Clement Goh, Senior Reporter
Drums beat to the chanting of students. They bunched together in a small but loud crowd, marching along Toronto’s University Avenue.
Their goal was to reach Queen’s Park with a message for the provincial government: don’t change the Ontario Student Assistance Program that helps tens of thousands of students attend post-secondary school.
Toronto Police officers rode on bicycles with the marchers while cruisers blocked the roadways clearing a straight path towards the courtyard of Ontario’s Legislative Building.
The warmer weather welcomed student organizations outdoors for a rally at Queen’s Park on Feb. 4, one part of a protest that also had rallies in other cities.
The Facebook-organized event by Students for Ontario rallied more than 100 individuals to voice their disapproval towards the Ford government’s newest changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
Board members from Humber’s IGNITE — including Vice President North Jeremy Largo-Afonso — joined the 20-minute march along with other representatives from schools such as U of T, Ryerson and Loyalist College. Each student union had their own stakes, for students affected by the removal of free tuition and personal adjustments to pay for OSAP.
“I’m feeling we’re going to be a big part of what’s going on right now and that even if we don’t get as much media coverage, we’re still making a very big stance on this,” said Afonso, speaking to Humber’s Et Cetera before attending the rally.
Afonso said IGNITE also provides a selection of financial relief efforts for Humber students.
“After that, things start to slow down for the January to April timeline, but generally we handle bursaries, we handle our financial relief plan and we do a tax clinic,” he said. Waiting times for some of IGNITE’s services could span from one to several weeks depending on how students submit their applications.
“We’re still waiting to see how much of a change the auxiliary fee option will be to students now that it will be opt-in,” he said.
The changes proposed by the Doug Ford government include the opting of certain student fees, cutting funding for free education for students who qualify, and axing the six-month grace period between leaving school and making the first OSAP loan
Afonso stood at the front of the crowd with other IGNITE members as they held messages made at their a sign making event days before the rally.
She donned a bright orange vest, leading one section of the crowd towards Queen’s Park while two marshals led the front.
“It was really intense,” said Eryavec, who was also a former student mayor for the City of Barrie.
“Obviously a lot goes into planning an event of this magnitude and there’s a lot of people involved behind the scenes, different schools and really it was an initiative,” she said.
From the Facebook event page, Eryavec also said other organizations and Ontario’s student boards helped make the march happen.
“The people who came forward from London and Kitchener and Windsor and Barrie, Kingston, everywhere, they really stepped up and organized their own rally. They really are what made it province-wide,” she said.
“These guys (government) are throwing roadblocks in front of their (student’s) dreams, and we want to help students overcome those roadblocks,” said Harvey Bischof, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).
Standing on a small makeshift podium in front of Queen’s Park, Bischof also took a minute to congratulate the crowd for their display before pledging the OSSTF’s support for students.
“It’s encouraging and it’s inspiring to see here the faces of the students and the faces of the province’s future all gathered together like this,” Bischof said.
“And more and more, I understand that this government is looking for a fight,” he said.