Last Friday this site broke the story of how pupils at Toronto’s Student School planned to join a group of anarchists at their annual protest against Barrick Gold’s AGM. Led by American professional protester Sakura Saunders, the anti-Barrick protests are perfect example of how Toronto’s union affiliated activist community has evolved into a distasteful self-parody.
Many readers were alarmed to hear that a school in the Toronto District School Board had approved their students to engage in illegal activities (side-by-side with a convicted and imprisoned ringleader of the violence during the 2010 G20). That said, people who have been following the antics of the TDSB weren’t really surprised at all- our city’s school system has become highly politicised.
The word started to get out about the Student School’s plans, the story got linked by a couple other websites, people started to speak up- and, today, Your Humble Narrator has some great news to share…
The media relations department of the TDSB was contacted and provided with these three questions:
1. I read through the TDSB’s documentation on running school field trips, nowhere does it say that students aren’t allowed to participate in illegal activities (as they did last year when they were blocking traffic). Perhaps I missed something? I understand your explanation that it’s an assumption that field trips aren’t allowed to involve illegal behaviour- but, in this case, it seems the Student School has been, and plans to again.
2. The protest is led by a militant anarchist who has openly promoted pipeline sabotage- in 2007, at the same anti-Barrick protest, she fought against the police resisting them as she was arrested. Does the TDSB have a process or rule to protect students from being exposed to people and organizations that promote illegal activity? Are there standards for vetting organizations who partner with TDSB schools?
3. Reading through TDSB regulations on political activities, it seems clear that teachers have the obligation to present all sides of the story- not only one side from the opposition. What activities has the Student School taken to provide a counter-measure? Were representatives of Barrick, or other pro-mining experts, invited to tell their side?
4. Does the TDSB’s insurance carrier have any qualifications in the contract that limit field trips from engaging in illegal activity?
It took a few days, and the TDSB’s answer was rather brief:
“I was able to connect with the school. It’s my understanding that students had indicated that they wanted to attend a protest. When the proposal was put through the regular approval process, it was not approved.”
This is an interesting response, leaving the reader to believe that the “regular approval process” saved the day. But the Student School also attended last year’s protest. And, it’s important to note the structure of how students “voted unanimously” to attend. They make these decisions at their General Council- a meeting attended by both students and staff (and none of the staff spoke out?).
So, the good news is that the Student School will no longer sanction having their students attending this “arrestable” event in the company of the worst role models imaginable. The bad news, however, is that the school has allowed this to happen in the past, and the TDSB appears to be unwilling to engage in a discussion about the gaps in their policy and/or governance that enabled this to occur.
The Student School Is A “Safe Space”, But For Who?
The Student School promotes itself as the only institution in the TDSB where the entire school that’s 100% deemed as a “Safe And Positive Space”. They also promote the school’s objectives to “fight oppression, celebrate differences, and embrace diversity”. It sounds good on paper, but how does that work in practice?
The system appears to work well for young people who engage in radical-left politics; it’s unlikely they’ll be oppressed based on their race, gender or disability. That said, it doesn’t appear to be a safe learning environment for people with alternative political views.
The school’s engagement with Students Against Israeli Apartheid is a perfect example. SAIA is a militant organization that has a reputation for bullying fellow university students. A human rights complaint was filed in 2010 after a group including a leader of SAIA threatened violence against pro-Israel students at York University. Inviting them to the school made a mockery out of the concept of building “safe spaces”. One report indicates an Israeli student felt compelled to walk away because of the negative environment.
The Student School appears to have some excellent resources for students who want to excel at a career in political activism, but students with right leaning views are unlikely to feel welcomed there. There’s an unfairness to this, and it’s in-conflict with the school’s other core value of ‘equity’. Public schools aren’t meant to push polarized political views, their mission is to provide a well-rounded education that’s accessible to all.
Under its current structure, the Student School comes across as misuse of tax dollars for partisan purposes.
Manipulative Activists & Ethical Red Flags
There was an interesting story in the Globe And Mail last year about a group of pro-life activists who made a nuisance of themselves picketing Toronto high schools with provocative signs (of aborted foetuses). The TDSB didn’t invite them on-campus, and actively encouraged parents who were offended to report them to the police.
The article quoted University of Toronto Bioethics professor Kerry Bowman who worried about the group’s tactics, saying:
“When you combine the manipulative techniques with a population that is still forming their values and beliefs, I see an ethical red flag going up…You’re really playing to win. It’s not a just a question of informing people about this issue; it’s much more manipulative.”
No single sentence could better encapsulate the current situation at The Student School!
Sakura Saunder’s ProtestBarrick.net has (according to her reports) been given a court order to cease-and-desist distributing inaccurate information. In 2012 Saunders was caught trying to manipulate a police investigation by twisting reality to make it a trans-rights issue. And, it was only a few weeks ago that Saunders was caught lying on TV to Ezra Levant of Sun News. And, let’s not forget the false report of police violence at last year’s Barrick protest.
And it’s not just Saunders, the deeper one looks into the Student School, the more evidence one sees of questionable influences. Those t-shirts the students are making in the picture two images above were for a revolutionary fundraiser that featured Farshad Azadian of Fightback, a publication of the militant Trotskyite Marxist Tendency.
Fightback operates like a kind of socialist obedience cult where members are strictly controlled by their leaders. They’re entryists who specialize infiltrating other organizations in efforts to indoctrinate and recruit more members. One of the teachers, Janet Csontos, works with Fightback too- there’s a great potential for conflict of interest.
There’s something wrong here folks, public schools aren’t supposed to work this way…