McGill Daily staff locked out

Student union shuts down independent newspaper

Courtesy of Carleton University Charlatan

A war is raging between McGill University’s student government and one of Canada’s oldest student newspapers.

Executives of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) locked the staff of the 90-year-old McGill Daily, a founding member of the Canadian University Press, out of their offices August 4. According to Daily staff, the incident is one in a long line of schemes by the SSMU to shut down the paper.

Since June, the Daily has been at odds with SSMU over the status of their lease in the student union building.

Daily staff won a small victory August 15 when a Quebec provincial court judge granted them a provisional injunction to return to their offices for 10 days. Staff hope to win a more permanent injunction, which is currently being debated in court.

Kevin McPhee, vice president of operations for the SSMU, says the Daily’s lease ran out May 31 and representatives of the paper refused to negotiate even after the student government gave them an extension.

“In July, we sent them a proposal but they never responded,” says McPhee. “Now we’re controlling access [to the office] but McGill Daily staff can still go in and out.”

McPhee says the SSMU wants to put the space in the William Shatner Building to better use. The renovations will be done in accordance with a plan proposed in 1998 by an architecture firm and approved by the students’ council.

“We want to minimize the paper’s office space, cutting it down from 1700 to 1480 square feet,” McPhee explains. “They have a lounge where they have their board meeting and it isn’t accessible to all students. We want to use the space to help build a coffee shop or a lounge accessible to all 16,000 of our students. We want to improve the quality of the services we have in our students’ centre. We also want to add a wheelchair-accessible entrance.”

The Daily claims McPhee’s actions were illegal because he did not follow the proper legal channels. A landlord must seek permission from a Quebec court before he or she can change the locks and kick tenants out, says Daily lawyer, Michael Bergman.

“That Friday afternoon [August 4], four staff members, were sitting in the office in the basement of the William Shatner Building,” says Daily News Editor Jon Bricker. “[Several SSMU executives] came down, turned off the lights and told us to leave. Then they changed the locks.”

Bricker says SSMU wants to silence the voice of the independent newspaper in part because the students’ union runs a competing paper, the McGill Tribune, and because past editorials in the Daily have exposed mismanagement in the student government.

“[SSMU] knows our board of directors is a student body and they’re just not around during the summer,” adds Bricker. “This was sprung on us in the summer for that reason.”

McPhee, for his part, insists the content of the paper had nothing to do with the lockout.

The Daily is a founding member of the Canadian University Press and one of the top producers for CUP’s daily news wire.

The paper has trained some the country’s top journalists and artists, including Leonard Cohen, Jan Wong, Orwin Cotler, Judy Rebick and Mark Starowicz. Staff have gone on to careers at The Globe and Mail, the CBC, The National Post, The New York Times, Maclean’s, The Washington Post, and Saturday Night.

The Daily publishes a weekly French edition called Le Delit Francais, which is McGill’s only French-language publication.

The combined circulation of all editions is 33,000 per week, with the Daily being published twice weekly.

Support for the Daily has been pouring in from across the country, with university student unions passing motions in favour of their position, says CUP president Jeremy Nelson.

“Concordia [University] is passing a motion to throw their support behind the paper,” he says. “[CUP] will also be there to advise and organize any mass mobilization of students, if they want our help. Freedom of expression is a law.”

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