Access to Information

The Requests

Faced with the unavailability of detailed information on many facets of McGill’s military research, students submitted several requests under Quebec’s Access-to-Information (ATI) law, beginning in October 2012.

Here is some of what students asked for:

• all contracts between McGill University and external corporations, governmental bodies, foundations or grant organizations, or individuals regarding support for, research conducted by, or the use of the facilities of the Shockwave Physics Research Group

• a list of all funding sources for each of the laboratory facilities at McGill used by the Shock Wave Physics Group

• all information held by the University pertaining to the funding of research conducted by or under the supervision of Professors Wagdi Habashi and Dr. Marco Fossati of the CFD Lab

• all information held by the University regarding the use of the Consortium Laval UQAM McGill and Eastern Quebec (CLUMEQ) Supercomputer in support of research involving the CFD Lab

McGill’s Legal Action

A public body like McGill has a maximum of 1 month to respond to an ATI request. By December, requestors were still waiting. That’s when the McGill administration instituted proceedings before Quebec’s Commission d’accès à l’information with a “Motion to be authorized to disregard requests.” Rather than meet its legal obligations to be transparent about its use of public funds for military purposes, the University opted to start a lengthy legal battle against students. Spearheading the legal effort are the office of the Secretariat and McGill Secretary-General Stephen Strople.

In its motion, McGill claims that the respondents made these requests as part of a “complex system” designed to disrupt university operations. Beyond the farcical quality of the allegations, there is an attempt to distract from the actual intent of the action: to keep the details and documentary evidence of McGill’s ties to weapons development under wraps.

In addition to the denial of outstanding requests, McGill sought the authority to disregard future requests from the respondents or anyone who could be connected to them. In early October 2013, the Commission dismissed this part of the request, on the grounds that it lacked standing to rule on requests that have not yet been made.

This ruling gave students a tentative victory, but McGill sought to appeal to the Court of Québec, while the outstanding requests remained in litigation. McGill continued to use the court system to at least delay disclosure of documents that detail the university’s relationships with military agencies and defense contractors.

The Settlement

Under the terms of a settlement announced January 24, 2014, McGill will abandon its effort to be allowed to ignore ATI requests from students, and the Secretariat will respond to requests concerning military research. The first documents were released on February 28, heavily redacted.

Review the documents here.

In the media:

McGill Daily

Montreal Gazette

The Globe and Mail

CBC News, with full text of motion

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by Bliss Drive Review