McGill’s Senate, the university’s second-highest governing body, met for the second time in 2023 on Feb. 15 in the Robert Vogel Council Room of the Leacock Building. The meeting touched on ongoing litigation between McGill and the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers). The Mothers and McGill have been in a year-long legal battle over the New Vic Project, which aims to renovate the Royal Victoria Hospital, a site that the Mothers believe contains the unmarked graves of Indigenous children.
Josh Werber, a student representative from the Faculty of Law, challenged the administration’s claim that the chances of finding unmarked graves at the Royal Vic are small, because the site is not a former residential school.
Werber evoked a discrepancy in the administration’s claims, as per volume four of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s final report.
“Medical institutions also were the sites of potential acts of violence or of burials, and therefore myself and some of the others wonder why the reliance on that alone […] makes the university think that it doesn’t warrant a deeper investigation,” Werber said.
The New Vic site, formerly known as Ravenscrag, was home to grisly and unethical experiments on Indigenous peoples from 1957 to 1964 during the MK ULTRA project. Secretly funded by the CIA and led by Dr. Donald Cameron, MK ULTRA subjected unconsenting patients to sensory deprivation, LSD, electroshock therapy, and more with the goal of controlling the human psyche.
Professor and ombudsperson for students Patricia Hewlin then delivered the Office of the Ombudsperson for Students’ 35th annual report. Hewlin addressed students’ fears of filing complaints against senior or influential members of the university, especially in cases of graduate students experiencing mistreatment from their supervisors.
“In many cases when I have to intervene, I do so anonymously, because they are afraid of raising a concern about their grades, and perhaps there’ll be some type of retaliation [or] they don’t want to have a negative reputation in their programs,” Hewlin said. The Office of the Ombudsperson urged students to come forth with concerns before they “[rise] to the point where the student does not feel they have any recourse or anyone to speak to.”
The meeting then moved on to a new policy revision following changes in Quebec’s Charter Use and Quality of the French Language.
Sam Baron, an Arts senator, inquired about the services and programs McGill was considering to support students in achieving competency in French, which is required by the Charter of the French Language in order to obtain the status of permanent resident in Quebec.
Marie Cousineau, Legal Advisor (Labour and Employment Law), clarified that the Charter of the French Language does not specify that McGill must ensure that students attain a certain level of proficiency in French. Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor Christopher Manfredi added that such considerations were “beyond the scope of this policy, which is designed to ensure that the university’s operations are consistent with its obligations under law.”
Moment of the meeting:
Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor Christopher Manfredi began the meeting by announcing that the university flag will be lowered Thursday, March 9, in memory of the late Marcel Desautels, whose “extraordinary generosity” prompted McGill to rename the Management Faculty in his honor.
“My biggest concern about the way that this project has been approached by the university is
generally the silence surrounding the issue, especially recently it’s been very hard for members of the community to get updates on what exactly is going on right now.”
—Sam Baron on the contentious management of the New Vic project.