U of T appears to be continuing its crackdown on fee hike protesters. The administration has threatened four student leaders, including a governor, with action under the Code of Student Conduct over disruption of an April 10 Governing Council meeting. The move came after Toronto Police arrested 14 protesters involved in a March 20 sit-in at Simcoe Hall, following complaints filed by the administration. Twelve of the 14 are also being investigated under the student Code of Conduct.
“Clearly, what we are seeing on this campus is an unprecedented repression of students organizing,” said Farshad Azadian, an AlwaysQuestion organizer and one of the so-called “Fight Fees 14.” “Nobody is going to claim that the sit-in was perfectly organized. But the charges are ridiculous, and we have gathered lots of support,” Azadian added.
Student and staff unions have offered support for the accused and condemned the investigations as a campaign to silence dissent. “We have received support from Unite Here, CUPE Ontario, OCAP, OPIRG, several community groups, [and] from students from universities across Canada,” said Deena Dadachanji, a spokesperson for the accused.
Todd Gordon, a U of T professor in Canadian studies, said the charges amounted to a attack on debate. “When people in positions of power have no meaningful response to dissent, they resort to coercion,” said Gordon. “They hope they can stamp it out through heavy-handed tactics: scaring others away from future dissent, […]
and suffocating the movement by targeting those they see as the ‘leaders.’”
The university has acted to distance itself from the charges, laying responsibility on the police, who decided to charge the 14 after receiving evidence and complaints from the administration. “We referred the matter to Toronto Police for their assessment, they decided to lay charges,” said Rob Steiner, U of T’s chief media spokesperson.
But Dadachanji said the administration was involved in the arrests. “Fourteen people have been hand-selected by the university because of their positions as key organizers,” she said. “There is no way the Toronto Police could have known their ability to mobilize against issues. It’s clear that the university has played a hand.”
Dadachanji also claimed that the administration may have given personal information, such as the demonstrators’ email addresses and phone numbers, to police. Steiner was not available to comment on this allegation.
Students investigated under the Code of Conduct were notified during the second week of April. Shortly afterward, they received emails from Toronto Police telling them to turn themselves in to Division 52 headquarters. Most were held for several hours before being released on stringent bail conditions.
Steiner confirmed that protesters were being investigated under the code but declined to comment on specifics, saying that cases under student code are confidential.
At the April 10 GC meeting, student governor Alexandru Rascanu read from a petition against the proposed fee increases until he was stopped by chair John Petch. While governors are not usually given time-limits on speaking during the meeting, Petch ruled that reading out the petition did not contribute to the ongoing discussion on the fee increases. Student activists then took over, continuing to read the petition aloud until the meeting had to be adjourned and relocated.
Petch sent letters to Rascanu and three of the students who read out the petitions: UTSU president Sandy Hudson, former Arts & Science Students’ Union executive Alanna Prasad and former UTSU VP university affairs Michal Hay, who was also arrested for the sit-in protest.
In an April 29 letter, admin advised Hudson that they were considering action against her under the student code for “the persistent disruption of the meeting, despite calls to order by the Chair.”
Rascanu said that his letter called for him to meet with the chair about matters relating to the student code. At that meeting, he said, he was told the student code charges would be discussed by the GC’s executive committee on Monday, May 12.
“I think that me being under investigation is a far stretch of the situation in which the code should be used. It is a way to silence student leaders on campus,” said Rascanu, who did not comment on the specific nature of the allegations against him.
A petition demanding that all charges against students be dropped had gathered 1592 signatures online at press time. The petition was started by the Allies for Just Education, a group formed to support the 14 accused.
AJE plan to hold a rally at Old City Hall on June 3, when the 14 will appear at a hearing.