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3. Recommendations

The terms of reference for this investigation provide that I should make “whatever recommendations [I] judge appropriate regarding practices, processes and policies within McGill University’s control and jurisdiction.” The goal is to “allow McGill to learn from the events of November 10, 2011 and to take steps that would reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.” As I noted earlier, my gaze is forward-looking.

In accordance with the mandate I was given, I have sought to focus my recommendations on the type of events that occurred on November 10 and the measures that may be envisaged to avoid their repetition. In the spirit of lessons learned, in the paragraphs that follow, I first set out some guiding comments and principles and, second, set out specific recommendations that address the following broad areas:  (i) the scope and meaning of free expression and peaceful assembly on campus; (ii) the nature and scope of security on campus; and (iii) the University’s external relationships, with particular attention to the presence of police forces on campus.

3.1 Guiding Comments & Principles

Over the course of the past month, I have received written and oral submissions expressing concern, distrust, discomfort, fear, grief and outrage. Some of these submissions referred specifically to the events of November 10, while others referred to broader contextual matters, including those I mentioned in Part 1 of this report. Now that the chronology of the events of November 10 is clarified in this report, members of the McGill community can make their own assessment of the causal connections, if any, between the larger contextual matters and what unfolded on that day. It is beyond the scope of my mandate to make recommendations directed towards these larger contextual issues.

That said, it is clear that the events of November 10, whatever their proximate or remote causes, have left some wounds that must be healed. The submissions I received reveal that some catharsis within the University is required in order to respond to the experiences and sentiments of so many people. This process began in the days after November 10, engaging students, staff, faculty and senior administrators in a public dialogue about the nature, consequences and meaning of these events. Moreover, for some interlocutors, their participation in this investigation and/or the student-led inquiry, and the opportunity to articulate and contribute a personal account of the events of November 10, may have been part of this ongoing process. In addition, I hope that the publication of this report will provide further opportunities for open, frank and productive discussions that aim to rebuild the mutual trust between all constituencies of the McGill community that may have been damaged as a result of the events of November 10.

Other substantive and symbolic gestures to rebuild this mutual trust may be envisaged. Some submissions I received emphasize the social construction of space within the University campus. They draw attention to the fact that, since the move of the Student Service Point from James to McTavish Avenue, the James Building no longer houses many student services, and has become primarily – if not exclusively – an Administration building. Consideration should be given to the ways in which the physical space of the James Building can be re-appropriated by the community in positive and constructive ways, perhaps through making the renovated third-floor facilities accessible to student and community organizations for appropriate events. Others have suggested that the area in front of the James Building be named in a manner that recognizes the connectedness between the administration and the rest of the McGill community. Those proposals are worthy of serious consideration as part of a general effort to rebuild the mutual trust and respect that must exist between the different constituencies of the University.

The recommendations that I set out below have a sharper focus. The broad themes that underlie what I propose are clarity and community. The events of November 10 reveal that there is much uncertainty both within and between sectors of the University community when it comes to matters related to the modes, mechanics and consequences of civic protest on campus. Many among those who communicated with me are seeking clarity from others. Several students and faculty call for an unambiguous recognition of the broadest possible scope for free speech and assembly on campus. Others express the hope that civic protests take a form consistent with the spirit of reasoned debate and mutual respect that is critical to university life. Members of the security team request clarification of their role and of the community’s expectations whenever protests or demonstrations disrupt or impede University activities. Senior administrators look for the appropriate balance between fostering free speech on campus and ensuring that University activities are not interrupted unduly. Staff and administrative personnel want to be reassured that their safety is guaranteed on campus through clear communication in emergency situations. Montreal Police authorities seek a better understanding of the needs and values of this University’s community, and of the meaning attached to police presence on campus. Most of my recommendations invite dialogue and clear articulation of each constituency’s expectations for the benefit of the McGill community as a whole and the individuals and groups within it.

3.2   Recommendations

3.2.1   The Meaning and Scope of Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly on Campus

Recommendation 1: University authorities should provide and participate in a forum open to all members of the University community to discuss the meaning and scope of the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly on campus.

In one of the open letters sent to the Principal in the aftermath of November 10, a group of professors described the University as “a site for the development of independent, ethical and engaged participation in public life and ideas”. This sentiment is broadly shared within the community, and has been reaffirmed in public statements from around the University. Indeed, part of this sentiment is, at least with respect to student rights, enshrined – and very broadly so – in Article 25 of the Charter of Students’ Rights, which provides that “Every student enjoys within the University the freedoms of opinion, of expression, and of peaceful assembly.”

Broad as they are, the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly are often regulated through reasonable administrative procedures. Many universities in Canada – McGill among them – have established procedures through which events, demonstrations and protests can be planned in advance with the administration and security services, so as to ensure that they take place in a safe environment, without interfering unduly with university activities. As effective and well intentioned as they are, there are inherent limits to these event-planning procedures. Some demonstrations, occupations and protests are spontaneous. Some events, while orchestrated in advance, rely on the element of surprise or subversion and are therefore deliberately planned outside of official notification channels. Further, some members of the community do not wish to subject their civic protests and assemblies to any form of a priori control by authorities. The failure to participate in advance planning with University authorities does not, in and of itself, undermine the legitimacy of an event, protest or demonstration.

Furthermore, protests and demonstrations may need to take place in a manner that takes account of countervailing interests. Many universities – again, McGill among them – have established principles that seek to protect the core activities on campus from excessive interference from civic protests. At McGill, Article 5 of the Code of Student Conduct provides that “No student shall, by action, threat or otherwise, knowingly obstruct University activities. University activities include but are not limited to, teaching, research, studying, administration, public service.” The same provision adds that “Nothing in this Article or Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit free speech.” As a result, at McGill, a peaceful assembly or demonstration could conceivably obstruct University activities without being treated as a disciplinary offence for students.

Even if free speech and peaceful assembly are broadly defined at McGill, the limits on those rights – and the justifications for those limits – remain uncertain. The scope of what constitutes a peaceful assembly, which lies in the balance of potentially conflicting rights and responsibilities, is unclear. Some parameters are obvious and already articulated: for example, conduct that involves damage to property or explicit threats of harm to persons will never be consistent with the notion of peaceful assembly (see the Code of Student Conduct, articles 6, 7, 8, 13). Beyond that, the line is not so clear. In the heat of the moment, determining whether a group of persons are loud demonstrators or threatening intruders may not always be easy. Clear signals from protesters, in words and in deed, may reduce the risk of confusion and subjective fear. The events of November 10 and the larger context of direct action and contemporary practices of social activism suggest that the University community could benefit from an open and frank dialogue about what free expression and peaceful assembly mean, and how they should be understood and protected at McGill. A number of questions are worth considering, in this respect:

  • Can peaceful assembly take place in any location on campus? Are there areas in which demonstrations or occupations should not be allowed to take place? In what circumstances, if any, should concerns of safety and security for the demonstrators and other members of the community be relevant (e.g. the risk presented by hazardous materials in some labs)? In what circumstances, if any, are considerations of privacy, confidentiality and governance relevant (e.g. the occupation of the personal office of a senior administrator; disruption of Senate or Board of Governors proceedings)? When, if ever, should the protection of valuable property be a concern (e.g. a demonstration in a rare book collection area, or in a lab with fragile and expensive instruments or materials)?
  • Is the deliberate concealing of one’s identity (with bandanas, hoods, or masks) in a protest or demonstration consistent with the notion of peaceful assembly?  Does the contemporary culture of pervasive recording of any and all public events inevitably entail that some demonstrators will cover their faces?
  • Are there any time restrictions to peaceful assembly? Should the University countenance as a peaceful assembly an occupation or sit-in that impedes its activities over an extended period?
  • Are there other justifiable limits to the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly in the context of demonstrations, protests and occupations on campus?

It would be naïve to assume, expect or recommend that such dialogue generate a consensus as to the definition of “peaceful assembly,” or as to normative statements that would be viewed as binding by all members of the University community. It would also be naïve to expect that the boundaries of peaceful assembly can be set in stone in advance, thereby obviating the need for a case-by-case assessment of the circumstances of each demonstration or protest. Nonetheless, such a dialogue would help the University community to clarify what is acceptable, what is tolerable, and what should be sanctioned or prohibited. In particular, it would help the University authorities clearly articulate the University’s position on the breadth of free expression and peaceful assembly and the terms of its response to different forms of demonstrations, protests and occupations. I turn to this latter issue - a significant one in the wake of November 10 - in the following sections.

3.2.2   The Nature and Scope of Security on Campus

Recommendation 2: 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.

One of the consequences of the November 10 events is that members of McGill’s Security Services sector do not feel confident about what is expected of them in relation to protests, demonstrations, occupations and other forms of direct action on campus. Mixed messages are coming from senior administrators, faculty, staff and students. Some security personnel may now feel reluctant to intervene or call for external assistance in explosive situations. This state of affairs is potentially dangerous and must be addressed promptly.

The University’s current Emergency Management Plan provides “the fundamental framework for response to incidents ranging from small-scale emergencies to crisis and disaster situations.” It contains clear delineation of responsibilities, lines of authority for planning and operational decisions, response plans and operational procedures, and steps for recovery for every incident from widespread computer failure to floods, from electrical outage to missing persons, and from winter storms to hostile intruders. It does not address protests on campus other than in reference to “Animal Rights Events.” Leaving aside the oddity of this specific reference, the silence of the Emergency Management Plan is consistent with the sense that a demonstration, occupation or civic protest is not an “incident,” a “crisis” or an “emergency” within a University committed to free expression and the right to peaceful assembly. It may thus be inappropriate to include within the University’s Emergency Management Plan the response that is expected of Security Services when such events arise.

McGill’s Security Services have established distinct Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Labour Disruptions and for Civil Disobedience. The SOP regarding Civil Disobedience is still in draft form, and replicates most of the content of the Labour Disruption SOP. Both documents remain very general, and do not provide specific guidelines governing security planning and response in respect of demonstrations or occupations. The events of November 10 suggest that it would be beneficial to revisit and finalize a distinct protocol for dealing with demonstrations, occupations and other forms of civic protest on campus.

Developing and implementing a distinct protocol or framework for dealing with civic protest on campus would signal the qualitative difference between this type of event, on the one hand, and threats to the safety of people and property, on the other. Other universities have established such protocols outlining what types of demonstrations and protests will not be treated as peaceful assemblies. Conversely, such protocols 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. Moreover, when such protocols are in place, organizers of demonstrations, protests and occupations, as well as the participants in such events, know what to expect in light of the intentions and operations of their event.

The protocol or framework should be developed by those with expertise to address safety and security measures, in consultation with other constituencies in the University community. It should be reviewed by the University’s Legal Services, and approved by the University’s senior administration. Ideally, this protocol would flow from a clear and public statement of policy as to the University’s position on protests, demonstrations and occupations on campus. The protocol could also be a public document, although portions of it could remain confidential when necessary to protect the operations of McGill Security. It would clarify the respective roles of security and senior administrators in deciding when to tolerate or stop a protest; who should speak to or negotiate with protesters or occupiers; whether cameras should be used and if so, under what circumstances; how escalated situations would be dealt with; when force should be used and by whom; what type of force should be used; the triggers of physical intervention; under what conditions the assistance of police authorities can and should be requested; the proper procedures and allocation of resources if there are multiple sites of protest on campus; and the role that the Security Team should assume if the police have intervened.

This protocol should not exist in a policy vacuum and thus should take into account the general McGill policies on emergency intervention, evacuation measures, first aid and other assistance, as well as building access. It should also provide an appropriate framework for planning the University’s response to anticipated or foreseeable demonstrations and occupations on campus or in its immediate vicinity, including risk assessment, contextualization, operational planning, and post-event evaluation. Finally, the protocol should be addressed as part of the training of all security personnel, including contract security agents working at McGill.

Recommendation 3: Security Services should intensify its community partnership activities and establish fixed lines of communication with the different constituencies on campus, particularly with student groups and University community organizations. University Authorities should revisit the lines of authority, chain of command and channels of communication between senior administration and Security Services.

McGill University’s Safety and Security Service is justifiably proud of its efforts to improve prevention and safety awareness on campus, and of the assistance it provides to community members in the planning and management of a range of special events. Its commitment to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of the McGill community is undeniable. Over the past decade, it has met on a regular basis with groups and individuals to provide much needed advice on event planning, safety awareness, crisis intervention, self-defense, and a broad range of security and safety issues.

Nonetheless, the events of the past months have taken a toll on the public image of McGill’s Security Services. While a decade ago many members of the McGill community complained that security was not sufficiently visible on campus, the pendulum appears to have swung the other way. I have received a number of submissions demanding an end to the “securitization of campus.” The presence of an unusual number of security agents overseeing construction sites on campus may have contributed to this perception. It is clear that the context of the MUNACA strike also played a significant role in shaping this perception. Members of the security team were, at the direction of University authorities, visible everywhere on campus, monitoring picket lines and in some cases filming and collecting evidence of demonstrations and other actions by MUNACA members in relation to the injunction obtained by the University during this labour disruption1. In so doing, members of the Security Team inevitably filmed faculty and students who were participating in peaceful demonstrations in support of the union, contributing to the perception of securitization of campus. For some people on campus, security agents were the outward manifestation of the injunction. In this role, the security team may have appeared to be diverted from its primary mission: protecting the health and safety of the McGill community, its visitors and the University’s physical resources, through appropriate “guidance, prevention and response.”

Security Services and the different constituencies across campus should work towards rebuilding the reciprocal relationships of trust that existed in the past, and emphasizing the commitment to prevention and safety awareness that is a central feature of the mandate and activities of Security Services. University authorities should continue to provide resources to support and enhance this crucial mandate of Security Services. Security Services should also continue to work hand in hand with student groups and University community organizations in planning demonstrations and civic protests in advance, to ensure that the campus remains a safe space for free expression.

In addition to establishing fixed lines of communication with the community, particularly with student groups and University community organizations, Security Services should consider the possibility of providing contract security agents with a uniform that more clearly marks their connection to McGill, subject to the legal constraints that may be imposed by their status as employees of an independent contractor. At present, some members of the community view those agents as temporary individuals sent to the McGill campus by a private security agency. The fact that they wear a private agency uniform underlines their status as contract security agents and may stand in the way of their inclusion in the McGill community.

The events of November 10 also suggest that some attention must be paid to the involvement of senior administrators in emergency response, and to the interaction between the Security Team and administrators at different levels within the University. In particular, relevant University authorities should determine who in the administration has the authority to give instructions and directions to members of the Security Team in the context of a specific incident. University authorities should also revisit and clarify: the degree of autonomy of McGill’s Security Services; the weight to be given to its views and expertise in matters of safety and security; and the respect that is owed to the Security Team’s hierarchical channels and command structure.

Recommendation 4: University authorities should review their immediate response to the events of November 10 from the point of view of emergency management, and publicly address any concerns that may emerge from this review.

On November 10, some staff members experienced fear or confusion as protesters surrounded their building and McGill Security precluded entry as well as exit. Furthermore, whatever the causes of the arrival of the Montreal Police Intervention Group on November 10, it is clear that its presence on campus constituted a risk for the safety of those who found themselves in James Square and in its immediate vicinity at the time. In this respect, relevant University authorities should assess their immediate response to the events of that day from the point of view of emergency management practices. Was the response of the different emergency units optimal, in view of the disruption and increased risk to personal safety that resulted from the escalation of intensity of the protest and the eventual confrontation between the police and the crowd on James Square?  This question needs to be addressed on at least three levels.

The first level relates to communication. The events of November 10 suggest that there may be some shortcomings in the University’s protocols for communicating with members of the community, whenever access to and egress from their building is restricted by reason of an emergency. Many staff members with offices on the south side of the James Administration Building could see and hear that a protest was growing in intensity. Others in the building indicated they had no idea what was going on the fifth floor, or on James Square. Very few staff members who communicated with me feel they were given clear directions as to whether they should stay put or leave the premises, and how. It appears that many faculty, students and staff in perimeter buildings that were put on lock-down or card-only access were not notified of the reasons for this measure, resulting in several confused calls to the Security Operations Center. Classes, conferences and examinations were disrupted, and it is unclear whether academic authorities were informed in a timely manner of the lockdown that was in effect so as to be able to disseminate instructions in this respect. Although the University does rely on a campus-wide Automated Emergency Notification System, it does not appear to have effective ways to reach the people on a building-specific basis, other than a “listserv” controlled by each building director. This is a concern that should be addressed and remedied.

As for the Automated Emergency Notification System, it was not activated on November 10 to warn the McGill community that the situation in James Square had escalated to a potentially violent confrontation. The administrators of this system gave significant weight to the risk that many more protestors, including some from outside of the McGill community who might have been inclined to engage in violence, might come to McGill if the riot police’s presence on campus was publicized. If this was a genuine risk, and I have no reason to conclude otherwise, then alternative modes of communication with the community should be explored for those kinds of circumstances.

The second level of concern relates to the control of access to buildings. My review of the communications between members of the Security Team on November 10, as well as recordings of calls made to the Security Operations Center (#3000) at the time, suggests that the effectiveness and safety of putting perimeter buildings on lockdown or card-only access needs to be reviewed. The decision to restrict access to the buildings was intended to prevent simultaneous occupations in a plurality of buildings around the perimeter of the downtown. Whether or not that risk was genuine, people were coming in and out of some buildings that were supposed to be secure. This included the McConnell Engineering Building as well as the James Administration Building. The difference between a lockdown and card-only access does not appear to have been clearly understood or activated. Conversely, the lockdown created several problems for people in more remote buildings, including the Leacock Building, and prevented access for people who were seeking assistance after having been pepper-sprayed. There appears to be a lack of clarity as to the meaning of the different categories of restriction of access, and what each entails for building directors, porters, and security agents guarding the doors.

The third level of concern relates to the level of assistance that should be provided to members of the McGill community in order to curtail or remedy the immediate consequences of a confrontation with the Montreal Police Intervention Group. Again, whatever the causes of the confrontation, several community members were unwittingly passing through James Square or coming to Milton Gates at a dangerous time. It is unclear whether Security Services were able to protect them from the risk of harm by securing the perimeter. Indeed, there may not have been enough agents on duty to cover such a large site. Similarly, it is unclear whether Security Services was able to provide first aid and assistance to people who were pepper-sprayed or otherwise subjected to force on campus, or whether such offer of assistance would have been accepted under the circumstances. More broadly, the University should assess its own response to the events of November 10 in terms of providing counseling and care to faculty, staff and students in the days that followed.

3.2.3   The University’s External Relationships and the Presence of Police Forces on Campus

Recommendation 5: University authorities should establish clear guidelines allocating authority to call for police assistance in the specific context of demonstrations, occupations and other forms of civic protest.

The presence of police officers on campus is inevitable – and desirable - in the context of crimes in progress, continuous pursuit of criminal offenders, or response to and investigation of allegations of criminal behaviour on campus. It is unrealistic, and also dangerous, to imagine the campus as off-limits to any form of police intervention. It is also unrealistic and dangerous to suggest that the Montreal Police should only be allowed on campus on a specific call for assistance from a high-ranking senior academic administrator. There are innumerable occasions in which decisions to call for police assistance must be made quickly and without extensive deliberation. Indeed, McGill University’s Emergency Management Plan and Standard Operating Procedures allocate authority to the Security Team to call for the assistance of the police or other external emergency bodies in the case of a broad range of crises. Furthermore, any person on campus can call 911, which may result in the welcome presence of the police on campus in responding to emergencies.

Nonetheless, the context of demonstrations, occupations, and other forms of civic protest on campus is distinct. A University request for police assistance in this context should be addressed differently, particularly when the protest or demonstration involves students, faculty or other members of the university community. At other universities, special protocols are in place to ensure that whenever possible, the decision to call for police assistance in the context of a protest or demonstration is made either by, or in close consultation with, senior university administrators. This allocation of authority should be addressed specifically in a distinct Standard Operating Procedure for civil disobedience, protests and demonstrations, as proposed above under Recommendation 2. The Operating Procedure should take account of the need for rapid or immediate response in emergency situations, and provide security personnel with enough flexibility to make contextual decisions. The protocol should be clearly communicated to all members of the Security Team.

Recommendation 6: McGill senior administrators and Security Services should continue to develop a working relationship with the authorities of the neighborhood police stations (Postes de Quartier) and the authorities of the SPVM, with a view to establishing a shared understanding of the role to be played by the police, particularly its Intervention Group, in the context of demonstrations, occupations and other forms of civic protest on campus.

The downtown campus of McGill University is enclosed, and the open space within it belongs to the University. Many of the perimeter buildings on campus do not sit on a public thoroughfare. The presence of the Police’s Intervention Group within this perimeter acquires a symbolic significance that may not be replicated in other downtown settings. In this context, McGill has a proprietary as well as a moral interest in ensuring that the presence of squads of the Police’s Intervention Group on campus occurs only under conditions that conform to its values and concerns. Furthermore, given its geographical location, in the downtown core of the City of Montreal, close to its business, cultural and social centers, the downtown campus is an area that can easily become the site of a civic protest. These factors point to the necessity of a close coordination and collaboration with the police authorities.

My investigation into the events of November 10 suggests that this level of coordination and collaboration can only be attained through sustained and regular contacts with police authorities. McGill authorities should seek to obtain from police authorities a better understanding of the conditions that, from their perspective, led to the presence of the Intervention Group on campus on November 10. McGill authorities should also communicate with police authorities to clarify McGill’s values in relation to demonstrations and civic protest. Security Services should continue to develop a close collaboration with the commanders of the Poste de Quartier and the Intervention Group, so as to be able to interact with them in the context of a demonstration that has ceased to be peaceful. McGill senior administrators and officials of McGill’s Security Services should continue to foster this relationship and find opportunities to set the terms of this collaboration, keeping in mind that, ultimately, the Montreal police authorities set their own policies and practices.


1 The original version of the report referred to “demonstrations and other actions by MUNACA members in violation of the injunction obtained by the University during this labour disruption.” It was corrected on December 20, 2012.