TORONTO (CUP) ? ?Toronto students under attack, what do we do?? yells a megaphone-wielding student to the back of a rally at the University of Toronto.
?Stand up, fight back,? shout dozens of students in response.
Students shouted these, and other, chants as they took to the streets on June 3 to demonstrate against what they deem to be the criminalization of student dissent on campus.
As they weaved their way from the U of T to the Toronto Old City Hall, onlookers were handed information sheets that, among other demands, called for student/worker parity on all university decision-making bodies, and the elimination of tuition fees.
June 3 was the decision day for the so-called Fight Fees 14, a group of students and their supporters who were arrested during a sit-in against a fee hike at the U of T on March 20.
The university administration alleges the 14 protestors engaged in violent activities, but the students have denied all charges.
One of the June 3 rally speakers was Rosario Marchese, education critic for the New Democratic Party and Member of Provincial Parliament for Trinity-Spadina, the riding in which U of T is situated.
Marchese said that the NDP has continuously asked the Liberals about their record of education funding.
Marchese has written a letter to David Naylor, President of the U of T, expressing his disappointment in the arrests, but thinks that there needs to be more done to reach out to the broader community and garner support.
Aminah Hanif, an organizer for the rally, said that the broad support from other student unions and community organizations has been crucial to their campaign.
?It has been fundamental to have support from students across Canada and internationally,? she said.
Among the supporters present were representatives from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), an organization that has passed motions of support for the campaign, including monetary and resource donations.
?CFS-O has been participating in organizing meetings as a coalition partner with Always Question and the Committee for Just Education, the two groups who spearheaded the campaign around the 14 arrested students,? said Ontario Chairperson Shelley Melanson.
?We recognize that education in Ontario is inaccessible and students should have the right to voice their dissent to tuition fee increases without fear of retaliation by oppressive tactics used by administrators.?
There were many other student unions represented at the rally, both from within the U of T community, and from other universities.
One such supporter present was Jermaine Bagnall, chairperson for the Graduate Executive of the Ryerson Students’ Union.
Bagnall said that he was there to stand up for all students? rights, including students at Ryerson University, which is also located in Toronto.
?U of T is setting a troublesome precedent with these arrests. Dissent is part of our fundamental right of freedom of expression,? said Bagnall.
Sandy Hudson, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, echoed Bagnall’s comments.
?Students have been appalled to see the collusion of the administration with Toronto Police Services that resulted in these charges,? said Hudson. ?The students see no reason for charging individuals for engaging in critical political discourse; we’re encouraged to do so by our professors in our classes.?
After the rally, the protestors attempted to get into the courthouse to witness the proceedings. Once the room was full, the doors were locked and dozens of students were turned away.
The next hearing for some of the Fight Fees 14 will be on July 3.