McGill law dean to investigate violent student protest

McGill law dean to investigate violent student protest
A recent student protest turned violent on the campus of McGill University. Photo: Shane Murphy
The dean of law at McGill University will conduct an investigation into a massive student protest on Nov. 10 that turned violent.
McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum asked dean Daniel Jutras in an open letter to launch an independent probe into the events of the protest and report his findings by Dec. 15.

In an e-mail to McGill faculty and students, Jutras wrote: “The ultimate purpose of this internal investigation 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. Thus the task is a fact-finding exercise that is primarily forward-looking. The final report will describe the events of November 10 and will gather relevant information explaining how they came about.”

Students rallied to protest the Quebec government’s proposal to increase tuition by approximately 75 per cent over the next five years.

What started out as a peaceful protest allegedly became physical when riot police were called in. “The presence of riot police on our campus is shocking,” Munroe-Blum wrote in a message posted on McGill’s web site.

Ian Clarke, a second-year law student and VP external of McGill’s Law Students’ Association, helped organize the rally. “While we’re not opposed to tuition increases in principle, the way that this was carried out was incorrect in that there was very little student consultation,” he says.

Clarke says about 40 law students took part in a large student march from about 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 10. When the group made its way back to the downtown Montreal campus, he says some students received text messages telling them to go to the James Administration Building where there were occupiers on the fifth floor.

“Things started escalating a bit in the sense that we heard that on the fifth floor some of the students were being forcibly removed from the principal’s office,” he says.

When he arrived at the administration building, Clarke said he could sense that students were getting “riled up.”

“[Police officers] showed up on their bikes and they tried to push students back with their bikes. Students saw this as an escalation so they pushed back; they pushed the bikes, they threw a few of their signs at the police officers,” he says.

Then the police officers backed off. “This is where I left because it was obvious that things were escalating out of control,” he recalls.

There’s a vast discrepancy between the cost of post-secondary education in Quebec and other Canadian provinces. For example, first-year tuition for Quebec students enrolled in McGill’s Faculty of Law is currently $3,874, while the University of Toronto Faculty of Law charges $25,389. Also in Quebec, it costs the same to obtain a law degree as any other degree.

However, Clarke argues the Quebec government shouldn’t compare itself with other provinces. “[T]uition and post-secondary education is a testament of a province’s values and how much value they want to put on access to education.

“So it doesn’t matter what certain provinces say; if Quebec wants to be a leader in this regard they shouldn’t look to other provinces, they should make their own policies.”

In terms of reaching a resolution, Clarke says the Quebec government should work with students. And in the meantime, the dean’s investigation is necessary. “I think it’s really important in finding out, in an objective sense, what actually happened and from that point being able to figure out how we can move forward.

“You have to take a step back and look into the decision-making process and figure out ways and procedures to address this and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he adds.

Dean Jutras was unavailable for comment.

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