We, the Board of Directors of the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), endorse the SFU C19 Coalition, and the Just Recovery Principles. As a representative body made up of undergraduate, graduate students, and members of the larger community, we are concerned that many students are under threat of being left behind should the standard neoliberal austerity measures be implemented as a “solution” to the crisis of COVID-19. We recognize the harm that will be caused by any COVID-19 recovery plan that prioritizes corporate interests and the wealthy, while leaving behind those who have experienced the most harm to health and material security during the pandemic. We are particularly concerned about students who face various forms of systemic marginalization. These students are our friends and community members. They are us. The hardships faced by the most marginalized students will only be exacerbated by the recent increases in tuition.
The SFPIRG Board of Directors recognizes and honours the important work of the SFU C19 Coalition. The SFU C19 Coalition is a group of students advocating on behalf of students who are experiencing precarity, anxiety, and abandonment by an academic institution that often prioritizes profit over student lives and quality of education. The C19 Coalition has worked to address the healthcare crisis facing many international students, the mental health care crisis, the precarious working conditions of international students and migrant workers on campus. We fully endorse their call to hold those in power accountable, and we support their demand for support both from governments and from our University.
Given all of this, we also take a vocal stance in favour of a Just Recovery plan that prioritizes the health and material needs of all people, with particular emphasis on meeting the needs of those who already face inequitable social conditions. The Just Recovery Principles are 5 core values that must form the framework of any COVID-19 recovery effort. These principles, outlined below, have been endorsed by several hundred organizations, including the SFPIRG Board of Directors:
- Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
- Provide economic relief directly to the people.
- Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives.
- Create resilience for future crises.
- Build solidarity and community across borders — do not empower authoritarians
We believe that a Just Recovery should provide meaningful supports for those most impacted by COVID-19; we also believe that simply getting society back to the pre-COVID status quo is not enough. The old “normal” was never Just. In recognition of this truth, we would also like to draw attention to, and add our voices in support of, the following struggles:
- The demands of Indigenous peoples that the Canadian state respect Indigenous lands and sovereignty. In a perfect example of what has been called “disaster capitalism” the Canadian state has used COVID-19 as an opportunity to push forward its ongoing extractive colonial interests at the expense of Indigenous peoples. We particularly want to honour the current struggles of the Wet’suwet’en and Mohawk in defending their lands from violation. We recognize that SFU, like so many Canadian institutions is colonial in nature, right down to its name (and indeed our own name) which honours Simon Fraser, an agent of colonial empire. We support Decolonization, which we believe means, among other things: Land Back.
- The demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of Black students at SFU. We recognize that slavery and anti-Blackness are also at the root of the Canadian state, and that anti-Blackness is a toxic thread running through this society and SFU as an institution. The time that it has taken to finally convince the university to change the name of its sports team is a perfect example.
- The call to defund/abolish the police. It has long been known that the police, rather than keeping communities safe, routinely over-police, harm and murder members of marginalized communities, especially Indigenous and Black people and disabled people. The evidence for this is everywhere. We do not believe that any society is best governed through state violence, and that there are better ways to respond to crisis and harm in our communities.
- The call for FREE tuition for ALL – International students included. Given the importance of access to education in promoting a just society there is no excuse for not having universal free education. Students should not have to incur debt in order to access an education. Working class and poor people should not be put in the impossible position of having to decide whether to incur that debt or simply not attend. The cost of education exists to maintain class divides, and we reject any claim that providing free education is an impossibility. It is a matter of priorities, and we believe that building an equitable society in which cost is never a barrier to accessing education must be a priority.
- The demands for decent pay and working conditions coming from grocery store workers, farm workers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, health care workers – those “essential workers” who were called heroes early in the pandemic, but who now face enforced long hours working under difficult and dangerous conditions, while the hazard bonuses they temporarily received are being cut.
- The demands of Migrant workers, who perform truly essential work, but who are denied their human rights by a Canadian state that wants their labour, but refuses to recognize their humanity and their rightful place in our communities.
- The call to prevent evictions, and the imposition of crushing COVID-19 rent debt on low income people, and the demand that non-profit housing be provided for the thousands of unhoused individuals who presently struggle on the streets and in unsafe shelters and hotels in the greater Vancouver region.
- The #300ToLive Campaign – the call from Disabled people on provincial assistance to make the temporary COVID-19 increase of $300 a month permanent. People on Disability Assistance live miles below the poverty line, and $300 a month will not change that, but $300 is better than nothing, and refusing to allow it to be taken away again must be a part of any Just Recovery plan.
This is a difficult time; one that has intensified and highlighted long-standing inequities in our society. We cannot help but respond to the crisis we face, but HOW we respond collectively is presently up in the air. It can go a number of different ways. Our collective response to COVID-19 can accelerate our present trajectory down the path that sees more and more of the world’s resources in the hands of a shrinking few, while the human needs of the majority are ignored, and indeed the needs of all life on this planet are threatened.
Or, we can demand a change of direction, one that will see us collectively build something better.
That’s the path we are choosing. That’s the future we are building. We hope to see you there.
The SFPIRG Board of Directors