Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I Want to Know About the McGill Protests

I just posted the Dean of Law's looking forward, avoiding blame-casting, letter.  What would I want to know if I were running the investigation?
  • What are the rules of engagement for the Montreal police?  That is, given that McGill is a public university, owned by Quebec, do the police have to ask permission to send cops of any kind onto campus?  Bike campus en masse?  Riot police?  Does McGill have any role in saying "no thanks"?
  • Who asked/requested/notified the police?
  • Did McGill's security folks use force in the James Administration building?  One of the key triggers to the escalation outside the building were said to be tweets/instant messages from inside the building with the folks inside claiming that they were being abused.  This is key on two levels:
    • Did the security folks hurt students?  Their job is to protect students, even protestors.  So, if they used force, then McGill needs to re-consider its contract with its security company.*
    • If the students in the building (and whoever else, since it might have been the case that non-McGill folks were involved) were not actually harmed, did they falsely accuse the security folks, and thus threw some gasoline on the fire?  Or was it just a rumor?  While we need to hold McGill's administration accountable, we also need to take seriously the possibility that the protestors might share some blame.  If people inside the building were fine but tweeted otherwise, which then caused the folks outside to amp up their emotions and their actions, well, then some of the blame falls on them as well.  Not prosecution but moral outrage.  For instance, their claim that they were not violent but admission that they used their bodies to shove doors open are in conflict. 
  •  Did administrators make any contact with the police to ask them to stand down?  Sins of omission here can be just as problematic as sins of commission.  Yes, the folks inside the building may not have known about what was going on outside, but did anyone in the administration not have eyes outside?  If so, that shows a flawed procedure.
  • What are McGill's procedures for handling student dissent?  Where they followed here?  If not, why not?  If so, what is wrong with the procedures?  Perhaps nothing since sometimes the best standard operating procedures are poorly implemented or are a poor fit for a particular crisis.
Any other questions that folks would like to ask?

*  I have always wondered whether McGill's security apparatus (not perhaps these guys since this private company may be new-ish) were the folks behind one or both of the computer thefts I experienced at McGill. 


Jake Bleiberg said...
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Jake Bleiberg said...

This may be covered under your question about rules of engagement, but I think it would be worth investigating how McGill Security is meant to behave in relations to the Montreal Police. How is their responsibility to protect students affected by the presence of law enforcement officials and what responsibilities do they have to the police?

Matthias Heilke said...
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Matthias Heilke said...

Well, what does "hurt" mean? If you have a middling threshold for "hurt" (i.e. a scratch and emotional trauma won't cut it), then the students haven't claimed to have been hurt. They've claimed to have been "assaulted" and that "violence" was committed against them. The weird thing about the events inside James Admin are, there isn't much dispute over what actually happened. It's just a fight over the adjectives. Your questions about lines of internal communication seem like very good ones to me, and perhaps that's the sort of thing Dr. Jutra will be able to work out well, but it's really not the salient issue for students.

Matthias Heilke said...

In terms of questions to ask, it would be worth looking at why doors to buildings were locked, and whether that policy needs to be reconsidered. On the one hand, you have to be concerned about a riot coming indoors, but on the other hand, it makes it hard for bystanders to get away.

Daria T said...

Here's hoping the Dean's investigation will actually properly address all those questions.

It's also interesting to note that there are precedents (at McGill and elsewhere) of "occupations" of Principal's offices which ended peacefully (such as the McGill 3-day one in 1997 which was the 11th across Canada in that time period - http://reporter-archive.mcgill.ca/Rep/r2914/shapiro.html).

I'm not endorsing occupation of administration buildings as an appropriate method of dissent, but the fact that there are precedents of such occupations happening, being tolerated and treated with respect by the administrations themselves (and of course only peaceful behaviour on the part of the students) is interesting to note in light of last week's evens. Of course, if the 14 students who entered the James Administration Building last week did use force or wear masks then that changes the game, but if they were indeed abused while inside that also means someone needs to be held accountable - and unfortunately the tone of the Dean's letter foreshadows that no one is going to be really held accountable for much of anything.

Anonymous said...