Not many groups have divided the McGill student body like Demilitarize McGill has done so far. The group has voiced their concerns that McGill has taken military research too far through military collaborations. This article criticizing DM’s actions was spurred by the events of Remembrance Day 2014 where we felt that the group organized a deeply inappropriate protest. While staying away from any criticism towards their stance against military research, we discussed the topics where we felt Demilitarize McGill disrespected the whole McGill community. In the spirit of Remembrance Day, let us remember what Demilitarize McGill has brought to campus so far.
Demilitarize McGill crossed one too many lines at the Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11th 2014. As we walked through campus that day, priding ourselves that McGill University could play host to such a heartfelt ceremony, we were shocked to see that some decided to target this day as an opportunity to protest. Standing on the steps of Redpath Museum, Demilitarize McGill members hid their faces with banners with facts based around civilian casualties, sexual assaults and economic greed in the context of war. Demilitarize McGill failed to recognize and relate to the deeper significance behind Remembrance day.
Remembrance day is observed on November 11th, on the same date as the end of the first World War. They failed to recognize that the ceremony isn’t about glorifying war heroes nor is it about justifying war by political or economic motives. Remembrance day isn’t about the colonialism issue that DM deeply condemns nor is it about imperialism and academic research with military applications that DM has taken a firm stance against. How are the issues mentioned by DM in the protests relevant to do with that? Why did they feel the need to mention the number of women assaulted in military or the profits made by arms manufacturer when the ceremony had nothing to do with that? The use of this traditionally emotional and poignant day to promote their thoughts, ideas and beliefs is a decision that pictured Demilitarize McGill as a radical and disrespectful group. It’s a shameful act to protest on a day where brave men and women who dedicated their lives to their countries were present to pay their tributes to their colleagues who couldn’t survive the war’s atrocities. Remembrance day is a day where survivors try and separate themselves from the sentiment of guilt as well as from the constant torment the war has left them in. Why did they make it through while their friends perished? This day gives them the chance to overcome this feeling.
So, why did Demilitarize McGill choose this particular day? This protest was, at least from DM’s perspective, a great publicity stunt with coverage from the city’s leading media providers. DM also proudly tweeted pictures of their protests, and distributed flyers at the ceremony. While that sure did generate a lot of talk on campus, a mourning ceremony is not a venue for publicity nor advancing one’s own personal agendas.
MISINFORMATION & PROPAGANDA
Beyond lack of transparency, Demilitarize opts for a strategy of hiding. The Open House incident this year is a perfect example. Demilitarize McGill was able to replicate the university’s poster template and use it to advertize a “tour of McGill’s military research facilities.” The poster featured the McGill logo, but nowhere was there anything to relate back to Demilitarize. For an event that is geared at prospective students and their parents, we cannot understand what DM’s end goal was. It definitely does not help in advancing their agenda, since most of the current students, who would be the desired audience, did not see that poster. Parents and prospective students know nothing about the current anti-military debate on campus, and that only brought confusion. They may have actually assumed that this was a McGill sanctioned tour. The actual outcome: misinformation on the behalf of Demilitarize who didn’t have the courage to claim this “practical joke”, and most importantly antagonizing the university. None of that actually helped in demilitarizing McGill, but it did stain the university’s image. And that is a reflection on all the students; for a group that wasn’t yet sanctioned by the student society, this is misrepresenting the students’ voice, and is already a step too far.
In their November 2013 issue, the Ledger had the opportunity to ask Demilitarize McGill a few questions. One of the hot topics of the time was the Demilitarize McGill sticker storm that took to the university’s walls and elevators. When asked about it, Demilitarize explained that “it would be very hard for [them] to put up posters without having them taken down by the administration.” For acts of defamation and accusations against the university, yes probably. But for advertising an open forum on the issue of military research; we don’t see why they wouldn’t be approved. Instead, DM resorted to stickering school property. For many this was seen as an act of vandalism, and rightfully so. Demilitarize simply downplayed the situation and described it as “just a more permanent way of having that information available without it being able to be just taken down.” Why would Demilitarize confine itself to the regulations that all other student clubs on campus must abide to? Does Demilitarize believe its cause is so important it transcends the regulations? The importance of the cause cannot be understated, but in no way does it warrant such behaviour. It would be fun to see what would happen if all clubs decided to resort to this advertising method.
MANIFESTATION & OPPRESSION
March 14, 2014. Following the release of documents by McGill in response to an “Access to Information” request, a Demilitarize McGill protest proceeded to block off the access to the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory in the Macdonald Engineering Building. The blockage, which lasted nearly four hours, also denied access to the offices of two McGill professors. Demonstrators went as far as entering the lab (“the door was unlocked”), which could be considered as trespassing.
The demonstration was an effective way to draw attention to the documents released by McGill, and raise awareness about DM’s cause; but it could have occurred without the blockade. Preventing professors access to their office is actually an act of oppression, which is exactly what Demilitarize supposedly fights against. And this wasn’t the first time Demilitarize McGill resorted to blockading research labs; on February 25th 2014, they blocked the Shock Wave Physics lab for about 2 hours.
The current Demilitarize McGill has been founded in 2012, but the name goes back to a previous group that operated between 2008 and 2010. Back then the group campaigned for stricter university policy on military research. Their proposals, however, ended up being rejected, and the 1988 policy restricting military research actually got abolished. This was a big step backwards for the anti-military campaign at McGill. And although the “new” DM claims to share only the name with the previous group, we are not sure how the new group’s strategy will bring positive change this time around. Whereas the previous group tried to work within the university’s procedures and submitted a draft proposal to the Senate, the new iteration of the group decided that antagonizing McGill and using radical ways to promote their interests is a better way to proceed. Basically, Demilitarize McGill v2.0 has declared war to McGill. We don’t see how any good will come out of that.
The problem with DM in 2009 was not enough backing by the student body. DM 2012 worked to remedy that, by submitting a motion at the SSMU GA which would include the Demilitarize agenda within the SSMU VP External’s portfolio. What is interesting however is the results of the ratification votes: whereas all the other motions passed by a landslide (over 78% majority), the anti-military motion only grabbed 55% of the votes. This shows that the McGill student body is already divided over the issue, and had the Remembrance Day event happened earlier during the ratification period, the No vote would have claimed more than a few more ballots. DM has been under a lot of criticism since November 11th, and now that the motion has been ratified, we all look to Demilitarize and say: you are now part of the SSMU agenda. Your actions now reflect on the whole undergraduate student body and you are now accountable to that student body. So take the time to reflect on your strategy, and have the decency to think about your future actions.
Jad Antoun & Marc Chelala
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the authors’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Plumber’s Ledger or the Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill University.