Also going ahead as planned was a demonstration against the information session by a group of concerned U of T students and other community members. With some demonstrators carrying a large white banner reading “Troops out now!” the group of a few dozen people made their concerns heard to the organizers of the event, its hosts, and its attendees. Daniel Vandervoort, External Commissioner for the UofT Graduate Students’ Union, believes this kind of recruitment session fl ies in the face of the university’s own Statement of Institutional Purpose, which states that the university is dedicated to the “vigilant protection of individual human rights.”
“What we’re seeing in Afghanistan are all kinds of breaches of human rights. Thousands of civilians are being killed, there are allegations of torture, and a respected Afghan MP, Malalai Joya, has said that the mere presence of foreign soldiers is the most important factor in the resurgence of Taliban.” Vandervoort also believes these sessions are giving an opportunity to put an artifi cially positive spin on the actions of the military. “The people coming here to recruit are responsible for creating a war situation, and despite going in with the rhetoric of liberation and democracy, what we’re seeing is the exact opposite.”
Laurie Stephens, U of T’s Director of Media Relations and Stakeholder Communications, explains that this information session is part of the Career Centre’s responsibility to give students a broad spectrum of career options and opportunities. “Each year, more than 135 employer information sessions are held on our campus. Participating companies include major banks, accounting firms, manufacturing companies, government and not-for-profit groups. The Department Of National Defence is one of these participating employers and their sessions are of interest to our students.” Stephens adds that many students appreciate the convenience of having employers on hand to answer and questions they may have, and notes that Wednesday’s information session was aimed at PhD and Masters students seeking policy analyst positions.
That fact is of little consolation to one of the protest’s organizers, U of T Grad Student Jacob Nerenberg. “The idea is that these recruits would work in Ottawa at the Department of National Defense. This definitely entails being part ongoing plans for the war in Afghanistan. It’s an ethical and political issue, because we’re supposedly part of an institution that believes in the protection of human rights.”
Nerenberg points to a gradual shift in ideology in government as a main reason for the recruitment session.“The Harper years are seeing an increasing militarism, and general right wing politics across the board.” he explains. “We’re being told that we’re in an age of austerity, but defence is doing very well thanks very much. Society is getting more militaristic, we have to choose some places to stand up and say that this is problematic.”