In late September, Fightback launched a campaign against Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s anti-protest law, which aims to provide a safe space for the far-right racists and bigots on campus by banning protests against them in the name of “free speech” (read our in-depth analysis here). This mandate, which threatens to penalize universities and colleges, student unions, clubs, and individual students who do not comply, is in reality an attack on the freedom of expression and assembly of students and faculty who have every right to organize opposition to hate groups on campus, and it must be stopped. The campaign to fight the anti-protest law has been a huge success with tangible results.

The campaign, which was endorsed by several left-wing and social justice-oriented organizations, quickly picked up momentum with close to 1,400 people signing our online  petition and hundreds attending more than a dozen actions and events held in Ontario throughout the month of October and early November. It is clear that Ford and his far-right friends will not be able to ram this anti-democratic law through without serious opposition from students, faculty, and the wider labour movement.

At Ryerson University, Socialist Fightback Students (SFS) and other campaign supporters have sent a clear message to campus administration and the Ford government that the anti-protest law will not be accepted. On Oct. 2 the Ryerson Senate held a preliminary discussion on the implementation of a proposed, deceitfully titled “free speech” statement. SFS activists called an emergency protest outside the meeting and later entered to address the senate directly and hold their feet to the fire.

Later in the month, on Oct. 18, over 100 attended a rally at Ryerson against the anti-protest law, which was held by a coalition of student, community and labour groups headed by Socialist Fightback Ryerson. The rally was endorsed by, among others, CUPE Ontario, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), and Students for Justice in Palestine. One of the main slogans of the rally was “All protest is disruptive!”, highlighting that civil disobedience wouldn’t be effective if it didn’t inconvenience anyone. Several news stations attended the rally and interviewed speakers and demonstrators, raising awareness of the issue and the campaign.

Feeling the growing opposition from below, the unaccountable Ryerson Senate has purposely tried to hide details on future meetings where the anti-protest law was being discussed. This has clearly been unsuccessful as our activists have been at every meeting since! The pressure of this mobilization has forced the senate to backtrack on its earlier position, adjusting the language of the proposed policy in an attempt to appease critical students and faculty. The original draft asserted that students may not “obstruct” or “interfere” with views that “may create harm” on campus. The senate later changed this wording to “prevent”, in an attempt to appease student activists. The coup de grace was delivered at the November Senate meeting, when Socialist Fightback was joined for the first time by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and other student groups in forcing a discussion on the draft policy. Feeling under fire, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi adjourned the meeting and postponed a vote on the policy to sometime in the future. Shortly after, Ryerson’s draft policy was withdrawn, and is now being re-drafted. The administration’s retreat is a direct result of the campaign started in October, which has since grown to encompass faculty members and other student groups. Ryerson is backtracking now to prevent the movement from going any further.

At the University of Toronto, the Socialist Fightback U of T chapter hosted a meeting on Oct. 24 on the anti-protest law and how to fight it (watch the recording of the presentation here). The event was a great success with approximately 60 in attendance. Attendees intervened about why events held by far-right, nationalist, and white-supremacist groups on campus are not simply a “harmless exchange of ideas”, but represent the promotion of hateful, discriminatory attitudes that have real-world consequences as people act on these beliefs. One only has to look at recent events such as the horrific mosque shooting in Quebec last year, or the more recent anti-Semitic assault of Jewish teenagers in Toronto, to see the impact of the hateful ideas the far right promotes.

This is why these events must be protested: those whose rights and lives these hate groups would seek to suppress and extinguish have every right to organize from below to stop them, exercising their own right to free speech. An important step forward in protecting the right to protest on campus was made the following week, when a resolution submitted by Socialist Fightback U of T was passed at the annual general meeting of the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), condemning Ford’s anti-protest law and committing the UTSU to refuse its implementation. We call on all student unions to refuse to comply with Ford’s anti-democratic law, and to use their significant resources to mobilize against it. Anything less would be a betrayal of the student movement and would result in the silencing of dissent on our campuses, which cannot be allowed.

Meetings have also been held in Waterloo and Hamilton. On Oct. 3, Fightback editor Alex Grant spoke at a meeting of around 25 attendees, hosted by Socialist Fightback Hamilton. Grant rightly highlighted how the far right hypocritically uses the argument of “free speech” to gain a platform for their hateful ideas, but in reality do not care about “civil debate” or defend free speech at all, instead using intimidation and violence to silence their opponents. Grant gave the example of the Proud Boys using methods of sabotage and intimidation to try and shut down Socialist Fightback meetings at McMaster. The reality is that these groups and the ideas they promote actively seek to suppress the rights of free speech, assembly, movement, and religion of others, and they must be fought.

On Oct. 19, approximately 30 students and community members participated in an event at the University of Waterloo hosted by Socialist Fightback Waterloo, including club representatives from Students for Palestinian Rights and the GLOW Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The discussion emphasized the most effective methods of resisting the anti-protest law and fighting against the far right on campus and at large more generally; which is through mass, collective mobilization from below.

On Oct. 30 the SFS brought the struggle against Ford’s anti-protest law to York University and held a successful rally with over 60 in attendance. Speeches were given by Socialist Fightback York activists and members from UNITE HERE Local 75, who represent Aramark food workers on campus. Socialist Fightback organized solidarity with the campus food workers when they were striking for a living wage and better working conditions last year. Now those same workers are supporting students’ right to protest. This is a wonderful example of student-worker solidarity, which will be integral to beating back the attacks of the Ford government, the bosses, and the campus administration alike.

Students will be encouraged to know that more and more of the labour movement has their back.

On Nov. 1, the Toronto & York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) adopted a Labour Fightback-promoted resolution opposing Doug Ford’s anti-protest law and committing the TYRLC to support anyone who refuses to participate in its implementation. Later in the month the

Toronto Education Workers / Local 4400 also adopted the resolution and committed to support all those who defy this draconian law. Support from the labour movement has the potential to immensely strengthen the student groups who organize against the anti-protest law, and a win for the students would be a win for the workers.

Doug Ford’s attack on civil liberties is not only limited to students, but extends to working people as well. This was shown by his use of back-to-work legislation to violate the right to strike of teaching assistants at York University. A successful attack on one layer of the movement only emboldens further attacks elsewhere. Therefore, it is vital for the labour movement to mobilize when students are under attack, and vice versa.

All of these organizing efforts are having a real impact. Campus administrations have been forced to retreat and are feeling the pressure from below. This in itself will help protect protesters from frivolous repression, as doing so will only vindicate our warnings and trigger serious resistance from students and faculty. Student and labour unions have adopted resolutions committing them to resist the implementation of the policy. Awareness has been raised by engaging hundreds of students and workers in discussions on the impacts of the policy if implemented, through hundreds reached at the rallies and events, and through media coverage.

This mobilization is not going unnoticed by our opponents. Fightback is quite flattered to have been attacked by the National Post, one of the main mouthpieces of the billionaire class, for our campaign against Ford’s anti-protest law. Such attacks come as no surprise; the far right does the bidding of the bankers and bosses and their friends in the state and media by promoting all forms of discrimination to keep people divided and at each other’s throats, instead of uniting against the capitalist system which is really to blame for the hardships faced by the working class and the oppressed. We cannot have any illusions that the state, campus administration, or mainstream media will fight the far right and protect workers’ and students’ rights. We can only rely on our own collective forces and mobilize!

Fightback and Socialist Fightback Students (SFS) would like to thank all the organizations who endorsed and lent support to  the campaign:

  • Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario
  • CUPE Ontario
  • Canadian Union of Postal Workers
  • Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR)
  • Centre for Women and Trans People
  • Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network
  • BDS Toronto
  • Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front
  • Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective
  • Students for Justice in Palestine at Ryerson
  • Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)
  • Caribbean Students Association at Ryerson