Eli Ridder | Special Report
The Canadian Federation of Students launched their “We the Students” movement on a cold Tuesday with a morning press conference, march from Yonge-Dundas Square to Queen’s Park and an afternoon rally in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario — with over 150 students chanting the “students united will never be defeated” and speakers from several groups giving their support.
Core to their day of action was a petition for Premier Doug Ford’s government to provide more grants over loans, eliminate tuition fees for all students, increasing funding for education, protect student independence and defend the right to organize.
The rally and CFS petition was one of many across the province in response to cuts to the financial Ontario Student Assistance Program that provides loans and grants to students and the Student Choice Initiative, which introduces optional student fees that threaten the existence of levy-funded campus governments, groups and services.
Students have rallied at universities and colleges throughout Ontario since the measures were announced earlier this year ahead of the changes coming into effect for the fall semester. The measures also included a 10 per cent tuition cost cut.
Several New Democratic Party parliamentarians signed the petition, including Sandy Shaw, Suze Morrison and many others. Guelph MPP and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also signed on to the petition while surrounded by a group students from the University of Guelph who attended the rally.
Several students were removed from parliament after causing a disturbance in the chamber. Afterwards, Ford said the protesting students were an example of “indoctrination” and that they’re “going to be good socialists”, CBC News reported.
The University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College’s IGNITE student had no official representation at the event, however, there were a few students from the college.
A cold march
Approximately 100 students, energized with never-ending chants and enthusiastic drumming marched down Dundas St. W and turned up University Ave., advancing with purpose on the Legislative Assembly.
The Ontario Student Action Network organized the march in partnership with the CFS, Queen’s Students for OSAP, London Student Coalition, Hamilton Student Mobilization Network, Students Against Ford’s Cuts and Students for Ontario.
The roads were shut down and the students were escorted by Toronto Police on their march to Queen’s Park that lasted just under 30 minutes from Yonge-Dundas Square to just near the front steps of provincial parliament.
Traffic was disrupted but vehicles honked support as the group made their voices loud and clear with chants of “hey hey, ho ho, attacks on students have got to go” and “f–k Doug Ford”.
The march was led by CFS National Student Executive Sami Pritchard, who works most often with schools in northern Ontario. She “thankfully” just graduated Lakehead University.
Once the group reached Queen’s Park, multiple speakers from a variety of supporting groups took to a microphone to voice their support for the students and their disdain for the Ford government’s actions.
A land acknowledgment was given after the Samba drumming group gave a last beat, with more students joining up as the rally started.
After saying the government was listening to student demands for less costly education with the 10 per cent tuition cut, CFS executive Pritchard said she wants to make it “abundantly clear” to Premier Doug Ford that “he is not making life easier for students”.
“Premier Ford, you picked a fight with the wrong people,” she added, with the legislative building behind her and students cheering in front.
Rajean Hoilett, a campaigner for Feed Students, Support Survivors based at Ryerson University, talked about his levy-supported food service on campus and its daily impact on students. His program won financial support in a referendum.
JP Hornick, who was the chief negotiator for the Ontario college faculty union OPSEU during the strike in fall 2017, spoke on her support for those that would be affected by the million-dollar cuts to post-secondary institutions across the province.
Ontario Federation of Labour Ahmad Gaied also spoke on his support for faculty and the students.
Spoken word artist Maymuna Mohamed gave a performance and a representative from the National Campus and Community Radio Association spoke on the importance of levy-funded campus media.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s president, Harvey Bischof, spoke on the impact the OSAP cuts will have on high school students headed to university and college this fall.
Gachi Issa of the Hamilton Student Mobilization Network and the Womanists Club at McMaster University spokes on the change students can bring if protests are kept up.
The final speaker, CFS Chairperson Nour Alideeb, urged students to keep up the pressure of the We the Students campaign through rallies in-person, through social media and by signing the petition so that can be brought forward to the Ford government.
“We the students will defend access to education against these attacks,” said Nour Alideeb, chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, adding that the government’s plans to slash OSAP…has devastated students and families across the country.”
The event was organized in partnership with the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, and Unifor.
Images from The Avro Post.