A group of around fifty students occupied the lobby of the Guy Metro Building for almost four hours Wednesday morning as part of the ongoing strike action at Concordia.
The students were evicted peacefully around noon by the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal. They proceeded to blockade de Maisonneuve at the corner of Bishop, in front of Concordia’s Hall Building. Student demonstrators have blockaded the intersection every day this week.
Concordia undergraduate students have been on strike since March 15.
Bader Takriti, a Concordia undergraduate occupying the lobby, said they were there to pressure the Concordia administration “to support students, to support faculty, to support other communities at Concordia, particularly with regards to the strike for accessible education.”
“The majority of administration offices are in this building, and we’re targeting our administration,” he continued.
Keara, another occupier who asked to only be identified by her first name, also said that the Guy Metro Building was also physically “the most practical” to occupy.
“It’s a small building. There’s only two elevators and a stairwell to block,” she said.
Around 11:30 a.m., the students in the lobby learned they would receive an eviction notice from the SPVM, and that any demonstrators remaining in the lobby after receiving the notice would be arrested for trespassing.
The occupiers then held a discussion to determine their response.
One occupier said, “My personal perception is that it’s important to stay here as long as possible, but the fact that it’s between the police saying to leave and us leaving in five minutes, or everyone gets arrested, I don’t think it’s worth it in terms of the long-term effects.”
Earlier in the discussion, students from other universities had agreed to not vote during the discussion, as it was not their “public image” which was at stake.
Another student during the discussion drew attention to the presence of students from other universities participating in the occupation.
“We had friends from francophone schools, which is something that doesn’t happen at Concordia anymore these days. So I wanted people to be really proud of what we’ve done, and feel OK about walking out knowing that we have done something amazing,” said the student.
Keara said she had been able to talk with Concordia Provost David Graham for “about an hour and a half” this morning when Graham was trying to get up to his office.
“I just happened to be blocking the elevator that he was trying to get in to, so I got to talk to him,” she said.
Keara said she spoke with Graham about his position on the tuition hikes, a five-year, $1,625 increase, which the Concordia administration has supported since it was announced in last year’s provincial budget.
“The impression that I got from him was just that he seemed, in his view, this was a battle that had already been lost. I think that’s a really disappointing view for an administrator at a school to have, in a position with a lot of power,” said Keara.
Concordia Director of Media Relations Chris Mota said the occupation created “security issues.”
“People basically felt trapped in the building,” said Mota. “It was not only a question of people getting to work, but there were already people working in the building.”
Mota also said the occupiers were “asked repeatedly to move” – and were given the option of continuing the demonstration in the lobby so long as they didn’t block access to the elevators or stairwell – but refused the request.
“It’s unfortunate that when offered the opportunity to protest without blocking access, that the students chose to ignore that and block access,” she said.
Mota confirmed that the occupation “certainly had an effect on operations,” though she wasn’t sure to what extent.
The occupation was announced in a press release sent to The Daily at 8:37 a.m. announcing an “all-day gala event” to be held in the Guy Metro Building lobby in celebration of Concordia’s “new plan dedicated to securing accessible education in Quebec.” The press release also provided an email address and phone number for media spokesperson “Christina Moto.”
Anna Kruzynski, an associate professor in Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, said she read the press release and then came by the building. She said she then participated in the occupation “in order to help students figure out what their rights were.”
“I was very impressed. The students dealt with a potentially tense situation,” said Kruzynski.
“Faculty and the general populations must support the students, because these are the kinds of actions that make it such that in Quebec our tuition fees are relatively low,” she continued.
According to a number of students, the occupation had been planned for several days, as one of the actions in advance of tomorrow’s provincial day of action against tuition increases.
“I think that we’ve decided that civil disobedience in this case was worth it to get attention to what we’re trying to say,” said Keara.