By McGill Reporter Staff
McGill senators aired a range of concerns stemming from last week’s clash between protesters and riot police on campus, as the Senate met Nov. 16 in an emotionally charged session that was webcast live to allow more people to observe the discussion.
“These were extremely troubling experiences for many members of the University community,” Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told the Senate in her opening remarks, citing “the clash of protesters and police in front of the James building; the presence of riot police on our campus and the use of pepper spray; the occupation of the fifth and second floors of the James Administration building; and the fact that people were hurt, intimidated and threatened.”
Munroe-Blum said the investigation to be conducted by Dean of Law Daniel Jutras represents just one step in a process to address events of the past week. Among other measures, the Principal will meet with campus groups in various forums, and will hold a webcast in which members of the community will be invited to email questions for her to answer.
Several student senators said they believed Thursday’s confrontation underscored a breakdown in trust between the University administration and students, and had left many students shaken. Some recounted stories of people who were simply passing through the area around the James Building and found themselves trapped in the tense showdown between riot police and protesters.
Other senators suggested the clash represented the culmination of growing tensions within the campus community amid the strike by MUNACA staff workers this fall.
Prof. Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship, said there has been a “securitization of this campus” in recent months, starting with an injunction restricting MUNACA demonstrations. “That set the tone” for other events, he argued. Barney proposed renaming James Square as Community Square – as recommended by the student-organized assembly held there Nov. 14. He also suggested that Nov. 10 be designated an annual “Freedom Day” on campus, to commemorate the events.
Student Senator Matthew Crawford, who had identified himself as one of the 14 occupiers of the fifth floor of the James building, said University security personnel on the scene had acted improperly by forcibly removing students from an office.
A number of observers in the back of the Senate chamber stood in solidarity as Crawford spoke. Several walked out, however, as Provost Anthony Masi told the Senate that female employees in the James building had been pushed and shoved when occupiers entered the floor. Some observers shouted “lies” as they exited the chamber.
Other senators who had been in the James building, working or participating in meetings as the Nov. 10 events unfolded, raised a different set of concerns. They said many in the building had found themselves without information on what was happening or guidance on what to do – suggesting the University needs to develop protocols for handling such situations.