Last Friday, McGill released the first draft of its Protocol on Demonstrations, Protests, and Occupations. Following a period of consultation with the McGill community, it will be presented to Senate for approval on Jan. 23. With the exception of a few minor changes, the draft protocol is identical to the Provisional Protocol on Demonstrations that we called on the administration to remove in our Oct. 16 editorial. We are dismayed to see a document stifling free speech on campus now on its way to permanence.
The following paragraph is the most troubling to this editorial board:
“The more intense (in terms of degree of inconvenience to normal University activities, number of participants, level of noise, tone of discourse, level of anger expressed, etc.), and/or the more deliberately disruptive, and/or the longer (in terms of duration of inconvenience), and/or the more unsuited the location to the size of the assembly, protest or demonstration, the greater the likelihood that it will be deemed not to be peaceful.”
[pullquote]We are dismayed to see a provisional document that we found to be stifling of free speech on campus now on its way to permanence.[/pullquote]
Vague, unquantifiable terms like “intensity” and “intentionality” give the university far too much discretion in branding a particular protest “not peaceful.” They give the administration nearly free reign to decide what kind of protest it wishes to permit, and which it does not. Such broad terms, which could potentially deny a fundamental freedom, are unacceptable.
In addition, a protest that does not “permit the conduct of University activities” can similarly be deemed “not peaceful.” The latter stipulation fails to acknowledge the point of civil disobedience: successful protests hinge on the inconvenience they cause. As a community, we must place enough value on freedom of speech to accept a certain level of inconvenience. This value is not reflected in the protocol.
Despite months of community input on the subject via Manfredi’s Open Forum, this document is almost identical to the initial Provisional Protocol. It seems that the university’s apparent readiness to reconcile differing viewpoints was purely tokenistic, and that their plan was to institute the original, repressive protocol all along. It’s just as unlikely that emails to [email protected], a confidential account set up by the administration to receive community input, will have any greater effect.
It’s instructive to consider the context under which the provisional protocol in question was drafted. It was established by the administration in response to the occupation of the James Administration Building in early February. It was intended—ostensibly—to prevent future, similar demonstrations from interfering with the university’s business. It was not drafted in collaboration with staff, students, and faculty, with the purpose of determining the kind of space we collectively want to make for protest on our campus. Rather, its origins as a device to “[safeguard] other core institutional objectives” mean it could never achieve balance and neutrality.
Because the Code of Student Conduct already outlines what is acceptable behaviour on campus, and effectively deals with protest action, we don’t see a need for a protocol on demonstrations. This protocol should not be instituted. As a place that values—and encourages—the expression of differing viewpoints and peaceful dissent, our campus should provide more freedom than the outside world, not less.
This document has not yet been approved. At this stage, it’s still a draft awaiting the McGill community’s feedback, and the consultation period runs until Jan. 7. However, we’ve lost faith in the administration’s genuine interest in student consultation, and are wary of the confidential email address provided.
Clearly, stronger action is needed. Next month, the Protocol will go before Senate. We call upon all at McGill to voice their concerns directly to members of Senate, and have listed the names of student representatives to Senate below.
The severity of this issue cannot go understated. Peacefully assembly and protests are among the final channels of recourse available to students, when all other lines of communication prove ineffective—as they have just this week. This protocol, if passed, would severely limit such action. We understand, and appreciate, that students have different viewpoints on many issues. This is one issue, however, that demands unified opposition, and all members of the McGill community need to stand together and prevent the passage of this protocol.
The following are student representatives to Senate: George Azmy (Engineering), Stephanie Bachelet (Law), Laurence Belanger (Medicine), Andrew Boudreau (Music), Nikhil Srinidhi (Engineering), Haley Dinel (SSMU VP University Affairs), Rodrigo Espinosa (Arts), Jimmy Gutman (Arts), Shannon Herrick (Science), Moe Nasr (Science), Josh Redel (SSMU President), Avi Rush (Mangement), Max Zidel (Arts). A more comprehensive list of all Senators, and their contact information, is available on our website.