Ninth Floor will play at Cinema du Parc this weekend, a gripping documentary giving the other side of the story of six Caribbean students, who in 1968, at George Williams University (now part of Concordia University), accused a lecturer of racism.
They complained that the teacher was giving grades to all his Black students that did not take into regard the quality of their work and that this prevented the students from going forward to become medical doctors.
This new documentary reconstructs the events called by some people “the most dramatic and violent racial conflict in modern Canadian history.”
Producer Selwyn Jacob said he wanted to make the documentary since he first heard about the riot in 1969. He too was a student from Trinidad and Tobago but studying then at the University of Alberta. Mina Shum directs.
The students wanted the university to set up a committee to investigate the charges and demanded the students themselves be represented on that committee.
On Jan. 29, 1969, as a result of the committee determining that racism was not a factor, all of the complainants as well as about 200 other students walked out of the hearings in protest and occupied the computer centre in the Henry F. Hall Building.
Things escalated as the students barricaded themselves inside. Police arrived, computers were tossed out of windows and there was fire, branding the event as Montreal’s Computer Riots of 1969 or the Sir George Williams Riot.
It forced the university administrators to re-evaluate how they dealt complaints of racism. In 1971 the administration adopted a new set of regulations and rights, with students finally part of the university’s decision- making process. An ombudsman’s office was created to hear students’ concerns.
In the aftermath, Dominica’s Roosevelt ‘Rosie’ Douglas, a McGill grad, was labeled the ringleader and served two years in prison. He was deported to Dominica in 1975 and eventually became its prime minister.
In a speech on his return to Montreal in 2000, Douglas summed up the affair this way: “It was a fight for Black people to have an equal stake in the nation.
“We had no malice in our heads – we just wanted justice.”
Barbados’ Anne Cools was sentenced to four months in prison but later pardoned. She went on to be the first Black person appointed to the Canadian Senate.
Joey Jagan went on to become a dentist, the son of former president of Guyana Dr. Cheddi Jagan