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Demilitarize McGill

Social Movements

Universities are not just sites of knowledge production and job-market preparation, they also play host to the development of bombs and UAV simulation software, and the use of secluded drone hangars. Demilitarize McGill is a group working to end these activities at McGill, and has existed in its current form since the fall of 2012 after an older group by the same name had gone dormant for a few years. There are two things to know in order to understand the context of its rebirth. First, we were just coming down from the historic student strike of 2012, which had normalized the practice of using direct action in furtherance of political goals. Second, we had some reason to think that World War III might break out. Benjamin Netanyahu had just given his infamous “red line” speech pushing for an attack on Iran. A teach-in on the potential of a war with Iran was organized, as well as a demonstration. Fortunately the war did not happen, but the current incarnation of Demilitarize McGill grew out of these events in an attempt to more strategically resist imperialist warfare from our location.

We used the research left behind by the previous incarnation of Demilitarize as a starting point. The first year consisted of popular education efforts: walking tours, workshops and film screenings. These efforts have enabled us to make connections with people who are interested in participating in direct action, which we see as necessary to the success of our efforts. in our view, physical disruption of this research is necessary. That is because the university’s interests, both financial and ideological, line up with continuing militarization; there is little reason to think that directing effort through administrative avenues will produce the results we want. On February 25, 2014, Demilitarize McGill and supporters blockaded the Shockwave Physics lab complex at McGill for approximately two hours. Since 1967, the Shockwave Physics Group has been developing thermobaric explosives in collaboration with both the Canadian and US militaries; for some of that time, funding was coming directly from the US Air Force and the Canadian Department of national Defence. Thermobaric explosives function by releasing a cloud of fuel or metal particles into the air upon initial detonation, and then igniting the air in a second explosion, causing a blast wave that can travel through caves and bunkers; people may die either as a result of the initial explosion or otherwise asphyxiation.

On March 14, 2014, approximately 20 members and supporters of Demilitarize McGill blocked a second lab. The day before, an article had been released in the McGill Daily detailing connections between the McGill Aerospace Mechatronics Lab and the Canadian military, with funding provided by the Department of national Defence. it was found that the Aerospace Mechatronics Lab had been develop- ing software for drones to be used in urban combat operations, with Defence Research and Develop- ment Canada providing over $380,000 for the proj- ect. Acting on this new information, those 20 people began their blockade just before 8 a.m., and the blockade continued for just under four hours. it was shut down after university administration called the Montréal police onto campus. Officers entered the building, seized a banner reading “End Drone Research,” and forced the blockaders out. There were no arrests.

McGill is constructed on stolen Kanien’kehá:ka land—so, in other words, even if this institution ever does sever all ties with military institutions and arms contractors, it will not cease to be a site of kyriarchic violence. Our project aims to attack only one limited aspect of this institution. One of the reasons our blockades have been successful is because there is a rich diversity of initiatives at McGill which seek to address other specific forms of oppression, and which make a point of supporting each other.

McGill’s connections to arms contractors and military institutions are not unique. The types of contracts held by McGill are also held at many other universities across Canada. Although it is important for the pressure on McGill specifically to escalate, it is also necessary that this type of resistance spreads to other campuses.

If you wish to get in touch about starting a group, or have any other questions, please contact demilitarizemcgillnow [at] gmail [dot] com or visit

This article appeared in the Ukraine and the rebirth of fascism issue of Canadian Dimension .


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