Occupying against cuts, privatization

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. — Police have arrested eight Trent University students who occupied a vice-president's office demanding that two of university's colleges not be closed.

Police shattered an exterior glass window in the building at 3 a.m. Thursday, March 1, and arrested the women students, who had been in the office since Monday morning. They are charged with mischief and bail hearings were happening at press time.

A few minutes earlier, police had arrested another 16 students who were sleeping in a hallway outside the office in support of the sit-in. They were detained for two hours before being released.

"It was very scary," said Allison Marcovitz, one of those arrested. As many as 25 police in riot gear entered the building, along with a police dog, said the protesters outside the office.

The students were protesting the university's board of governors' approval in November 1999 of an application to Ontario's SuperBuild Growth Fund that didn't include a clause preventing the "sale, relocation or closing of any college."

The fund is designed to provide money for new infrastructure. In May 2000, Trent was awarded more than $26 million under SuperBuild. The university's two downtown colleges have since been slated for closure.

The students began their occupation of vice-president academic Graham Taylor's office on Monday, February 26 at 8:30 a.m.

Taylor was not in his office when the students showed up at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning. There were, however, two staff that were told to leave while students held a human barricade in front of the administrative space.

"Everyone asked them politely to go," says fifth year Trent student Jamie Williams. "They were pretty upset but we’ve tried to accommodate them." Students helped the staff retrieve their coats and boots while they vacated the premises.

Students formed a human barrier outside the office, standing with arms linked, while a group of students inside the office constructed a sturdy barricade across the office’s only door with desks and padlocked chains.

The occupation held firm until the police raid, four days later.

The 16 supporters outside the Trent building who were detained by police on charges of trespassing and mischief allege they had permission from Trent Security to sleep outside the office for the night.

"These charges were an attempt to have us detained while they took away the other people," says supporter Devan Penny.

At a packed press conference Thursday, Anup Grewal, one of the spokespeople for the office occupiers, said the arrests shouldn't overshadow the issues behind the protest.

Protesters say the office occupation follows 18 months of attempted participation in university governance processes.

The students inside the office had been demanding a promise to keep the downtown colleges open, the creation of a committee to look at decision-making at Trent, a referendum on campus advertising, and the creation of a policy on campus privatization.

They are also calling for the current administration to recognize its "culpability in the process leading up to these demands and grant legal and academic amnesty to all students in the current protest actions."

"We believe in the three ‘‘Rs' of education, but we also believe in the three ‘‘Ds' — democracy, debate and discussion," said protestor Tanya Roberts-Davies.

At the press conference, Erin George, the Ontario chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, told the crowd the Trent protesters were inspiring.

"The issues here go way beyond the boundaries of this campus," George said. "These are issues that happen when we see cutbacks."

Students and a student reporter were not allowed into the police station.

Compiled from stories by Alyssa Evetts, Rose Spencer and Jessie White, with files from Lee Wingett, Arthur, Trent University, Peterborough, Ont.