POLITICS
02/19/2019 16:58 EST | Updated 02/19/2019 19:48 EST

OSAP Protesters Thrown Out Of Queen's Park

Students were there to demonstrate against the Ford government’s changes to post-secondary education.

TORONTO — Student protesters were thrown out of Ontario's legislature Tuesday morning after unfurling a banner to demand free tuition and hurling insults at Premier Doug Ford.

"Doug Ford can kiss my a**. You're a f**king cracker," one woman yelled from the public gallery at Queen's Park.

Security escorted five people out of the building, who then joined dozens of other student protesters and NDP MPPs at a demonstration outside.

"Free education! Free education! Grants not loans!" protesters chanted.

They should have their mouths washed out with soap.Premier Doug Ford

The premier addressed the disruption during question period.

"Here's an example of indoctrination, what we just saw up there," Ford said. "They should have their mouths washed out with soap."

Chitta Chowdhury, one of the protesters who was removed, said the government's recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are detrimental.

"Doug Ford and his government didn't actually consult students when creating these changes," Chowdhury told HuffPost Canada. "If they're not going to try to listen to us, we're going to demand they listen to us."

EMMA PALING/HUFFPOST CANADA
Chitta Chowdhury, one of five protesters who was kicked out of Queen's Park during the government's first sitting of 2019, speaks to the media on Feb. 19, 2019.

She brushed off the premier's concerns about her friend's language.

"Profanity is not a big deal to me. I think denying students accessible education is a lot worse," she said. "I think actually damaging people's lives is much worse than swearing at the legislature."

The government announced in January it would cut tuition fees by 10 per cent, lower the income threshold for funding and replace some grants for low-income students — who previously qualified for grants to cover their full tuition — with loans.

Minister Merrilee Fullerton also announced the government would axe mandatory student fees that fund student unions, newspapers, clubs and food banks. Currently, students vote in referendums to decide whether or not to pay mandatory fees for these institutions. Now, each student will be able to opt out of the fees, which means these groups' budgets will take a hit.

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Last week, the premier made news again when he boasted about cutting fees that support student unions and their "crazy Marxist nonsense."

An actual Marxist who attended Tuesday's protest, Adrien Welsh of the Young Communist League, said Ford's assessment of student unions is incorrect.

"Student organizations are not necessarily Marxist. It's just a body that's there to fight for the student interest," he told HuffPost. "This is exactly what he's targeting, the capacity for students to be organized."

EMMA PALING/HUFFPOST CANADA
Adrien Welsh, right, attends a protest at Queen's Park with the Young Communist League on Feb. 19, 2019.

He said the changes to student fees will have a wide-ranging impact on campus politics.

Student groups have always been instrumental in left-wing movements, he told HuffPost, whether that be the anti-war movement following the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq, anti-austerity movements or pushes against free trade agreements.

"The students have always been there."

Students are going to lose their ability to organize at a time when the far-right is becoming more emboldened, Welsh said.

EMMA PALING/HUFFPOST CANADA
NDP MPPs line up to sign a Canadian Federation of Students petition during a protest at Queen's Park in Toronto on Feb. 19, 2019.

He linked the affront to student unions with one of the government's earlier policies.

In August, the Ontario government announced it would require universities and colleges to publish "free speech policies" and discipline students who disrupt events. Months before, white nationalist Faith Goldy was prevented from speaking at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. when someone pulled the fire alarm.

"With the so-called free speech policy, what he is doing is opening the door wide open for people like [popular right-wing commentator] Jordan Peterson, for example, who are not just expressing their ideas but are organizing the ultra-right," Welsh said.

"This is extremely dangerous. Without the student unions being funded, the resistance against this will be more difficult."

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