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'We are committed to standing in solidarity with the Quebec Student Strike': Emmanuel College Student Society

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Open letter signed by Fraser Williamson and Greg Powell

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The following is an open letter from the student society of Emmanuel College.

We, the students of Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, express our solidarity with our fellow students striking for fair tuition in Quebec. The Emmanuel College Student Society represents theological students, the majority of whom are Christians associated with the United Church of Canada, along with students from other denominations and faith traditions, including Muslims and Unitarian Universalists. We write this letter from a position of concern and hope. Our concern falls into four areas: the value of education; debt; media representation; and violence.

We look to our theology and sacred stories to help us hope for a different kind of society. We believe in the potential of Canadian society to support students by keeping tuition affordable and supporting the vision of an academy that encourages the development of the whole person. From Christian traditions, we draw inspiration from the emphasis on debt forgiveness (Deuteronomy 15), the idea of communities supporting each member (Acts 2:44-46), and the vision of swords being beaten into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4). We also draw inspiration from Islamic financial tradition, where debtors set their terms of repayment, which allows the repayment plan to be feasible. We invite our siblings of different faiths to express their own concerns about the current situation from the grounding of their own unique faith perspectives. We ask everyone to uphold that matters of education and debt are not only the concern of individuals or the student body, but of society as a whole. 

1. Value of Education

As students of a theological school, we believe that education is not simply undertaken in preparation for a professional career, but is a good in itself that should be accessible to all. However, in recent years, postsecondary education has become increasingly corporatized and market-driven in Canada. Increases in tuition fees have been premised on the sense that graduates will (and must) find high-paying jobs in their field to be able to pay back any debts accrued during their studies. Education has become merely a ticket to wealth accumulation, now the unquestioned “good” of our society. 

Beside tuition increases there have been cuts to programs, such as essential services for students with disabilities, transitional year programs for racialised students, internship programs, and summer employment programs, creating a smaller group that can actually afford to attend a post-secondary institution without accumulating massive debt. We urge federal and provincial governments to cease excessive expenditures on war, constructing prisons, and subsidizing the fossil fuel sector and begin a radical approach to making all forms of education accessible to all. 

2. Debt

The current student debt situation is frequently justified by comparison to other provinces and to the United States, but such comparisons overlook other global and temporal examples and the importance in not settling for a situation that is only “better” than the situation of others. As tuition increases student debt will increase. Many students across Canada already have a significant student debt load, and have difficulty reducing this load due to the scarcity of summer work. In the current economy, many graduates today find it difficult to find jobs in their fields that will both provide a reasonable standard of living and pay off the debt. We believe that a societal model that depends on debt accumulation is flawed. Debt and debt-related stress have long-term psychological and health impacts that not only affect individuals but become a cost to society. Since the whole of society benefits as access to education increases, it is imperative that the cost of education be placed on the community rather than the individual.  

3. Media Representation  

As Seekers of Truth, we rely upon the public media to present a thoughtful interpretation of what is happening around us. However, in the case of the Quebec protests, mainstream media outlets appear to marginalize those protecting democracy, freedom of association, and access to quality education. We, therefore, invite the mainstream media to: 

a. cease portraying the Quebec protesters in ways that “justify” police violence,  

b. cease sensationalizing infrequent acts of violence at the expense of explaining genuine concerns, 

c. provide a platform for diverse and dissenting voices and concerns with the intent of seeking unifying themes, and 

d. articulate a vision of quality education and democratic participation in Canada. 

As students of sacred texts, we recognize the burden of documenting phenomena in ways that unite people despite their differences and we invite Canada’s mainstream media to carry this burden as a public duty.  

4. Violence 

We understand non-violence to rest at the core of our faiths. We condemn all forms of violence against people. Political forces today are using various means to silence dissent including excessive police violence, political and public discourse that seeks to divide rather than unite, and Bill 78. We believe that all should be able to live free from the threat of violence - be it physical, emotional, institutional, epistemological, or otherwise. We call for an immediate end to all forms of violence against any person engaged in the demonstrations. We envision a citizen-state relationship characterized by respect and - even more radical - love. We envision a democracy of continual participation and thoughtful contribution from citizens at the grassroots. We envision a society of thinkers, willing to challenge norms, creeds, and authorities when morally necessary. 

As a result of these concerns, we are committed to standing in solidarity with the Quebec Student Strike. We call on other persons of faith to join us and also to bear public witness to the actions of everyone involved – demonstrators, police, politicians and educational institutions. This is an opportunity for us to be a prophetic voice which not only names but resists injustice and we call on others to stand with us in witness and in hope for justice.

In Faith and Solidarity,

Fraser Williamson, Chair Emmanuel College Student Society

Greg Powell, Anti-Oppression Committee Chair, Emmanuel College Student Society

Watch society chair Fraser Williamson and other society members read the letter at a press conference:

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