Access again

In December, McGill University filed a motion to deny certain access-to-information requests from its students, journalists at student newspapers at both McGill and Concordia University, and anyone else who may be associated with them.

The university says the requests, which went up from 37 to 170 between 2011 and 2012, require too much time and effort. However, many McGill students feel that limiting access to information is the university’s attempt to silence them following the tuition protests that took place on campus last year. Sure enough, the motion includes the names of 14 students who have recently submitted requests that the university would like to ignore, a number of whom, McGill spokesperson, Julie Fortier, told The Gazette, “are associated with the protest movement on campus.”

As public institutions, universities must provide access to information when it is sought, unless a specific request is found to be abusive, systematic, repetitive, or disruptive. It is unlikely that the motion put forward by McGill will be permitted under these terms, but a message still needs to be sent to McGill and to other universities: not only should students be allowed to ask questions about where their tuition is being spent and how their school is being run, but student journalists must ask these questions too, both to inform the student body and to hold the university to account.

The most recent information requests have had to do with everything from McGill’s investments in mining to its involvement with military research to its catering receipts, which makes it difficult to know what the requested information would be used for. But if one thing is for sure, the tuition protests have stimulated both McGill students and student journalists to learn more about what is happening within their university.

“A couple of us filed a couple of requests to better know what McGill is actually doing, and what sort of research it’s engaging in,” Christopher Bangs, an economics student at McGill, said in a recent interview with CBC. Bangs was named in the motion.

The jump in access-to-information requests at McGill after the tuition protests should not have come as a surprise to the university. Not only should McGill’s management have expected the barrage of questions that would undoubtedly come, but it should welcome and encourage the enquiries, not deny them.