On the evening of November 2, roughly a hundred students gathered in Victoria Square to rally for the recognition of student work as part of a national Student Day of Action.
In other provinces, this Day of Action was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), but CFS doesn’t have any members in Quebec. In Montreal, the demonstration was organized by various individuals at local universities, and by the Campagne sur le travail étudiant (CUTE), or Campaign on Student Work in English. Working in conjunction with McGill Against Austerity, David Aird, the VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University, organized a McGill contingent to the event, which was comprised roughly of 25 people.
The demonstration began with a rally in Victoria Square. Addressing the crowd, CUTE members delivered speeches in favour of recognizing studying as a form of labour that contributes to society and, as such, should be subsidized and even remunerated by the state.
Officers of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) were present, but refrained from interfering with the protest.
In an interview with The Daily, John Hutton, a recent graduate from Dalhousie University who attended the demonstration, argued that “education should be accessible to everybody regardless of ability to pay.”
“Education should be seen as a public service. It’s something that should be done in the interest of society, and not just to produce some educated workers for the companies that buy the university,” he said.
“Students, […] if they are going into their first year, don’t know what they’re going to take. They can’t actually afford to take a class that might not work out, they can’t afford to fail. If it’s $800 per class, you can’t afford to try out something, you have to get it right the first try. It doesn’t always work that way, especially when you’re seventeen, eighteen.”
Hutton also commented on the Liberal government’s new measures to assist postsecondary students with student debt in the 2016 federal budget. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, graduates may defer repayment until their income reaches $25,000, effective starting November 1.
The Liberal government has also introduced a Repayment Assistance program for graduates having difficulty with repayment, but Hutton said this is “a headline, it’s not a real policy.”
“Poverty is not the solution to student debt,” said Hutton. “Abolishing student debt is the solution to student debt.”
Thierry Beauvais-Gentile, another attendee, told The Daily, “Right now there is a big fight for [a 15 dollar minimum wage] going on, so it would be great if that could apply to students as well […]. As long as we are not understood as doing work [by studying], we’re basically getting exploited.”
“There is the old saying of equal work, equal pay, and I think that should apply. […] That means equal advantages for international students, women, and other populations that are affected by this.”
Amelie Poirier, a CUTE member and a l’Université de Quebec à Montréal student, shared Gentile’s sentiments regarding systemic misogyny, speaking in both English and French: “It’s the women programs where the internships aren’t paid like infirmary, social workers, sociologists, all the people around health. […] But people in law schools are paid, engineering too, which is [traditionally thought to be a] more masculine program.”
Poirier told The Daily that the march was a “feminist campaign” and that “so far it’s been women who feel more concerned about our campaign.”
“Our principle [is] for the recognition of student work, in part for paid internship and at large and student salary. […] I think students are autonomous from the moment they leave their parents’ house and they should be recognized as is,” she concluded.
After the event at Victoria Square, the group marched to McGill’s Community Square, in order to join the rally taking place in support of the striking Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE).