Volume 91, Issue 47

Thursday, November 20, 1997

stars and strife


Students interrupt education summit

©Geoff Robins/Gazette
DON'T MESS THE HAIR. A student protestor is hauled out of the Toronto Metro Convention Centre yesterday during a conference on university education attended by Premier Mike Harris and Education Minister Dave Johnson.

By Sara Marett
Gazette Staff

TORONTO – In a conference held at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre yesterday entitled, "Ensuring Excellence: A Summit on the Future of Ontario Universities," students made sure their voices were heard by participants including Premier Mike Harris and Education Minister Dave Johnson. Their actions, however, landed them behind closed doors and ultimately many were charged with trespassing.

A group of student protestors interrupted the meeting, which was attended by business, government, university and student leaders, before it even began. The nine students were from varying universities belonging to the Canadian Federation of Students lobby group.

The students entered the conference room and threw $20 bills at the participants which said "Tax the banks." They shouted at members of the meeting to "run" from this example of privatization of post-secondary education while the only slightly amused participants voluntarily evacuated the meeting room.

Leading the protest was Joel Harden, president of the Graduate Students' Association at York University. "We are here to interrupt a process that very clearly papered-over members of the university community and has ignored their concerns," he said.

We have the same concerns about ensuring the availability of education but this can not be addressed until we have challenged the reasons why the government has less and less money to pay for education, Harden said. "It's very clear to me that as a student there are certain questions we are not allowed to ask."

As the conference resumed in a different room, the protestors found themselves behind closed doors. They continued shouting "Education is a right – we will not give up the fight!" and pounded on the meeting room doors. As their actions became increasingly disruptive, all nine protestors were arrested for trespassing and hauled away by police.

Premier Harris addressed the act of protest by ensuring he had no doubt it was the bankers the student protestors were demonstrating against.

Western President Paul Davenport was very dismayed with the actions of the demonstrating students. "This was a day that we had been planning for some time in order to make the case that we need to support Ontario's universities better than what we currently are," he said.

Sam Castiglione, VP-student issues for Western's University Students' Council was one of the six student leaders attending the summit and was also disappointed the protest took place.

"The protestors took away the impact of the student presence by shortening the day's meeting by an hour and limiting the student discussion that could have occurred," he said, adding although some students were invited to attend the summit their voices were not heard.

York University President Lorna Marsden agreed. During the closing discussion, she invited Castiglione to share his ideas on an improved student loan program. Castiglione urged participants to begin discussion on student debt and to understand that students support a strong student aid program. "It is the net effect that counts – that we have an equal amount of aid to balance out tuition fees."

Letitia Midmore, VP-university affairs for Queen's University's Alma Mater Society, responded to a comment made by Wilfred Laurier President Robert Rosehart that students are willing to pay more for a higher quality of education. "Yes, we would be willing to pay more if we could, but we simply can't – we have food banks on campus."

To Contact The News Department: gaznews@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997