The face of the student movement is certainly changing, but at least 26 Concordia students are still stuck in a fight from three months ago.
The fate of these students, who were charged for their actions during the strike, will drastically change the future of student unrest at English universities. It’s too bad that this delicate situation will be decided by Concordia—and its new student union.
After all, the relationship between Concordia and its students has been pretty miserable recently. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the total callousness of the university when it comes to bringing charges against their own students.
Students were informed of their charges at the start of June, a move the school claims was to avoid extra exam-time stress. Unfortunately, that decision meant many students were already home for the summer. The CSU was in transition and Quebec was in turmoil.
Since then, students haven’t seen any of the evidence against them. They’ve done their best to plan, but without the actual documents in front of them or a date on their calendar, their hands are sort of tied. Concordia keeping this information from the charged students puts them at a major disadvantage with regards to defending themselves.
And for those who argue that students who blocked classes deserve the treatment, keep in mind this is all still alleged. Students are facing a major handicap before their trial, innocent or otherwise. By treating charged students as guilty ones, the school is completely disregarding any presumption of innocence.
In light of their particular situation, most of the charged students have been meeting with the CSU’s Student Advocacy Centre to come up with as many hypothetical game plans as they can.
Unfortunately, the Advocacy Centre can’t and shouldn’t do the union’s job.
CSU President Schubert Laforest says the union doesn’t want to demand all charges be dropped without consultation with the charged. Many of the charged students, however, feel the union should have done everything within their power to get the charges dropped from Day One.
The role of our union should be as close as possible to that of a labour union. Our elected representatives shouldn’t have to ask students if they want the charges against them dropped. From the day the envelopes appeared on doorsteps, it was their responsibility to speak out.
We’ll need a strong CSU this year especially. We can only hope that the CSU will learn before it comes time to advocate for their constituents at the Board, Senate and on the streets.
It’s worrisome to think this might be an indication of the kind of CSU performance we can expect this year. If this was the union’s first real test, they failed outright.
But this was much more than a test—these trials will set an important precedent.
While Concordia has a powerful history of activism, strikes on this scale are historic for an English school. How these students are tried will send a clear message to the politically active members of this university—and every other English school attempting a student mobilization on this level.
The school itself made its ideas clear about who should and should not occupy this space the moment the letters were sent. Those ideas won’t be written in stone, however, until the ink dries on the students’ records.
We should be grateful, then, that these decisions will not rest solely in the hands of the administration. The tribunal that will judge the students will ideally be made up of a healthy mix of students, faculty, administration and support staff.
Let’s hope they take into account the many hurdles the charged students are facing in order to get a fair trial.
Whatever they’ve done—or not done—their cases haven’t even begun and already they’re being mishandled. Hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come.