Students march to Queen’s Park in protest of OSAP cuts

Attendees split over support for Liberal MPPs present, cheered NDP speakers

Students march to Queen’s Park in protest of OSAP cuts

Students from schools across the GTA marched from City Hall to Queen’s Park on February 4 in protest of the provincial cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Similar protests also took place in Guelph, Ottawa, and the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

The march, hosted by Students for Ontario, March for our Education, and the Ontario Student Action Network, went north on University Avenue toward Queen’s Park, where organizers, student activists, and MPPs gathered to make speeches and rally the protesters.

One of the first speakers was Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson Nour Alideeb. She began by commending the many protesters for their efforts in pressuring the government on this issue.

Addressing the crowd, Alideeb said, “We are going to show them that OSAP cuts will not be tolerated, and we’re going to show them that our students, as individuals and as a collective, will not be silenced.”

She invited everyone in attendance to return to Queen’s Park on February 19 to welcome back the government when it is back in session.

“When I see you next, look around you. This group is going to double and it’s going to triple in size, because this government needs to remember that we are the students.”

First-year student activists for Students for Ontario, Le Nguyen and Tyler Riches, then got on stage to speak to the crowd.

“I am standing in front of you today as a proud female immigrant and the first person in my family to attend postsecondary education in Canada,” said Nguyen. “I, along with many, many low-income students in Ontario, receive free tuition thanks to the expansion of OSAP last year.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling my stories to get some pity looks. I’m telling my stories to show that students from disadvantaged backgrounds — like me — regardless of the barriers and struggles, we still have the strength and the determinism to study hard and contribute to the community, get accepted to one of the best institutions in the world, and ensure a better future for our children.”

Afterward, in an interview with The Varsity, Nguyen went into greater detail as to her motivations for attending and speaking at the march.

“Seeing the change from the Doug Ford government, seeing that students will no longer have free tuition, as well as student unions, student groups, and student newspapers being optional fees, I feel outraged because I feel that this is like a direct attack on students from minorities and students from low-income families,” she explained.

Riches dubbed the reaction to Ford’s cuts ‘the student movement.’

“We march for low-income students. We march for international students. We march for all students, and we march because education should not be gatekept by financial means. And we will not stop marching,” said Riches. “Make yourselves heard, and together, let’s show this Ontario government what ‘For the Students’ really means,” he proclaimed, to a chorus of cheers.

A number of MPPs from the New Democratic Party took to the stage to voice their support for Ontario students.

Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport, spoke on the effects that the changes to OSAP might have on the student population.

“People are graduating with mountains of debt, and that means putting off important life milestones for years… Ontario’s economy suffers, while you put off buying a home or starting a family because all your income is going back to the government or the banks.”

While the remarks made by Stiles were met with cheers and applause, the crowd was split when members of the Liberal caucus went up to speak.

Marie-France Lalonde, MPP for Orleans, the first speaker from the Liberal Party, struggled to make herself heard over chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”

Former Liberal MPP Yvan Baker tried to turn the attention back onto Ford, saying, “If we don’t stop Doug Ford, he will cut access to postsecondary education… So I congratulate you for being here. Let’s get out there. Let’s stop Doug Ford and let’s save OSAP.”

While his comments were met with cheers from parts of the crowd, booing and chanting persisted from others.

These chants were primarily led by members of Socialist Fightback, a Marxist organization with chapters in numerous Ontario universities. Marco La Grotta, an organizer and editor of the Fightback magazine, voiced his discontent with the Liberal Party on the issue of education.

“Well, the fact of the matter is that the increase in tuition, that happened under the Liberals. I mean, it’s skyrocketed over the last few years, the last few decades. And the Liberals were just as much responsible for that as the Tories are. So I honestly don’t believe that the Liberals are friends to students.”

La Grotta and Socialist Fightback were at the protest to stand in solidarity with working-class students and to encourage protesters to join a student strike. “What we really need is for a student strike, similar to what you saw in Québec in 2012. Really we need to use the leverage and power we have in order to force this government to back off.”

Students march through Toronto protesting OSAP cuts, changes to non-tuition fees

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, protesters fight Ford government changes

Students march through Toronto protesting OSAP cuts, changes to non-tuition fees

Thousands of students chanted “Fuck Doug Ford” as they marched through the snow from Yonge-Dundas Square to Queen’s Park on Friday, January 25, protesting the provincial government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary education.

The march, which was organized by student groups and labour unions — including the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — amassed in front of the Ontario legislature building amid neon posters and chants, including, “The students united will never be defeated.”

The changes announced by the Ford government on January 17 would reduce domestic tuition rates by 10 per cent, eliminate the six-month interest-free grace period on Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans, shift provincial funding for students from mainly grant-based to loan-based, and make certain student incidental fees optional in an opt-out system.

Students join from across the province to protest

Speakers emphasized the diversity of the students in attendance, who came from all over the province to protest both their personal concerns over the Ford government’s plan and their overarching concerns for student life at colleges and universities.

Among them, U of T students echoed the anger of all students at the protest. Max Xi, a computer science, psychology, and linguistics student at U of T, attended the rally because he believes that student leadership can build a more vibrant campus, also saying that the mental health resources that could be cut have helped him in university.

Xi believes that the changes to student groups and student life will “further worsen the… atmosphere of U of T as a very isolating and overly academic… depressing place.”

For criminology and sociolegal studies student Allie McMillan, the 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition is the most damaging of the announced changes as it “completely disregards accessibility and equity.”

“I think by making the 10 per cent cut, [Ford] is fully just proving that he only cares about the upper class and those who are already able to attain an education without the help of the government,” she said.

Political science student Hamid Mohamed said that, as a recipient of OSAP grants and someone directly impacted by the changes to the grant and loan structure, he is protesting “because [Ford] hasn’t consulted with us and it affects the very livelihood of our campus institutions.”

He added that, in particular, student unions are a necessary check on the university administration and they are now at risk of having their funding cut.

Andrew Gallant, a political science, criminology, and sociology student, believes that the announced changes are anti-democratic.

“It doesn’t make any sense. I do understand why these sorts of cuts have to be made, but I think that the way that they have been implemented has been poor,” he said.

Speakers rally students, decry Ford government changes

“They have woken up a monster,” said Felipe Nagata, President of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union and incoming Chairperson of the CFS–O. Nagata led the chants at the front of the march and also gave a speech at Queen’s Park while surrounded by a mass of students.

“We’re not going to stop until free tuition is here, we’re not going to stop until education is accessible, and we’re not going to stop until every single student and every single person has access to education regardless of their gender or their race or their background or their abilities,” said Nagata.

Jacob Landau, the Director of Operations for March for Our Education and a political science student at U of T, was the first person to speak at Queen’s Park. March for Our Education is a student advocacy group that was created last year in protest of Ford’s policies.

Landau said that the issues uniting the protesters transcend party lines, as evidenced by the diverse political affiliations of the speakers at the rally. “They all know that it is not a political issue. This is about education. This is about our kids, and this is about our future as a province,” he said.

Chair of CUPE 3902 Jess Taylor — the labour union representing contract academic workers at U of T — also spoke on stage at Queen’s Park, saying, “It’s not just our academic workers, it’s also our support workers, our service workers. Everybody working and studying on campus across Ontario. Many of our members rely on OSAP to get their education.”

Nour Alideeb, the outgoing CFS–O Chairperson and a part-time sixth-year student at UTM studying economics, biology, and women and gender studies, heralded the need for a defence of student democracy against the changes.

“The announcements we heard last week are nothing short of an attack on students. Student democracy is under attack because this government is afraid of us,” said Alideeb. “We are the watchdogs. We are the ones that hold this government and our local administrations accountable.”

Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, the Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario, solidified her support for the student movement at the rally as she stood on stage flanked by local NDP MPPs.

Smiling as the crowd broke out into “Fuck Doug Ford” chants, she jokingly chastised the protesters for using “unparliamentary language,” but said that she understood where the students were coming from.

“I am here to say that New Democrats are standing with you and against Doug Ford. And we are here to say no to charging more interest on student loans. No to his callous cuts to OSAP. And hell no to his attacks on student unions.”

Alideeb, in an interview with The Varsity, also emphasized free postsecondary education as the ultimate goal for accessible education.

“The [CFS] has, since its existence in 1981, advocated for free and accessible postsecondary education… I think the first thing we need to prioritize is low-income students, and then make our way to ensure that everyone has free postsecondary education,” she said.

Crysta Montiel, a third-year student student studying philosophy at U of T who organized the march along with another student, channelled similar ideas in her speech.

“Under the Conservative government, post-grads will be straddled with mountains of accumulated debt,” she said. “It’s a paradox because we’re unable to find a job to pay it all. And the only way to break the cycle is to have free education for all.”

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

The emergency rally was held on January 18

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

In Photos: Anti-Bannon protests outside November’s Munk Debate

In Photos: Anti-Bannon protests outside November’s Munk Debate

“Students will not be fooled”: emergency rally organized at Queen’s Park

Protest comes after Ford announces cuts to tuition, OSAP

“Students will not be fooled”: emergency rally organized at Queen’s Park

A day after the provincial Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced sweeping changes to postsecondary education, student unions and groups across Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park early Friday afternoon to express their outrage. 

U of T student groups, including the Arts and Science Students’ Union and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Toronto, met at Sidney Smith Hall, marching toward the Ontario Legislature Building and occupying a stretch of College Street.

Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were announced on Thursday in a press conference organized by PC MPP Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. When asked by The Varsity if students were consulted about Ford’s proposals regarding tuition and OSAP cuts, as well as the decision to opt out of ancillary fees, Fullerton vaguely stated that they had done so, but did not name individual groups.

Speakers express concern about effect on students

Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFSO), spoke first and heavily criticized the PCs for attacking students across the province under the announcement.

The CFS is the largest student organization in Canada and represents five student unions at U of T.

“Today we are gathered outside of Queen’s Park to send a very clear message to the Ford government… that students will not be fooled,” Alideeb said.

“Yesterday, the government chose to pick a fight with students… As the announcements unraveled, it turned out that this is a reckless attack on students and their families, on academic workers, on faculty, on universities and colleges across the province.”

Deputy Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), Sara Singh, alongside MPP Joel Harden of Ottawa Centre, Bhutila Karpoche of Parkdale—High Park, and Rima Berns-McGown of Beaches—East York, also attended the rally to express solidarity.

“These investments in public services are what are going to drive our economy forward, which are going to make sure that you all have the best opportunities you can as students,” said Singh.

“As we head into that next election, you all are those future voters. You are all those decision-makers that are going to make sure that we’re shaping the province we want.”

Ontario students decry sweeping changes without student consultation

James Chapman, a fourth-year U of T student and the co-chair of the U of T New Democrats, criticized the decision from the Ford government.

“I think there’s two reasons students are gathered here today,” said Chapman. “One is to tell Doug Ford that we think it’s unacceptable that the grants and loan combination that was created by the previous government after years of fighting by students on the ground is being removed. The second thing is that we’ve seen this time and again from this government where it’s a revenge plot against voices of dissent followed by complete chaos.”

Chapman noted that the most appalling part of the announcement would be the effect on marginalized students. “Those are the students who are accessing the services that largely the campus unions provide.”

Tom Fraser, a third-year U of T student, slammed the Ontario government for the apparent lack of consultation of students in the decision. “I’m here today because I’m mad as hell about every single cut that’s coming from this government,” he said.

In a similar vein, Clement Cheng, a fourth-year student at U of T and member of U of T’s Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter, commented on the future of funding for student unions and resources on campus.

“We are being saddled with even greater debts. We’re being given worse educational opportunities,” said Cheng. “Everything that we cherish about the university… all of that is under threat.”

Ashlee Redmond, a fourth-year student on the Innis College Council, shared the same sentiments as Cheng, commenting on the quality of student services and resources.

“Events on campus are going to have to become a lot more exclusive, especially if students have the option to opt out of annual fees,” she said.

“There’s going to be a drastic drop in the number of students who are able to attend postsecondary.”

Editor’s Note (January 18, 11:52 pm): The article has been updated to clarify that the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was not affiliated with the protest. UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin was present but attended in a personal capacity.

Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park

Ford’s plan lowers carbon footprint reduction target, includes funds for big polluters to cut emissions

Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park

Students and climate activists braved the cold weather on January 11 to protest Premier Doug Ford’s climate plan at Queen’s Park as part of Fridays for Future, a global environmental movement started by 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

The movement encourages students to protest outside of federal or local government buildings on Fridays to urge politicians to create better policies addressing climate change and ensure a sustainable future. In a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference last December 14, Thunberg called upon world leaders to act on the effects of climate change, particularly targeting the personal interests of the one per cent.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet,” Thunberg said in the speech, which went viral.

Her words inspired a movement of young people including Ava Lyall, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Adam Scott Collegiate in Peterborough, Ontario.

Lyall arrived at Queen’s Park with a number of elementary and high school students, some from as far as Peterborough, others from schools downtown, who skipped class Friday morning to support efficient climate action at the greater municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

“We have seen the choices of our parliament affecting what’s going on in Peterborough,” said Lyall. “Programs that were supposed to address climate change, such as bike lanes, that were to be implemented in Peterborough have been cancelled from cap and trade.”

Local politicians were also in attendance at the strike. MPP of Spadina—Fort York Chris Glover addressed the crowd, criticizing the decisions of the Ford government for combatting emissions and abandoning an effective climate action plan.

“This government has made a number of decisions, jeopardizing our future, our environment, and cancelling the cap and trade agreement,” said Glover.

“That’s had a really negative impact,” Glover said. “Not only on our environment because we are not reducing our carbon emissions as fast as we should be — it’s also had an impact on our economy because the money that was coming from the cap and trade system is going into environmental measures.”

Allie Rougeot, a member of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s Sustainability Commission, was also present at the protest. “As older students, it still really matters for us to show that we’re going to support them,” Rougeot said. “And also say that we’re also part of that generation that’s going to get severely impacted by the effects of climate change.”

Background on the climate plan

The Ford government unveiled its much-anticipated climate change plan on November 29. The plan is modelled after Australia’s carbon emissions reduction fund and features the Ontario Carbon Trust, a $350 million allotment toward large corporations to develop clean technology and reduce emissions overall.

The trust also includes a $50 million Ontario Reverse Auction, which awards businesses for sending in proposals to combat emission reduction.

Ford has been a perennial critic of the federal carbon tax plan, which he claimed was a main cause behind the November announcement that the General Motors plant in Oshawa would be closing this year, though there is no consensus on this.

The new plan was met with scrutiny from Ford’s opponents, including Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, who criticized its inefficiency and lower outcomes.

“We need a climate plan, not a litter-reduction plan. This is not a climate plan,” Schreiner said.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was also quick to criticize Ford’s plan, calling it “backwards.”

“All I know about Doug Ford’s plan — Premier Ford’s plan — is that they’re going backwards on climate action, that they’re making it free to pollute,” she said.

Ford’s government has reduced the 2030 provincial target for carbon footprint reduction to 18 megatonnes, or 30 per cent below 2005 emission levels. While this is lower than the previous government’s target of 37 per cent below 1990 levels, it remains in accordance with federal and international targets.

Hundreds protest RCMP raids on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory

Raids come as RCMP enforce injunction to allow pipeline company access to land

Hundreds protest RCMP raids on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory

Hundreds of people protested in Nathan Phillips Square on January 8 as part of a national movement against Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raids on traditional unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.

Background on the Wet’suwet’en land issue

Protests across the country came the day after the RCMP enforced a court-ordered injunction to allow pipeline company Coastal GasLink access to Wet’suwet’en territory.

Coastal GasLink has not been able to access the land because of two blockades that have been set up by clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to control access to their land.

The first is a gated checkpoint by the Unist’ot’en clan, which has been in place since 2009.

More recently, the neighbouring Gidimt’en clan set up their own checkpoint, which was the one raided by the RCMP on January 7.

Though the Wet’suwet’en Nation has been resisting the pipeline for a decade, the issue is coming to a head now because Coastal GasLink applied for an injunction that was granted by the BC Supreme Court in December.

The injunction ordered for the camps to be dismantled to allow the company access to build its pipeline.

On January 9, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs came to an agreement with the RCMP to allow them to keep their gated checkpoint, but will allow Coastal GasLink through to begin work.

Part of the agreement also states that the RCMP will not raid the camp or enter the Unist’ot’en healing lodge without an invitation.

Toronto protest draws hundreds

The protest was mainly hosted by the Soaring Eagles Camp, a group that was created in response to the deaths of Indigenous youths Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie.

Master of ceremonies and Wet’suwet’en Water Protector Eve Saint led the rally by calling on supporters to mobilize.

“We have a fight ahead of us and we have power together,” said Saint.

The protest began in Nathan Phillips Square and moved through the Financial District before ending at 100 University Avenue, which contains the offices of Computershare Trust Company, TransCanada’s transfer agent.

U of T alum Jesse Wente, an Indigenous writer, broadcaster, and advocate, told the crowd that “reconciliation does not come at the end of a gun.”

“War… I challenge Canadians, is that the relationship you want with Indigenous people?”

Speaker Vanessa Gray, from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, spoke to The Varsity after the rally, saying that people need to “question their pride in being Canadian.”

“Canada is just as racist as it ever has been and we need people with privilege to act now.”

U of T itself invests in the fossil fuel industry, a fact that has prompted much backlash from student groups in the past few years.

When asked about U of T’s involvement in the industry, Saint told The Varsity, “I would say that you are investing in Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples. There is death in these pipelines… It is stained with blood, Indigenous blood, because all the industry are on Indigenous land and territory and they poison people.”

“If you want to fight climate change and stop this madness, back Indigenous people and be aware and stand together.”

Arrests, violence at protest against Munk Debate hosting Steve Bannon

Police pepper-sprayed, struck demonstrators with batons

Arrests, violence at protest against Munk Debate hosting Steve Bannon

Hundreds of protesters massed outside Roy Thompson Hall tonight in a demonstration against the Munk Debate featuring Steve Bannon and David Frum.

Police have beaten protesters with batons, pepper sprayed the crowd, and arrested a number of demonstrators.

Bannon and Frum are debating the rise of populism. Bannon — the chief source of controversy — is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right American media outlet, and a former White House Chief Strategist under Donald Trump. He has been criticized for his white nationalist views and associations with white supremacy.

Frum was a speechwriter for former US President George W. Bush as well as a political commentator.

The protest began outside the hall, but moved onto Simcoe Street, which was shut down for the demonstration.

As attendees began to line up to enter the venue, protesters converged on the police barricades, yelling “shame” at the line into Roy Thompson Hall.

Protesters were also asking police, “Who do you protect?”

The pepper spraying began as groups of masked protesters pushed along the barricade, opposing the attendees who were trying to enter the venue.

Police with batons were called in when protesters attempted to jump the barricade into Roy Thompson Hall. 

Toronto Police have reported that 12 people were arrested facing various charges. In addition, two police officers suffered “fairly minor” injuries — one officer was hit with a stick and another was punched in the face.

As of 10:18 pm, all roads were reopened.

Among the groups that attended the protest were the U of T Flying Squad, an activist wing of a U of T union; the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, a volunteer-based group at U of T; and Toronto ANTIFA, a left-wing anti-fascist group.

In a statement to The Varsity after the debate, the Flying Squad expressed concern about the lack of comment from the university on the debate, especially since U of T has received significant amounts of money from the Munk family and related groups, according to the Flying Squad.

In particular, the group points out that U of T professor Janice Stein and two U of T fellows sit on the Munk Debates advisory board, saying that this serves as proof of the inherent ties between the university and the Munk Debates organization.

The Varsity has reached out to OPIRG Toronto for comment.

Update (November 3, 2:14 am): This story has been updated to include more information from Toronto Police.

Update (November 8, 5:25 pm): This story has been updated to include comment from the Flying Squad.