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Students debate military research on campus at policy reform forum

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted a forum on military research on campus last Thursday. Led by SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan and VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, the event aimed to solicit student perspectives on campus research policies prior to McGill’s review of its policy on the conduct of research.

Debate centred on whether research on subjects with the explicit intent to affect harm should have a place on the McGill campus.

Arts Senator Kareem Ibrahim cited the diversity of students at McGill as a reason why military weapons research should not be on campus.

“Military affairs affect a wide variety of global communities that are all represented here at McGill,” Kareem said. “Not everyone in the world is on the same page, and it wouldn’t be representative of our community at McGill if we were to be participating in [military research], as I’m sure the Canadian military isn’t representative of the interests of the global community,”

The discussion comes as McGill prepares to conduct another review of its research ethics policy.

Most of the students in attendance were in favor of tighter regulations as a means to a complete elimination of military research on campus.

VP Finance Kathleen Bradley argued that the issue of values needs to be focused on the end-goal of the research.

“Values to a university should be open enough that people can do the research that is beneficial or important to their degree—where the university needs [to] exercise control in making sure its values are met is in the end-goal of the research,” Bradley said.

Joseph Broda, a U3 Engineering student and an army reservist, was one of the few in attendance to express a different viewpoint.

“If we’re going to say that military operations are not ethical, then we have to say that Canada having a military is also not ethical,” he said. “If Canada is going to continue to have a military, then we need to have continuous development of these technologies in order to protect our own troops’ lives.”

However, Broda was happy the event created a space for discussion of these issues.

“I think it’s great that these discussions exist, and I […] wish that more engineering and science students would come out to these sort of things and have their voices heard.” he said.

Stewart-Kanigan explained that she thought the event succeeded in clearly defining the sections of the policy that students would like to see examined, although she elaborated that the forum could have featured perspectives from a wider range of programs at McGill.

“I would have been happy to engage with the broader range of students, discipline-wise,” she said, citing low attendance from the departments where this kind of military research often occurs, such as engineering.

In addition to future consultation efforts, Stewart-Kanigan also cited the cleanup of vague language in the policy as an area to focus on moving forward.

“Greater specificity in regard to certain points of the regulation, such as terms like ‘morals’ and ‘ethics,’ and the practical translation of those terms into practice [are needed],” she said. 

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