“What do we want? Tuition freeze! When do we want it? Now!”

Despite having to skip class and brave the wind and rain, thousands of Concordia students turned out to march in solidarity with Montreal CÉGEP and university students on Thursday’s day of action in protest against tuition fee hikes.
At several institutions, like Dawson College, students blockaded the entrances to keep others from attending classes. The Dawson Student Union managed to arrange an 11th hour agreement with the CÉGEP administration to cancel classes.
At Concordia, students who chose not to protest were not barred from classes. Those who did want to protest gathered outside at Reggie’s on Mackay Street throughout the morning, and at Loyola, in activities planned by the Concordia Student Union.
After leaving the Reggie’s terrace shortly after 1 p.m., the body of students, armed with placards, banners, and a palpable level of excitement, inched its way along Ste-Catherine Street towards Place Émilie-Gamelin to join forces with tens of thousands of students frustrated with their government’s decision to raise tuition by $325 a year for the next five years.
While CSU president Lex Gill said they didn’t have a crowd estimate for Concordia, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec estimated the entire protest drew around 30,000 people.” Gill said they had far surpassed the 920-people capacity of the Reggie’s terrace.
“I think what really blew me away was being at Ste-Catherine Street and de la Montaigne Street and getting a phone call saying the last bit of people were just leaving Concordia,” Gill said, explaining that students had spilled into the parking lot and onto both Mackay and Bishop Streets, and that the entire second floor of the Hall building had emptied. “It was thousands of people,” she said.
As the students marched along the thoroughfare, they were greeted by a host of McGill University students expectantly waiting at the intersection of Ste-Catherine Street and McGill College Avenue, hoisting their own banners and adding their voices to the cries of “We’ll stand! We’ll fight! Education is a right!” proclaimed by the marching crowd.
Members of the Occupy Montreal movement also swelled their ranks as they marched onwards to Berri-UQAM metro station.
A mass of students had already amassed at Place Émilie-Gamelin by the time the host of students arrived around an hour later.
‘I’m here because I’ve actually been to a lot of these [protests] previously ever since I was in CÉGEP and I had been hoping that those would have been enough to stop [tuition fee hikes] but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. We’re hoping that this will show the government that there are enough people that are against it and hopefully it will change its mind,” said Alejandro Gomora, a fourth-year psychology student at Concordia.
“I want to be a teacher, and I really don’t like the idea that eventually I am going to have to tell my students that as long as you have money you can be whatever you want to be, but if you don’t, well just give up,” first-year child studies student Alexandra Peters added.
The provincial government, however, shows no signs of stepping down from the proposed $1,625 hike over the next five years. At question period on Thursday, Education Minister Line Beauchamp remained firm on her stance that university students should contribute more.
“A majority of Quebec taxpayers don’t have a university degree and will never earn the salary of a university-educated person – but they finance the majority of the system,” said Beauchamp. “So shouldn’t university students do their part?”
PQ education critic Marie Malavoy has said that the hikes are coming too soon for students, while criticizing the government for the lack of accessibility of loans and bursaries to students.
The 30,000-strong crowd left the park later that afternoon to protest in front of Premier Jean Charest’s office on McGill College Avenue.
The crowd filled the streets, with many students demonstrating peacefully and playing music. But a tense knot of students formed directly outside of the office building, with riot police forming a line blocking the entrance. One student let off a fire extinguisher, while others launched firecrackers at the police and threw paint at the building.
A line of community organizers, some of them students, wore neon vests and formed a line to prevent others from reaching the police, who eventually retreated into the building.
The crowd soon dissipated, with CSU executives taking to Twitter to say they were headed home.
Some protesters flocked to nearby McGill to take part in the growing confrontation at the James Administration building, where several students occupied offices. Police used tear gas, pepper spray and force to push students out of the campus.
Montreal police reported that four people were arrested the day of the protests.

Montreal occupies “People’s Square”

Montrealers gathered in Victoria Square to protest corporate greed and financial inequality, among other issues. Photo by Navneet Pall

(CUP) – Montrealers have been arriving in peaceful droves since Saturday to protest financial inequality and injustice, and bring the Occupy Wall Street movement to the city’s Victoria Square or, as it may now be known, the People’s Square.
Occupy Montreal was one of 15 protests held across Canada on Oct. 15 that emulate the OWS movement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, which is in its sixth week. As Zuccotti Park is in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district, Victoria Square is a small, tree-filled green space in the midst of the towering Montreal Stock Exchange and several banking and corporate buildings.
While people began arriving and setting up on Saturday morning, the name change passed as a resolution at the general assembly held that afternoon. Jaggi Singh, a local activist, proposed the change as an effort to “decolonialize” Montreal, as the square was originally named after British monarch Queen Victoria.
The general assembly, the sixth in a series that began a few weeks ago, voted on a few resolutions. One speaker admitted that “democracy is complex; direct democracy even more so.” The GA passed a motion to set up two subcommittees: one to decide on individual actions conducive to the OWS movement, the other to suggest collective actions.
William-Jacomo Beauchemin, a philosophy student at Université du Québec à  Montréal, helped run the meeting and felt that the first GA of Occupy Montreal had gone well, though he admitted that the meeting could have run more smoothly.
“We’ll improve our methods of collective decision making, and that’s how we’ll make decisions and move forward,” said Beauchemin.
Nevertheless, a few hundred took up a peaceful march while the subcommittees met. With the police blocking off streets, the march wound up to Ste-Catherine St., a main artery for Montreal’s downtown shopping district, and continued west, ending at Concordia University.
The event was largely peaceful, drawing out a mix of individuals and groups: students, senior citizens and families with young children, as well as anarchist groups, Decolonize Montreal, immigrant rights groups, and labour groups like Canadian Union of Public Employees and McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association.
Like other OWS protests, there was no chief organizing body or one leader. A few volunteers helped grease the wheels, like Zena Antabli, a social science and mathematics student at CEGEP de Saint-Laurent, who spent the day scurrying around with a megaphone, organizing different services, and later facilitating the large GA.
“We helped organize the event,” she said. “But today, there are so many people now coming out of nowhere offering to bring food or get a tent. […] They want to get involved because they believe in change.”
Occupy Montreal had a lively atmosphere with live music, child-friendly activities, and a “département de bouffe” table where food dropped off by volunteers was handed out.
Ben Stewart-Smith, a writer, baked 12 loaves of Irish sourdough bread to bring to the demonstration when he came to meet up with his friends.
|Largely the reason I’m here is because I like to see public space being used for public use, as opposed to existing as pre-conceived notion of neutral space,” he said. “So something like this brings a human element back to design in the middle of downtown in a way, and it’s probably also the first time they’ve had a group of people outside the financial sector.”
Montreal police spokesperson Daniel Lacoursière said Sunday afternoon that no major incidents had taken place at the demonstration so far.
Protesters intend to continue to occupy Victoria Square, and GA meetings have been scheduled for every single day of the occupation.


Design students draw new picture for Hive cafe

Design students with a hand in refurbishing the Hive Cafe had their work unveiled at a vernissage April 20. It’s the latest step in the long-vaunted transformation of the student space above the cafeteria at the Loyola campus.
The students in the design course DART 392 were given the task of redesigning and rethinking the space. Each team was assigned a particular part of the larger project, said CSU VP Loyola Hassan Abdullahi. Some worked on the sign – a wood cutout that welcomes visitors inside and outside – others worked on the sustainable mason jars which students will use for drinking. One group tackled the mission statement, which is now emblazoned in red on a white background at the entrance.
The Hive has been challenging Loyola’s reputation for having lacklustre student presence with its long rebirth. Earlier this year, the Loyola Luncheon, a free, daily vegetarian meal, was relaunched, and the successful string of cultural night parties has brought students out on Wednesday nights.
Speaking after the launch, Abdullahi said the project worked out better than expected. He added that students will also be able to help plan an ever-changing menu by making suggestions for food items.
The Hive will have an official launch in the fall. For more details, see the Hive website.


Disqualifications merit barely a mention, Cohen no-show at CSU council

After a fraught 18 hours after news broke that both of the slates running in the 2011 CSU elections were disqualified, the April council meeting took place with almost nary a mention of the unprecedented decision. Chief electoral officer Oliver Cohen, who put out the decision late Tuesday night, was not present at the council meeting.
Before presenting her presidential report, CSU president Heather Lucas issued a statement on behalf of her executive that highly criticized Cohen’s move.
“It is shocking and unfortunate that the CEO has made the decision to disqualify both slates, as it makes a mockery of the CSU, and ultimately does a disservice to the most important people at this university, the students.”
She reminded meeting attendees that any recourse would not happen through the council or the executive.
“Please don’t believe for a second that any of us will have a hand in any of the rulings,” she said. “We can only hope that the judicial board will render a decision that is in the best interests of the 30,000 students at Concordia.” As if following Lucas’ lead, there were no discussions about the disqualifications at council.
Speaking after the meeting, current councillor and, up until late Tuesday night, president-elect Lex Gill stated that she and rival Khalil Haddad would be filing a grievance with the judicial board about Cohen’s ruling. After the meeting, she confirmed that they would be filing within the five juridical day limit to speak out against the CEO’s decision.
Gill also motioned to establish the CSU annual general meeting on May 9 and have Cohen present a report to the CSU.
Many disqualified candidates, either elected or defeated at the polls, showed up at the council meeting, including several current councillors and students-at-large like Haddad and ex-VP sustainability and promotions Morgan Pudwell. The entirety of the meeting proceeded as usual, ending in under three hours.
Cohen disqualified all the candidates on both Action and Your Concordia in separate emails late Tuesday night, citing violations to postering, polling procedures and campaigning rules, among other regulations. However, the exact details of the violations were not released. In addition, YC candidates have been banned from holding or seeking office for the next two years. The slate was accused by Cohen as having submitted false election expense reimbursements. No one, including candidates, have been able to contact Cohen since he sent out the ruling.
Four independent candidates were the only ones to not be disqualified by Cohen . Former arts and science councillor hopeful Alex Matak was present at council. She played down any suggestions that she might be able to take the seat she lost two weeks, citing that her big concern is the democratic process and that students’ voices are heard.
“I’m most interested that the way students voted shines through,” Matak said, adding, “I didn’t get elected, and that’s fine, but the most important thing was that the democratic process is honoured.”

CSU Notes

Lex Gill was voted by acclaim onto the presidential search committee to replace interim president Frederick Lowy. The Board of governors secretary Danielle Tessier specified to Lucas that the one student member must be a current councillor, but did not set a timeline for the committee.

VP Loyola Hassan Abdullahi will be writing a presentation to the external governance review committee on behalf of undergraduate students. He stated it will urge the university to allow students more say in governance. Some councillors encouraged students to submit their own opinions to the BoG secretary. Abdullahi stated that he will make his comments open to students before he submits the the extended deadline on May 2.

Council first rejected a motion to match fundraising by first-year club Humanitarian Affairs at Concordia University. The organization is sending 13 students on a trip to a leadership symposium and refugee camp; the total cost for expenses, including fees, flight costs and medical and school supplies for distribution at the camp is almost $38,000. HACU asked council to grant the group $5,000 to match their fundraising efforts. Had the CSU made the donation, it would have defrayed $380 from each student’s total cost to $2,121.54.
Most councillors spoke out against the motion, citing concerns that the costs would impact too few students. HACU founder and 2010 trip participant Teresa Seminara spoke in favour of the motion, highlighting that the students on the trip would return to the campus and spread what they had learned to other members of the student body.
Councillor Michaela Manson shared those concerns. “It just doesn’t seem to be justifiable to give $5,000 for13 people to participate, where you could put $5,000 locally and achieve a lot more,” she argued.
VP Loyola Hassan Abdullahi said he was concerned that the fact that HACU did not apply to financial committee for funds was setting a precedent for clubs who skip applying to fincom or special project funding and go straight to the CSU for support.
VP finance and clubs Ramy Khoriaty added that the clubs budget, which has $2,000 remaining, would not be able to accommodate the cost. The motion failed with no votes in favour of the motion.
But towards the end, Khoriaty motioned to cover the costs of the medicine. Finally, council voted to award $575 to HACU to cover the cost of the medicine.

The Hive is set to open by fall 2011. Meanwhile, fine arts students will present their designs for the Loyola student space next week. VP Loyola Abduallahi said a soft launch is being prepared for this spring.


CSU council gets down to unfinished business

CSU VP finance Ramy Khoriaty shows documents to councillor Michaela Manson. Photo by writer.

Concordia Student Union councillors and executives got down to unfinished business at the March 16 council meeting. The original meeting, held on March 9, came to an abrupt and early end when chair Marc-Antoni Tarondo adjourned it after the meeting turned into a screaming match. Students refused to leave during a closed session meeting to discuss what the executive termed ‘human resources,’ referring to the resignation of former VP sustainability and promotions Morgan Pudwell. All the items left on the agenda were left tabled at the end.

But the second meeting was more cordial, taking place down the hall from the room from the previous week. On the brief agenda were two points of business: the finance report which had been left at the last meeting, and a new point: a presentation by the CSU’s lawyer on the CSU executive’s lawsuit against the Canadian Federation of Students.

Ramy Khoriaty, who has been filling in as VP finance since Zhuo Ling resigned in January, presented a slideshow of CSU spending, revenues and deficits. At the March 9 meeting, CSU director of finance and administration Michele Dumais was present and appeared ready to answer any questions students would have, but she was missing at last week’s meeting.

Allegations of financial mismanagement have swirled about the current executive since Morgan Pudwell resigned, stating she had concerns about money.

According to Khoriaty, most budget lines were overspent by under $5,000, with a total of 17 lines with deficits. One of the higher losses was the annual handbook, which lost over $13,604. Other cost overruns were found in the promotions budget. President Heather Lucas attributed this to an increase in press releases by four or five put out this year, triggered by events like the Woodsworth dismissal and protests. Each release, she stated, costs $800.

The executive maintained that many of the deficits would be filled with incoming grant and sponsorship money, like the orientation and speaker events, and that the CSU is on track to make a surplus this year.

While CSU signing officer and independent councillor Aaron Green vouched for the veracity of the financials, he asked for a breakdown of the financials for campus bar Reggies. Khoriaty did not have them for the bar, which was posting a deficit earlier in the year.

A recess was called so that Khoriaty could provide councillor Joel Suss with further documents.

Several councillors proposed that the CSU make monthly or quarterly financial reports to council. A motion for quarterly reports passed, and will go to the custodial committee for further meting out.

The second portion of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by CSU lawyer Philippe Tessier, who gave the details of the suit filed the next day on behalf of the CSU against the CFS and former CSU president Keyana Kashfi.



Criticism of Pudwell’s work continues

Disorganized, lacking in leadership and neglectful: this is how former councillors and one employee who have worked with Morgan Pudwell are characterizing her after the former CSU executive resigned from her position as VP sustainability and promotions.

Both her detractors and supporters have come out swinging since she emailed her three-page resignation letter shortly after midnight Friday March 4. In it, Pudwell levelled a number of accusations against the CSU.

At council on Wednesday, March 9, both Pudwell and the executive she left restated letters shared earlier in the week. Members of the executive laughed quietly, seemingly in cynical disbelief while Pudwell read, and the former VP sighed while president Heather Lucas read their comments.

After an intense stand-off of supporters ended that meeting early, Pudwell circulated another statement she didn’t have the chance to read aloud because of the ensuing brouhaha.

Shortly before the meeting began, however, Arts and Science councillor Teresa Seminara circulated a letter signed by 16 out of 27 CSU councillors. In it, Pudwell is singled out for having failed as chair of the women’s caucus, a committee started last year at council that is allotted $500 to plan pro-women’s activities. As council took place the day after the 100th anniversary of the international women’s day, it was clear that there were few if any activities to commemorate the annual event.

“Over the past academic year, Pudwell has demonstrated a lack of leadership and accountability as our student representative, especially with regards to her role as chair of the women’s caucus,” the letter reads.

Pudwell, however, said that the blame does not fall squarely to her shoulders. She and Lucas, she said, were co-chairs. But in an email forwarded by Pudwell to the Concordian, Lucas informed Pudwell on Feb. 28, before her resignation, that she was not a co-chair to begin with, but only there to help. Pudwell believes the accusations that she bungled Women’s week and that the event was cancelled because of her resignation, are attempts to “discredit” her character. She claims that she sent out two emails to caucus members, but that a meeting never materialized due to lack of response, and that Seminara herself failed to inform her of any ideas she had for the week’s events.

Pudwell also suggested that women’s week could have gone forward regardless, since she had prepared promotional material for the event.

Alexandra Baptista, a graduating JMSB councillor not seeking re-election for any position, sat on the women’s caucus committee with several other councillors. She did not sign Seminara’s letter, but is not sure where to assign the blame. “I think there was a lack of organizing there, at the chair level. [Women’s week] was just brought to our attention twice,” she said, referring to the emails sent out by Pudwell. “I think more could have been done in that respect, for sure.”

She was also under the impression that Lucas and Pudwell were co-chairs.

Beyond the women’s caucus, one former CSU employee alleges that Pudwell was never prepared with promotional material for other campaigns, which falls under her portfolio. Daniel Shakibaian, a JMSB student on leave from the CSU as a campaigns manager, who is seeking both a council and senate seat on the Action slate (which is running two executives that Shakibaian worked with during his tenure, Hassan Abdullahi and Ramy Khoriaty) said that campaigns were hurt because Pudwell did not have posters and materials prepared when required. Shakibaian worked with the new executive from the start of their term in June 2010, to January 2011. He said working with Pudwell was “a little frustrating, to be honest.”

When reached on Monday night about Shakibaian’s comments, Pudwell countered that she was not given enough notice to request graphics from CSU designers. “At the end of the day, they’re artists, and they need to be given a reasonable amount of time, and to expect all types of flyers and posters in an hour after just giving them the information that the event was even happening is unreasonable.”

Pudwell highlighted the fall Peace week campaign as a rushed project, while Shakibaian said the $1 campaign, his first, faltered because of promotional material. Because Pudwell failed to delegate tasks, he could not get promotional material for two weeks, and he had to launch a campaign without flyers and posters.

But communications, Pudwell said, are behind the snafus.“The executives didn’t talk to me very often, especially [Adrien Severyns and Shakibaian] when they were planning events, gave us very little notice in time to get their posters done.”

Speaking after the council meeting, members of the executive seemed to still be in shock by Pudwell’s resignation.

“I must have read that letter probably 50 times,” said VP Loyola and advocacy Hassan Abdullahi of Pudwell’s resignation letter. “Trying to make sense of it and just where she was coming from, it completely knocked us off guard because on the day before Heather and her were out singing karaoke. It was baseless accusations I’ve heard a million times over and I found them very silly, a joke honestly.”

But Pudwell maintains that she is being attacked by a specific group of people: “I think it’s interesting that a lot of these people are from the same group of friends, or the same group of political ideas.”

As for the questions raised about her competency as an executive, “I think that [the executive] is starting to feel they’re being questioned too much,” she said, “and rather than dealing with those issues, […] all they’re trying to talk about right now is whether or not I printed posters in time […] I think that’s completely inappropriate and not the point at all.”



ConU delegation places 5th overall at Coms games

The winning video team had to produce a trailer for a film they didn’t see.

Dressed as hunters in camouflage clothing, Concordia students had set their sights on accolades at the Jeux franco-canadiens de la communication, and they came away with a few spoils of war, placing fifth overall.

Nine university delegations, each costumed in a different theme, competed at the JDLC in Sherbrooke, Q.C. last weekend. Concordia was, as in past years, the only English university competing against francophone schools, including first-place Université de Quebec à Montreal and runner-up Université de Montréal. Like at last year’s competition in Moncton, Concordia has rose from the bottom spot to a higher rank.

Organizer and communications student Charles D’Amboise was impressed with his team’s work. “We had good performances like in every competition,” he said. “All the people were super prepared.” He pointed to professional mentorships from groups like advertising agency DRAFTFCB as a helpful factor in the performance of this year’s delegation.

Thirty-two students represented Concordia at the competition, which is conducted entirely in French, and features 13 challenges in the journalism and communications field including debating, improv, theatre, radio production, public relations and interviewing.

Concordia placed first in the video production category. Teams of three had to create a two-minute trailer for a film after receiving the movie’s script. Teammates Ryan George, Sabrina Allard and Samuel Brisson had four hours to shoot and four hours to edit the movie. Gabrielle Lefort, a journalism student and staff member at L’Organe, placed second overall in the journalistic writing challenge. The advertising team won third place.

D’Amboise acknowledged that last year Concordia ranked in the top three in more categories, but with poorer performances in others. This year, however, the overall performance of the team was stronger. “We’re happy that everybody did well.”


Woodsworth steps down

When school resumes in a little more than one week, one familiar face will be missing from Concordia. Judith Woodsworth stepped down Dec. 22 as president and vice-chancellor, posts she held for slightly more than two years, effective immediately.

The reasons for her stepping down are personal, according to a university-issued statement that was emailed to students.

“Dr. Woodsworth loved the students, and got to know many of them despite the sheer size of the student body,” the statement reads. “She was approachable, and was indeed approached [by students] in the library, in Le Gym, in elevators and hallways, in coffee shops around the campus and even out on the street. Convocation was her favourite time of year, and she exuded her characteristic warmth as every student crossed the stage.”

Despite the affectionate and appreciative statement, some university staff members have said Woodsworth was forced to leave. One university employee told the Concordian that she had been let go a few days before the statement was issued.

Woodsworth has declined to comment for the moment, according to her husband and former chair of Concordia’s journalism department, Lindsay Crysler. He told the Concordian she had been into work earlier in the week, including Dec. 22, the day of the announcement.

Woodsworth served less time than is needed to complete a bachelor’s degree at Concordia, for a period of just 28 months. She had two years remaining in her contract, and will receive a severance just over $700,000, the equivalent of two years’ salary.

Her successor will be the third president to serve Concordia in five years.

Prior to Woodsworth, Claude Lajeunesse served only two years of his five-year contract before walking away from the job in 2007, amidst reports he was disliked.

Despite the abrupt news, the doors will apparently remain open to the former president: “Dr. Woodsworth will be welcomed back to the Faculty should she avail herself of that option,” said Peter Kruyt, chair of the Board of Governors. Woodsworth was a member of Concordia’s Département d’études française in the “80s and “90s.

The sudden departure comes shortly after two of the university’s vice-presidents vacated their jobs this fall. VP external Michael Di Grappa took a position at McGill, and Kathy Assayag stepped down from her post as VP of advancement and alumni relations.

But Concordia dismisses this trend as a symptom of anything serious. “There’s comings and goings,” said communications officer Fiona Downie. “We actually don’t feel that there have been more departures than there are at other universities of senior administration.”

Vice-president of external relations Bram Freedman will be filling in as acting president over the holidays, and an interim president is to be named in January. The search for a new president will also begin shortly, Downie said.

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