Thursday, December 15, 2011

McRiot Investigation

The report by Dean of Law Daniel Justras was released today.

It is pretty clear and well-written so take a look.  Here are a few things I would like to highlight:

Key things we didn't know before:
  • When the students occupied the James Building, staffers called security and hit a panic button.  Didn't know there was such a thing.  But we live in a era of campus shootings so this should not be surprising.
  • No physical contact between occupiers and staff although door hit staff member.
  • McGill Security called the cops, with four officers arriving 30 minutes later.  Why?
  • McGill Security forcefully removed two of the occupiers.  Why?  Who gave them the orders?  Was using force the standard operating procedure?
  • Riot cops made decisions to use force without any request by McGill folks
  • A staff member seemed to exacerbate things by ripping the hat off of one of the occupiers and taunting them.
  • The occupiers did amp things up by communicating to the folks outside that they had been violently assaulted.  While they had been forced out, the way they communicated probably exaggerated how much force was used. 
  • McGill did not ask for the bike police to show up.

Key Recommendations/Assertions Made in the Report
  •  "The failure to participate in advance planning with University authorities does not, in and of itself, undermine the legitimacy of an event, protest or demonstration."
  • " One of the consequences of the November 10 events is that members of McGill’s
    Security Services sector do not feel confident about what is expected of them in relation to protests, demonstrations, occupations and other forms of direct action on campus. Mixed messages are coming from senior administrators, faculty, staff and students.  Some security personnel may now feel reluctant to intervene or call for external assistance in explosive situations. This state of affairs is potentially dangerous and must be addressed promptly"
  • "While a decade ago many members of the McGill community complained that security was not sufficiently visible on campus, the pendulum appears to have swung the other way."
Unfortunately, the report really is a chronology more than anything else.  Useful, but why did the  security folks forcefully remove the two students from the Principal's office?  This was a key trigger that escalated the conflict.  Why not just tolerate their presence until some folks could calmly discuss the situation?

McGill students formed an independent commission that also released results today.  Interesting that the student report presents maps of the building, but the Dean of Law does not include such maps.

What did they find in their investigation?
  1. That McGill security "conveyed incorrect information to students."  Was this manipulation or that they didn't have good information?  Probably a mix.
  2. Students didn't know their rights.  Well, that is on them.  If you participate in civil disobedience by occupying a building, you probably should know a bit about what the risks and responsibilities are.  On the other hand, Security should have behaved with more restraint and had provided them with clearer ideas of what were the students rights once they said things like "Eviction."
  3. McGill Security lockdown "contributed to police 'kettling'"  Not sure there was much collaboration as coincidence on this, but I have no clue.
  4. No evidence of physical assault by the occupiers.  But the student investigators had not met with the staffers who might have been bruised in the process--good clarity about limits of what they know and do not know.
  5. Protestor-police communication problems contributed to confusion.  No doubt.  Part of it was French/English problems where the cops did not communicate in English.  Not that surprising.
  6. McGill Staff and Security taunted the protestors/occupiers.   Yep, poor judgment was on display by all sides. 
The riot police, of course, used heaps of force, but that is what they do.  Did they need to be called in?  Probably not.  Did the bike cops make things worse?  Absolutely.  Did the occupiers trigger this event?  Certainly, especially by spreading not entirely accurate information about their "plight."

What characterized this event?  Poor decision-making, real problems of principal-agency--who controlled whom in all of this?  Security made things worse by using force inside the building and did not help too much on the outside by providing poor information to the students.  In both accounts, the context of the strike, the role of Security in the strike, the university's previous stances on student involvement in the strike all set the stage for this event.

While there is some shared responsibility here (I think the Occupiers got exactly what they wanted), the University is supposed to be responsible and do better than this.  Security is supposed to be trained to deal with dissent.  McGill employs them, so the buck stops with the big wigs.  The question of who made the decision to move the students by force is still unclear.  But it was a bad decision, no matter what else happened. 

So, hopefully, folks will learn from this, and these two reports are helpful in that effort, but both are incomplete.  I would really like to see McGill either fire Securitas or at least fire some of the security folks--just to show that there are consequences for using force against relatively peaceful protestors, that there is accountability.  Individuals should be punished.  Bad events followed by no accountability is just a recipe for more bad events.  The real story is not the reports but what changes occur in their aftermath.

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