [Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab] and Lockheed Martin, one of the largest military manufacturers and suppliers in the U.S. […] What the research is [however] is still not known.”

“When all of them are redacted, it mainly just goes to show the efforts that the University has taken to hide this information.”

The disclosure of Lockheed Martin’s involvement with McGill research also comes on the heels of documents released in recent weeks, not connected with the settlement, which detailed contracts between researchers at McGill and the Canadian military for research into drone software. This information led to a blockade last week of the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory by Demilitarize McGill.

Kevin Paul, a member of Demilitarize McGill, spoke to the lack of openness on the part of the University, upon also having obtained heavily redacted military research documents following a request to the University.

“When all of them are redacted, it mainly just goes to show the efforts that the University has taken to hide this information,” Paul added. “The result of the way that they’re handling ATIs is that there’s no possibility of an open dialogue, an open debate, on the issues regarding military research on campus.”

Demilitarize McGill intends to release a summary, as well as an analysis of all documents requested through the ATI process that it has received thus far, in the next few weeks on its website.

An earlier version of this article stated that Lockheed Martin and the Aerospace Mechatronic Laboratory were involved in research; in fact, Lockheed Martin is involved with the Computational Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. The Daily regrets the error.