January 3, 2009

UofT's Case Against the Fight Fees 14 Crumbles

[We wrote about this is issue in the Fall 2008 RY under the headline Drop Fees, Drop Charges! - RY Eds.]

Charges and restrictive bail conditions imposed on the Fight Fees 14 (FF14) are finally starting to be withdrawn after months upon months of delayed court processes. Nine of the fourteen activists have had their charges completely rescinded, while the remaining five expect complete vindication in due course.

The FF14 are a group of University of Toronto (UofT) students and community members who were criminally charged for allegedly taking part in a peaceful sit-in against fee increases and unaffordable student housing on March 20, 2008. The sit-in ended after police exercised aggression against the demonstrators on the orders of the UofT administration.  In addition to criminal charges, 12 students were threatened with university investigations that could lead to suspension or expulsion under the Student Code of Conduct.  A number of students still face possible Code of Conduct Investigations at this time.

The Crown's failure to provide timely and complete disclosure in court over the last eight months, and the lack of compelling evidence as well as the immense pressure of public scrutiny are likely both responsible for the withdrawal of the charges. The withdrawals have exposed the bogus charges for what they were - a disturbing politically-motivated crackdown on student dissent stoked by David Naylor and his administration.

While strict bail conditions of the accused served to restrict and discourage political activity against inaccessibility on campus, mobilization was galvanized.   An organization called the Committee for Just Education (CJE) was formed in response to student repression and an open forum was planned on April 7th where the CJE approved three demands: the elimination of tuition fees, student, worker, faculty parity on university decision-making bodies, and an end to the
repression of dissent on campus. Two demonstrations took place outside Simcoe Hall on March 25 and April 10 to protest for the three demands.
Following the arrests in April, CJE mobilized supporters and organized an emergency meeting that was attended by over 120 supporters at Steelworkers Hall.   On May 21, students made their presence felt once more at Simcoe Hall, where a meeting of the University Affairs Board was finalizing the details of tuition hikes.
On June 3rd a rally was held in support of the 14 and to demand that all charges be dropped and over 300 supporters marched from Simcoe Hall to Old City Hall courthouse for the first of many court dates.

The successful legal defense campaign thus far comes at a time when we see the university falling further out of reach for the vast majority of students, especially those from racialized and other marginalized communities. In the face of chronic government under-funding, students have been burdened with skyrocketing tuition fees and debt loads.
Rather than pressure the provincial and federal governments to increase funding for accessible, high quality public education, the UofT administration is lobbying for full deregulation of fees and has embraced a corporate model of education that caters to private interests.

The CJE would like to thank the many supporters who came out to meetings, demonstrations, and court dates in support of the FF14. The political pressure that was placed on the university had significant effects on the development of the case, and has ultimately played a large part in the revocation of charges. With your continued support, we are hopeful that full exoneration will be achieved for all of the FF14 and that we can continue in our fight for accessible education.
Please continue to sign the petition and send letters of support condemning the actions of the University of Toronto and calling for a public statement that all criminal charges and Code of Conduct Investigations are to be dropped.

For further information: Gabi Rodriguez 416-529-8755
gabriela.rodriguez.tyc@gmail.com (Committee for Just Education)

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