The dean of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Daniel Jutras, released his report last week about a disturbing violent incident at the heart of McGill’s downtown campus on November 10, which grew out of a massive protest on impending tuition increases that involved tens of thousands of student marchers.  

According to the CBC and the Montreal Gazette, several students occupied part of the administration building and the office of McGill’s principal, Heather Monroe-Blum (Wikipedia), but the most contentious issue appears to have been the involvement of riot police and the use of shields and pepper spray.

Justras was asked in mid-November by the Principal to investigate the events surrounding the violence and to make any recommendations he considered to be appropriate.  It appears he went to considerable lengths to engage in a proper fact-finding mission, which adds to the legitimacy of an internal inquiry on a very divisive issue. 

(Full disclosure: I had Jutras as a professor for several classes when I was at McGill, and I thought he was an excellent teacher, wonderfully brilliant and always willing to engage every perspective and argument – which appears to come through in the report.)

His recommendations are valuable to any university administrator intent on addressing concerning aspects of campus activism, particularly:

Recommendation 1:  University authorities should provide and participate in a forum open to all members of the University community to discuss the meaning and scope of the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly on campus.

Jutras emphasizes that students at McGill have broad rights of free expression, which are reflected in Article 25 of the Charter of Students’ Rights:

Every student enjoys within the University the freedoms of opinion, of expression, and of peaceful assembly.

However, he also makes clear that there are administrative procedures in place to regulate free speech and assembly on campus, and there are limits on those rights to avoid harm from befalling other students or university staff or property.  He teased apart the various challenges in defining the term “peaceful assembly”.

Again, this is an important read for anyone looking to have a sophisticated conversation about some of the legal issues connected to campus activism.