September 16, 2021

In response to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plans to eliminate free tuition for low-income students and get rid of the six-month interest-free grace period on student loans, two university students have organized a protest to stop the changes.

The planned demonstration is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25, at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto. Students, faculty and all those who aren’t in favour of the changes are encouraged to bring themselves, some signs and their voices for a march to Queen’s Park to demand the government halt its plans.

The Facebook site shows that more than 4,000 students plan to attend, with another 21,000 interested.

“In 2012, the Quebec government decided to raise tuition rates. In response, a quarter of a million students took to the streets to demand change. The result was a halting of tuition increases. This year, the Ontario government has decided to target our right to education through the recent OSAP reform,” reads the description of the event on Facebook. “All students will be affected, and now it is our time to tell the government that we will not sit in peace.”

Alexander Shah, a Western University political science graduate and one of the organizers of the event, said that the large response to the protest is “indicative of how students are feeling across the province.”

“I think that students ultimately feel tired. We come out of school with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, that take an average of nine years to pay off. In addition to employment becoming more precarious, prospects for a brighter future are growing dimmer and dimmer for students,” said Shah. “Whenever I see injustice, I call it out for its real name. What I saw with the OSAP changes was a massive injustice, and we are here to call the Ontario government out.”

For some students, cuts to OSAP might determine whether or not they can afford to stay enrolled in their programs.

“I might not be able to continue with school,” said Conestoga College first-year radio broadcast student Brooke Mercer. “I get both grants, which cover my whole tuition, and loans that I’ll have to be able to pay back eventually. But with cuts to grants it would be so much more — and one of the reasons I put off college for so long was because of having student loans. I would have to work a lot to make up the money and then that takes time away from school work.”

Crysta Montiel, event co-organizer, posted on the Facebook group that this is students’ chance to be heard.

“In order for change to take place, continued support must be shown! That being said, we want public attention — let everyone hear us first,” Montiel’s Facebook post read. “Bring your signs, bring your voices and dress warmly.”

SpokeOnline will provide coverage of the Friday event.

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