As many McGill students know, several associations have once again joined together to launch the QPIRG Opt-Out Campaign. Every semester, the campaign aims to inform students about their right to opt-out of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group. We never expected that this year QPIRG would use violence to try and stop us.
QPIRG was founded some 23 years ago as an organization pursuing the interests of students on matters of public concern. In this respect, they have failed atrociously. QPIRG collects $7.50 per year per student of student fees, which it pools to finance the activities of radical fringe groups.
The list is stunning. The Coalition for Justice for Adil Charkaoui seeks the immediate release of all terror suspects currently detained by the Canadian government under security certificates. Students Taking Action in Chiapas stands in solidarity with the Zapatistas of Mexico, a violent rebel movement, and seeks to bring the struggle “back home” to Canada. The Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble actively promotes anarchism, while Tadamon! is an anti-capitalist, anti-corporate organization which lobbied the Canadian government to remove Hezbollah from the terrorist organization list. QPIRG claims that Israel is an apartheid state.
QPIRG also publishes School Schmool, the organizer that once celebrated the creation of the pipe bomb and teaches readers how to vandalize and destroy private property.
The Opt-Out Campaign features a diverse array of organizations. Free the Children McGill, the Italian Student’s Association, and Swiss Club are only a few examples. We want students to know that QPIRG doesn’t have a right to your money: you can take it back, and withdraw your consent from the causes that they support.
QPIRG itself is terrified of students making an informed decision on whether to opt-out. They are so terrified, in fact, that some of their members have actively harassed the Opt-Out Campaign. The removal of flyers and the destruction of posters have antagonized what should be a free and open debate.
These acts of political intimidation culminated on September 23 when QPIRG members discovered that our campaign was tabling in the MacDonald Engineering Building. While at first these individuals engaged in argument, they became more aggressive as tabling continued; this aggression spiraled into the hurling of racial slurs and stereotyping, in addition to the destruction of campaign property.
The crowd of QPIRG members grew, and they began to physically obstruct members of the Opt-Out Campaign from distributing flyers. McGill Security was contacted, and QPIRG was told to maintain a reasonable distance from the Opt-Out Campaign.
While the situation stabilized, it eventually deteriorated when Maddie Ritts (a member of QPIRG’s Board of Directors) stormed up to the Opt-Out table and proceeded to steal and violently rip posters. Security caught several individuals, and a report has been filed with administration.
Campaign members were fortunate to have the presence of McGill Security, who stood firmly for free speech when they told QPIRG that political intimidation was unacceptable in a university atmosphere.
Campaign members did not expect such a violent response to our exercise of free speech and open debate. We thought that we could engage in a sincere disagreement with QPIRG, and have our disagreement aired respectfully.
Clearly, we were terribly wrong. QPIRG is only concerned with its pocketbook, not with the concerns of McGill students.
QPIRG needs to be sent a message: we all have the right to express our thoughts and voice our dissent, and we shouldn’t be bullied for it. Don’t let QPIRG intimidate you, or tell you that they have a right to your money. We urge you to inform yourself further, and if you feel that this group doesn’t deserve your money, don’t give it to them.
The QPIRG Opt-Out Campaign is a coalition of concerned students and associations dedicated to informing students about their right to opt-out and to explaining why we feel they ought to. A complete list of all those involved can be found at qpirgoptout.com.
Nathaniel Elfassy, Marc-Olivier Fortin, Shayna Goldman, Lisa McLennan, Divya Pahwa, Brendan Steven, and Jess Weiser contributed to this article.