This is a developing story and the Tribune continues to monitor the situation. Developments will be added as they occur.
Around 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday Jan. 7, a group of about 20 students occupied the office of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson on the sixth floor of the James Administration Building. Protesters said that they would not leave until the administration ratified the QPIRG and CKUT fall referenda results. The referenda had been previously rejected by the administration due to concerns of the questions’ clarity. The occupiers also called forMendelson’s resignation, claiming that he had “failed” in his role as deputy provost.
“We’re a group of students who independently decided that this is an issue that really needs to be dealt with–the fact that the administration has refused to recognize the strong ‘yes’ vote that came out of the fall referendum is unacceptable,” one of the sixth floor occupiers, who refused to identify himself, told the Tribune over the phone at around noon. “We’re here until they change their minds.”
“We’re not an occupation, we’re a surprise resignation party for Mendelson,” another occupier added, also refusing to identify themselves
“It really is a party. We have cake and streamers and balloons. And we’re playing some awesome music. We have balloons and party hats,” the first occupier said. They had offered Mendelson a cake that read “Happy resignation, Dr. Mendelson.”
Throughout the day, additional protesters positioned themselves in the lobby of the building to show their solidarity with the occupiers’ demands. McGill security prevented these students from using the elevators to reach the sixth floor.
“I’m here to party and have a good time and to stand in solidarity with the people on the sixth floor,” Libby Bouchard, U1 Arts, said. “Hopefully they’ll meet the demands and recognize that QPIRG is a student service that we voted to stay around for another five years. And hopefully Morton Mendelson will stop trying to impose his will on the entire student body.”
Michael Di Grappa, McGill VP Administration and Finance, released two emails throughout the day, warning McGill students and staff of the potential disturbance on campus. The first email, sent around noon, described the protest as peaceful and assured students that McGill security personnel were in attendance.
Shyam Patel, SSMU VP Finance and Operations, said that many SSMU executives were attending the protest ensure students’ safety.
“I’m just hoping it’s peaceful, and that’s the most I can ask for,” Patel said. “I think so far things are looking good. No one’s been doing anything crazy. Everyone’s tasteful [and] respectful towards each other on actually both sides of the table—students and the administration—so that’s a good sign.”
Around 4 p.m., Di Grappa released another message, this time stating that the Provost had advised the protesters that they were occupying the building without permission, requesting that they leave immediately.
“Your occupation of the premises may also be a violation of the law, and the University has not excluded any options regarding what actions it will take because of this,” the Provost’s notice said.
As a result of the occupation, all employees working in the James Building and Annex were asked to evacuate the building. In his second email, Di Grappa apologized for the inconveniences that this would cause students.
Provost Anthony Masi went to the lobby to address student concerns, but was interrupted by Amber Gross, member of the Mob Squad.
“The original people who are upstairs have a very strict no-talking-to-administrators policy … we’re here for a party, not to talk to administrators,” Gross said, speaking on a megaphone.
“Let me explain why that was the policy coming in. We’ve had this discussion over and over… and the point is that all of these conversations come to nothing. Everybody knows we’ve done this repeatedly, we’re not going to do this again,” Micha Stettin added.
“We are somewhat preoccupied, so to speak,” Doug Sweet, director of McGill media relations, told the Tribune. He was unable to confirm whether students would be allowed to stay inside the building overnight.
By 4:30 p.m., three sixth floor occupiers had entered into negotiations with the administration, and requested the presence of a representative from the group of protesters in the lobby. After debating the implications of sending an occupier from the lobby to negotiate, the group sent Gross as a “solidarity ensurer,” stating that they hoped that they could participate without being labelled as occupiers.
Additionally, several faculty members participated in the occupation. According to Adrienne Hurley, professor of East-Asian studies, there were at least eight professors in the lobby of the James Administration building, including a professor who brought his class to the lobby.
“In my teaching I’ve relied on CKUT and QPIRG quite a bit,” Hurley said. “I teach one class that’s a radio class [and] students do podcast interviews instead of final papers … I’ve put books on reserve or often referred students to the QPIRG library to get books … that the McGill library doesn’t have. Those kinds of services are really important to my ability to be a good teacher.”
Midnight Kitchen served dinner for the lobby occupiers at about 5 p.m.
At around 9:30 p.m., McGill security no longer allowed students to enter the building. This included not letting students re-enter who may have left the lobby for reasons such as finding a washroom.
Students in solidarity with those inside James Admin staged a sit-in outside the building at around 11 p.m., cheering for those who chose to leave the building.
“I think that student democracy is a good thing,” one of the students outside James Admin, who requested to stay anonymous, said. “It’s a bad thing for the administration to unilaterally reject a referendum that had a lot of turnout and was very clear. We would like to support our friends who peacefully and in a light hearted way are protesting this issue.”
At 3.a.m, the students remained in the sit-in, and some even started sleeping in sleeping bags despite the cold weather.