All Posts Tagged With: "activism"
Campus activists want to pull out of national group
More than 50 people gathered in Gatineau, Que. at noon on Saturday to protest the Canadian Federation of Students, a group hundreds of thousands of university students automatically pay money to each year to lobby on their behalf. They’re most famous for opposing tuition fees.
The protesters sang, danced and chanted outside the hotel hosting CFS’s Annual General Meeting to draw attention to the fact that unsatisfied student unions find it difficult to exit the organization and stop sending money to Ottawa each year, a process known as “defederation.”
It’s a perennial issue. At this spring’s national meeting, Brad Evoy of the University of Toronto was defeated after he tried to reform the organization by bringing the number student signatures required on a petition to start defederation back down to 10 per cent of the student body. The threshold had been raised to 20 per cent in 2009.
Wait for better transit to campus keeps getting longer
In the Western Gazette this week, writer Mary Ann Ciosk describes a scene that plays out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times a year in university towns across Canada:
“I check the time again—the bus is now 20 minutes late, and I have three minutes remaining before my class starts… Finally, a low mechanical growl can be heard in the distance, and around the corner appears our salvation, the 2 Dundas! But as the bus approaches, a new horror sets in. The 2 does not slow as it draws near the stop, but speeds past us with its cargo of disgruntled students tightly packed together—the bus is full.”
The issue of full buses making students late has long captured the imagination of campus news editors and student leaders. This fall is no exception. University of Lethbridge students pushed for better transit at a recent mayoral candidates debate. The Carleton University Students’ Association recently met with Ottawa transit officials to tell them too many students are getting passed up. In Victoria, B.C., post-secondary students held up signs on a street corner protesting poor service.
Nonetheless, in some cities at least, the wait for a better ride to campus just keeps got longer.
Protesters blocked Marc-Antoine Dumas from classes
Marc-Antoine Dumas, a former Laval University student, has won $1,220 in small claims court from his former history students’ association to cover lost tuition fees after he was repeatedly blocked from attending his classes by protesters last year and forced to drop his semester, reports CBC.
Student groups across Quebec held meetings last spring to vote on whether to skip classes and join widespread protests (which they called strikes) against a tuition hike of $1,625 over five years. Because student leadership was in favour of joining the protests, those opposed faced hostility at the meetings where students voted by show of hands. Most didn’t attend, but that didn’t stop groups like the Concordia Students’ Union from declaring themselves “on strike,” encouraging protesters to block whoever tried to attend classes. The CSU’s strike vote included only about five per cent of undergraduates. Dozens of protesters blocked students who tried to write their final exams there.
In his ruling, judge Daniel Bourgeois wrote that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not give students a right to strike. “In fact, nowhere in the law does one find clauses that allow for the triggering of a strike vote or powers that compare to the rights granted to unions,” he added.
National Student Food Summit shows students in action
Students often want to help the environment or tackle poverty but don’t know where to begin. The 10th annual National Student Food Summit, held this weekend in Toronto, showed that campus cafeterias can be good places to spark change.
Many students have no choice but to spend thousands of dollars per year on meal plans and so it’s hard to argue with them when they demand seats at the tables where major decisions about campus food systems are made. This weekend’s summit showed students using their seats at the tables to assert values that go well beyond food.
The gathering was organized by Meal Exchange, a non-profit that aims for affordable, healthy and socially just food. It’s known best for anti-hunger programs like Skip a Meal, where students donate meal points, and Trick or Eat, where they canvas for food banks at Halloween. One of the sponsors was corporate food provider Aramark.
Lobby groups tend to oppose major engineering employers
Engineering students are different from other undergraduates. They have more hours of classes, more assignments and clearer career paths. While many undergrads face the prospect of unemployment or underemployment, engineers’ skills are in demand across many industries, from the resource extraction sector to the military.
But that career path is the source of conflict between engineering students and university student unions that they must pay fees to each year, which tend to align themselves against things like resource extraction and the military.
“A lot of engineering societies don’t have that close a relationship with their central student union,” says Lisa Belbeck, president of the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (CFES), which claims to represent 60,000 engineering students and does not lobby governments.
Students rebuffed in request for details on wages, lawsuits
Students got a rare peek this week at how the Canadian Federation of Students’ national organization spends their money after blogger Brandon Clim published the organization’s 2014 budget and audited financial statements.
However, the juicy details many have wondered about—how much individual staff members earn and how much is spent on lawsuits with local student unions—still haven’t been made public.
In fact, members of CFS’s own budget committee, at last week’s Annual General Meeting in Ottawa, say they were rebuffed in attempts to learn more.
And although the financial documents are now online, outgoing treasurer Michael Olson says they won’t show up on the CFS’s own website anytime soon, because members have rejected that idea.
Rick Ross gets cancelled but Tyga performs
A hip-hop concert cancelled earlier this month in Ottawa is fueling debate about which performers student union money should fund and whether artists’ freedom of expression has been silenced.
Pandemonium, the annual year-end show subsidized by the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), was to be headlined by rapper Rick Ross on April 9. But numerous students from both universities urged their student unions to pull out because they said Ross’ recent lyrics glorify date rape. SFUO and CUSA eventually pulled the plug and the show was cancelled. Shortly afterward, athletics company Reebok announced it was dropping Ross.
It’s not just an issue in Ottawa. At Harvard University, a performance by the rapper Tyga went ahead Saturday despite an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures demanding a student board cancel it. Petitioners said his lyrics in the song “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” are “explicitly and violently misogynistic.” Tyga performed the song on the weekend, “despite all the haters.”
Canadian Federation of Students head talks transparency
The Canadian Federation of Students is a national network of student unions known best for its lobbying to make post-secondary education more affordable. The group is funded mostly through mandatory fees tacked on to students’ tuition bills whether they like it or not. The CFS is sometimes accused of not being transparent or worth the cost. Although it’s possible to leave the group through a petition and referendum, the CFS won’t let members go without a fight. In a 2010 referendum at the University of Guelph, 73 per cent of students voted to leave but the CFS never recognized the vote, resulting in at least $407,000 in legal bills for Guelph students. This month when it became clear the local student union was planning to give up and settle, the university stepped in and surveyed students, who once again indicated—70 per cent to 29 per cent—that they want to stop paying the fees. Carleton University Students’ Association may be the next student union to attempt to leave. Adam Awad, whose term as CFS National Chairperson ends in June, sat down for a chat during a recent trip to Toronto.
Student union, CFS want administrators to butt out
More than 70 per cent of University of Guelph undergraduates who responded to an unusual survey last week from their administration said they were opposed to paying student fees to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). That’s not surprising considering 73 per cent of voters were opposed when asked in a 2010 referendum.
Still, don’t expect the CFS, a student lobbying organization, to accept either poll anytime soon. Despite what appeared to be a strong mandate to stop funding the CFS in the 2010 referendum, the group has never accepted the result, arguing that there was something fishy about the vote.
And the CFS has support. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA)—the very student union that ran the referendum and vigorously defended it to the tune of $407,000 in legal bills as of August 2012—has switched sides and says it would rather stick with the CFS than fight on. That could mean paying roughly $250,000 per year retroactively plus $250,000 annually going forward.
Literature and life lessons help to understand activists
In Timothy Findley’s The Wars, a young officer, Robert Ross, defies orders and releases horses confined in a barn. It is WW1 and he is in an area of France being shelled by Germans. Releasing them is a way of saving them as the structure is an obvious target. Ross is an officer with the Canadian Field Artillery and it’s his love of animals and justice that motivates him. It’s also his last act before desertion.
Findley’s assertion was that Ross’ actions were heroic in context. His liberation of the horses is cast against the shadowy psychopathy of WW1, a psychopathy so hideous it kept high-ranking military men from touring the front. Had they done so, the carnage of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele might not have materialized. More soldiers, from all forces involved, might have made it home.
The Wars is timely because it seems conventional ideas about heroism are atomizing before our eyes. More relativistic ways of seeing things, perhaps brought on by the pervasive use of the internet, are transporting us to a world where the bad guys are everywhere and they’re usually in charge. It’s created some odd bedfellows and even odder instances of cross-pollination. The Arab Spring, a political uprising with some very discernible causes, was replicated in Quebec by the Maple Spring, a student uprising that had a lot of us here scratching our heads. Many were puzzled by the students’ adoption of a name whose power was clear but whose basis for comparison was wildly inaccurate.
Many sport red squares of student movement
Montreal police arrested more than 30 people, including nine minors, during a second day of protests against Quebec’s northern development plan.
Demonstrators gathered on Saturday outside a job fair at the city’s convention centre, where businesses and workers were meeting to discuss opportunities in the natural resources sector.
Police spokesman Ian Lafreniere said at least one window was smashed and a flare gun was fired inside the building.
“We tolerate protests but not criminal acts like this, so we decided to break up the protest,” Lafreniere said.
In a scene reminiscent of last spring’s student protests, lines of riot police were used to break up the crowd and protesters who were arrested were held on city buses.
Esteemed law professor Mary Eberts thinks so
Mary Eberts was a junior law professor at the University of Toronto in 1974 when she told her colleagues she planned to miss the July 8 faculty meeting to help get out the vote for Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Their reaction was bewilderment. Professors weren’t often politically involved.
Eberts got her day off and then left U of T in 1980 to join a Bay Street Firm. She remained an activist, giving her time to organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Now she’s back in the academy as the Ariel Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan. Three decades after her first academic job, she says it’s just as difficult for professors to get involved in civil society and speak out about their political beliefs. She argues Canadians are losing their expertise as a result.
I sat in on her talk at Congress 2012, Canada’s largest gathering of Humanities and Social Sciences, in Waterloo, Ont. (click to see a recording) and then I interviewed her in her house in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Here’s what she said about why professors so often stay silent, why she believes they shouldn’t, and how to square civic activism with their roles as teachers.
Should professors step up and engage more in civic life, even when it’s politically controversial?
Photos: about 200 march in solidarity with Quebec students
At least 1,000 (some say 2,000) turned out to bang pots and pans in solidarity with Quebec’s anti-tuition demonstrators one week ago in Toronto. At the time, we were told to expect much bigger crowds on June 5. It didn’t happen. When the march finally left George Brown College at the corner of King St. and George St. on Tuesday around 8:30 p.m., only about 200 people had joined it.
It was mainly the usual suspects: executives of local student unions, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the socialists. It’s hard to explain the low turnout, but one thing is clear: they can’t blame the weather. The skies were sunny. In fact, 5,000 people were at the University of Toronto two hours earlier to watch Venus cross the Sun’s path.
Much of Canada remains unmoved by Quebec
Quebeckers of all kinds have marched in the streets over the past week beating on casseroles. Some are making noise over the emergency Law, #78, which they say unduly restricts rights. Others are showing their anger over a planned tuition hike of $254 per year—the very thing that prompted paralyzing nightly protests in Montreal and Premier Jean Charest’s desperate response.
Just as Quebec student leaders and government negotiators sat down on Wednesday in Quebec City to continue talks to end the student “strike,” the rest of Canada was asked to show support for the pot-bangers by drumming on their own cookware at Casseroles Night in Canada events.
But turnout was modest, suggesting that (so far) the Rest of Canada is staying out of the fight.
Brigette DePape on the Power of Youth
Brigette DePape was a uniformed Senate page when she made herself an instant symbol of youth protest nearly a year ago by silently holding a handmade “Stop Harper” sign on the floor of the upper chamber during the reading of the Conservative government’s Throne Speech. Since then, she’s been travelling the country meeting with activist groups, and this week the 22-year-old launches Power of Youth, a collection of essays she co-edited on activism.
Q: You went from unknown to icon awfully quickly. Did you ever ﬁnd the transition intimidating?
A: To be honest, I was really scared when I took the action. The hardest part was that moment of, “Should I do this?” I could either stand back and watch as the government was eroding our social services and destroying our environment or I could do something. I was scared about my parents’ reaction, my family’s reaction. But then I really thought about the people who are impacted by Harper—women, indigenous people and workers. That really gave me strength and the feeling that I’m part of something bigger.
Q: How did your parents react?
A: My dad was really critical of the action. My parents want what’s best for me and all that, and I respect that. So they were concerned—“How are you going to pay the rent?” and that kind of thing. But then there was a real sense from my sisters that they were proud of me. I do feel a lot of support from my family. That’s huge and really important to me. To be honest, I think my dad is coming around.
Alex Ballingall reports on the Quebec student movement
For more than 12 weeks, tens of thousands of Quebec students have taken to the streets in anger and frustration. They’ve hurled slogans from worn-out vocal cords, sung and danced and taken their clothes off. Protesters threw stones, smashed windows and clashed with riot police, all in an effort to halt the government’s proposal to increase tuition $1,625 over the next ﬁve to seven years.
Students began walking out on their classes in February. More than three months later, the dispute has become the longest student strike in Quebec history. The stubborn persistence of the strike has left many in the rest of Canada scratching their heads over why there’s been such uproar. Even in Quebec, the intensity of the protests has puzzled observers.
But compromise could be near
Student groups in Quebec were quick to reject Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s Friday offer of concessions. Still, there are new reasons to believe some of the groups opposed to the $1,625 tuition increase could be ready to compromise and end their ongoing “strike.”
On Friday, Premier Charest said he would spread the impending tuition increase over seven years instead of five, which would reduce the increase to $254 per year from $325. CLASSE, the province’s largest and most militant student group, said Saturday that it will not accept such a deal.
But FECQ and FEUQ, the other two large students groups, asked for mediation with the government. Education Minister Line Beauchamp said today that it’s too early for mediation—she wants students to vote on the offer made Friday first. Still, the fact that she didn’t entirely reject the idea of mediation seems to indicate progress.
Protesters not to blame: associate dean
Two hours into his three-hour economics exam on Monday, third-year McGill University student Nico Ahn’s concentration was broken by a blaring fire alarm. He and hundreds of other students (there was another big exam happening in the same gymnasium) were told to leave their belongings and tests behind.
In the chilly morning air outside, Ahn says he and other students theorized about the alarm. Did someone realize she was going to fail, slip out and pull the trigger? Or was it an anti-tuition protester who wants all students to join Quebec’s boycott of classes—whether they like it or not?
160 arrested in Gatineau
In Quebec, where many students have boycotted classes for months, attempts by universities to hold classes and exams are being severely tested.
More than 160 protesters were arrested on Wednesday at the Université du Québec en Outaouais’s Gatineau campus, after an injunction ordered protesters off campus for two weeks starting Monday. The adults among them were charged hundreds of dollars each for blocking the highway to campus, reports the Montreal Gazette.
Also on Wednesday, the province’s biggest school, the Université de Montréal, called off classes in departments whose student associations have held successful strike votes, despite having earlier encouraged willing students to return to classes this week. The capitulation followed incidents where protesters blocked students from entering and leaving buildings and set off fire alarms during exams, reports the Gazette.
Quebec minister says she’s willing to discuss governance
The court order prevents demonstrations within 25 metres of the two campuses until April 23. The university had argued that it must cancel classes because it could not guarantee the safety of those who attend while their peers remain on strike.
Quebec students have boycotted classes over the past two months to protest a fee increase of $1,625 over five years, after which the province will still have some of the lowest tuition in Canada.