The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario is extending solidarity and support to Simon Fraser University (SFU) students and McMaster University students targeted by their administration for participating in climate justice and fossil fuel divestment activities on campus. The weaponization of student misconduct policies against students who call for divestment from fossil fuels shows blatant disregard for the freedom to protest and demonstrate, and further indicates that universities would rather police students and continue to profit off of fossil fuel investments, than confront their own ethical misconduct as they contribute to the climate crisis. The Federation supports students in the fight against the climate crisis, and maintains that no person should be prosecuted, legally or otherwise, for participation in protest and demonstration.

On September 14, 2021, SFU students gathered to paint a washable, non-defacing mural raising awareness about the climate crisis. Such murals are a common way to demonstrate the need for action on the climate crisis.This particular mural anticipated the September 28, 2021 SFU Board of Governors meeting to discuss a motion to divest from fossil fuels. The participating students were later contacted by SFU’s Student Conduct Office, and threatened with disciplinary proceedings for their engagement in this peaceful demonstration.

On November 12, 2021, members of McMaster University divestment group MacDivest were stopped by campus security, asked for identification, and were interrogated by security officers about their actions. These students were postering on campus. The students were also told by security officers not to come to campus except for academic reasons and that these students were now under investigation. It is shameful that students are being interrogated by campus security for participating in student organizing, especially with a campus recognized student group. Students should be free to access campus and to be part of student organizing without fears of being policed by campus security or penalized for their participation in peaceful actions.

It is shameful that the SFU administration considers organizing for the future of the planet to be ‘misconduct.’ It is also appalling to see students harassed and forced off campus by security at McMaster University. To equate the peaceful expression of urgent ideas to misconduct and mischief is to suppress political thought, dissent, activism, and organization. Instead of valuing student voices, the administrations of SFU and McMaster sought to suppress them by weaponizing their code of conduct in bad-faith, while ignoring the vital message these students communicated. Unfortunately, because of these events, students may be deterred from participating in future actions for fear of disciplinary repercussions or arrest by campus police, despite their importance. In both cases, the university creates an environment where divergent political thought and action is discouraged, and acquiescence to the administration’s agenda is enforced.

The Federation considers these two events to be linked. Institutions have always been interested in quelling student activism to support institutional and private entity interests. The roots of widespread campus policing in Canada are connected to times of political activism on campus. Policing comes in many forms, and does not just happen in a legal context. Policing and surveillance occur in academic and non-academic settings, through such codes of conduct cited at SFU or through unwarranted interrogation by campus security. The Federation calls for an end to on-campus policing and against the practice of penalizing and silencing student organizing. The Federation continues to call on post-secondary institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario is the oldest and largest student organization in Ontario, representing over 350,000 college and university students in every region of the province.