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McGill student files grievance over protocol on protests

On Dec. 11, 2012, U3 Philosophy student Eli Freedman filed a complaint with the McGill Senate Committee on Student Grievances against the draft of a permanent McGill protocol on demonstrations, assemblies, and protests. The grievance calls for the draft protocol to be nullified immediately, and for Vice Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa and Provost Anthony C. Masi to issue a formal, public apology to the McGill community.

The draft protocol is an evolution of 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, which was released to the McGill community on Nov. 30, outlines permanent parameters for how protests and similar activities may occur on University premises, and under what circumstances they would or would not be condoned.

Critics of the draft protocol, including Freedman, have condemned the document as vague, open to interpretation, and for stepping on the rights of McGill community members to express political dissent. Freedman argues that it potentially violates “students’ human rights covered under international and provincial law.”

“It clearly follows from … the Charter of Students’ Rights that there exists a special fiduciary responsibility between the University and students to ensure that students’ rights are not infringed upon through administrative decisions,” Freedman wrote in the document submitted to the Committee on Student Grievances.

“It is an unacceptable breach of trust on behalf of the respondents to restrict the fundamental freedoms of all students in response to the actions of a small number of students,” he argued.

Freedman explained that his motivation for filing a complaint goes beyond the nullification of the draft protocol.

“The protocol really just makes [explicit] what was already implicit—[the McGill administration’s] lack of will to tolerate disruption,” he said. “The goal is to … get rid of what is explicit, [but also] to change what has [been] and still is implicit … to make it possible for protestors in the future to create [change].”

Freedman described his experience with compiling and filing a student grievance as “very frustrating.” Freedman met separately with McGill Ombudsperson Spencer Boudreau on Feb. 12, and former associate dean of arts (student affairs) Andre Costopoulos on Oct. 17, to discuss the provisional and draft protocols, respectively.

“[My meetings with them] were pretty fruitless,” Freedman said. “It’s quite ambiguous what the actual [draft] protocol means … [Costopoulos] told me that, in his capacity as Associate Dean, he would never even use the protocol, because it’s unclear what it means or what level of authority it has.”

Freedman is currently waiting for an official response to his complaint from the Senate Committee on Student Grievances.

In the meantime, Freedman has taken further action, and requested that Costopoulos—who is now Dean of Students—and Professor Paul Thomassin, chair of the Committee, ask that the Board of Governors (BoG) delay their vote on the adoption of the protocol, which is scheduled for Jan. 29.

“There’s no rush to make the Protocol permanent,” Freedman said. “[The Board] shouldn’t vote on a [protocol] that [does not] meet McGill’s requirements now that it’s been challenged.”

As he has not yet recevied an official response from the Committee, Freedman does not believe Di Grappa and Masi have read his grievance.

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Josh Redel said he and SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Haley Dinel—who both sit as student senators on McGill Senate—are working on their reaction to the draft protocol’s presentation to Senate on
Jan. 23.

“We are working on ways of figuring out what more students think before saying [our position],” he said. “I am confused as to the need to have a protocol such as this, especially one that attempts to define ‘peacefulness.’ I think trying to define ‘peacefulness’ in such a dynamic environment … is an exercise in futility.”

Freedman said he believes student senators will form a strong opposition to the protocol on Jan. 23, and he hopes that McGill professors will also stand up against the document.

According to Freedman, a protest against the protocol is planned for Jan. 23.

The McGill administration could not be reached for comment.

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