Hundreds of students rally through Halifax

Originally published on unews.ca. I contributed to this story by filing interviews, photos and live streams by iPhone. I was one of the lead field producers for the live coverage.

A blizzard didn't stop university students from attending the Nova Scotia Student Day of Action.

The rally, organized by Canadian Federation of Students, brought together groups from Dalhousie University, University of King's College, Mount Saint Vincent University, Saint Mary's University and NSCAD.

Each group met at noon on their respective campuses to join forces and protest the provincial government's move to allow tuition fees to raise.

The CFS had planned the day of protest long before the provincial government announced on Tuesday that there would be a three per cent raise in tuition fees every year for three years and a four per cent cut in university funding.

Dal student Kylie Smigh was at the Killam library at noon Wednesday. She said she was marching support friends who can barely afford university now.

"If they raise the tuition, they can't afford school and they'd have to drop out," she said.

The groups from Dalhousie, King's and SMU marched eastbound on University Avenue on their way to Victoria Park, filling the lane for blocks.

The attendance numbers from the rally were reported to be between 500 from the media, and 2,000 from organizers.

Speeches and dances

The three schools were joined by NSCAD and MSVU at Victoria Park on Spring Garden Road. In the park, MSVU professor Laura Penney gave a speech denouncing Premier Darrell Dexter.

A live DJ set from the back of a pick-up truck kept protesters moving.

Thirty police officers kept the crowds off the roads.

James Patriquin, a political science student at SMU made it to Victoria Park to show his support. His motive was clear: "I have mucho debt," he said.

King's student Alex Gerber-Turiff says she doesn't have student debt but decided to march anyway.

"I think it's bullshit how much people pay for tuition," she said. "I'm just lucky enough that my parents could afford to pay for me."

Roadblock

When the march left Victoria Park, police blocked protesters from proceeding down Spring Garden Road, a business and retail hub. Tensions rose because of this and students began to chant "Down Spring Garden" and "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Elise Graham of the CFS was among the group. "We want to get down Spring Garden because it's our right to walk down this street," she said.

After taking a stand, police eventually moved out of the way and allowed students to march down one side of the street.

Business owners not upset

The protest continued past shops on Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street.

Chris Macaloney, the manager of Second Cup on Spring Garden, said he supports the march.

"I was a student too, with rent and tuition, so I understand," he said.

Owner of The Loop on Barrington, Mimi Fautley, said the protest was great and wasn't harming business.

At Province House

The protesters made their way to Province House, their final destination.

Allan Bezanson, a former Dal student, was there to support students of all ages in the province.

"It's a matter of opposing the tuition increases," he said. Bezanson says the tuition increase would equate to a meal a day for a month for students. "So the Dexter government wants students to go hungry."

Emily Smith van Beek, a student at the rally, was happy with the final turnout but disappointed by the lack of government response.

"It's incredible," she said. "But no one is coming out of Province House. We're chanting ‘Students united and will never be defeated.'"

After an hour of speeches and chanting in an intensifying blizzard, the day came to a close.

Business as usual

Despite the turnout at the protest, the large majority of the approximately 30,000 students in Halifax did not participate.

Taayo Simmonds, Dalhousie law student chose to attend class as usual.

As a student who plans to stay and work in the province after graduation, he disagrees with the sentiments of the Canadian Federation of Students to demand lower tuition and protest government decisions.

Simmonds says there is an alternative to government subsidies for students.

"With Nova Scotia's finances the way they are, I don't think that's a good solution. It's like spending on one credit card instead of the other."

He says that student associations should focus on helping grads and expanding programs like tax breaks for those who stay in the province to work, rather than looking only at tuition.

Matt Gillard, a graduate student at Dalhousie, also chose not to participate in the day of action.

He said that this protest doesn't address the right issues, and won't impact the right people.

"A single day isn't going to shake anyone into doing anything," he said, "If (the CFS) is a lobby group organizing these events, and fees still go up, how is it effective?"

He says the Student Day of Action is "token" and "sterile" and that there needs to be more organization and cohesion on how to actually get things done.

 

With files from: Belinda Alzner, Mick Côté, Heather Gillis, and Corey Davison.

 

Here are the photos I personally took during the Student Day of Action '11