Students tellers of bad fortune
By Brendan Howe
Hundreds of student protestors hit the streets of Toronto as part of the National Day of Action Wednesday and ended up having a huge sleep-over in the head office of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Students from York University, Ryerson Polytechnic University and the University of Toronto marched from Queen's Park to King and Bay streets where they held a rally against student debt of a few thousand strong. Shortly after the rally finished, about 200 students entered and occupied the CIBC building, protesting the involvement banks have in running universities.
The day of action, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, occurred across the country where students, including those at Western, held rallies against high tuition and debt levels.
Wayne Poirier, Ontario chair for CFS, said at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday a group of students entered Commerce Court and remained there until approximately 10 a.m. yesterday. He added that while the students were in the bank other students remained outside supporting them.
"It all comes down to accessibility. Post-secondary education is not accessible to students," Poirier said. He added CFS is asking the federal government for a tuition freeze, a national system of grants and an end to income contingent loan repayment plans.
Sgt. Merliyn McCann of the Toronto Police Department said police were present at the protests but did not force the students to leave the bank because CIBC did not ask them to. There was no permanent damage done to the premises but the area was left a mess because of students using some parts of it as their washroom, McCann said.
He added there were two arrests made outside the bank because of police officers being assaulted. Poirier said one of the individuals arrested was not a student and the other was trying to break up a skirmish between students and officers that started.
Paul Howard, acting director of media relations for CIBC, said they did not ask the students to leave the building because they understand the sense of frustration students feel.
"We sympathize with the situation students find themselves in," Howard said, adding they also wanted the protest to be resolved peacefully.
The protestors occupied a small portion of the building and Howard said they were only a minor disruption to the normal business activities of the bank.
The situation was resolved after leaders of the student group met with the Toronto Police Chief David Boothby and executives from the bank, McCann said. He added they told the students their point had been made so there was no point in staying there any longer.
Gord Tanner, VP-education of the Ryerson Students' Administrative Council, was at the rally and outside the bank afterwards. He said the point of the protest was to highlight the role banks are playing in student loans. He noted there were around 500 people there from Ryerson and thought the whole thing was very worthwhile.
"I think [protests] are very productive. It gives students an outlet," Tanner said.
Hoops Harrison, national director for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, did not agree with the sit-in. "I don't know why they decided to protest the banks. They have been very up-front on reducing student debt."