A Walk on the Radical Side

Singh Takes QPIRG’s Walking Tour through ConU’s Past

  • Activist Jaggi Singhn reminds Concordians of their activist roots on his walking tour of the university’s downtown campus. Photo Justin Giovannetti

Looking at the world through his round glasses, Montreal activist Jaggi Singh has a very different way of seeing the city around him.

That vision was on full display on Sept. 22 as Singh led the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s Radical Walking Tour.

“We take some things for granted,” said Singh as he led the walking tour as part of QPIRG’s Alternative Orientation. Pointing west, Singh highlighted the recent refurbishment of Concordia’s only public square as proof.

“Norman Bethune Square needs a definition, it hasn’t been claimed yet,” Singh said. “Will it be a space where the cops move people along or will it be a space for art and artists, where people can stop, relax and not feel the need to purchase things?”

Dominated by the university’s new glass towers, which have what Singh said was limited postering space, Concordia’s campus is undergoing a redefinition that is looking increasingly to the private sector for funding and inspiration.

The new benches in Norman Bethune Square were held up as a small example of that redefinition. With a black bar splitting the bench in two, people can’t use them for a nap or any other use other than two people sitting.

Corporatization is also becoming more visible on campus.

“Some people upstairs have a problem with this being a non-traditional university,” said Singh, alluding to Concordia’s many student groups and strong presence of part-time and delayed-entry students. “They want students to finish in three to five years. They want an elite university.”

Singh also took up issue with some of the university’s policies, including its exclusivity contract with food provider Chartwells.

Because Chartwells is assured a monopoly on campus food, the People’s Potato could not serve food during the Alternative Orientation Tabling Fair on Sept. 2.

“Why can’t a student group that provides a service use this space?” Singh asked, as he led the group through the LB atrium where the Potato was denied the right to table.
The Hall building’s Mezzanine was another stop on the tour.

Once an area with chairs and tables that moved as students did, a student art gallery, bookstore and café, the Mezz looks little like its past self.

The art gallery is gone, the café has been transformed into a Java U and the student-run bookstore has been replaced by a computer store.

“They now have everything bolted down because of students throwing the furniture at cops during the Benjamin Netanyahu riot,” said Singh.

On Sept. 9, 2002, a speech by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was cancelled after students protested, leading to a clash with police inside the Hall building. Five demonstrators were arrested and 12 students were suspended.

With only six students on the tour, Singh recalled Concordia’s strong history of activism. That history of the bolted down chairs of the Mezz, the Chartwells contract and the benches of Norman Bethune Square might slowly be disappearing.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 07, published September 28, 2010.

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