Students call on McMaster for accountability
Photo C/O Silhouette Photo Archives
On June 2, Black Lives Matter — Toronto posted a livestream series on Twitter of students protesting the “violence that Black and racialized Indigenous students face” on McMaster University’s campus.
“McMaster also silences students when we protest, we get ignored and we get ticketed for speaking against basic injustices that happen here on campus,” a student on the livestream stated.
At the end of the livestream, they call for McMaster to remove the presence of special constables from campus and to cut ties with Hamilton Police Services and to immediately terminate Glenn De Caire’s contract — the former Police Chief for the Hamilton Police Services who has been employed as the Director of Security and Parking Services at McMaster since 2016.
Much debate and controversy over De Caire’s tenure as police chief came to light while in the role. In 2010, De Caire introduced the Addressing Crime Trends In Our Neighbourhood team, five high-profile groups of officers tasked with lowering crime in the downtown-core. These officers were the only ones who conducted “street checks,” a practice also known as carding.
However, in June 2015, seven members of the ACTION team were arrested, with five members being charged after it was alleged they falsified tickets. The provincial government cut ACTION’s funding in half and sparked the government to enact regulations to stop carding within all police services across Ontario.
In response, De Caire sent a letter to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlining his worries that Hamilton could be at risk if carding practices ceased, citing “officer discretion” as being paramount to “stop, investigate, identify and record information of individuals in the appropriate circumstances.”
“Information must be gathered before it can be analyzed and interpreted . . . [t]he result of reduced officer-community engagement can lead to increase, crime, violence, injury and death” stated De Caire.
In a response to De Caire’s letter, Ruth Goba, Interim Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission classified the police chief’’s position on carding and street checks as a “textbook description of racial profiling”.
“Racial profiling in street checks has a corrosive effect on Black and other racialized communities. As the OHRC has said repeatedly — it must be stopped,” stated Goba.
Around the same time, De Caire forwarded an email to all police members that included an anonymous note commending the HPS for their work on a case involving a Black teenager being killed downtown.
“I also wanted to say that I believe it is time for these Black kids to stop blaming the police for the problems and take responsibility for the actions of the youth,” read the anonymous note.
Included on the bottom, De Caire hand wrote: “All of our officers that responded to the recent homicide did a great job. Keep up the good work.”
In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, then-city councilor Matthew Green, Hamilton’s first Black councilor, expressed his concern over the email. “Does the Chief not understand how that . . . might create a culture of us-versus-them when it comes to community relationships?” said Green.
City Councilor Terry Whitehead, a member of the police services board, also shared his concerns with the Spec. “When you look at that line it looks like an endorsement that the Black community is blaming the police for all their issues . . . I think that’s a dangerous ground to walk on,” said Whitehead.
In late 2015, De Caire was initially set to continue his role as police chief when the Hamilton Police Services board unanimously voted to extend his contract by an additional two years. A month later, De Caire announced that he would be retiring from his position, a move that puzzled the board as well as the mayor.
“McMaster has offered me an opportunity to contribute to their organization over a long term, and my opportunity here with the Hamilton Police Service has been limited by the contract term,” said De Caire during a press conference.
Calling for accountability:
The June 2 protest at McMaster parallels the worldwide public outcry following the deaths of several Black people at the hands of police officers, notably the murder of George Floyd, who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death is one of several publicized deaths of Black people in the United States (including Breonna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton) that sparked protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement internationally. In Canada, the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D’Andre Campbell, among others, have also led to public demands for justice and accountability from police departments.
As a result, there have been many protests and riots against police brutality against Black people internationally. On a local level, students have been calling McMaster to address the racism that occurs at the university, as shown by tweets and comments by Mac students and alumni.
Oh cause I thought a school that hired a racist ex police chief as head of security said something https://t.co/LwEHixziXo
— 🌻 (@ItsIeshaa) June 1, 2020
how about doing what you already said you would over four fucking years ago now? https://t.co/x6a1qayWXi
— death to canada ✨✨ (@dah0nggou) June 3, 2020
One group that has been advocating for De Caire’s removal is De Caire Off Campus. The group was established by Black women studying at McMaster when De Caire was hired in 2016 and exists to advocate for the removal of police on campus. Although the surge of support has benefited this group, they want to ensure that this movement against police is sustainable.
“This isn't a temporary outrage. It has been present for decades and will continue to exist as long as police are on our campus,” said De Caire Off Campus in an interview with the Silhouette.
Among demands for De Caire to be removed by McMaster, the McMaster Students Union has also taken heat.
“The MSU can and should keep to their abandoned commitments — that is, to do the work necessary to remove De Caire and special constables from campus,” the group said.
In March 2016, the Student Representative Assembly passed a motion to call on the university to remove Glenn De Caire as the director of security and parking services and a call to end the university’s campaign of increasing police presence on campus. However, the execution of the SRA’s call to remove De Caire and special constables off campus remains to be seen.
On behalf of the board of directors, MSU president Giancarlo Da-Ré assured that the concerns regarding De Caire have been heard “strong and clear.”
On June 14, Da-Ré moved a motion to call on faculty offices to permanently terminate all ties to the Hamilton Police Services, Halton Police Services, and any other police service. This includes internships and training or co-op placements that involve police services. In addition, an amendment was made to the motion where the MSU will consult any relevant groups or stakeholders that hire private security firms in replacement of campus constables.
Both the motion and the amendment were passed during the meeting. This motion will be binding for the 2020/2021 SRA term.
Da-Ré also mentioned that the vice president (administrative) team is developing “Equitable Hiring Best Practices & Guidelines” in order to address the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the MSU.
“These practices will include changes to application processes, hiring committees and promotional strategies, and be created upon consultation with [the Equity & Inclusion Office], [President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community], the [Student Success Centre]’s Diversity Employment Coordinator and various other stakeholders,” Da-Ré explained.
The Silhouette asked McMaster University about the growing concerns students had and while providing a statement, did not directly address the concerns about De Caire.
“Equity, diversity and inclusion are critical to the university. McMaster denounces anti-Black racism and violence and supports the ideals expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Wade Hemsworth, the Manager of Media Relations for McMaster University.
Hemsworth outlined ways in which McMaster was addressing anti-Black racism and violence, such as a PACBIC and the EIO hosting a virtual check-in and conversation for Black students on June 11, the EIO hosting a virtual discussion called Let’s Talk About Race for BIPoC students, staff and faculty on June 18 and several statements made by McMaster.
Moving forward, De Caire Off Campus demands that McMaster “completely severs ties with Hamilton Police Services.”
“The removal of special constables cannot be followed with the hiring of private security or the enshrinement of surveillance against students,” the group said.
In addition, they demand that the budgets for special constables and security be released for transparency, to remove the university’s freedom of expression guidelines and that the MSU ensures that clubs are not forced to collaborate with security services.
As the 2020 fall term approaches, McMaster students continue to call for change on campus, holding the university and MSU accountable for their past actions and their next steps.