U of T protestors occupy building, removed by police

Students claim police brutality, but video suggests protestors need to work on their acting


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.

RELATED CONTENT: “Police brutality – please” AND YouTube video, Fact Check: U of T residence fee increase

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

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U of T protestors occupy building, removed by police

  1. So I finally watched the damn video. As much of it as I can stomach, anyway. All I can see (and hear) are a few students doing their best to work themselves into a state of hysteria that doesn’t even match the mood of their fellow protesters, much less the actions of police and security. It isn’t so much the students who are screaming in the background or one that’s flailing around on the floor. It’s more the students who are just kind of standing around, and the ones who are attempting to make their points loudly but mostly sound bored (they’ve been there a while) that make it all seem silly.

    Look, I’m all for the cause and for peaceful protest. I’ve attended my share. And I can even envision times when peaceful protest isn’t enough and people may have to stand up in the face of real violence in order to make an important point heard. But this wasn’t that.

    I know people have their simplified left/right conceptions of the political spectrum and I may have mortgaged some of my credibility by having the nerve to blog for Maclean’s. But I soundly reject the fashionable view among safe, warm, well-fed North American activists who seem to think you aren’t a real activist until you’ve been pepper sprayed by The Man. Seems like there’s a couple in this crowd who are determined to make that happen, no matter how hard they have to work at it. Maybe next time they’ll bring their own pepper spray.

    You know what I call shameful? Histrionics of this sort, dressed up as brutality, when there’s real brutality going on in other parts of the world that are far more deserving of attention. You want to make a point to the administration of U of T? You go ahead and make it. But save accusations of brutality for when they’re merited, because otherwise you’re just stealing the concept from the genuinely repressed, who you claim to care about.

  2. I don’t think Ghandi ever shouted ‘shame’ in the way currently being used at student protests. That is, in a way so annoying and creepy it often makes one’s skin crawl rather than encourage someone to join whatever cause being presented.

    Sadly, with the nature of student protests the ‘Shaaaaaame!’ shout isn’t going to go away any time soon. And maybe that’s the real shame about student protests today – that so much of it has denigrated to childish tactics.

    I really hope the ‘banging pots and pans’ approach ends soon.

  3. As a U of T student, I think Mr. Robert Steiner should get HIS facts straight, as noted by the President and the administration – the residence fees are GOING UP BY 20% in NEW COLLEGE AND 10% AT WOODSWORTH COLLEGE.

    As I understand that students may have overstated the “police brutality” – the focus of this article is appalling thin and bias. First of all, the reason for the 20% residence fee increase is because of the Administration’s OWN INCOMPETENCE – over cost on building a new residence, and thus it is something that the UNIVERSITY SHOULD PAY FOR – NOT STUDENTS – U of T has BILLIONS (literally) of dollars in savings and investments…

    I would have appreciated if the author of this rather pathetic and one-sided article would’ve done some research. All the president had to do was come out and issue a date and time in which he can meet students, no hide – he is literally hiding from meeting students and that is very unfortunate. Fees in just about every single area are going up and U of T and the President personally justifies it on the basis of “being able to compete with American universities” – see his Towards 2030 Plan for details on de-regulation, fee increases and increase corporatization of research.

    If talking worked, it would’ve have. It was only through sit-ins etc. that students have been able to gain some of the substantial rights that they currently have –

    Karen J. Cao wrote
    at 10:01am on March 26th, 2008
    well stephen, if constructive negotiations worked – clearly, students wouldn’t have to resort to this – i will leave with this message and that is that the university has refused to listen to students in the past on these issues and it took sit ins to accomplish many of the benefits we have today at u of t, It is only through students putting their bodies on the line in sit-ins that we had the university divest from apartheid South Africa, open Robarts to undergraduates, or end Hart House’s men-only policy…

    P.S. IF YOU ALSO DID YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE WRITING THIS SIMPLISTIC ARTICLE – you would’ve realized that the initial protest on the fees was hijacked by other groups of students to use the medium for their own purposes (Afghanistan war etc.) — and even the President’s OWN STATEMENT stated that he realized this fact and the organizers (New College Student Council) even released their own statements on this point.

    If you think a 20% increase is nothing, then you’ve clearly not experience poverty – given that 1 in 3 Torontonians are living in poverty, I believe the university should practice what they preach and work towards providing affordable housing – something they CAN afford… the focus on the police brutality – although warranted – has taken away from the severity of the implications of this fee increase (among others that are happening this year, not including the substantial tuition increases after the freeze).

    This article is very poorly written and researched and does not do justice to the discourse of professional journalism. I am truly disappointed in Macleans.

  4. Marginalized students of all backgrounds will be superbly taken care of when they attend U of T. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than just about anywhere else!

    No students are held back due to financial limitations, which means when you reasonably run out of cash, U of T’s massive endowment fund will come to you aid every year!

    U of T has so far contributed nearly $30,000 to my education. If I was in residence, I would just get a bigger amount from the endownments funds, (UTAPS+ college bursaries). As much as I would normally side with unions on ‘everything’, in this case, I cannot. The’ve used bad tactics, are divisive, and most of all I think they are protesting the wrong people with to much force.

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