Secure in the Knowledge

Concordia Security Keeps an Eye Out for You—and on You

  • Concordia spends $5,487,437 a year on security expenses. Photo Julia Jones

Riot cops, pepper spray, and tear gas. Police on both bikes and horses roughhousing students.

After the near-riot at McGill University last week, these images are the ones many will be thinking of when the topic of policing a university campus comes up.

At Concordia, however, security and prevention doesn’t start with the police. It starts at home.

While the second article of the school’s policy on the recognition of student organizations and the use of university space says, “In the normal course of events, the University should not attempt to monitor the activities or to screen the materials used by student associations or organizations,” there are people who say that the school has been known to do just that.

One of those people is Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill. Before taking office, she was a councillor on the CSU and also a noted activist—one of the ten loudest in Montreal, according to a poll last year in weekly newspaper the Mirror.

Gill recently got back an Access to Information Request she filed regarding any security files the school was keeping on her.

“Most of it was pretty benign stuff,” she said of the documents she received. “But there was also a disclaimer at the start of the request saying, ‘We can’t give you all the documents associated with your name, if they exist.’ But I think the most interesting thing in my security file was [in regards to] Angry Week.”

Angry Week, as the name implies, was a protest against tuition hikes that took place in June 2010, organized by Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association.

“There was a screenshot of the Facebook event, and it’s listed that I’m attending,” said Gill of one of the documents in her ATI request. “So the university was Facebook-stalking activists and putting it in their profiles.”

This is the kind of incident that is reminiscent of an ATI request filed by former Concordia student David Bernans about an event in 2006, when he was prevented by the school from giving a reading of his novel, North of 9/11.

Bernans claimed that he had obtained proof that he was being monitored by a secret Risk Assessment Committee, and his event was cancelled due to political motivations.

In an interview with The Link, Concordia’s VP Services Roger Côté denied emphatically that such a committee exists.

“I’ve been around the university for quite a long time,” he said. “I’ve never been on a Risk Assessment Committee, I don’t chair a Risk Assessment Committee, there is no Risk Assessment Committee in the VP Services sector that I lead, and I certainly don’t expect there will be any in my tenure.”

While Gill would not go so far as to claim that such a committee is a real entity, she did opine, “Obviously, if the university is engaging in political profiling of students, that’s deeply problematic.

“Whether or not there’s a Risk Assessment Committee, clearly the university on some level monitors the activity of organizers.”

Securing the Situation

Whether or not the school is monitoring activists on campus, there is no question that both the administration and CSU would like to avoid a situation like what occurred at McGill, where four people were arrested, and countless others hit by pepper spray or alleged abuse by police.

To that effect, the school maintains an annual security budget of $5,487,437, of which 97.5 per cent goes to personnel, according to Côté.

That comprises 142 security agents, only 12 of whom are directly employed by the school, with the rest contracted from firms Corps canadien des commissionnaires and Agence de sécurité maximum.

“The security industry is highly regulated in this province, and it’s highly normed as well—as to how much you pay, who you get, the qualifications of each individual,” said Côté. “So it’s much more effective for the university to operate with a service provider agreement than to hire our own security agents.”

He noted that while the companies are responsible to the school, individual agents are held accountable by their employer, rather than by the university.

In separate interviews, both Gill and CSU VP Student Services Laura Glover said that the union had a good relationship with Security Services.

Both said, however, that occasional problems arise, with Glover pointing to an incident at the recent CSU Cultural Night event, held at Loyola’s The Hive café. Glover said that she had an altercation with a student who tried to bring alcohol out of the venue, they became aggressive, and security personnel refused to assist in the situation.

“As the event planner, I’m a little bit disappointed in that situation, but that being said, we’re going to be communicating with the security department over that specific situation to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future. Otherwise we’re going to have to be looking for a new security company.”

Gill mentioned another recent incident, in which Concordia’s culture jamming club, überculture, sat on the floor of the Hall Building mezzanine and invited passersby to reclaim their space by sharing a pot of Earl Grey—as part of their annual Tea-In.

The group was told by security that the police would be called if they did not leave.

“A lot of the policies security is forced to enforce are quite nonsensical,” said Gill. “When überculture has a tea-in in the Hall Building, it’s clear they’re causing absolutely no harm, no one is in danger, there’s no issue, but security will try and remove them on the basis of [a violation of a] booking policy, Hospitality Concordia policy, fire exit policy [or] food and beverage [policy].”

Côté reiterated that while the school does not spy on its students, it relies on an open flow of communication to make sure events go smoothly and safely, no matter what they are. Hence, the seemingly arbitrary rules.

“We don’t monitor. There’s too many things to monitor.

We assure that we are aware as much as we can of the planned activities.

“We do a lot of collaborative work with the various stakeholders and student groups on campus. Sometimes they seek our input and assistance, and we gladly provide it to make sure they can conduct their activities, even if it’s a protest, in a safe manner.”

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