A group of University of Toronto protesters say they’re considering legal action after they were forcibly removed by campus security during a “peaceful” sit-in Thursday — a claim university officials deny.
About 35 students held a rally and sit-in to protest what they said was a 20 per cent hike at one of the campus residences. They hoped to present university president David Naylor with a petition and speak with him or his advisers about the rising cost of education.
But some four hours into the sit-in, uniformed and undercover campus security as well as several Toronto police officers began aggressively removing them from the area, arts and science student union president Ryan Hayes said.
“It started with one of these undercovers grabbing me by the arms but then at one point there were three people grabbing me and trying to drag me away,” he said. “I don’t think I got the worst of it.” Hayes said another protester had his shirt ripped off while others were pushed, kneed in the face and stepped on.
But what was particularly troubling, he said, was the attitude of senior administrators. “Throughout the whole day they refused to meet with us. They refused to even respond to our message and what we saw by the end of the day, they refused to even look us in the face,” he said. “They had police remove us so they could walk over us to get out of the building. It was so shocking.”
Hayes said the group has still photos and video of the incident which they’ve posted on YouTube and have contacted lawyers about filing a complaint.
Calling it a “small but loud” protest by a group that included many activists who were not even part of the university’s student body, administration spokesman Robert Steiner said security was there in large part to protect staff who were being harassed by the protesters. If there was any “brutality,” Steiner suggested it was on the part of demonstrators who tried to trip staff as they left the building, shouted at security and in one case even bit an officer.
Demonstrators seemed to be protesting everything from the war in Afghanistan to the coffee at Second Cup and even mixed up their facts, Steiner added, noting the fee hike is actually 10 per cent. “As my colleagues were being escorted out of their offices, and here we’re talking about VPs of the university, the protesters were grabbing onto their legs, grabbing onto their arms,” he said.
Steiner said that he watched the YouTube video and doesn’t believe security did anything wrong. “I don’t see in that video… that there was any forcible attempt to remove them. I see the police asking these guys to leave, asking them to get up and then being yelled at,” he added. “I see no kind of evidence of anything they would call police brutality. If they want to file some kind of complaint, that’s entirely their right.”
Steiner said the administration is open to hearing from students in a diplomatic fashion and that hundreds of students engage the administration regularly by getting involved in university governance and policy-making activities.
Toronto police said they were only present for the march and were not around there when the students occupied the administrative offices.
-with a report from CP