There’s a new video in town. It features two kittens meowing and space nebulas flashing across the screen. The J.J. Abrams-esque lense flares distract you for a moment, but then you turn on the captions and the purring and meows are translated into a political message. Meet CATs, or Concordia Against Tribunals, a YouTube video posted by Gabriel Velasco, the CSU’s external mobilization coordinator and member of CATs.
It’s an interesting take on a serious political debate that has been simmering at Concordia since the anti-austerity protests in the spring of 2015. Students democratically voted to strike within their various student organizations to stand against the austerity measures implemented by the provincial government, and then stood in unity while empty classes looked on. According to a petition launched by Solidarity Concordia, “during the student strike that took place in spring of 2015, over 25 students participating in picket lines at Concordia University received formal complaints from faculty members alleging they disobeyed article 29G (obstruction or disruption of University activities) of Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities.”
But that wasn’t the entire story. Many students complained the votes to strike weren’t democratic at all, with meetings called on short notice and at inaccessable times, and with students having to raise their hands to vote instead of having secret ballots to decide the fate of students’ education.
Laura Marchand, The Concordian’s opinions editor at the time, was in the class where students interrupted the lesson and were later charged with disrupting university activities. According to Marchand, who disagreed with the PSSA’s decision to strike, professor Graham Dodds agreed to hold his class during the April 1 and 2 strike days, acknowledging that the vast majority of his students disagreed with the strike and still wanted to hold class that day.
“They were protesting ‘impeding student rights’ [to strike],” said Marchand. But Marchand was more interested in attending class than striking, and was irritated at the lack of empathy from the protestors. They were asking us to respect their rights, but “[they] didn’t seem to care about mine,” said Marchand.
Dodds sent an email to his students saying he would try to hold class that day, and call security to collect the student IDs of any students who interrupted the class. When the class was interrupted, students in the class protested the protestors by remaining in their seats, with at least half of the class sitting out the entire protest.
Protests against the tribunals are ongoing, and the CATs video is a new and creative way to try to reach out to Concordia and spread the message of CATs.
But let’s take a step back here and examine the bigger picture. The university is not the bad guy here. Neither are the students trying to enforce a strike vote.
“Concordia didn’t want austerity measures and Concordia didn’t want its budget cut,” said Marchand. “You’re targeting the victim … it’s misguided.”
Velasco disagrees, and said although the university took a public stance against austerity its actions did not oppose austerity.
“Both sides want to stand together [against austerity] but the university went back on its word and broke that trust [the students had],” said Velasco.
CATs is calling for the university to drop the charges against the 25 students because of how the university is unfairly punishing student’s democratic right to strike, and—in the tribunal that took place in December—only a letter of reprimand was given, which CATs feels is such a light punishment that the entire process could and should be skipped altogether.
Velasco was inspired to create the cat video to reach out to students to spread awareness about the tribunals and to get students engaged.
But all of this back and forth is muddying the message that we all agree on: that austerity sucks. While it’s great that Concordia is alight with conversation about the validity of political expulsions, the debate has shifted away from how funding should be allocated across the university.
We at The Concordian do not support austerity measures. Yes, budgets are important to balance and when there just isn’t money to allocate, then there just isn’t money to allocate. But cutting money from the education sector, especially when the provincial government is putting huge amounts of money into projects and companies like Bombardier, shows there is a problem. A solution to that problem should be our responsibility. Coming together as a citizenry composed of students, faculty and staff is a manifestation of the desire to meet that responsibility.