The McGill administration will replace the draft protocol regarding demonstrations, protests, and occupations with a new “statement of values and principles” concerning freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly on campus. This plan was announced last Wednesday by Provost Anthony Masi and Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa.
The draft protocol developed from a provisional protocol implemented on Feb. 12, 2012, following a five-day student occupation of the sixth floor of the James Administration Building. The draft protocol, released to the McGill community on Nov. 30, outlined parameters for how protests and similar activities may occur on McGill premises, and under what circumstances they would, or would not be condoned.
Critics of the draft protocol, including several campus and students unions, condemned the document as vague, open to interpretation, and squashing political dissent.
Di Grappa and Masi’s decision to change course follows a community consultation process that began Nov. 30, 2012, and involved submissions to a confidential email address.
“As a result of these consultations, it has become evident that further discussion on this complex issue would be helpful, and, that in addition to written submission, different types of exchanges on this matter would be welcome before final decisions will be made,” the email reads.
In an interview with the Tribune, Di Grappa explained that the new statement of values and principles will, in fact, be similar to the preamble of the draft protocol, which defines the freedoms that students have on campus.
“[The new statement] is meant … to basically set out a context for … the values and principles that we share as a community here at McGill,” Di Grappa said. “What we’ve noticed is that other universities have [such a statement] … and so we thought that it was important to have something like that.”
The administration’s decision also came eight days after the public release of a letter addressed to Di Grappa and Masi, written by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). The letter outlined the CCLA’s four primary concerns about the content and language of the draft protocol.
“The implication [of the protocol] is that events that are simply disruptive or cause some level of inconvenience are not peaceful,” the letter says. “This is a misleading approach. Inconvenience and disruption are to be expected and will not (and should not) be the subject of sanctions.”
The letter also expressed the CCLA’s concerns with the draft protocol’s implied a policy of punishing multiple protestors for the actions of only a few.
“Determining that an assembly of dozens or hundreds of students is not peaceful because one of two individuals engage in [violent] behaviour is quite problematic,” the letter reads. “It results in guilt by association and does not recognize the collective nature of freedom of association and peaceful assembly.”
Di Grappa said that the decision was not greatly affected by the CCLA’s letter, and that he and Masi have not responded to the message.
Cara Zwibel, director of the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, and the signatory of the letter released by the CCLA, said she thought Di Grappa and Masi’s decision to prepare a new statement was a “positive step.”
“I know that [the CCLA] obviously weren’t the only ones … that expressed concerns about the protocol, so I think it’s great that [the McGill administration has] been responsive, and [is] recognizing that [the protocol] is probably not the best way to go about things,” she told the Tribune.
“It will be interesting to see what happens at McGill in terms of the articulation of these principles, but then also how they’re actually implemented when it comes to … demonstrations and occupations and protests on campus,” Zwibel added.
According to Di Grappa and Masi’s email, the new statement of principles will be released to the McGill community shortly after a Senate meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Di Grappa said that he will make some remarks concerning the consultation process for the new document at Senate.
The consultation process—which will include consultation fairs and an electronic forum—has been extended until Mar. 8, after which the document will be brought to the Senate and the Board of Governors for “final deliberations.”
Di Grappa confirmed that the provisional protocol implemented in Feb. 2012 remains in effect until further notice.