In a move criticized as illegal, politically motivated and an assault on the free press, the Student Society of McGill University locked staff at the McGill Daily out of their office Friday Aug. 4, claiming the paper's lease had expired.
The dispute rests largely on what weight an implied or "tacit" lease, enforced by good faith, carries. The Daily is taking the SSMU to court over the decision, hoping to obtain an injunction on their eviction.
"They're acting well outside of the law, on zero legal authority," said the Daily News Editor Jon Bricker. "We have a lease. They don't agree."
For their part, the SSMU changed the locks and cut off power to the paper's oVices because they felt the Daily was essentially squatting on SU property.
SSMU Vice-president Operations Kevin McPhee explained the SSMU's motivation.
"Their lease expired May 31," he said. "On June 1, we extended it a month. That month's [negotiations] didn't go too well. At the end of June, we extended it another month. They didn't get back to us. Last Wednesday we sent them a letter saying they had two more days to get back to us or we'd take appropriate action."
Bricker said until the eviction the Daily understood their lease was still in effect.
"Basically, our written lease expired a few years ago, but it's standard in commercial law that when a lease expires and the tenant keeps paying rent and the landlord keeps cashing checks, that the lease continues," he said. "[The SSMU] interpreted that to mean they could kick us out on a moment's notice. They said on June 1, 'Have a new lease negotiated by the end of the month or you're out on the street.' They asked us to negotiate with a gun to our head."
Bricker is upset the SSMU's decision to evict the Daily came during the summer when the Daily's board of directors were unable to convene to discuss the terms of the SSMU's lease proposal. "The people who this decision affects--the student body of McGill--just aren't around [in the summer] to have a say and I don't doubt for a second that that's why it happened when it did."
McPhee contends the SSMU doesn't have to observe the Daily's desire to consult its board on the terms of their lease.
"It's our obligation to uphold our constitution, not theirs," said McPhee. "With the growth of our society and our efficiency analysis of the building, we couldn't accommodate [their requests] and because we couldn't, they're refusing to sit down and talk to us. [What we did] is not illegal. They no longer have a lease with us."
Bricker claims the SSMU has long led a campaign against the Daily, citing a history of strained relations between the two student institutions.
"The [SSMU] views renovations as an opportunity to take the actions they've wanted to for a long time against the Daily," he said. "It's a load of crap and a failure to recognize our role at McGill."
For their part, the SSMU said the decision was not personal.
"They claim this is politically motivated, which certainly isn't the case," said McPhee. "As long as they keep their property in our building without a lease, we can do whatever we want."