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McGill releases new documents on how to deal with protests

McGill released the latest set of documents regarding protests and demonstrations on campus on Monday. Originally a draft protocol on demonstrations, these documents consist of a Statement of Values and Principles on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and a set of Operating Procedures regarding demonstrations, protests, and occupations on McGill University campuses.

Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa and Provost Anthony Masi first announced that the administration would take this course on Jan. 16, following consultation for the draft protocol in December and January. The documents are meant to eventually replace a provisional protocol that has been in effect since Feb. 12, 2012, since the five-day student occupation of the 6th floor of the James Administration building.

According to the second document, the Operating Procedures will serve as guidelines for determining “when attention or intervention may or may not prove necessary in the case of demonstrations, protests, occupations, and actions that contravene internal policies or the law.”

“In general, tolerance is expected for the expression of dissent, and for a certain degree of inconvenience arising from the means by which dissenting opinions may be expressed,” the document reads. “At all times, decisions will be sensitive to context and will reflect the exercise of sound judgment by those in charge.”

The document then outlines in what contexts demonstrations, assemblies, and protests are considered to be peaceful, which include the consideration of “intensity, intentionality, duration, and location.”

While both the Senate and the Board of Governors (BoG) were originally intended to vote on the draft protocol, the Operating Procedures will not face a vote in either body. Di Grappa has said that this is common procedure for university administration, because the Operating Procedures are an “administrative document,” rather than a matter of academic or fiscal policy.

Both the Senate and the BoG will vote on the Statement of Values and Principles on Mar. 20, and Apr. 26, respectively.

“The Statement of Values will be an over-arching statement that will influence how McGill responds to events on campus, including the implementation of the Operating Procedures,” Di Grappa said.

The email that announced the release of the documents on Monday notes that the administration created the Statement of Values to closely resemble the preamble to the draft protocol.

“Based on consultation on the draft of a revised protocol circulated to the community before the Holiday break, we concluded that the preamble of the proposed protocol was generally well received,” the email reads.

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Josh Redel said he felt the new documents were “a step in the right direction” for McGill, although he questioned the administration’s decision to forego discussing the Operating Procedures at Senate or the BoG.

“Does it belong at Senate? Does it belong at Board?” he said. “I can see some Board members saying that ‘this is management and we usually deal with governance’ … but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t go there at least for discussion.”

Although Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney expressed that he saw improvement in the language of the latest draft of the Operating Procedures, he also shared Redel’s view of the administration’s decision.

“It is clearly stated that [the Operating Procedures] ‘do not replace policies such as the Charter of Student Rights, [nor] the Code of Student Conduct,’” Mooney said. “We think it is critical that no administrative document supersede any of the policy documents [that] are approved through the Board and Senate, which include student input.”

“Still, since these Operating Procedures clearly touch on matters related to the Student Code and the Charter of Student Rights, [PGSS thinks] it’s critical that these [Operating Procedures] come before democratic mechanisms in place—the [Board] and Senate—both of which include students’ voices and the ability for people to suggest changes [and] debate,” he continued.

Critics of the draft protocol, including students, campus unions, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), described the document as being vague and open to interpretation. U3 arts student Eli Freedman filed a grievance with the university against the draft protocol in December 2012, asking that both the draft protocol and the provisional protocol be nullified. According to Freedman, the new documents “repackage the exact same document” into two.

“[The administration] certainly haven’t changed any of the sections that have been criticized [by the CCLA], so it seems like the Mc- Gill administration believes it can bully students, unions, and civil rights watchdogs,” he said. “The same types of concerns have been brought forth by so many parties at this point, that it seems like [the administration is] … ignoring any criticisms and pushing through the type of document that they wanted all along.”

Freedman said his grievance has been delayed by the administration’s decision to split the document, but that he should hear back from the Senate Committee on Student Grievances by mid-February.

Although the documents are separate from one another, they will receive feedback together at two Consultation Fairs in February— one at the Macdonald Campus and one at the downtown campus.

“Experience tells us [attendance] won’t be huge, [but] I think people will have ample opportunity to make their views known,” Doug Sweet, McGill’s director of internal communications, said.

The administration also created a comments section, where members of the McGill community may post comments and view other participants’ comments. According to Sweet, those interested in submitting a comment should do so by the beginning of the second week of March for the administration to consider their remarks.

According to Di Grappa, the provisional protocol will likely remain in effect until Apr. 26, when the BoG is expected to vote on the Statement of Values. Redel said he intends to encourage the administration to create an opportunity for Senate to discuss both documents.

“I hope people do get out and provide feedback,” he said. “Hopefully the university is truly willing to … consider splitting [the documents] again, combining [them], or reforming [them] significantly if the consultation feedback they get in the next phase is drastic enough to warrant another change.”

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  1. Great article! Thanks for the quick and thorough reporting

  2. Pingback: Senate adopts Statement of Values for protests on campus | McGill Tribune

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