Photo by Hannah Walters-Vida
Three student activists received trespassing tickets Saturday afternoon while holding a demonstration that criticized McMaster University administration on a range of issues including policing on campus, sexual violence, overcrowding and inadequate mental health services.
Protestors acting on behalf of local activist group Hamilton Student Mobilization Network gathered in the McMaster University Student Centre at approximately 10:30 a.m. on May 11. The protest began in the MUSC atrium and then moved outside, ending when special constables ticketed three protestors outside Burke Science Building at approximately 12:20 p.m.
The students held the demonstration during May at Mac, an open house that invites prospective students and parents on tours of campus.
The demonstration began in the area around the McMaster University Student Centre, where several HSMN representatives displayed a banner and distributed literature.
At approximately 11 a.m. special constables asked the students to provide personal identification. When they failed to do so, they were asked to leave.
A follow up statement from HSMN posted on Sunday evening alleges that the students did not agree to stop the demonstration or to leave campus. Additionally, the group stated that special constables did not tell the group that remaining on campus would lead to trespassing charges.
The protestors vacated MUSC but continued the demonstration while circulating around campus.
At around noon, special constables approached the students on BSB field and stated that they were being placed under arrest until they provided identification. The group says that they offered to leave, but were not permitted to do so without providing identification. According to the HSMN, one of the protestors was physically restrained. The students stated that at this point they asked to speak to administration but were told that they no longer had the option.
Special constables issued trespassing tickets and charges to three students and instructed them to leave campus for the remainder of the day. Gord Arbeau, communications director for McMaster, confirmed via email that three protestors were handed trespassing notices when they stayed on campus after being asked to leave.
In a statement posted Saturday evening, the HSMN alleges that the McMaster’s response was a means of silencing dissent over issues that threatened the university’s reputation.
“The university is exerting power over students for highlighting information and violence they have tried to bury,” says the statement.
During the protest, the students spoke out about rising police presence on campus and the controversial employment of former Hamilton police chief Glenn De Caire as McMaster’s head of parking and security, as reported by the Silhouette in 2019. Among other concerns, protestors made reference to De Caire’s position on carding, which the Human Rights Commission criticized as an example of racial profiling, as reported by the CBC in 2015.
Protestors also stated that the university has failed to sufficiently address instances of sexual violence within the MSU, referencing recent allegations of sexual assault within the MSU Maroons, as reported by the Silhouette this past March.
The students also raised the issue of overcrowding on campus, citing high average class sizes and crowded residences as areas of concern. Lastly, the group stated that McMaster mental health services are underfunded, leading to long wait times and inadequate services.
The university’s response to the protest has raised questions regarding McMaster’s commitment to freedom of expression. McMaster’s guidelines for freedom of expression, protest and dissent convey a commitment to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Furthermore, they specify that distribution of literature is an acceptable means of protest. University representatives have not responded to a request for comment regarding the reasons for issuing trespassing notices to students in the first place.
The HSMN’s follow up statement expresses concern about the precedent that the University has set by removing students engaged in peaceful protest.
“What does it mean for student activism when something this can be legally reprimanded and suppressed this swiftly and severely?” asked the HSMN in their statement. “What does it mean when students can be charged with trespassing on their own campus when exercising their right to protest?”
On May 14 at 11:53 a.m., the MSU released a statement expressing support for the group of students who took part in the protest, stating that the students should not have been ticketed.
“In the opinion of the MSU, the protest was peaceful and appeared to be a textbook example of an acceptable protest under the guidelines set forth in the University’s Freedom of Expression, Protest and Dissent document. As such, students should not have been penalized for peacefully protesting,” said the statement.
The same day, Mac Daily News released an update clarifying that security officers approached the students because they had received complaints from community members about the content of their literature.
Furthermore, the update stated that the university will reach out to the students who were ticketed, and aims to have the tickets rescinded and cleared from the students’ records.