On March 26, the McGill administration excluded SSMU VP External JoÃl Pedneault and two other anonymous McGill students from the McGill campus until Friday, March 30, a total of five days.
Pedneault’s exclusion from the campus followed an incident after an UQAM professor held his class in room 348 of the Frank Dawson Adams Building on McGill campus Monday. According to Pedneault, the action was intended as a means to work around the strike currently occurring on the UQAM campus.
Pedneault was 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 UQAM 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 arrived. Pedneault said the security agent stayed for a couple of minutes after having been called by the UQAM professor.
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 filed 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 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’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 who physically block 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 [on] 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 21(a) is not itself a disciplinary sanction, and that it does not constitute evidence of a breach of the code of student conduct.”
The email Pedneault received from McGill explained that special arrangements could be made if he needed to be on campus during his five day exclusion “for any valid academic reason.” Pedneault has since been granted permission from Costopoulos to be in the Shatner Building last Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 30.
These arrangements enabled Pedneault to continue his work as VP External this week, however he said the exclusion 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 Yee Clare on the potential abuses Article 21(a) can invoke due to an unclear appeals process.