U of T Silent, While Activist Groups Burn

Category:  Historical Reprints.
Source:  “U of T Silent, While Activist Groups Burn”, unsigned editorial, The Varsity Toronto, Wednesday, January 13, 1971
Emphases added by Admin ACA.


U of T Silent, While Activist Groups Burn

Something is happening just outside the university campus, which the university cannot afford to ignore.

The night of December 18 there was a fire at ­373 Huron Street … in a U of T-owned building rented to a group of organizations working for social changes in Canada.  The groups included The Toronto Women’s Liberation Movement, the Metro Tenants’ Association, the Stop Spadina Save Our City Coordinating Committee, and the Praxis Research Institute.  Until recently, the Just Society movement, an association of poor people, also used the building.

With differing emphases, all these groups have been working to lay the basis for fundamental social changes which would put the real power in our society back in the hands of the Canadian people.

That means fighting to end the oppression of women, fighting to achieve cheap housing for Torontonians.  And fighting to stop the destruction of the city by deveopers and politicians with an eye only to profit and efficiency.

There is no evidence that the fire was an accidental one.  There is considerable evidence that it was the direct result of the atmosphere of repression and hysteria which groups and organizations — from the federal government in Ottawa down to the Toronto press and fanatic groups like our own home-grown Edmund Burke Society have been promoting.

The hostility with which the press treated last weekend’s Poor People’s Conference too, is a barometer of the attitudes irrational hysteria promotes.

There is evidence [ —- ] our front page report that the events at 373 Huron on December 18 were deliberately calculated to undermine the Poor People’s Conference held here last weekend.

There appears to be abundant circumstantial evidence to show that Telegram reporter Peter Worthington could be charged with incitement to arson (if there is such a charge) in the series of provocative and unsubstantiated attacks he has mounted on Praxis.

It was no surprise, for instance, to find Worthington, the weekend of Laporte’s murder, writing virulently that Canada’s campuses were hotbeds of violence and extremism which ought to be purged if social upheavals were to be avoided.

Worthington warmly endorsed the remarks of retired RCMP security and intelligence —– W. H. Kelly, that, without political purges in universities, the campuses could become “incubators of terrorism.”

The technique might [to] be quite familiar to us, if we have learned anything in the last couple of months.  The way in which federal politicians were able to raise the spectre of “insurrection” and of thousands of armed FLQ members, in order to crush a wide range of democratic community organizations in Quebec, provides a textbook example.

Peter Worthington took a page right out of Jean Drapeau’s book, when he mounted his campaign against Praxis just as the organization was beginning to oganize workshop-style conferences at which people could discuss how to begin to achieve their social aims.

The fire and looting of course, occurred the same day one of Worthington’s slanderous attacks appeared in print.

And let’s not forget Prime Minister Trudeau, who picked up on Kelly’s rhetoric when he suggested early last month that university campuses will have to be increasingly under police surveillance since the university is the place where “the instigators of violent dissent are going to find their natural milieus.”

In the first place, U of T plans to stand idly by while Praxis and the other groups attempt to survive this blow at both their physical survival and their viability as community organizing groups.

U of T, which owns 373 Huron, does not plan to restore it for use by its original occupants, or to help find alternate accommodation for its occupants.

The university’s callous stand on this issue is just another example of its traditional attitude to groups outside the parameters of the ivory tower.

Two summers ago, U of T tore down an outstanding second hand bookstore,  Volume One, at the corner of Harbord and Spadina — for parking space.

Last spring, U of T, in a situation almost parallel with the 373 Huron affair, refused to spend $2,000 on repairs to a cooperative daycare centre housed in a university building on Sussex Ave.  That error in judgement was corrected by a prolonged overnight visit of hundreds of students and faculty to Simeon Hall, where they threatened to remain unless the university agreed to help out the daycare centre.

But what is even more appalling is the apparent disinterest U of T President Claude Bissell has displayed in the whole atmosphere of repression infecting Canada.

He made no public statement on the suspension of civil liberties in October, and the subsequent crackdown on the people of Quebec.

A man of reason, and a leader of opinion in English Canada, Claude Bissell did not feel compelled to articulate any objections to the actions of the federal government in Quebec and of governments — like the B.C. and Quebec Governments for instance — which took the opportunity to impose strict political control on teachers and faculty.

Bissell’s incredible disinterest in these challenges to the independence of the university and to the Canadian traditions of freedom of thought and learning, is difficult to comprehend.

The university should be a place where free exchange of opinion can always take place.

But it should take place there especially if it attempts in an analytical way to examine the problems facing Canadians and begin to resolve them.

U ot T took a half-hearted step in that direction when it (or at least its faculty, students, and president) opposed the Spadina Expressway.

It is time now for U of T to come to the aid of the groups who have been terrorized out of their accommodation.

U of T should be standing solidly behind all of these groups — supporting them both in the public eye and in working for fundamental social change.

Concretely, this would mean providing physical facilities and helping them with their work — as an integral part of the university’s responsibilities.

It would also mean speaking out publicly to demand that the police move to protect such groups from right-wing harassment, and to support any legal charges Praxis, or others, might wish to lodge against Peter Worthington.

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