Fourteen individuals, including a number of prominent U of T student leaders, have been banned from either communicating with each other or entering campus except under special conditions. The prohibitions are part of a stringent set of bail conditions handed down to the group, whom senior U of T administrators allege committed acts of forcible confinement and mischief at the charged protest that took place in Simcoe Hall on March 20. All of the fourteen either study or work at U of T.
Oriel Varga, a former member of GC who currently works for APUS, refused to sign the bail conditions and was detained overnight on Friday, April 25. At a hearing the next day, her bail conditions were loosened to allow her to communicate with the others and enter campus in order to perform her work at APUS. That news broke a weekend of silence from the involved parties, who feared legal or academic repercussions.
Varga’s lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, called the bail conditions an intimidation tactic. “The speed at which the conditions were negated speaks to the administration’s lack of credibility,” Pieters said in a media statement. The charges were laid by the Toronto Police Service following complaints by administrators with offices in Simcoe Hall. The sit-in was organized as a protest against a New College residence fee hike but was transformed when members and supporters of the group Always Question began chanting about other issues and entered Simcoe Hall to insist on an immediate meeting with president David Naylor.
The individuals under bail conditions include: AQ member and organizer Farshad Azadian; VP University Affairs of UTSU, Michal Hay; Arts and Science Student Union president Ryan Hayes; Ontario Public Interest Research Group organizers Farrah Miranda and Liisa Schofield; APUS staffer and former GC member Oriel Varga; U of T student Luis Granados, formerly of the disability rights group Students for Barrier-Free Access; and APUS coordinator and past-president Chris Ramsaroop. The accused also include one minor.
Many participants in the sit-in are identifiable from a video the group posted entitled “Police violence ends student sit-in at University of Toronto.” The video, which does not show violent behaviour by police, appears to depict protestors shouting at campus police while the latter try to move them by picking them up from under the shoulders, a tactic the police abandoned when protestors crowded around police, aggressively chanting demands that they leave at once. Not all of those identifiable in the video have been charged.
In a response released on March 24, president David Naylor said the protesters had behaved “in a fashion antithetical to the to the university’s values and traditions of peaceful assembly.” According to Naylor’s account, the protesters forced staff to remain in the provost’s office during the sit-in, and verbally harassed them until the sit-in ended. Naylor singled out and condemned executives and staff from APUS, UTSU and OPIRG for “support[ing] or participat[ing] in these unacceptable actions.”
The student body has been divided in their response to the sit-in, some of them going so far as to organize a protest against the first protest.
Sandy Hudson, UTSU’s VP Equity and president elect, said that the administration is taking advantage of public sympathy. “Whether or not you supported the sit-in is irrelevant,” said Hudson. “The university is charging students for public dissent. That’s disgusting.”
“We have to recognize that this is the administration trying to silence student dissent,” Hudson added.
“The university supports freedom of expression on a wide variety of forms,” said Rob Steiner, U of T’s chief media spokesperson. Steiner pointed to the eight student seats reserved on the fifty-seat GC: “Students are in effect the bosses of the university.”
“The events went way beyond a protest and we were really concerned that a number of criminal acts had taken place,” Steiner said.
According to Steiner, protestors may have tripped and grabbed employees trying to leave the building. “They were jeered, yelled at, I heard reports that some of them were tripped on their way out,” he said. Steiner added that one protestor uttered a death threat against an employee and his family. That allegation is not represented on the list of charges, though Naylor included it in his March 24 letter. Naylor’s statement said the victim of the alleged death threat was a campus police officer. The protestors are denying the above assertions.
Hudson and AQ have both argued that students are granted only token representation by administrative procedure, though AQ has gone further, suggesting that students working with administrators within the system will never achieve real change.
In addition to the formal charges filed by police, several employees have lodged complaints with faculties and colleges about student protestors. This is part of a complaints process that can lead to formal investigations and hearings under U of T’s Code of Student Conduct, which allows sanctions ranging from a written reprimand to expulsion from the university.
Steiner declined to comment on these cases, which he said the university treats as confidential.
Asked whether the university would consider dropping any of the charges, Steiner said the decision was out of U of T’s hands. “They’re not for us to withdraw or put on. They are police charges, not university charges.”
Update April 29:
Supporters of those facing police charges and university investigations have formed the Allies for Just Education, and have launched a petition asking for all charges to be dropped. The petition also calls for an end to Code of Student Conduct investigations, the elimination of tuition fees, and parity of student, staff and faculty representation on Governing Council. The petition can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/fightfees/.