Volume 91, Issue 47

Thursday, November 20, 1997

stars and strife


Large protest staged during ceremony for Bush

©Geoff Robins/Gazette

By Brendan Howe
Gazette Staff

TORONTO – Amid cheers, jeers, arrests and people walking out of the ceremony in protest, former United States President George Bush was awarded an honorary degree yesterday at the University of Toronto.

An estimated 500 people gathered in front of Hart House, where the convocation was being held, as a final stand after almost two months of protesting. Armed with signs, leaflets, megaphones and snow balls, students, faculty and other members of the community voiced their opinions of Bush to attendants of the convocation.

Signs read "U of T prostitutes itself again" and "There's no honour in honoring a murderer."

"We're not a campus known for protests. To get this many people out is a real demonstration of how angry people are about the university granting him this degree," said Alejandra Bravo, an organizer of the protest.

She added the university has even lost its legitimacy with its faculty. Some professors who attended the convocation walked out while Bush was being introduced.

Wendy Cecil-Cockwell, vice-chair of the Governing Council, said earlier in the week if the faculty walked out it would be rude and disrespectful. Another professor in attendance agreed.

"I thought it was very inappropriate. If they had stayed to listen to the description of his career, they would have learned something," said Phillip Sullivan, a professor of engineering at Toronto.

Although members of the university administration may have been phased, the former American president definitely was not, taking it lightly.

©Geoff Robins/Gazette

"I haven't seen an exodus such as that since Harold Ballard bought the Maple Leafs. I'm used to this stuff, it doesn't bother me one single bit," Bush said. "When Barbara heard this speech she walked out too."

He told the audience there was no reason for the university to be embarrassed because of all the protesting going on outside the convocation.

Attendants walking into the ceremony were greeted with yells of "shame" and pleads to walk out in protest in the middle of the ceremony. Approximately 15 faculty and students walked out.

Protesting continued throughout the ceremony and heated up afterwards when people were leaving. Cars leaving the building grounds were stopped by masses of students barricading their passage. One student was arrested for his involvement.

D Sagnani, a second-year biology and physics student, was grabbed by police, handcuffed and taken inside. He said the police talked to him for while and then released him due to the noise his arrest was causing outside.

"I said [to the police] 'my name's not George, why are you arresting me?'" Sagnani said.

The protest was generally peaceful and lawful until the drivers of cars being barricaded found their tires being slashed. Protestors finally dispersed at about 6 p.m. The protest had begun shortly before 3 p.m. while the ceremony started at 4 p.m.

Former Premier of Ontario David Peterson, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Premier Mike Harris were all in attendance to listen to Bush accept the honour.

In his acceptance speech, Bush talked about his experience as U.S. President and the events that took place during his presidency. He said he wanted to give an American point of view to those present.

He talked about events such as the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Persian Gulf War and his relationships with other heads of state.

"We tried hard, I wish [the protestors] outside would understand this, to end [the Gulf War] without a shot being fired," he said. "There are just some things in life that are worth fighting about."

Bush also commented on former colleague and friend Mulroney. "He always had this funny way of putting Canada's interests first."

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Copyright © The Gazette 1997