Cost of an Occupation

McGill Admin Reveals #6party Racked Up $141K Tab

Unhappy with the way their administration handled a fee levy referendum, 23 students occupied the sixth floor of the James Administration Building for five days in February before leaving peacefully. Thirty-five students, including first-floor sympathizers like these two, faced charges. Photo Sam Slotnick

It’s been almost two months since the James Building occupation at McGill University ended, but the party isn’t over just yet.

An Access to Information request submitted by The Link revealed that the #6party occupation came with a #6figure price tag, costing McGill University over $141,000.

Calling the occupation a “surprise resignation party” for Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning Morton Mendelson, 23 students demanded that administration overturn a decision to invalidate a referendum that granted funding for CKUT and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group.

Heightened security and overtime pay account for over $134,000 of the money spent during the five-day protest that began on Feb. 7.

Other costs are split between overtime agency personnel, catering, and cleaning. During the first three days of the occupation, the university spent a combined $60,867. By comparison, the following week, the costs dropped to about $11,570 per day.

“The university has a budget of nearly a billion dollars,” said McGill University spokesperson Doug Sweet. “We’ll just have to suck it up.

“If every time someone occupied a space and the university ceded to their demands, what would happen?”

Not all McGill students share Sweet’s view of the #6party expenses, saying this large bill might have been avoided if the university had engaged in a dialogue with protesters.

“Everything about how the administration handled the occupation showed that they had all the resources they needed to do everything but engage with their students about the reasons they were there,” said Danji Buck-Moore, one of the sixth floor occupiers.

Students’ Society of McGill University President Maggie Knight, wasn’t surprised by the costs related to the occupation.

“It’s up to the McGill community whether they consider that money well-spent or what they think should have happened instead,” said Knight.

During the occupation, the administration gradually cut the occupiers’ access to food, electricity and functioning plumbing. While it ended peacefully after five days with an eviction conducted by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, the consequences extended beyond the financial ones.

McGill made the headlines for several days as approximately 35 students were charged under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.

“The university has a budget of nearly a billion dollars. We’ll just have to suck it up.”
—McGill University spokesperson Doug Sweet

These include not only the 23 students who started the occupation, but also those who occupied the building’s ground floor in solidarity. Two editors from The McGill Daily who were reporting on the occupation were also charged by the administration.

Sweet refused to disclose any information about the state of the proceedings.

“I don’t know what is happening and I’m not supposed to know because it’s confidential,” he said.

Sweet added that, under the disciplinary process, there were provisions for fines.

The charges include disruption, unauthorized entry and/or presence; unauthorized or fraudulent use of university facilities, equipment or services; and physical abuses, harassment and dangerous activity.

“No final judgment has been passed yet, as far as I know,” said Buck-Moore.

He and another McGill student also lost their jobs as residence assistants in the Solin Hall residence building as a consequence of their involvement in the occupation.

“We just hope that due process is observed; that they are not targeted above and beyond what’s already provided for based on the political nature of their protest,” said Knight.

In an interview with The Daily, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum commented on the new security measures and long-term consequences of the occupation.

“There are 300 people who come in and work really hard,” said Munroe-Blum. “[They] felt completely unsafe in the building, had their space intruded; some of them [felt] physically very threatened. So there’s an aftermath to that.”

Many students, however, are still waiting for signs that the university has their interests at heart with regards to the fallout from the occupation.

“A lot needs to come from the administration,” said Knight. “The more powerful party needs to take the first step as a sign of good faith.”