The first major altercations between university security and students happened on Monday, March 26, following the reaffirmation of Concordia’s strong stance against hard picketing tactics.
While some students were participating in a sit-in on the 7th floor, another group of students were facing half a dozen security guards on the 4th floor.
The conflict began when a group of geography students used hard-picketing tactics by blocking the entrance to their classroom. Protesters were met by security who showed up to make sure “there would be no incident.” Several students felt intimidated by the guards, who were also filming the picketers.
“I think 30 years ago we would have never seen this kind of pressure from the administration to force a union [security] to cross another union’s picket line,” said geography student Jess Glavina.
“What happened at the classrooms so far was very calm and very peaceful. The presence of security guards is creating a really uncomfortable environment on campus. It’s really unnecessary and it feels like students are being prosecuted.”
Last week the university sent an email warning about consequences for students who choose to continue blocking access to classes, which could include formal charges.
Eventually, the geography professor who was supposed to teach the class cancelled it, telling security there were not enough students in attendance.
“I just think that I’m in a really difficult position because I respect what the students have democratically chosen to do,” said the professor, Julie Podmore. “But the picket wouldn’t permit me to pass through anyway and there weren’t enough students that were in the classroom to hold the class.”
Earlier that day, a similar altercation resulted in an incident that drew attention on the Internet after it was posted by CUTV. A student who was filming an argument between security and students in the Faubourg was struck in the face by one of the security guards, throwing the camera out of her hands and onto the ground.
“Get that guy’s name because he just hit me in the face,” the student was quoted as saying in the video.
The security agent eventually left the premises without identifying himself. Following this initial incident, the student persisted that she wanted to file a formal complaint against the guard.
In the university’s March 23 email to all students, it stated that it was “no longer possible to tolerate further disruption of university activities by a minority of protesters who refuse to respect the rights of others.” The email went on to say that the university will from now on lay charges against those who choose to block access to classrooms.
The university said it also encourages students to report any incidents that prevent them from getting to their classes. Students who are found hard-picketing will be asked by the university security to provide IDs and will be reported to a panel to face the appropriate charges. Those who refuse to identify themselves will have their pictures taken in order to be identified.
“The charges will depend on the severity of the case but it could go from a written reprimand to expulsion,” said Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota. “The university will only target students who are physically blocking access to classrooms and offices. We received complaints and we need to make sure our community has the liberty of movement. Blocking the Guy Metro building [last Wednesday] for example was unacceptable.”
The CSU and the Graduate Students’ Association responded to the university’s email by issuing a statement titled: “Students will not be intimidated.”
Both associations called the university’s email “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” saying the university painted picketing students as aggressive when “in reality [their actions] have been consistently characterized by a lighthearted, peaceful, and creative nature, with very few incidents.”
“The last communication the administration sent out was perceived by the CSU as extremely aggressive,” said CSU VP external Chad Walcott. “Their message is calling for a profiling of students and a general discrimination against protesters and picketers. We think that it is highly unacceptable.”
Walcott believes that the university’s decision to come out with a heavy-handed stance proves that the student movement’s tactics are working.
“We actually sat with the university administration to tell them that this email would only create conflictual relations between students and the university,” said Walcott. “We were basically told that the university did not care if things went out of hands.”