McGill occupiers evicted

McGill students occupying the James administration building – Photo by Navneet Pall
McGill students occupying the James administration building – Photo by Navneet Pall

After almost 115 hours, the nine students still occupying the sixth floor of the McGill James Administration building were evicted by Montreal police Sunday morning.

The Occupy McGill movement started last Tuesday when 23 students assembled in the office of Deputy Provost (student life & learning) Morton Mendelson to take a stand against the university administration’s decision to not validate the results of a student referendum.

The referendum, which took place in Nov. 2011, was in regard to the continued autonomy of campus groups CKUT radio and Quebec Public Interest Research Group-McGill.

The referendum questions asked students to confirm whether or not they supported the continued funding of the groups and if they agreed that the opt-out period, in which students can choose to not pay fees to the groups, should be switched from online to in-person. Over 60 per cent of those who cast their ballots voted “yes” in the referendum.

Sami Fink, a McGill occupier, said that despite the eviction, the protest was not in vain.

“Occupy McGill is still a victory since we made the university use force to evict occupiers,” Fink explained. “It caught the attention that we wanted.”

McGill spokesman Doug Sweet explained that officers of the SPVM informed students Sunday morning that they had five minutes to leave and no charges would be pressed.

“We wanted to get services back up and running for Monday,” said Sweet. “We needed to get the building back in operation.”

Sweet went on to say that the university had denied occupiers access to electricity and washrooms in an effort to “persuade them to leave of their own accord.”

Despite the firm approach, the university administration did provide water to occupiers, added Sweet.

“We didn’t take any measures that would endanger the health of students,” he reiterated.

Following the eviction, a protest of solidarity occurred on Feb. 13 where students expressed their discontent with a new set of provisional rules issued by the university concerning how students will be allowed to protest in the future. Over 60 people were reportedly in attendance.

The Occupy McGill organizers first entered the James building to orchestrate a “surprise resignation party” planned for Mendelson. Students peacefully started redecorating and preparing to celebrate in front of his office.

A second wave of about 20 students followed, but were welcomed by security who tried to stop Throughout last week, occupiers ran low on basic supplies and several students on the outside found creative ways to get around security. At one point, an estimated 40 pounds of food was delivered up to the sixth floor window via a pulley system.

Occupiers stayed in the James building for more than five days. Students supported them by finding creative ways to deliver them food – Photo by Navneet Pall

As time went by, the second group stayed in the lobby and a third group of students started camping outside the building to support the occupiers.

Caitlin Mason, an outreach coordinator at CKUT, said the station was not directly affiliated to the movement but agreed on the principle that McGill denied a right to students.

“The occupy movement caught us off-guard,” said Mason. “We had reached a principle agreement with the administration an hour before students occupied the building. However, as a student organization we completely support the students’ freedom of speech.”

CKUT has agreed to another referendum in March, while QPIRG McGill has not chosen to accept the same deal.
QPIRG McGill board member Simone Lucas said the organization was “disappointed” with the way the administration has been treating students.

“This is a continuation of what has happened in the past,” she said, “student dissent met with punitive measures.”

Lucas said this is a clear indication of the administration’s unwillingness to listen to students.

On Feb. 11, QPIRG extended an offer to the McGill administration to engage in negotiations which include student protesters.

“We would like to have a dialogue with the administration and the occupiers,” said Lucas.

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