Aftermath of a Mutiny

Students Condemn University Actions at “We Are All McGill”

Photo Erin Sparks

An estimated 1,000 McGill students participated in an open-air discussion and general assembly on Nov. 14, designed for members of the community to talk about the recent altercation between students and riot police on campus.

The event was a follow-up to a meeting on Nov. 11, the day after 14 students occupied Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s office in the James Administration Building, while police outside the building clashed with students.

At that meeting, students and faculty members drafted and delivered a letter to the administration, but were barred from entering the James Building.

The title of the Friday gathering is a reference to a quote from a communiqué Principal Heather Munroe-Blum sent on Oct. 18 to all students, staff and faculty of the university, stating, “We are all part of the same community. We are all McGill.” The event brought together students, professors, and community members.

“The organization that took place for this event was a communal, non-hierarchical effort undertaken by a lot of people who were either part of the committee on Nov. 10, or felt strongly about how horrible it was,” said undergraduate student Galen Macdonald, who was involved in the event’s organization.

Ariel Prado, an international student who was one of two McGill students arrested by the Service Policière de la Ville de Montréal during the confrontation—two other people who do not attend the university were also arrested—spoke about his experience, during which he faced a possible charge of assaulting a police officer.

“After a minute of walking [the police officer] turned to me and said, ‘You know, you don’t seem like you throw rocks at police officers. You don’t seem like a bad buy. Maybe you even seem a little like a good guy.’ And then he slammed the cell door, locked it and walked away.”

As an international student, Prado could have faced deportation.

“The officer looked at me and said, ‘Well, you know we will call a lawyer and after we will call customs and they will probably revoke your student permit,’” he recounted.

“Two hours [later], a woman came to the door [and told me], ‘Okay, here is the deal. We’re gonna suspend the sentence. We know that you assaulted an officer, but we can’t find the report at the moment. We will suspend the charges. You’re free to leave.’ I haven’t heard from them [since] and hopefully they dropped the charges.”

Munroe-Blum attended the discussion Friday, and while she was initially on the list of speakers, she left the meeting before her turn, as numerous students and faculty members addressed the crowd for over three hours.

McGill history professor James Krapfl drew a comparison between Thursday’s event and his experience with students in the former Czechoslovakia.

“Those who are close can see that I’m wearing a pin [from] 23 years ago, from the demonstrations that took place in Czechoslovakia.

“It was a civic movement in reaction to police brutality called ‘Public Against Violence,’” he said, referring to a political movement that formed in Bratislava in 1989 and helped to overthrow the Communist government.

“One of the reasons for their success was that they organized students,” he continued.

“They fought very hard against provocation. It’s important to be on guard not just against physical violence but [also] against symbolic violence, the violence of words and gestures. We should make sure there is absolutely no violence whatsoever from our side as well.”

Workers from the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association, which is engaged in an over two-month-long strike, were also there.

The union members had to remain at least 50 metres away from the meeting because of a legal injunction set last month by the Quebec Superior Court that prohibits them from coming any closer to the campus.

They were not absent from the meeting entirely, however, as one student read a letter signed by MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker commenting on the Thursday night confrontation between police and students.

In the statement, which can be found on MUNACA’s website, Whittaker called the events of Nov. 10 “a dismal and disturbing display of authoritarian, violent tactics.”

Matthew Crawford-Appignanesi, a McGill student and Senate representative who identified himself as one of the 14 occupiers of the James Administration Building, addressed his fellow students during the discussion and read a letter from the occupiers.

“In general we were all students that felt that the state of discourse at McGill was insufficient, in the sense that we were fed the same line, the same argument over and over again and that our presence in representation and on campus was simply being ignored,” said Crawford when asked about the motivations of the occupiers.

“We believe that direct action should be taken. In the speech that I made [I said] I wanted to see a change in governance and more representation for students.”

As the discussion turned into a general assembly, a motion was passed to hold an event on Nov. 16, before a meeting of McGill’s Senate. Many students pointed out the need for governance reform, and said they felt that attending the Senate meeting was the first step.