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Cadence O'Neal walked out of Montreal's Palais de Justice on Tuesday morning just before 10 a.m. lugging 600 pages of documents related to a McGill mechanical engineering laboratory's association with the defence industry.
To O'Neal's surprise, McGill's lawyers had obtained consent from Lockheed Martin, CAE, and Bell Helicopter Textron to release some 6,352 documents turned up by an access to information (ATI) request she filed almost four years ago.
Tuesday was meant to be the first day of a five-day hearing to determine whether McGill was legally bound to turn over the documents. McGill had fought the ATI request before the Commission on Access for the past four years.
"I feel surprised, honestly I did not expect McGill to concede like this. I'm still waiting for 90 per cent of the documents I requested, I don't have the bulk of those in my hands yet. And it will be hard to feel a sense of finality until I have those," O'Neal told rabble in a telephone interview.
McGill changes argument, agrees to release documents
O'Neal told rabble that she arrived at Tuesday's hearing "prepared to hear McGill's argument as to why they do not legally hold the documents and prepared to counter this argument on my own."
Instead, McGill's lawyers Raymond Doray and Loïc Berdnikoff told the Commission that they had spent the past weeks obtaining consent from Lockheed Martin, CAE, and Bell Helicopter, the third parties implicated in O'Neal's ATI request, to release the documents.
"Companies deeply connected to the defence industry have nothing to lose by admitting that they're involved in weapons development," O'Neal speculated, "but McGill, on the other hand, has a lot to lose by admitting that the allegations made by student organizers [like Demilitarize McGill] are true."
Demilitarize McGill believes Professor Wagdi Habashi's CFD lab, which develops simulation software and anti-icing technology for unmanned aerial vehicles like attack drones, is directly contributing to the advancement of U.S. military research through contracts with aerospace manufacturers.
O'Neal told rabble that the 600 pages released Tuesday include progress reports and digital slide presentations given by Professor Habashi to McGill executive committees and the companies.
McGill has until September 2 to redact personal and confidential information from remaining documents, most of which are email correspondence.
Vincent Allaire, a communications associate at McGill speaking for Secretary-General Stephen Strople, told rabble in an email that McGill is "committed to meeting the September 2 deadline for completion of this work."
Not a final victory
O'Neal is still hesitant to celebrate McGill's decision. "It's very, very much in line with McGill's strategy to keep delaying and delaying. And while I'm very happy that they have officially said they will release [the documents], I still don't have those emails yet and it's going to be a couple more months, so it's still a bit frustrating," she expressed to rabble.
The email correspondence will help Demilitarize McGill "fill in gaps" and "get a fuller picture of what kind of military research is going on," O'Neal explained to rabble.
Demilitarize McGill hopes that the emails will reveal the exact models of aircrafts, helicopters, and drones that use Professor Habashi's software.
But because O'Neal filed the ATI request four years ago and could not update the parameters of her original request, the documents only date until 2013. "That's a bit tricky, and it does present some challenges in terms of filling in recent gaps," O'Neal lamented.
Other students who filed similar ATI requests are still waiting for McGill to hand over documents.
As to the significance of McGill's concession, O'Neal believes that "the public scrutiny of [McGill] and the attention to their ATI practices means that it's a good time to submit ATI requests." O'Neal cited Divest McGill, labour unions on campus, and BDS McGill as other student campaigns that could benefit from submitting ATI requests.
O'Neal argued that the ATI requests are a "means to an end" for Demilitarize McGill, and that McGill's concession "gives me hope that [McGill] will also cave to campaign pressure in the future with regard to our broader goals of shutting down the weapons labs."
Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is rabble's current news intern.
Photo: flickr/Viola Ng
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