Editorial Board 2000-2001
Tonight, the University Students' Council will vote on a motion that, if passed, would put the USC's signature on a petition demanding an executive pardon for Leonard Peltier, a Native American who was convicted many would say wrongly of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.
If that sounds, well, a little out of left field to you, you're not alone.
The proposal's well-meaning authors, Arts Students' Council president Dave Vaillancourt and Medway Sydenham Hall residence councillor Matt Romanada, state in the text of their motion that, "Upon first glance, it may appear that the issue is not something that falls under the purview of the USC..."
If only they had stopped there.
While the issue of possible injustice done to Peltier may be a compelling and interesting one, it isn't an appropriate subject for a USC motion.
For one thing, what does it mean for the USC to put its John Hancock on a petition? Does it mean that all of the thousands of undergraduate students at Western whom they profess to represent are united in their support of a particular cause? Does it suggest that a large segment of the student population has put pressure on its council to stand up and affix its name to a particular document?
And now that we're asking rhetorical questions, where exactly did this "Save Leonard" movement originate? Students haven't exactly been rising up en masse to stage "Release Peltier" protests here on campus.
Granted, several international celebrities Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Ani Difranco, Rage Against the Machine, et. al have thrown their weight behind Peltier's cause, but it doesn't seem to be a cause that a lot of Western students are excited about, let alone know about.
This is not to say that Western doesn't need a broad-minded, politically active USC. But if council is really intent on mobilizing Western students to effect political change, they should begin with issues that are closer to home and of greater relevance to students in this neck of the woods.
For example, soaring tuition costs and crushing student debtloads would both make excellent targets for a grass roots petition or letter writing campaign that could reach out to Western students who aren't yet politically minded.
Leonard Peltier's release may be a laudable cause, but he also seems like something of a cause célbre , a trendy cause-of-the-week to which one would like one's name associated.
The USC could find plenty of good causes to support without looking outside Canada, or even London: wrongly convicted Canadians, people not getting enough to eat, arts programs and universities getting too little funding. Why go out of the way to support something that, however noble, is far removed from its own backyard?
This motion has its heart in the right place, but it just doesn't make sense.