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Collective of authors May 31, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/351265/violence-a-lionel-groulx-voici-notre-version
The events that led to the deployment of Sûreté du Québec forces at Collège Lionel Groulx on May 15 could be compared to Stanley Milgram’s well-known psychological experiment .
In the early 1960s, Milgram demonstrated that an isolated subject could be convinced to administer supposedly lethal electric shocks to a third person in an adjoining room, submitting to an authority figure who was in the subject’s presence. In this situation, the isolated subject renounces his or her own autonomy and moral sensibility, becoming nothing more than the executive agent of authority.
The college’s administration has assumed this role of executive agent, manipulated by authority, and it has asserted it repeatedly to its staff, students, and the media. “I have to say that I carried out this injunction against my own will,” pleaded Lionel-Groulx general director Monique Laurin on May 16 in La Presse. “I did it because I didn’t want to put my college in contempt of court.”
However, the College’s administration does not operate in a vacuum at the will of Jean Charest. Nor are they under the control of Chief Justice François Rolland, who issued the injunction, or Claude Carignan, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. Prior to May 15, similar events - sometimes even more troubling and violent ones - took place at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, the Université de Montréal, and most notably, the previous day at the cégep de Rosemont. The unusual presence of police forces and zealous security agents on campuses had already produced surreal scenes of repression and confrontation. The Lionel-Groulx administration chose to ignore these precedents and conduct its own experiment, boasting after the fact that it “proved, for all Québec to see, that an injunction is not a good way to bring about a return to class.”
On May 2, a week before the injunction hearing, the administration seemed to be acting completely independently when it put out a press release announcing an agreement it had reached with the student association and the college staff. The text asserted that “recent events show that injunctions against Québec universities and cégeps are not an effective solution to conflict, (and that a) peaceful return to class can only be accomplished by respecting student democracy.”
However, at the May 8 injunction hearing the college administration submitted no pleadings that reflected the spirit of this agreement. It even stated that it “consent[ed] to the issuance of an interim interlocutory injunction” before Judge Rolland handed down his decision. With this gesture, the administration preemptively transformed itself into a mere executive agent. This is especially astonishing given that other cégep administrations, such as that of l’Outaouais, had kept their word and fought these injunctions vigorously.
The administration of Lionel Groulx went beyond the requirements of the injunction, which called on the College to “take all appropriate, necessary, and reasonable measures including resorting to the use of police forces” to ensure classes resumed. On May 8, for example, the College hired Garda Security’s B.E.S.T. division, which had made headlines last April for using physical and verbal intimidation at the Université de Montréal. B.E.S.T. employees are authorized to carry - and use - batons. Their very presence plunged the College into a genuine state of siege.
Disregarding the examples set by other college administrations that had successfully protected their communities from negative outcomes, on May 14 the College’s administration filed a criminal complaint against the students who wished to enforce the democratically-determined strike mandate. The administration then told the professors who were present that classes had not been suspended “but that they could follow the events [the student arrests] on television.” The administration refused to acknowledge it had the power to withdraw its complaint, repeating that the situation was in the hands of the police.
On May 15, the administration continued to act as an executive agent by again calling in the Sainte-Thérèse police, this time backed by the SQ, to make the necessary arrests and clear the cégep entrance by advancing on protesters and using tear gas grenades. After this traumatic episode, and in spite of the tensions that had grown over the previous days, the administration refused to suspend classes and required every professor covered under the injunction to attend class in order to at least “reestablish contact” with the plaintiffs.
The faculty, staff, students, and parents present suffered the effects of the administration’s legalistic interpretation of the injunction for days. The administration had the “power to take measures required to ensure the protection of staff, of students,” but it ignored this clause, just as it ignored the alternatives paths that had been demonstrated prior to May 15.
The events at Lionel-Groulx have often been cited to justify the adoption of Bill 78. While the cégep is still in shock from the violence it suffered and stunned by the blind intransigence of its administration, it must prepare for even worse: this special law is an explosive weapon in the hands of an executive agent such as this.
Signed by Murielle Chapuis, Yovan Morin, Stéphan Gibeault, Nathalie Larouche, Vincent Duhaime, Pierre-Paul Proulx, Daniel Desroches, Jean Thibault, Éric Montpetit, Sébastien St-Onge, Judith Trudeau, members of the collège Lionel-Groulx Professeurs indignés.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.