The McGill Administration has begun a new phase in the process of creating a provisional protocol governing its response to student protests and demonstrations. The draft protocol has been split into two sections: a Statement of Values on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly, and a more contested section on Operational Procedures in the event of protests and demonstrations.
Much of the debate surrounding the Operational Procedures section centers on exactly how non-peaceful protests are defined. According to the draft document, a peaceful protest must not take place in “libraries, staff or administrators’ offices, or the reception areas of such offices,” language seen by many as a clear attempt to prevent a repeat of last year’s occupations. The definition also includes inconvenience as a measure of non-peaceful protest, a matter of contention for civil rights groups such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
In a letter addressed to Vice Principal of Administration and Finance Michael Di Grappa, Cara Zwibel, Director of the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, criticized the draft protocol. In the letter, she warns of “a very real potential to prohibit a variety of completely peaceful demonstrations,” and suggests it implies that “events that are simply disruptive or cause some level of inconvenience are not peaceful.” In her view, “inconvenience and disruption are to be expected and will not (and should not) be the subject of sanctions.”
Some critics also consider the guidelines in the protocol to be too broad and thus open to arbitrary interpretation. The draft document refrains from dictating which actions could lead to disciplinary response by the University, or exactly what prerogatives Security Services personnel have should demonstrators refuse to comply with instructions. The protocol also deems that protests as not peaceful if they involve verbal assault, though “verbal assault” is not strictly defined. Zwibel expressed concern in her letter that this could be interpreted to include chants, which are typical to many demonstrations.
According to Vice Principal of Administration and Finance Michael Di Grappa, the lack of specificity in the document is a necessity. “It would be impossible to set out in one document all the possible permutations of every conceivable situation with which the University has to deal,” he explains.
The process of creating these protocols has its roots back in November 2011. In his report responding to the occupation of the James Administration Building, McGill’s Dean of Law Daniel Jutras recommended the creation of such a protocol in order to provide specific guidelines for dealing with civic protest on campus. In addition, he recommended to “make it easier for security teams to determine the circumstances in which they should refrain from intervening in what faculty, students and the rest of the university community construe as a peaceful assembly.”
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum called for the creation of provisional protocols after a second occupation of the Administration Building that took place from February 5th to 11th, 2012. These protocols would specifically seek to address the second of the six recommendations given by the Jutras Report, that “University authorities should revisit the standard operating procedures of McGill’s Security Services, with a view to articulating clear directives or frameworks in relation to demonstrations, protests and occupations on campus.”
The Jutras Report has been discussed and debated on University-launched websites and at the Open Forum on Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly, led by Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi. SSMU and other student groups have also given input, and SSMU was specifically consulted prior to the circulation of the most recent draft protocol.
Two “Consultation Fairs” will be held in the coming weeks to receive further recommendations from the community, one on February 13th and another on the 20th. The former will be held on Macdonald Campus and the latter on the downtown campus.
“After the Consultation Fairs, and after the community has expressed its views via our website, the documents will be revised as appropriate,” says Di Grappa. “The Statement of Values will go before Senate at its meeting of March 20th and before the Board of Governors at its meeting of April 26th. It will be up to those bodies to determine any next steps.”
The section on Operating Procedures will not undergo the same review process. Di Grappa explains that the protocol on Operating Procedure is not scheduled to go before the Board of Governors or the Senate for approval, since “procedures are not normally put before such bodies.”