As the months-long protests in Hong Kong show no signs of slowing down, U of T students have continued to bring the protests to Toronto. Pro-Hong Kong students set up a Lennon Wall on the UTSG campus and organized a 48-hour hunger strike, though the strike ended prematurely due to worsening weather conditions at the recommendation of first-aid volunteers on site.
The protests in Hong Kong, ongoing since June, were sparked by an extradition bill which would have allowed for detainees in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. The bill has since been withdrawn, though the protests have continued and grown in scope, now encompassing greater demands for full democracy and freedoms.
As the protests continue, violence has escalated as demands by protestors have expanded — universities in Hong Kong have become grounds for petrol bombs and tear gas as protestors and police clash amidst heightened protests against police brutality and calls for full democratic elections.
The U of T Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group (UTHKELAG) put up a Lennon Wall outside of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) building on the night of November 5, as a forum for expressing pro-Hong Kong sentiments. Lennon Walls, which are collaborative mosaic walls that originated in Prague during the 1980s, have been a part of the anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong over the past few months.
The U of T Lennon Wall features over a hundred coloured sticky notes on which students have written messages such as “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now!” In the middle of the wall is a memorial to Alex Chow Tsz-Lok, a student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who died on November 8 after falling off a parking garage during a police raid days earlier.
Chow was reportedly attempting to escape tear gas when he fell, though the exact circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. His death has further fuelled global protests, and it has been cited as one of the only deaths linked directly to police interference.
“Lennon Walls have popped up around Hong Kong mostly as sites for expression of views, largely pro-democracy, in favor of the protests and our objectives,” said Milton Chow, a fourth-year student at U of T and a member of UTHKELAG.
He said that the purpose of the wall is “to allow the U of T community to see [that] what’s going on in Hong Kong matters to our Hong Kong student community right now, especially since Toronto is home to one of the largest Hong Kong diasporas anywhere in the world.”
Milton explained that the group hopes to keep the wall up for “as long as we possibly can,” to show the spirit of their activism.
“It’s pretty clear that it is named after former Beatles frontman, John Lennon,” said Milton. “But, in large part it revolves around his messages of peaceful yet radical change, and moving toward greater freedom and democracy for all.”
Michael Junior Samakayi, UTSU’s Vice-President, Equity, said that the UTSU’s decision to allow the wall on their building was a show of solidarity with the people of Hong Kong: “If we’re not standing up for them, then what are we really doing as a student union?”
This weekend, the student protestors set up chairs, posters, and a tent outside of Old City Hall as they attempted to wait out a 48-hour hunger strike from 10:00 am on November 16 to 10:00 am on November 18. However, 12 hours in, the strike ended early due to safety concerns regarding the cold weather.
Marco So, a first-year student from Hong Kong at the strike, described the current wave of protests as “maybe the last fight for [the] democracy of the Hong Kong people.” He called the hunger strike “a way of self-sacrificing,” and cited his own reason for getting involved in the strike as not having participated in Hong Kong protests before: “And I feel a little bit of regret about that.”
Man Kin Sum, an exchange student at U of T from the Chinese University of Hong Kong participating in the strike, said he was motivated by the recent violence at his home university, where students and police clashed in an hours-long skirmish.
“In the past few days, Hong Kong police tried to get into our school, and there are like a thousand cans of tear gas and they tried to use [a] water cannon and even rubber bullets to attack students,” said Sum.
Hogan Lam, one of the organizers of UTHKELAG, said that the purpose of the hunger strike was to show solidarity with Hong Kong and to get the attention of U of T and Canada.
Due to the nature of the attack at a university, Lam said, “I feel like U of T, as one of the biggest educational institutions in the world, they really have to say something or at least make a stand.”
The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.