The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) held a “National Day of Action” on November 2. Students and groups from all three U of T campuses participated in the U of T version of the event which included a pre-rally in front of Sidney Smith Hall and a march to the Queens Park to join thousands of fellow students in a province-wide protest.
Participating student organizations from U of T included the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU).
Additionally, the event included a contingent called T.O. to South Africa, in solidarity with the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa. The contingent was led by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), whose focus was on anti-Black racism within education, specifically the barriers to accessibility for racialized students on campuses across the world.
The “National Day of Action” was part of the CFS’ Fight the Fees! campaign, which calls for universal post-secondary education through the gradual reduction of tuition until it is completely free; the “conversion of the provincial portion of student loans into non-repayable grants”; and the elimination of interest on already-existing student loans.
CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte spoke with The Varsity about the goals of the Fight the Fees! campaign and their “National Day of Action”: “Fight the Fees is a movement that will continue building support and moving forward until we successfully push this country to eliminate tuition fees. The participation of students from 58 campuses, of 90 unions and community groups, shows that the progressive goal of publicly-funded college and university is not out of reach.”
Gayle McFadden, National Executive Representative of the Ontario branch of the CFS, expressed similar remarks. “Today is a piece of raising awareness, getting students mobilized, pushing for action to take control of our right to an education,” she said.
On the event description, the CFS wrote: “All students have the right to academic accommodations so they can participate in the Day of Action without academic penalty.”
A statement released by the Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr on September 16 states: “compelling academic considerations may make any accommodation impossible.”
The Varsity spoke to U of T’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans to clarify the accommodations situation. According to Blackburn-Evans, “the provost asked academic administrators to encourage instructors to make accommodations where possible. Ultimately it’s up to individual instructors to make that decision based on planned academic activities.”
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) had concerns about the CFS campaign, arguing that “it is deliberately silent on the expiration of the current Tuition Fee Framework” in a joint statement from the union’s executive on October 26. By not focusing on the current Tuition Fee Framework, the union argues that the “timeline is unrealistic, and that the framework will ultimately be drafted with little to no input from students.”
The UTSU held its own campaign called the Week of Action from October 31 to November 4.
When asked about the UTSU’s lack of participation in the “National Day of Action,” Arte did not comment on the union specifically: “Thousands of students came out to the Day of Action” and “I know many UofT students who were active and engaged in building this campaign.”