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Standing in solidarity with Ontario students

The Council of Canadians shares its support and solidarity with students today as tens of thousands ready to walk out of classrooms in Ontario in protest of Premier Doug Ford’s relentless and devastating education cuts.

Rayne Fisher-Quann, a 17 year-old student and activist, writes about the walkout today in the Toronto Star. We are sharing her inspiring words describing the intentions behind today’s actions.

Last September I helped lead 40,000 students onto the streets to protest devastating changes to education. Young people from every corner of our province stood together to demand better from our government in what we hoped was a final show of resilience.

Clearly, the Ford government didn’t learn its lesson.

On Thursday, students will walk out again to protest the sweeping education cuts poised to decimate our school system. With over 700 schools and an estimated 80,000-plus students across Ontario currently registered to participate, it could be one of the largest protests in Canada’s history.

Throughout Ford’s tenure as premier, he has attacked education from every available angle. First, he slashed the sexual education curriculum; then, he cancelled an updated Indigenous education plan; lately, in what almost feels like a show of gratuitous violence, he’s been taking aim at special needs funding, class sizes, phone usage, teacher jobs, and more. It’s infuriating and sad and terrifying and, for our province’s most vulnerable students, catastrophic.

I’m seventeen, in my last year of high school and about to head off to university. My younger sibling, a non-binary student with autism, ADHD, and executive dysfunction, started Grade 9 this school year. Believe me when I say I’m painfully, achingly aware of the gaping hole left by every single dollar cut from an education system that’s already running on fumes. Hopefully, though, Doug Ford and Education Minister Lisa Thompson aren’t.

I say hopefully because I truly do hope that they’re simply ignorant; ignorance can be fixed. If they aren’t — if they understand the harm their actions will cause, the lives they will ruin — then we’re forced to grapple with a sickening alternative: they simply don’t care.

I hope our elected leaders are better than that. I hope their human empathy outweighs their political motivations… but I haven’t been given much reason to believe this is the case.

For argument’s sake, though, let’s assume those in charge of the province I call home simply don’t understand what they’re doing. If they can’t see where they’re going, I’m happy to paint a picture.

My sibling’s challenges mean that it can be an insurmountable task for them to complete independent work without heavy support. Forcing them to take four courses online, with no real-life support, will make it near-impossible to pass. They need one-on-one support from teachers in a classroom setting and, like many children with autism, they suffer from sensory overload in crowded rooms. Increasing class sizes to stuff rooms to the brim will turn math class into its own layer of hell. As a special needs student, they often use their phone in class to curb panic attacks, contact me for help, or stimulate their hyperactive brain.

I can’t express to you the pain and defeat and aching, cutting despair that I feel knowing what this system will do to the person I love most — and to everyone like them. And this round of cuts reflects the crushing truth that Ford and Thompson aren’t feeling this kind of empathy toward the youth of their province.

I know the education system is complicated. I know funding is tight. Trust me, I know. But we need to expect better from our government — if nothing else, we need to expect the most basic of human emotions to matter more than the red ink and dollar signs. We need to expect our leaders to care about us.

If I have anything nice to say about Doug Ford, it’s that we do owe him a certain modicum of thanks. The proverbial magnifying glass of his destructive policies has focused our outrage into a white hot flame.

We’ve decided that we aren’t going to take it anymore. We are going to walk out and force ourselves into every room that doesn’t want us there. Young people are more empowered than ever and we aren’t going to accept a government that doesn’t care about us.

We demand empathy; we demand caring; we demand better.

And we’ll see you on Thursday.