The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) released a statement on March 3 titled “Student Solidarity Against War, Imperialism and Colonial Governments,” regarding the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The statement was written in collaboration with the Continuing Education Students’ Association at X University (CESAX), the York Federation of Students (YFS), and the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O).
Following the statement’s release, commenters expressed concern on the SCSU’s Instagram post, claiming that the statement was misguided. The post containing the statement has since been deleted from the SCSU’s Instagram account; however, it is still available on the YFS website.
The statement reads, “[We] oppose all wars waged by imperialist and colonial governments and affirm our solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”
It continues by talking about the “settler-colonial, imperialist, and NATO affiliated states” that have contributed to “destabilizing the region as part of a much larger geopolitical strategy of imperialist control and power.” The student unions also highlighted the contributions of “Russian capitalist interests,” and NATO’s “illegitimate” perpetuation of “imperialism and capitalism.” They wrote that it is important to keep governments accountable, as Canada is also a “settler-colonial state and Imperialist power that is equally complicit in this war and others.”
The statement attributes the war in Ukraine and the abuse of human rights globally to “the pursuit of political control, land, resources and power.”
Next, it appeals to the university administrations of each union represented in the statement to provide “increased community support through financial bursaries, extended residence accommodations, academic accommodations, and mental health resources” to international students.
It concludes, “As students’ unions with a continued commitment to anti-war movements, our thoughts at this time are with the people in Ukraine, Russian war-resistors, and all those experiencing imperialist or fascist violence in the region, and globally.”
Concerns expressed upon the statement’s release
Many commenters pointed out the minimal mentions of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine as the decisive factor in the heightening of this crisis, noting that the statement focuses more on factors like NATO’s expansion. Some commenters further wrote that the statement fails to actually condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Commenters remarked that attributing the invasion to the expansion of NATO was concerning, especially considering that Russian President Vladimir Putin has framed the war as a response to NATO expansion as a justification for Russian aggression. Many objected to the unions placing blame on countries besides Russia for the invasion, and some also questioned whether Ukrainian people were consulted before the statement was posted.
One comment on the SCSU’s now-deleted Instagram post read, “Americans, and apparently Canadians too, are still preoccupied with the dialogue and language that is relevant to them and their approach to invasions of foreign land.” The same commenter asked the SCSU what it plans to do “beyond just empty words and a long overdue statement.”
SCSU and UTMSU response
In an email to The Varsity, SCSU President Sarah Abdillahi wrote, “While, in our statement, we sought to pay recognition to the Western lense [sic] that disproportionately covers and contributes to global violence, we recognize this does not take away from the severity and importance of innocent Ukrainian lives victim to Russia’s violence.”
She affirmed that the union is “calling on our elected officials to continue to open borders and support the safety of Ukrainian peoples and Russian war-resistors seeking refuge.” She claimed that the union has also donated to relief funds.
Wei Lai, the UTMSU’s vice-president internal, wrote to The Varsity that the union had been called upon by many students to release a statement of support.
Regarding the statement’s inclusion of NATO and the “imperialist” and “capitalist” agenda as the producers of this conflict, she wrote, “We wanted to avoid a narrow analysis and provide historical and geopolitical context to the invasion, because leaving out this context can be misleading.”
Lai continued, “We wouldn’t consider the few comments we’ve received as ‘backlash.’ ” Instead, she wrote that the union expected criticism, and encourages it, as feedback will “help develop [the union’s] understanding on the issues that are important to [it].”
The Varsity has reached out to the CESAX, YFS, and CFS–O for comment.