McGill occupation ends with new protocol

Five-day protest over student fees for radio station, QPIRG

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Photo by shahk on Flickr

A five-day occupation of the James Administration Building at McGill ended Sunday when city police gave the remaining nine protesters five minutes to collect their belongings before they were read an eviction notice and then booted from campus.

Then, the university released a new protocol for “demonstrations, protests and occupations.”

In a release, Provost Anthony Masi noted that McGill is already “embarking on a comprehensive consultation process and dialogue into the ways in which freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly can be protected as appropriate means of protest and dissent.”

The dialogue he speaks of was a recommendation contained in Law Dean Daniel Jutras’ report on another occupation that occurred on Nov. 10, 2011. You read that correctly: it’s been just three months since angry students occupied the offices and headspace of the McGill administration.

On Nov. 10, protesters occupied the fifth-floor of the James building where President Heather Munroe-Blum’s offices are located. Staff called the police and someone pressed a panic button. A crowd supporting the occupiers was dispersed by riot police with shields, batons and pepper spray.

The protocol released on Sunday says, “occupations of private offices or spaces, classrooms, laboratories or libraries, or other restricted areas will not be tolerated. If any type of occupation occurs and the occupiers refuse to leave when requested to do so, civil authorities will be called.”

It specifies that demonstrations will not be interfered with so long as they meet a list of criteria—a rather long list. Protests may not impede teaching, research, support services, administration or other meetings and events. Protests may not obstruct access to buildings or spaces inside them that are generally open to members of the university community. Protests may not occur outside of “normal operating hours of the university facilities in which they occur.” And the list goes on.

The latest occupation was touted by protesters as a “surprise resignation party” for an administrator who is opposed by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and the radio station CKUT.

In a fall referendum, QPIRG and CKUT asked students to make it more difficult to opt-out of funding the organizations. That would give the two groups, both of which are politically allied with the left, more funding than they received since the administration made it easy to opt-out online in 2007.

According to the Student Society of McGill, two-thirds of students supported reverting to the more difficult way to opt-out of fees. But in January, the administration said it does not recognize the results. That’s because, according to them, the questions weren’t clear. Here’s how one read:

“Do you support CKUT continuing as a recognized student activity supported by a fee of $4.00 per semester for full-time undergraduate students, which is not opt-outable on the Minerva online opt- out system but is fully refundable directly through CKUT, with the understanding that a majority “no” vote will result in the termination of all undergraduate funding to CKUT?”

Many students cheered the easy opt-out because they objected to the fact that fees were automatically collected for politically-charged groups like the Public Interest Research Groups and campus media. Fees could be recovered only by going to an office in person—a laborious task.

Opting-out through Minerva also protected students’ privacy, because their names wouldn’t be shared with groups like CKUT and QPIRG, argued the administrators.

The funding of groups like QPIRG and campus radio isn’t just controversial in Quebec.

An Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association member recently convinced students to vote in favour of stopping Queen’s University’s student union from collecting fees for a PIRG.

Similarly, a group of Jewish students opposed the funding of the Alberta Public Interest Research Group last year because they say the group promotes hatred through its funding of the Palestine Solidarity Network and its Israeli Apartheid Week activities.