At a meeting of Concordias Board of Governors yesterday, Rector
Frederick Lowy tabled an action plan for the coming months
to ensure mutual respect, a safe learning environment and open debate.
The plan promises a clearer articulation as to what is acceptable in posters,
publications and use of university space, and a monitoring system.
Several committees have been set up, including a committee to review the
universitys Code of Rights and Responsibilities, under Me Pierre
Frégeau, and a planning and monitoring committee to oversee implementation
of the guidelines, chaired by Garry Milton, from the Rectors office.
Further down the road are an academic lecture series on Middle East issues,
organized by a committee chaired by Dean of Graduate Studies Elizabeth
Saccá, and, possibly, a Concordia Centre for International and
Cross-Cultural Dispute Resolution.
The university continues to press for firm action against individuals
who have been identified as having committed violent acts or contravened
the universitys codes or provincial/municipal laws.
Several key appointments were announced at the Board meeting. Charles
Bertrand, who was Interim Rector in 1994 and 1995, replaces Donald Boisvert
on a temporary basis as Dean of Students, and takes on the position of
Associate Vice-Rector, Student Life. Patricia Gabel, an expert in conflict
resolution, has been hired as a special advisor to the Rector. For more
on these appointments, please click no the "Appointments and Departure"
link on the main page of CTR.
Also at yesterdays meeting, the Rector released a report on the
events surrounding the cancellation of a scheduled speech by Israeli politician
Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 9. It will be discussed at the next Board
meeting in February.
The internal report, prepared by Director of Environmental Health and
Safety Susan Magor, describes incomplete intelligence, and communication
problems between Concordia security and Montreal police as one of several
factors in the noisy disturbance at the Hall Building on Sept. 9. However,
the report indicates that only the protesters were responsible for the
violence that occurred that day.
Two risk assessments had been done by the university when the invitation
became known. The first assessment, in early August, advised against allowing
the event in the Hall Building, and suggested moving it to another site.
The second, in mid-August, retracted that position, partly because of
an assurance from CSU executive members that any demonstrations would
While an elaborate security plan was developed, according to the report,
it would appear that Concordia, the SPVM [Montreal police force]
and RCMP underestimated the risk of violence. . . No one expected the
level of formal organization by the protesters and the subsequent violence
The report goes into substantial technical detail, but concludes that
there were no serious injuries and minimal property damage.
However, people experienced a variety of short-term problems: respiratory
problems as a result of police pepper spray, anxiety, and a good deal
of pushing and being insulted by demonstrators.
The crowd, which was estimated at well over 1,000 at its peak, included
violent demonstrators who breached plywood temporary barriers on the mezzanine
and headed down to the lobby on the escalator. The report did not say
how the protesters got into the Hall Building.
While co-operation between Concordia Security, the SPVM and RCMP
appears to have been good in the planning phase, the report says,
their intelligence was unable to provide sufficient warning of the
degree of external activist involvement in the demonstration and the potential
On one point, the report is clear: While the Hall Building is the
symbolic centre of the downtown campus and perhaps the entire university,
it is almost impossible to secure unless it is completely closed. It contains
research, educational and administrative operations which are critical
to the university, and a wide and impressive quantity of hazardous material.
The report praises the internal coordination of Concordia services, but
indicates that faculty, staff and students should have been given more
information as the emergency developed.
The action plan and report are on the Web at http://www.concordia.ca.
Please follow the links.
In his introductory comments on the report, Dr. Lowy writes, in part:
Although there have been isolated incidents of violence that have
marked Concordias history, we are not an institution plagued by
violence or one where we are accustomed to facing potentially violent
situations. This is especially true in terms of our history of welcoming
hundreds of controversial speakers without incident over the lifespan
of both Concordia and its founding institutions.
Based on the advice of the police authorities, the university did
not expect violence on Sept. 9. As the report points out, there had been
a series of 16 peaceful demonstrations on the Middle East situation in
Montreal before the Netanyahu event. In fact, we were assured by some
of the very same leaders of groups who later participated in the shameful
events that led to the cancellation of the speech that there would be
no violence at the event.
We understood that there was tension and a potential for confrontation
around the visit of Benjamin Netanyahu and we prepared in consequence.
While protest was anticipated and planned for, we did not expect a concerted,
planned attempt to stop the event by any means possible, including violence
As the report shows, there was serious preparation on the part of
the university and coordination with various levels of police and security.
In hindsight, we now see that some of those preparations proved
insufficient in the light of the violent demonstration that ensued and
the level of planning by the demonstrators that obviously took place in
an effort to prevent the speech.
Objectively, we erred on this level, and accept responsibility for
effectively putting some our students, faculty and staff in danger that
day. That should not have happened and will not happen again. Thankfully
there were no serious injuries and limited property damage.
There is no doubt, however, that the onus of blame for the violence
rests with those who planned it, encouraged others to participate and
who took the law into their own hands. They, and nobody else, created
a potentially tragic situation and risked not only their own security
but also that of many innocent bystanders and guests who were trying to
attend the event.
While there may be many excuses and attempts at justifying their
violent and intimidating tactics, the fact remains that there was an organized
attempt to stop a peaceful assembly by resorting to violence. This cannot
be condoned at a university or anywhere else.