York students angered by letters
By Brendan Howe and Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
After receiving letters of discipline, student activists at York University lashed out at university administrators yesterday in a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto.
The conference, organized by the Graduate Students' Association and the York Action Coalition, was held to show administration there is concern over the heavy-handed way free speech is being disciplined, said GSA president and YAC member Joel Harden.
"We're not getting heard only coddled and winked at," Harden said. "This conference is about saying we won't be swayed with these letters."
The letters were in response to a recent protest at a Board of Governors meeting on March 2 in which students surrounded York President Lorna Marsden's car.
Cora Dusk, York assistant VP-student affairs, said university and security officers were on hand when the event took place and letters were sent only to students they clearly saw taking part. "Their behaviour was out of line with our code of conduct."
Students can make political statements in other ways, Dusk said, adding if this behaviour is repeated it could result in punishment consisting of anything from a fine to expulsion from the school.
Elena Lonera, coordinator of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, also received a letter but it was from the University of Toronto. She said it was a warning letter sent to her because she is the head of a student activist group. It instructed her that criminal action would be taken by the university if she took part in any protests on campus that broke any laws.
"I think they're trying to detract from the issues students are concerned about by blowing small incidents way out of proportion," she said. Lonera had taken part in a protest at a Toronto Governing Council meeting which occurred the same week as the York one.
Metro Toronto District Labour Councillor Carolyn Eagen, student Sean Whitney (who received a letter of discipline) and Chair of the Ontario Graduate Association Mark Thomas all took part in the press conference yesterday.
Ontario Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students Wayne Poirier said Thomas was sent on behalf of CFS due to concern regarding the silencing of students who protest.
"By threatening students with arrest or academic penalties, it is silencing students and threatening the freedom of speech and assembly every student is guaranteed under the charter of rights," Poirier said.
CFS membership will continue to meet to decide how to speak out further on injustices, Poirier added.
Marsden was also challenged to a debate at the press conference scheduled for March 26.
"When the university tries to keep me quiet, it makes me think I'm doing something right," Harden said.