McGill students evicted with almost no notice over COVID violations

mcgill residence ctv montreal

By Selena Ross, CTV News Montreal

Teenagers who were “evicted” from their McGill dorm this week for seeing friends—against COVID-19 rules—say students were given only a few hours’ notice to find a place to stay for a week.

They were also cut off from their meal plans and indoor access to McGill buildings, one 18-year-old explained, making them scramble to figure out how to fend for themselves off-campus, and also how to fund it.

Some walked around in the cold for hours, having nowhere to take shelter.

McGill is defending its decision to kick out the students, saying it was necessary to take serious steps after public health "non-compliance."

But the students, and some of their parents, say the evictions were harrowing and that they didn’t realize they could face such a strict punishment after a first offence.

“We got the notice on Sunday at around 3, 4 p.m.,” said the young woman, who was caught watching a movie with a few friends.

She and about 20 other students were told they had to be out by 10 a.m. on Monday after being caught seeing other students in close proximity, in various small groups, the previous Friday.

She said she knew one of the girls who was evicted who is only 16 years old, having started university young.

The 18-year-old, who is originally from Toronto and moved to Montreal in the fall, was able to find an Airbnb with friends, and the owner was willing to let them “check in” by 10 a.m., but other students weren’t so lucky, she said.

“Other people, they couldn't do that, so they had to stay somewhere, like a friend’s,” she said.

“This is actually sort of sad, but one of my friends asked the front desk [of the dorm] what she would do and they told her to go to a Tim Hortons or to go to a café,” said the student, who didn’t want her name published.

Another student who was temporarily “evicted” the previous week said she got stuck in that exact position.

“I got an email around, I guess, 2 p.m. maybe on Thursday, and I had to be out by lunchtime on Friday,” said that student, who just turned 19.

She was kicked out for seven days for being caught with five friends in her room on her birthday.

She found an Airbnb on her own, but “I wasn’t allowed to check in until four,” she said, “so Friday I left at lunchtime, and it was negative 18 outside, and I basically just walked around Montreal for four hours, in the cold.”

She is from Victoria, British Columbia, which doesn’t get that kind of weather.

“I was just wearing sneakers,” she said. “Also, because of COVID, nothing’s open... it’s not like I could go stay in a library or a coffee shop.”

FIRST STRIKE, YOU'RE OUT

McGill spokesperson Cynthia Lee said in an email that no student has been kicked out for more than 10 days, and that they had warning.

"Unfortunately, despite several warnings and/or reprimands, a number of students have faced short-term measures for non-compliance to public health authorities and McGill COVID-19 regulations in residences, and some have recently faced exclusion from residences for a period not exceeding 10 days," she wrote.

She didn't respond to follow-up questions.

But the students who spoke to CTV News said they didn't get a first warning or anything like that -- both young women said it was their first offence.

McGill residences have had varying levels of COVID-19 restrictions since reopening in September, depending on whether there’s an active outbreak. Generally, students are allowed to have one other student in their rooms at a time, but no more.

The school has also operated on a “strike” system since the fall, but McGill changed the details recently. Students used to get warnings with their first few strikes before facing eviction, but now they can be evicted after the first strike, which not all of them knew. 

Some said they were willing to take the risk of getting a first strike, judging that the disease risk was pretty low. All those “evicted” this week appear to be from so-called New Rez, a former hotel on Parc Ave. There are no known cases right now at New Rez, they say

“I think it's because we can literally do nothing in lockdown,” said the student caught watching a movie, about why she broke the rule.

“People are willing to get a strike, especially if it's the first one, you know, to keep your mental health in check.”

The student who was busted for her birthday party said she also didn’t know a single strike could get her kicked out.

“Oh, I knew that what I did was wrong. There’s no denying that,” she said. “But last term there was a strike system, so... when I first got in trouble for having people in my room, they told me that I’d most likely have a warning.”

The consequences go beyond having no home for a week. The 18-year-old said that students also have their student cards taken away, which are what they use not only to get into on-campus buildings like the library, but also to access school cafeterias with their prepaid meal plans.

'THEY'RE ON THEIR OWN'

Some first-year students say they’ve really been struggling this year, and the “evictions” feel like a breaking point.

“I haven’t seen my family since August 8,” said another student, who is American and is living off-campus already.

“I have multiple friends contacting me, saying that ‘Oh my God, I have absolutely nowhere to go,’” said that student, who is 19 and only wanted to be identified by his first name, Cameron.

“Some of my friends… they’re contacting 20 people from off-campus. They're alone, they’re on their own,” he said.

But because of COVID-19, he felt too worried to let them crash, at least right away.

“I told them get a COVID test and then you can stay with me,” he said. Of course, because it takes more than 18 hours to get a COVID test and get the results, none of them were able to take him up on it at first.

“It's really hard on us. We're all struggling mentally. And no offence to McGill, but I think they should maybe do a little better job” understanding the strain they’re under, he said.

One mother, Catherine Davies, said her daughter was one of those caught attending the 19-year-old’s birthday party and told CTV News she thought her daughter’s friend was treated in a “horrendous” way by the school.

“These kids are isolated in residence—they don't come into contact with their grannies, the vulnerable or even their profs,” she said.

Statistically speaking, the odds are that “if they all got COVID, they’d be fine,” she said. “These poor kids are being treated horribly by not just McGill but society at large, I think.”

Cameron, the American student, said it’s been hard watching younger students in Quebec go back to full classrooms this month, after spending an isolated holiday far from home.

“It also gets us a little angry when we see the little kids in schools that are completely filled when we can't have our own classes… we have classrooms that are made to hold hundreds and hundreds of students,” he said.

“Why not maybe host a lecture where we maybe have 10 per cent of the capacity? We feel upset. We feel locked in our rooms on a computer all day. And now McGill is kicking them out.”

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