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.

Policy victories for students require more than single demonstrations

Examining the limitations of secondary student movements following the recent sex ed protests in Ontario high schools

Policy victories for students require more than single demonstrations

On September 21, 40,000 students from 100 Ontario schools walked out to challenge the decision of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government to scrap both the updated sex ed curriculum and Indigenous content in the curriculum.

This provokes important questions about how effective student activism is in terms of producing tangible impacts on education policy. It also highlights the significant challenges that secondary school activism faces due to a lack of advocacy structures to organize collective action.

Historically, student activism has had significant societal impact. Collective student action has led to significant changes to existing social structures. In the 1960s, student movements in the United States brought critical dialogues to the forefront and prompted university heads to resign, while in countries like Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and the more recent Arab Spring, students protested authoritarian regimes, often in the face of lethal violence, setting in motion paradigm shifts that eventually saw the regimes topple.

Even in Canada, tens of thousands of Québec students took to the streets in 2012 in response to proposed tuition hikes. Six years later, Québec tuition fees generally have remained low — about half that of the rest of Canada.

However, the caveat is that policy battles are not won in a single demonstration. Advocacy campaigns require resources, organization, and, perhaps most importantly, time. Many students have school, work, extracurricular, and personal commitments that prevent them from investing weeks, months, or years into student activism to see changes in legislation.

This is even truer for Ontario high school students. They lack the student government structures that their postsecondary counterparts enjoy — the student unions that receive millions of dollars each year via student levies to make the student voice heard and coordinate activism efforts.

Secondary student government is limited in comparison, with student councils focused on extracurricular activities and often dominated by unelected staff members or other non-student actors who control operations behind the scenes. School board student senates consisting of student council representatives from multiple high schools do not collect levies and often act as little more than advisory panels to school board officials. Even the student trustees these student senates elect to attend school board meetings do not have a binding vote on decisions, leaving their voices to be heard, but not necessarily acted upon.

Similarly, the Ontario Student Trustees Association, which represents about two million secondary and elementary students, has few resources to communicate its existence to the average Ontario student, let alone mobilize its constituents to collective action. It is not that students are apathetic as the stereotype suggests. Rather, they lack a proper place in the Ontario education system to participate in decision-making processes as stakeholders. This forces them to fight from the outside with resource-demanding tactics of public resistance.

What secondary students need to think about is how to cement a long-term political movement that will provide them with more advocacy options to supplement public demonstrations. These students need to also protest the fact that education administrators and provincial policymakers are refusing them official representation in their schools and school boards. They need student input on curriculum changes so that setbacks to critical issues like sex ed can be lessened or prevented in the future. Students also need control over decisions on their own extracurricular activities.

Student councils, student senates, and the Ontario Student Trustees Association need to be recognized as legitimate representative organizations, and the former two need to be rooted in sound policies that enshrine student democracy and decision-making capability. Ontario, as well as educators, administrators, and other education stakeholders, need to give students a place in consultations.

Moving forward, secondary students need to keep the momentum from Friday’s protest going by questioning education structures and how they can sustain the fight to the point where policy change can be a tangible and realistic goal.

But it is not only secondary students who need to take the initiative. Postsecondary students have a leadership role to play in the student movement and should offer support to students in other levels of education who may soon join their ranks. Coalitions can be formed between secondary and postsecondary student organizations to advocate for common goals. Resources can be extended to assist secondary students, not only in activism, but in building democratic organizations that empower the secondary student voice to overcome the limitations of existing structures.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science.

Letters to the Editor: Regarding pro-life demonstrations at U of T

Re: "Op-ed: Graphic anti-abortion protests have no place on campus"

Letters to the Editor: Regarding pro-life demonstrations at U of T

Re: pro-life demonstrations at U of T 

I was pleased to read in a recent op-ed that U of T Students for Life’s display of abortion victim photography is seen now as “commonplace on campus.” That is our goal. We aim to make the victims of abortion visible to everyone, and to make the case to everyone that human rights are for all human beings. We don’t “chant” or “heckle” or use disrespectful language. We present the scientific fact, taught in U of T’s own curriculum (e.g. CSB328H), that fertilization is the creation of a new, individual human being (see ehd.org), and we make the ethical case through civil and respectful dialogue that human rights should start when the human being starts. We also volunteer weekly at a local charity to help people facing difficult pregnancies. Yes, pregnancy can involve incredibly difficult life circumstances. Is killing an innocent human being ever an ethical solution to difficult life circumstances?

Photos of abortion victims are shocking. Abortion decapitates, dismembers and disembowels an innocent human being. We show the photographic evidence of the injustice so we can end the killing, adopting the strategy of effective social reformers of the past, from the British abolitionists to the National Child Labour Committee to the civil rights movement. I’ve been reading Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains these past few weeks, about how the British abolitionists “plastered the country with slave ship diagrams” (p. 168) which left an “instantaneous impression of horror upon all who saw” them. (p. 156) The abolitionists realized “what a powerful weapon” (p. 155) they had because the visual evidence of the horrors of injustice was “unanswerable.” (p. 156) Is the same not true of the photos of abortion victims?

What answer shall our society give to the photos of children shredded to pieces by abortion? We show the photos because they are the strongest and most effective means we have to save children’s lives, and to spare women the trauma of abortion. As long as nearly 2,000 children are being killed by abortion every week in Canada, we will expose the inhumane reality of abortion every week on campus, until the photos are just records of the past.

— Blaise Alleyne, Education Coordinator for U of T Students for Life

 

Stifling debate and expression

I am writing in response to a recently published op-ed entitled “Graphic anti-abortion protests have no place on campus.” I felt it necessary to issue a response based on the values that an educational institution is supposed to uphold and embolden. I find this op-ed to be founded on arguments of illogicality and illiberalism.

I must start by saying that I do not agree with the position of the anti-abortion protesters nor do I agree with their methods.

However, this op-ed does not provide the reader an explicit solution to dealing with the possible harms, but instead it is marred by an attitude towards freedom of expression that looks to limit its scope to spare the feelings of some who feel distressed.

My encounter was one of civility, where these protesters politely talked with multiple students to exchange viewpoints and strive for a common ground. What I saw was exactly how people who fundamentally disagree should go about airing out their differences. In fact, a key point of the op-ed supports this.  A first-year student began chanting “pro-choice,” an exhibit of people utilizing their own expression to respectfully counter views they disagree with. That is how society should function.

Hearing and seeing offensive things is the price we pay for living in a free and open society. Unfortunately, this op-ed seems to believe that our freedoms also include the freedom not to be offended, distressed, or scared. Freedom of expression includes the ability to criticize, offend, and cause fear and thus anti-abortion protesters should be allowed to protest in whatever way they please.

Further, free speech includes the freedom to spread misinformation. The author is correct that these protesters can say things that bend the truth. However, that does not mean they have no place on campus. That means the onus is on everybody else to hold these people accountable by questioning their statements and finding out what is true.

The best tool to counter things that you disagree with is not banishment but debate. If we base what speech is considered “free” based on if it’s offensive, then no speech could ever be protected because offence is subjective. The author seems perfectly willing to offend those protesters by stating they have no place on campus and I can wholeheartedly say she should be completely allowed to do so, just as the anti-abortion protesters should.

The author is right to say that Doug Ford’s new free speech policy will embolden protesters. It will embolden all those who wish to speak their mind and have meaningful debate about a controversial issue. On this issue, seeing these images and hearing these ideas and countering them with opposing ideas is way to reach a common ground view. Censorship is the path to further polarization on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides.

I can offer multiple solutions to those who may feel threatened or distressed by the messages and methods used by these protesters. While the author merely advocates censorship, I would advise not looking at the images or just keep walking.

We must stop hoping and trying to get other people to change how they speak and express themselves just so it makes us feel better. Many people are against abortion and their goal is to stop the procedure from happening, so we need to accept that they are going to try their hardest to make that happen and if that is through fear, then so be it. The solution is offering an alternative viewpoint, one that people can more readily accept. Advocating for censoring these protesters is not liberalism or progressivism, it’s authoritarianism masquerading as justice.

— Nicholas Heinrich

Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Protesters in front of Chrystia Freeland’s office call for end to $15 billion deal

Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Yemeni protesters and allies gathered on September 8 in front of Chrystia Freeland’s constituency office at Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West to protest Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Canadian-made combat vehicles have reportedly been used by Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. The conflict was labelled by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis of 2018, with at least 16,700 casaulties since it began in 2015, though the count could be much higher. Over two million people have been displaced by the conflict.

The protest comes in the wake of growing Canada-Saudi tensions after Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, called for the release of two human rights activists in Saudi Arabia on Twitter. As part of its response to Freeland’s message, Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi students studying at Canadian universities had to leave the country.

Protesters gathered at around 2:45 pm, holding signs calling for Freeland to take action and immediately stop the arms deal.

The group of roughly 50 were affiliated with groups such as the Yemeni Community in Canada, the Canadian Defenders for Human Rights, and the Canadian Peace Coalition.

Protesters held signs depicting the victims of war crimes as young as nine years old.

Firas Al Najim, a member of the Canadian Defenders for Human Rights and one of the participants in the protest, criticized the Canadian government’s decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, saying that it makes the country “an accomplice to war crimes” and adding that “the government should speak up for human rights in the war-torn Yemen.”

The deal, initiated by the Harper government in 2014, is for $15 billion in armoured vehicles, and aims to create 3,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector — mainly in London, Ontario.

The protest comes after an August 9 airstrike on a school bus which killed 51 people, including 40 children. Some 79 people were injured, 56 of whom were children. The Saudi-led coalition airstrike has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which called it an “apparent war crime.”

The fighting in Yemen has been going on for more than three years, and involves Saudi Arabia, allied Sunni Muslims, and the Houthi rebels who control much of northern Yemen and the capital, Sana’a. The rebels drove Yemen’s government into exile in 2014.

“Many innocent people will be victims of these weapons. I totally understand that these weapons are creating job opportunities in Canada, but it is coming in the interest of Yemeni innocent blood,” said Hamza Shaiban, President of the Yemeni Community in Canada.

Councillor Joe Cressy proposes amendments to enforce conformity with zoning laws

Why I didn’t root for Russia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Separating culture from nationalism in the age of Russian belligerence

Why I didn’t root for Russia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Though I have lived in Canada for almost my entire life, I am Russian*: My parents were both born in the Soviet Union, I have relatives all over Russia, I speak Russian, and I celebrate Russian holidays and celebrations.

But I cannot bear to call myself a Russian. Particularly, I could not allow myself to root for Russia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Recently eliminated from the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the Russian national football team brought pride to over 100 million Russians and 600,000 Russian-Canadians for its heroic performance, doubling as both host nation and underdog.

Yet I could not stop supporting the host’s opponents. I cheered for Saudi Arabia and Egypt when they faced Russia in the group stage, although both lost. It was not until Uruguay handed Russia a 3–0 loss that my ‘unpatriotic’ stance was finally rewarded.

This wasn’t enough, as Russia made it out of the group stage to ultimately upset Spain in a penalty shootout. The win shocked football fans all over the world, but devastated me as if I were a die-hard Spaniard. In what ended up being Russia’s final match at the World Cup, I cheered endlessly for 120 minutes and into another penalty shootout for the Croatian team, when I finally got to witness Russia’s elimination.

I am grateful to live in Toronto and attend the University of Toronto, where I am able to engage with a culturally diverse population including a large group of Russian-Canadians. However, many have been confused as to why I would root against my own country, and many have told me that my actions are a betrayal to my very bloodline. But I have my reasons.

Russia is a country of historic greatness. It is the winner of the second World War, victor of space races, and builder of a great republic. Russia’s greatest achievement may be its ability to resist and challenge Western society and the United States.

Today, there is no urgency to send humans into space. But the Russian government still attempts to relive the glory days of the Soviet Union — dare I say, it wants to make Russia great again — and this has dire consequences.

My decision to distance myself from my Russian identity occurred in 2014. Russia had illegally intervened in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, where I have family. Eventually, the Russian government annexed Crimea from Ukraine in an allegedly illegal and fraudulent election.

This act of modern imperialism and apparent disregard for international law demonstrates how far Russia and its leaders are willing to go to reclaim their country’s place on the international stage. This has led to a divide between Ukraine’s western and eastern territories and a war in the Ukrainian region of Donbass. The war, which has been fought since April 2014, has claimed tens of thousands of lives.  

As the world continues to evolve, it becomes more and more evident that Russia is stuck in the past. While the world becomes more diverse and inclusive, many regions and citizens of Russia still hold homophobic, racist, and misogynist beliefs. Like the Soviet Union which preceded it, Russia continues to promote the idea of unity against the outside world to its citizens — specifically against the liberalism of the West.

This early twentieth century mindset has seen little improvement. In fact, much evidence has shown that Russia and its citizens are becoming more homophobic and more racist. According to Pew Research, 74 per cent of Russians believed that homosexuality is socially wrong in 2013, up from 60 per cent in 2002. Another study found that in 1998, only 45 per cent of citizens believed in a “Russia for Russians” ideology, which increased to 55 per cent in 2011.

I pride myself knowing that I’ve been able to meet and befriend people from all walks of life at U of T. But I cannot help thinking that a majority of them would be unwelcome in Russia simply because of their sexual identity, race, or religion.  

On top of politics, the Russian doping scandal, which saw the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and ban many Russian athletes from the 2016 Summer and 2018 Winter Olympics, is an example of Russia’s attempt to achieve the historic Olympic success of the Soviet Union.

According to many reports, there were strong allegations of officials recommending and demanding that athletes participate in state-sponsored doping programs. The ban and the stripping of many medals proved that the IOC would not stand for cheaters and neither will I.

Adding to the list are countless other ways Russia remains untrustworthy, such as allegations of illegal elections in the country, lack of support for environmental protection, and the country’s possible role in interfering with the United States’ presidential election. Every win for Russia is a win against unity, against diversity, and against peace.  

While Russia continues to strive for ‘glory,’ I will continue to separate my national identity from the culture I follow. I cannot stand by a country that promotes human division as an element to achieve success.

I cannot use my culture as an excuse to support the Russian national team. These athletes have made the choice to represent their country, even under its current regime. Every minute of every game that these men were on the field of the World Cup, they must have known that they represent their country, and that their country also represents them. They promoted the ideologies of today’s Russia – even if they did not know it themselves.

On the other hand, culture is for the most part unconnected from modern politics, as it has been passed down through generations. While I cannot change the fact that I have Russian blood coursing through my veins, I can pursue an identity that acknowledges both my family’s roots and culture, and my personal protest against the nation I call the motherland.

So I am Russian*. The asterisk will continue to denote my separation from personal national identification.

George Moshenski-Dubov is a fourth-year Criminology and Sociology student at Woodsworth College.

U of T approves contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy

Policy to be implemented effective immediately

U of T approves contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy

In a near-unanimous vote, Governing Council — U of T’s highest decision-making body — passed the contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy amid protests from students. It will be implemented effective immediately.

The motion passed with only three people voting against, out of more than 40 governors who were eligible to vote. Immediately after its passing, student protestors who had gathered outside began shouting their dissent.

The policy allows the university to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from U of T if their mental health either poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.

For the latter, the policy states that “this scenario is not intended to apply to situations where a Student is academically unsuccessful,” but to instances when a student is unable “to fulfill the essential activities required to pursue their program.”

Professor Cheryl Regehr, U of T Vice-President and Provost, defended the updated policy and the consultation process, saying that she has spoken with “students who have wished there had been a policy like this in place for themselves, their friends, or their families.”

During the meeting there was also a motion to postpone discussion on the policy, to which Chair of Governing Council Claire Kennedy said that the university would drop the policy if the motion passed.

Regehr defended this decision, citing key philosophical divides and fundamental differences that “cannot be addressed through further revisions or consultations.” The motion failed with only four governors voting in favour.

Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, a student governor on Governing Council and one of the three ‘no’’ votes, told The Varsity that “this ultimatum of ‘my way or the highway’ is disappointing and not conducive to productive dialogue between students and the administration.”

“I am especially troubled by the view propagated repeatedly by some members of the administration that the disagreements between students and the administration are irreconcilable and that further consultation would be pointless,” stated Harvey-Sanchez.

Before and during the meeting, around 50 students gathered outside Governing Council’s offices at Simcoe Hall to protest the policy, carrying signs that included criticisms of the limited consultation the university undertook.

Chants, such as “Whose campus? Our campus!” or “Hey hey, ho ho, MLAP has got to go!” were audible from within the Governing Council chamber throughout the meeting.

The demonstration drew students from all three U of T campuses, as well as others from Ryerson University and York University. Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–Ontario), was also in attendance.

Five representatives of student governments at U of T were given three minutes each to address the council: Ayaan Abdulle, Vice-President Academics and University Affairs of the SCSU; Joshua Grondin, Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU); Jamie Kearns, Vice-President External of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students; Andres Posada, Vice-President University Affairs of the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU); and Lynne Alexandrova, Internal Commissioner at the U of T Graduate Students’ Union.

All speakers from the five student unions shared their concerns and disapproval with the policy. Grondin alleged that the administration exhibited “tendencies to dismiss the voices of students” and portrayed protestors as “uneducated on the issues.”

Abdulle emphasized the SCSU’s concerns about cultural ignorance regarding the policy, saying that “Black and Indigenous students should be at the table.”  

U of T Ombudsperson and Professor Ellen Hodnett also spoke during the meeting: “In my view the proposed policy is long overdue.” The policy originated from her 2013–2014 report, recommending increased mental health services for students.

After the vote, Anne Boucher, President of the UTSU, said that although the UTSU had been opposed to the policy, they will “work with the university” to address student concerns.

“It is disappointing to see that consultations weren’t fully considered,” said Boucher. She considers the policy as “an improvement from what we have with the [Code of Student Conduct.]”

Prior to this policy’s passing, the U of T Code of Student Conduct already put students on a punitive leave from school if they broke the code. The mandated leave of absence policy will put students on a nonpunitive leave.

“It’s very frustrating, extremely upsetting, and I’m really, really angry right now,” said Felipe Nagata, President of the UTMSU. He added that he hopes to “fight for an updated policy that can actually protect students instead of a policy that just has vagueness and harms our autonomy.”

Speaking to The Varsity, Alideeb took issue with the consultation process, criticizing its lack of engagement with the student body and neglect of students’ schedules. She also added that CFS–Ontario would continue “supporting student groups on campus to continue this work on the ground.”

In a written statement to The Varsity, Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, said that the university was aware that there are people who are “deeply opposed” to the policy and others, such as the ombudsperson, who are “strongly supportive of this approach, motivated by their overriding concern for the wellbeing of our students.”

“We will to continue to meet with students to talk about the policy, work together on this issue and make sure we can do everything we can to support students who are going through a serious health or mental health issue,” added Welsh.

According to the 2018–2019 operating budget, accessibility advisors “will provide services on location within academic divisions on the St. George campus.” The $1.5 million allocations make up approximately 0.06 per cent of the university’s $2.68 billion budget.

Op-ed: We must organize against the Trans Mountain Pipeline

The Canadian government’s investment in the oil industry exposes the pitfalls of centrist politics and the dire need for mass resistance

Op-ed: We must organize against the Trans Mountain Pipeline

On May 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline from Texas oil company Kinder Morgan at a price of $4.5 billion. Kinder Morgan’s plans to add a second line to this pipeline, which carries oil from the Alberta tar sands to the BC coast, have faced months of active resistance from Indigenous nations and allies in BC and across the section of Turtle Island now known as Canada.

After a series of delays since the construction was expected to start in September, the company decided the expansion was not worth the effort and expense. The week after the Trudeau government’s decision, snap actions at MP offices took place around the country as part of a National Day of Action against it. One of several Toronto actions was organized by climate justice group Leap UofT outside the office of Chrystia Freeland, the University—Rosedale MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In the lead-up to the action, as one of the organizers, I talked with friends and family who have supported the Trudeau government, and who had been willing to overlook Trudeau’s support for the pipeline as, at worst, an unfortunate political necessity. Until this recent decision, such discussions would generally stall: I would talk about how building a pipeline without consent from impacted First Nations communities violates inherent Indigenous rights, and about how committing to decades of further tar sands extraction is incompatible with doing our share to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. They would have agreed, but they responded that politics requires compromise. In other words, as long as it looked like the pipeline might be economically viable, the centrist position — which avoids declaring any action as simply unacceptable — could appear justified.

But this time was different. At the last Kinder Morgan rally I attended before the buyout decision on May 7, the message was clear: the Trudeau government is selling our futures to the oil industry. This time, we prepared an oversized eraser labelled “Kinder Morgan Buyout” so that MP Freeland could ‘erase’ Canada’s signature from the Paris Agreement. While this message was clear — if we buy pipelines, we forfeit our international climate obligations — it was also less targeted. Who, in this scenario, is the Trudeau government selling us out to?  

The language of Trudeau supporters generally focuses on his promise to back Alberta’s energy sector and create “thousands of good, well-paying jobs,” in the words of Bill Morneau, the Minister of Finance. However, the Canadian government vastly inflated its job creation numbers, and it is unclear how a project a Texas oil giant couldn’t profit from would benefit Alberta. There is no political calculus, no matter how cynical, that necessitates sacrificing the interests of the global community for Alberta’s oil industry. That inability to locate a clear target was palpable at the rally, and culminated in a general sense that we have crossed a line. Trudeau’s supposed simultaneous support for the tar sands and ‘climate action’ is a whole new level of centrist hypocrisy.

Instead of supporting a company waging war on Indigenous rights and the climate, Trudeau has taken up this battle himself, beyond economics. Until now, it was possible to understand the political calculus: being hostile to oil companies can make leaders look dangerous to all the powerful interests that contribute to upholding the economic status quo. In the air of bewilderment and cynicism surrounding the Day of Action, there is an emerging awareness that the centrist response — that there are always ways to compromise with those driving the crisis, that one can always pick and choose which promises are kept and which are sacrificed — is self-destructing and devolving from sinister political calculus into equally terrifying political farce.

In buying an unviable, unneeded, unconsented pipeline that locks us into extractions we cannot afford, especially after the company itself ran away, Trudeau has compromised with the economic status quo. His government has acceded to the dangerous logic of extraction and colonialism without an oil corporation to force his hand.

But if the politics seem farcical, the results of such decisions will be real and destructive. If the 173 billion barrels of oil in the tar sands are dug up and burnt, Canada will have used up a third of the carbon the entire world can afford to burn without exceeding two degrees of warming. As students, if we want a future where politics are anything other than outright rule by corporate oligarchy, we need to get out of the crumbling centre, quickly, and call out those who try to keep us there; we have to build a different kind of politics, one that refuses to accept untempered centrism.

In less than a month, the buyout will be finalized — but there is time. Rallying outside Freeland’s office, we were linked not only to more than 100 other actions that day, but to the years of organizing both in and out of BC that made it possible to pull together that many actions in only a few days. In the coming days, weeks, and months, it is imperative that we grow this resistance, that we make clear the political consequences of decisions like the Kinder Morgan buyout — that we do not allow the Trudeau government to cling to its eroding middle ground.

Julia DaSilva is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Literature and Critical Theory, Philosophy, and Indigenous Studies. She is a co-founder and core team member of Leap UofT.

Why is Students in Support of Free Speech defending the Proud Boys?

While the group purports to be in favour of protecting free speech for all, recent events demonstrate they are only concerned with doing so for certain people

Why is Students in Support of Free Speech defending the Proud Boys?

Picture this: a group of people have come together to organize a demonstration. They are interrupted by a second group of people, who try to stop them because they feel that the demonstration is offensive to their beliefs. In this situation, you’d think that a group like Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) — who claim, according to their website, to support “every person’s right to free speech” — would jump to the defence of the individuals whose right to protest was being threatened.

SSFS is a “non-partisan” group that wishes to uphold “personal freedom of expression, conscience, and belief,” and “political freedom in expressing beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints.” Their mantra was put to the test when SSFS found themselves in a controversy relating to an incident in Halifax that occurred earlier this month.

On July 1, a group of Indigenous activists held a mourning ceremony in front of a statue of Edward Cornwallis, the founder of the city of Halifax. The Indigenous group staged a protest in reference to Cornwallis’ unrestrained violence and persecution of the Mi’kmaq people. During one part of the ceremony, dozens of people gathered around the statue to watch Chief Grizzly Mamma shave her head in an act of mourning — an especially symbolic act as Cornwallis infamously issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps.

As this happened, however, a group of five men approached the group with the intention to disrupt or interrupt the ceremony. The so-called “Halifax Five” identified themselves as members of the Maritime Chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right group founded by Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media. The group identifies themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organization” for men who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” They hold that “The West is the Best” and oppose feminism.

McInnes himself is no role model; one of his claims to fame is an extremely offensive video rant published in March of 2017, in which he stated he was “becoming anti-Semitic.” This video was praised by white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Not only was the Halifax Five incident horribly disappointing in light of Canada’s colonial past, it also meant drawing a great deal of attention away from what the activists were actually trying to say. Canadians need to learn how to acknowledge the violent colonial actions of well-respected figures like Cornwallis, but instead of opening up a dialogue about Halifax’s past and Cornwallis’ actions, media attention on the Proud Boys and the fallout from the incident drew the public’s eyes away from the purpose of the ceremony itself.

The exact nature of what the Halifax Five did and said isn’t precisely clear. Some reports characterized their actions as a disruption of the Indigenous protest, while others, including SSFS, seemed to say that the news reports were skewed with left-leaning bias. Perhaps the Proud Boys perceive criticism of Cornwallis and the actions undertaken against Indigenous people under colonial rule to be offensive to their belief that “The West is the Best.” Had the Halifax Five held some type of pro-Cornwallis demonstration the next day, or even restricted their disagreement to the internet or to a different place away from the ceremony, this would be a different conversation. It is clear, however, that the Proud Boys sought to at the very least interrupt the ceremony by singing, waving a flag, and ultimately making a scene that disrupted the proceedings.  

In light of this, one could argue that the actions of the Proud Boys ought to at least trigger conversations about the rights of the Indigenous group to protest peacefully and express their views freely. Accordingly, you might expect that SSFS would decry the attempt of the Proud Boys to try to suppress the free expression of the Indigenous protesters — but the exact opposite happened. On July 15, SSFS took the side of the Halifax Five and organized a rally in their support at Queen’s Park.  

SSFS might argue that they only intended to express support for the right of the Proud Boys and the Halifax Five to organize peacefully. This is indeed what the rally itself seemed to be about, and would certainly align with SSFS’s stated philosophy. According to SSFS member and rally organizer Simon Capobianco, “The major purpose [of the rally] was… to defend the Constitutional rights of the Halifax five… One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the charter is the right to freedom of assembly, and… [the military members] were in a public space, they were assembling peacefully.”

However, this seemingly noble purpose is misguided, and potentially reveals the true motivations behind the actions the group has taken in favour of free speech. Capobianco’s statement is somewhat confusing, considering that you could very easily say the same of the Indigenous activists — they were also assembling peacefully, and were well within their right to do so. In the past, SSFS has even decried interruptions of their own proceedings, such as when the Toronto Action Forum, an event co-hosted on campus by SSFS and Generation Screwed on February 4, was interrupted and ultimately halted by protestsWhy would they jump to defend the disruption posed by the Proud Boys, but condemn the protests in response to their own events?

It should also be noted that while there was thankfully no violence as a result of the confrontation between the Halifax Five and the Indigenous activists, back in April, the Proud Boys announced the formation of a “military division” to be headed by Kyle Chapman, who had been released from jail the previous month on suspicion of a felony assault with a deadly weapon.

What makes things worse is the fact that much of the focus of this rally has been on the presence of white supremacist Paul Fromm and SSFS’s ever-shifting explanations and apologies for his presence. Though SSFS’s claim to fame is supporting free expression regardless of the content of the messages, in this case, they appeared to waver in their stance. First, they made a statement on Facebook claiming that they did not know what Fromm looked like and hadn’t been aware that he was attending the rally. The statement was later deleted from their Facebook page, and replaced with a YouTube apology, after receiving numerous negative comments from skeptics.  

Let’s give SSFS the benefit of the doubt and say that they really didn’t know Fromm was there, or at least that they did not intend for him to be there and do not in any way endorse his views. At the least, the fact that SSFS jumped to backtrack when faced with a real-life white supremacist demonstrates some serious inconsistencies in their logic. In their initial post, SSFS stated that “if we had been aware of Paul Fromm’s identity and affiliations at the time of the rally… we would have prevented him from using our megaphone.”

This particular statement seems at odds with the group’s alleged commitment to the importance of free and unbridled speech, regardless of the nature of the messages — does this mean that SSFS is recognizing the danger of giving a platform to white supremacists and other hateful people and groups?

If you’re keeping score, here’s the deal: Indigenous activists chose to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly to protest a statue of a man who ordered many acts of violence to be committed against the Mi’kmaq people after founding a city on territory that hadn’t been ceded. They held a protest and a mourning ceremony for Indigenous people who had been hurt or killed. The activists were interrupted by five men connected to a “pro-Western” chauvinist group with a paramilitary branch founded by a far-right, possible anti-Semite. Finally, SSFS, a “non-partisan” student group, decided to hold a rally supporting those five men in their brave quest to interrupt an Indigenous ceremony — and a notorious white supremacist just happened to show up and speak. SSFS then apologized for his presence.

What’s perhaps most ironic about this whole thing was that, in the apology video, SSFS president Marilyn Jang also apologized for holding the rally at the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regimental Memorial, saying it was “an extremely unthoughtful choice of venue for any rally… Memorials should solely be seen as a symbol of remembrance and a way to honour the fallen.” I agree: it seems like memorials and memorial ceremonies are inappropriate places to espouse political ideologies. Surely this logic should also apply to the activists memorializing fallen Indigenous folks as well?

SSFS has always argued that their only goal is to support freedom of speech, regardless of political affiliation. But this incident seems to prove that the group is cherry-picking whose rights to support — and that everyone else needs to step back and, well, be quiet.

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.