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November 7, 2002 Rector presents action plan to Board of Governors



At a meeting of Concordia’s 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 university’s 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 Rector’s 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 university’s codes or provincial/municipal laws.

Key appointments

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 yesterday’s 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.

Risk assessments
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 be peaceful.

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 that occurred.”

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 for violence.”

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.

Rector reflects
In his introductory comments on the report, Dr. Lowy writes, in part:
“Although there have been isolated incidents of violence that have marked Concordia’s 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 and intimidation.

“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.”