On March 26, SSMU VP External JoÃl Pedneault and two other anonymous McGill students were excluded from the McGill campus for five days, until Friday, March 30.
Pedneault’s exclusion from the campus followed an incident after a UQAM professor held his class in room 348 of the Frank Dawson Adams building on Monday. According to Pedneault, the action was intended as a means to work around the strike currently occurring on the UQAM campus.
Pedneault had been invited by the UQAM Science Students’ Association to observe and potentially mediate the class discussion and was the only McGill student in attendance, along with five or six people from the student association, and approximately 10 students attending the class.
“There was no picket line, just people explaining that they’re on strike and that they should respect the strike,” he said. “It was really peaceful, just a discussion, people were discussing the merits of the student strike.”
After 45 minutes, the UQAM professor cancelled class, and it was around this time according to Pedneault that a McGill security agent showed up, remaining only for a couple of minutes.
Pedneault received an email a few hours later from Associate Dean (Student Affairs) Andre Costopoulos stating that “I have reasonable grounds to believe that your continued presence on campus is detrimental to good order.” Pedneault’s exclusion from campus falls under Article 21(a) of the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, and the email concluded stating that “At the end of this period, I will decide whether I want to recommend an extension of your exclusion under Article 21.”
“It’s kind of a troubling situation, in the sense that they basically have the ability to exclude people from campus with very vague reasons and there’s no clear way to contest it,” Pedneault said.
“This is also not the first time that McGill files disciplinary proceedings against me,” he added. “In a way it’s not surprising. I’m a strong advocate of certain political positions.”
According to Pedneault, the two other students who had received similar emails informing them of their exclusion from campus had been distributing flyers with information about the student strike outside of a class whose student association had voted to go on strike.
McGill website’s blog regarding demonstrations outlines that “Most offences under the code and most circumstances that lead to exclusion from campus under Article 21(a) involve allegations and reliable preliminary evidence of repeated and systematic infringement of the rights of others in one form or another.”
“Peaceful assembly, free expression, demonstration, those are never a problem,” Costopoulos explained.
Costopoulos was unable to comment on specific cases, however he noted that instances such as students physically blocking access to classrooms or students who continue to pursue discussion on political topics with disregard to a professor’s attempts to begin lecture, could fall under breaches of the code if allegations were submitted.
“There are some grey areas there, I agree,” Costopoulos said of the code of student conduct. “The basic question that you need to ask yourself always is, is there an infringement on someone else’s rights in what I’m doing … If you’re infringing somebody’s rights then probably it’s an offence under the code.”
“It’s clear in my mind that it’s an explicitly political move on the part of the university,” Pedneault said. “All of the three people who were banned from campus support the student strike and part of the student movement and it’s definitely in relation to that.”
“No one is facing disciplinary action for free expression or demonstration or for assembly,” Costopoulos said, “the only cases that I’m aware of are cases in which there’s a specific breach of the code of student conduct.”
McGill’s blog, however, notes that “Article 21a is not itself a disciplinary sanction, and that it does not constitute evidence of a breach of the code of student conduct.”
Pedneault has been able to access his SSMU office to continue his work as VP External this week, but the exclusion has had an effect on his ability do his work.
“It’s slowing down the kind of work that I can do, not in a very significant kind of way but in a way that’s definitely annoying,” he said.
Pedneault is currently attempting to follow through with Student Advocacy as well as with VP University Affairs Emily Clare on the potential abuses Article 21(a) can invoke due to an unclear appeals process.