Photo Credit/Zach Morgenstern

At 4 PM this Monday, as part of the International Day of Students, the Ryerson Students Union (RSU) held a “Freeze the Fees” rally at 380 Victoria Street, attended by approximately 60 people. The rally was advertised in advance with the somewhat cryptic slogan, “Winter is Coming,” a Game of Thrones reference. The rally included speakers from the Toronto & York Region Labor Council and CESAR, Ryerson’s continuing studies student union, along with the RSU’s Vice President-Education Jesse Root.

The Freeze the Fees movement has four demands, which are outlined on flyers given out at the rally. The first is to reduce international student fees to be in line with domestic fees. The union has confirmed that they want this to happen solely via a reduction in international fees, and not through the redistribution of financial burden to domestic students.

The second demand is for a tuition fee freeze, and increased provincial funding for education. The third demand is for direct RSU involvement in Ryerson’s budgetary process, and for budgets to be developed that do not include fee increases or budget costs. The fourth demand is for increased student representation on Ryerson’s board of governors, as addressed by CESAR speaker Janet Rodriguez.

Protesters have also denounced Ryerson budgetary decisions that they view as wasteful. “Last year the university wasted $200,000 to paint Gould Street blue; our university president last year got an $80,000 bonus,” notes Ryerson student Mohamed Zidane. “All this while our departments are asked to make budget cuts and students are asked to take on yet another tuition fee increase.

Toronto & York Region Labor Council  Vice President Andria Babington defended the RSU’s demands by denouncing former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that students who can’t afford school should go into the trades. She argued that such a response is unjust in a society where we regularly ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, while failing to address the cycles of poverty they are caught in.

As the speeches concluded, Jesse Root declared what was at that point an open secret—that the rally was set to become an occupation. Tents were set up, and protest leaders declared they would attempt to stay encamped until the RSU’s demands are met. “We have [only] been… invited to speak to the board of governors well after decisions on the budget are already made,” Root explains.  “We have tried having meetings, we’ve tried working within the process and we feel that it is time for some drastic action.”

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