Saturday, June 7, 2008

Could Dion have found that backbone he's been missing?

On Tuesday, June 3 the Federal Liberals and Bloc, teamed up to back an NDP bill, the second of its kind, to allow the estimated 200 American Iraq War resisters to stay in Canada. Neither of the two parties supported this bill the first time the NDP brought it forward. Maybe this time the Liberals voted in favour to send a message to fellow Liberal Bob Rae who has worked against party leader Stephan Dion to end Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan earlier than the current 2011 time line.

Maybe the Liberals supported it because the Bill is only a symbolic non-binding one; the Conservatives need not heed this directive. Nor will the house fall over it. Staying true to their pro-war roots, the Conservatives voted against this bill.

On Thursday, the Canadian Press reported that Stephane Dion is vowing to vote against Bill C484, a private members' bill served by Ken Epp and supported by Harper's conservatives.

Bill C484, the "Unborn Victims of Crime" bill is not only extremely contentious, but it is being challenged as wrongheaded and misinformed. Many conservatives, like Rona Ambrose, claim that it is meant to fight violence against women. Interesting, then, that there is such an opposition to it from within the women’s rights movement.

At its most basic level, the Bill C484 attempts to give status to a fetus, through the back door, by enhancing the criminal sentence for those who are convicted of murdering a pregnant woman (and the fetus). The bill is being sold a tool to potentially deter abusers of pregnant women, but critics say this has nothing to address root issues that cause violence against women, pregnant or not. Moreover, this bill will almost certainly establish a slippery slope toward the re-criminalization of Abortion.

With all these concerns, it's good to see that Dion has committed his party to oppose Epp’s bill. However, the bill passed its second reading with 26 Liberal MPs voting in favour of it. With the Bloc and NDP already almost entirely on side, Liberal whip Karen Redman will need to get cracking to bring the remaining 26 rogue MPs in line to stop this bill from passing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June issue about to hit the racks...

We're all working quite hard to finish the June edition of the Ryerson Free Press. This one is a whopping 28 pages with cutting-edge articles from across Canada and within Toronto. This edition's focus is "The Media." Many stories attempt to deconstruct how media portrays issues such as women's rights, Aboriginal rights and the Palestinian movement, to name a few.

Post a comment if you'd like a copy but aren't in Toronto... we'll see what we can do. Or, email us at

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finally, some good news.

An interesting article appeared in today’s issue of the Montreal Gazette. In, “Students teach province a valuable lesson”, it is reported that as many as 80,000 Quebec students could be eligible for a refund for being charged too much interest on their student loans.

The government of Quebec changed the Quebec Student Loans Programme’s grace period of repayment from seven months to zero months. So, rather than a period of time before students had to start paying back their student loans, they had to start paying once the semester finished. The class-action lawsuit was launched in the names of those students who, unaware of the changes to this policy, were charged interest for the seven months after their last semester.

Harry Dikranian launched the lawsuit after he finished his degree in law at McGill. The suit was for $30 million.

This was the ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada:

Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, who wrote the ruling in Dikranian's favour, said the loan agreement is a contract between the student and the financial institution. As such, he wrote, the government violated the rights of the students by changing the interest obligation in the contract through a legislative amendment.”

While the details vary somewhat, it is unfortunate that the class-action lawsuit launched almost exactly a year ago by Andrea Hassum and Dan Roffey wasn’t as successful. After almost a year of going through the system, it was ruled that the issue of illegal ancillary fee collection is a political matter and students are technically third parties in the transaction between the colleges and the government. Because the ancillary fee protocol is a policy rather than a regulation (which would have carried the rule of law with it), the case was thrown out essentially on a technicality.

That being said, this ruling will likely bode well for any possible future class-action lawsuit that may be launched by students in Ontario, or anywhere in Canada. Justice Bastarache’s ruling sends a strong message to provincial governments that they could be financially liable for changing rules of student financial aid programmes without including students in their decision.

Monday, June 2, 2008

40 years of student activism at U of T and beyond

In yesterday's Star,there was an article about Kenneth Stone, a man whose activism at the University of Toronto culminated in him ripping up his degree at his convocation in 1968. The feature was published around the fortieth anniversary of that event.

You can read it here: The Man Who Ripped Up His Degree

The man who resists this today:

"'George Bush's war of terror against Arabs and Muslims, into which our own prime minister bought lock, stock and barrel. We're paying for a losing counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, where our troops control the groundthey are standing on for a moment." He berates Bush, (Defence Minister) Peter MacKay and (Liberal Leader) St├ęphane Dion, saying they clamour for humanitarian interventions in Sudan's Darfur region while creating humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”

…was resisting similar issues at the University of Toronto forty years ago. He fought the same issues that the UofT 14, their supporters and students at many institutions today continue to fight:

"For students like Stone, the civil rights activists who came to Canada from sit-ins in Mississippi and hung around the common room, were galvanizing.

"It was a time of intellectual ferment," he says. "We were not accepting what we were being told ... You could put out a leaflet at 9 a.m. and have an anti-war rally of 600 people at noon."

Stone, who became president of the Innis College Student Society, pushed hard to win the first student representation on the college council, which at that time was made up entirely of faculty and staff. By 1969, Innis was offering courses on cinema, urban studies, the environment and Canadian culture and society, all of which evolved into U of T's first interdisciplinary programs.

"I learned more about politics from the fight for student power than I ever could learn from books and in the classroom," he says.”

Students who fight for greater representation on university committees today are standing on the shoulders of people like Stone. It's easy to forget that the little representation that students have wasn’t handed to students; it was only made possible by others who fought the same battle years before. And greater representation will only be made possible through organised students using a variety of tactics to bring a broad range of students along.

Tomorrow at 12:00, at UofT’s Simcoe Hall, there will be a march against the criminalization of dissent on campus and in support of the UofT 14. Students, like they were forty years ago, will again be fighting for greater representation and their right to dissent against the university’s administration.

As the summer presses on, and as students continue to wake up, who knows that the fall will have in store for activism on our campuses? The Canadian Federation of Students-declared Provincial Day of Action on November 5 will hopefully be a flash point for activists across the province to unite on these issues and force the gatekeepers at the Council of Ontario Universities to comply with these demands that have been made by students year after year.