Students rally across Canada in national day of action

Thousands of college and university students in cities across Canada held a national “day of action” Wednesday, calling for an end to swelling student debtloads and soaring tuition fees.

National lobby group the Canadian Federation of Students, the organizers of the protest, say tuition fee levels have jumped an average of 126 per cent over the past decade, putting higher education out of reach for many students from low- and middle-income families. The group says the average Canadian student will graduate with a debt of more
than $25,000.

Below are early reports on the national protest from across the country. (Ed. note: Additional, more comprehensive reports will appear in the same format on Thursday’s wire)

B.C. students storm legislature to protest tuition hikes
by Kevin Groves, the Martlet

VICTORIA (CUP) — Thousands braved heavy rains in Victoria Wednesday to lodge their dissent with the provincial government and voice their support for accessible education. Nearly 3,000 people, many of whom fear tuition fees in B.C. could double in the next few years, gathered on the soggy legislature grounds and marched around the downtown core. “We’re here to say we’re not going to take massive tuition hikes,” said Janice Delcourt, who traveled from Nanaimo’s Malaspina University College. “That is just wrong.” The crowd heard from student and labour leaders and emcee Troy Sebastion. Sebastion invited any Liberal MLAs who may be present to come to the mic, although the invitation went unheeded.

Students from the University of Victoria, Camosun College, Malaspina University- College, North Island College, and Lanagara College in Vancouver all attended the rally. Opinions in the crowd were virtually unanimous that tuition fee hikes would price education out of reach of all but the wealthiest.

“Cutting low-income people from getting an education is completely unacceptable,” said John Gary, a student from Lanagara College, who made the trip across the Georgia Strait to be at the rally.

Gary added he will be able to afford to go to school next year should the freeze be lifted, but increased tuition will make it more difficult.

But other students said they are not that fortunate.

“If the Liberals hike tuition there’s no way I will be able to go to school,” said UVic student Thea McMaher. “It’s just that simple.”

Summer McFadyen, B.C. chair of the Canadian Federation of Students met briefly with Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond before the rally but wasn’t happy with the results.

“She just met us so she could tell the media about it,” said the exasperated student leader. “She had nothing new to say to us.”

McFadyen said she fears Bond has already decided to lift the freeze and go against her party’s election promise to make education a priority.

“We’re giving her a last chance here to change her mind in favour of students and in favour of the tuition freeze,” she said.

McFadyen added the sentiment expressed by students on Feb. 6 would only grow stronger if Bond doesn’t reconsider lifting the freeze.

“If she thinks she sees angry students now, she should just wait two weeks and see what happens when she asks them to pay double for their education,” McFadyen said.

Students staged solidarity actions across the country. Five thousand students marched in Toronto, 3,000 marched in Halifax and 1,500 marched in Vancouver. Several hundred students also converged on Prince George, which is Bond’s home riding.

Students also occupied the Newfoundland legislature and the Carleton University president’s office. The Victoria demonstration was peaceful.

A group of 30 UVic students marched from campus to the Legislature, stopping at Camosun College and various high schools along their route.

More than just university students showed up to the rally.

Ten-year-old Emile Fumiere attended the rally with his parents.

“I think Gordon Campbell shouldn’t make university tuition more because then only rich kids will be able to go,” he said.

Alberta students protest “slippery slope”
by Neil Parmar, Alberta Bureau Chief, Alberta Bureau

CALGARY (CUP) — University of Calgary students took part in Wednesday’s national day of action free skiing and snowboarding to demonstrate that “post-secondary education is on a slippery slope.”

The activities were co-hosted by Canadian Federation of Students and six on-campus student associations to protest high tuition fees.

“Right now on campus you have rich students who come from wealthier backgrounds content with tuition levels, and other students who can’t afford it,” said Anand Sharma, a member of the faculty of arts student council at the University of Alberta.

While the U of A currently holds membership with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), Sharma hopes that one day the university will join CFS.

CASA was formed in part by students at the University of Alberta in 1995 for students to be represented to federal and inter-provincial levels of government.

Kory Zwack, the CASA representative for the U of A believes the CFS’s lobbying techniques are problematic.

“It is very difficult the way they lobby, because to go against the federal government they are currently powerless to do anything to tuition with the jurisdiction of powers in the province.”

“The fact of the matter is, do you support the band-aid solution or do you address the long-term solution?” said Sharma. “You have to do both, but that is the biggest problem with CASA. They do not want to talk about the issue of tuition. When they do, they talk about tuition increases and not the [tuition] freezes that student want.”