Calls for dialogue on peaceful assembly, security procedures
By McGill Reporter Staff
The forceful dispersal of protesters from the McGill campus on Nov. 10 by Montreal riot police was conducted at the initiative of the police, without any request from McGill authorities with regard to the demonstration, according to Dean of Law Daniel Jutras’s report on those events.
The report, released Thursday, lays out a minute-by-minute chronology that sheds light on the sometimes conflicting accounts of the turmoil that unfolded in and outside the James Administration building on that November afternoon, following a march by 20,000 to 30,000 students through the streets of Montreal to protest tuition increases by the Quebec government.
The 50-page report also includes a set of recommendations inviting dialogue among members of the University community concerning “modes, mechanics, and consequences of civic protests on campus.”
Jutras was asked on Nov. 11 to conduct the investigation by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, who had been en route to Montreal from Toronto during the tumultuous events of the previous evening. His task was to conduct a fact-finding exercise, provide an accurate account of the chain of events, and to make recommendations that would help avoid a recurrence.
Over the past month, Jutras conducted more than 45 hours of interviews with students (including five of the “fifth-floor occupiers” of the James Building), professors, administrators,
staff, alumni and security personnel. He also received more than 150 written submissions and reviewed hours of videotape from security cameras in and around the James Building, as well as from cell phones and cameras belonging to students and staff.
While the presence of riot police shook many members of the campus community, controversy and questions also have swirled around events inside the James Building.
Late that afternoon, according to the report, “after at least a few days of advance planning,” a group of 14 individuals gained access to a secure area on the fifth floor of the James Administration Building, where Munroe-Blum’s office is located. Two or three occupiers covered their faces with bandanas and hoods or hats. In the minutes following the occupiers’ entry into the secure area, around 4:06 p.m., McGill Security, alerted by fifth-floor staff members, dispatched agents to the scene and soon thereafter called the Montreal police for assistance.
Before the arrival of four officers from the neighborhood police station, McGill Security staff removed 12 of the occupiers from the secure area without the use of force – and “forcefully and physically removed” two others from the Principal’s office, according to the report.
During the next 30 minutes, the 14 occupiers remained in the fifth-floor reception area, some of them sending electronic messages about violent treatment by Security. As that word spread to protesters in front of Premier Jean Charest’s downtown office, across from McGill’s Roddick Gates, some broke off from the main group and headed toward the James Building.
At 4:50 p.m., a a group of 10 to 15 police on bicycles entered campus through the Milton Gates; several of them advanced toward the growing crowd in front of the James Building, but retreated after meeting resistance.
A few minutes later, about 25 police wearing helmets and carrying shields and batons entered through the Milton Gates, while another group of riot police made their way from the Roddick Gates towards the Macdonald Engineering Building. Shortly after 5 p.m., some 50 to 75 members of the riot police moved in on the large, dense crowd that had gathered in James Square and, using shields, batons and pepper spray, dispersed them from the area.
“I have found no evidence whatsoever” that the presence of riot police was requested by McGill authorities, Jutras writes. One thing that is certain, however, is that “large contingents of police officers were already close to the campus,” as they were monitoring the tuition protest on the corner of McGill College and Sherbrooke Streets.
“It is clear that the events of Nov. 10 … have left some wounds that must be healed,” Jutras writes. The events also “reveal that there is much uncertainty both within and between sectors of the University community when it comes to matters related to the modes, mechanics and consequences of civic protest on campus.”
He concludes with six recommendations aimed at inviting dialogue “and clear articulation of each constituency’s expectations.” These measures would include:
— an open forum for members of the University community to discuss the meaning and scope of the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly on campus;
— revisiting the standard operating procedures of McGill’s Security Services;
— establishing fixed lines of communication between Security Services and the various constituencies on campus, particularly student groups and University community organizations;
— a review by university authorities of their immediate response to the events of Nov. 10 from the point of view of emergency management;
— establishing clear guidelines allocating authority to call for police assistance in the context of demonstrations, occupations and other forms of civic protest
— efforts to continue developing a working relationship with the neighborhood police stations and the authorities of the SPVM, to establishing a shared understanding of the role to be played by the police in the context of civic protest on campus.
In an emailed message to the McGill community, Munroe-Blum noted that the report will be discussed at the Jan. 18 session of the Senate, which will be live-streamed. The report will also be considered at meetings of the Board of Governors early in the New Year.
“I expect to provide comments at Senate and at the Board meetings once I have had an opportunity to study the Report and reflect on its recommendations,” she said. “The Report deserves careful consideration,”