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Two weeks into Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza that an increasing number of people are not hesitating to call a genocide, significant numbers of high school students in Ontario began walking out of their classrooms in support of Palestine, and it doesn't seem to be letting up any time soon.
On Thursday, October 26, students of Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute (CI) in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood in East York walked out in coordination with a handful of other east-end schools in Scarborough, including Winston Churchill CI, Cedarbrae CI, Sir Wilfred Laurier CI, and R H King Academy. Marc Garneau CI also staged a walkout during the violent expulsion of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem in 2021.
Many of the initial schools that staged walkouts are located within or near neighbourhoods with significant Arab and Muslim populations, with many of the initial protests coming out of Muslim Students Associations (MSAs) in the high schools. This comes as no surprise, as hate incidents seem to be taking up more and more space in the public arena. In the Muslim community, the National Council of Canadian Muslims reported a 1,300% increase in incidents since October 7.
North Star's investigation revealed that numerous MSAs have actively participated in organizing protests, despite numerous calls from Muslim leaders to prioritize prayer and charity over demonstrations. Additionally, the investigation uncovered a consistent pattern of school administrators and specific teachers issuing sanctions against students, as well as other teachers, for expressing support for Palestine through demonstrations.
North Star has also received reports from students claiming that their peers have been threatened with the loss scholarships, suspension, and even expulsion for acts of Palestine solidarity, and the TDSB has maintained a policy of marking students absent for the duration of walkouts.
One student in Scarborough was instructed by a school counsellor not to circulate photos or videos of a friend's family in the West Bank who have been taken captive by the Israeli occupation forces because it "risked inciting violence against Jewish people."
In the weeks following the first walkouts in Toronto, the walkouts expanded to dozens of other schools across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ontario including: Ottawa, Hamilton, Mississauga, Brampton, London, Milton, Whitby, Ajax, Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener and elsewhere. The protests have continued to expand despite continued threats of sanction from within their schools and without. Many students have been doxxed by Zionists as "anti-semites" and one walkout organizer in Windsor, Ontario was pulled into a police station and warned that she could be charged with “inciting a riot.”
North Star asked another Scarborough student, Riyan, why the cause of Palestine was drawing out so many students right now: “Youth aren’t afraid to walk out right now, even if there are repercussions. Even though the media tries so hard to portray the Palestinians and Hamas as the bad guys, with this huge escalation and genocide, it’s impossible for people to not see this truth. There’s been enough bombs dropped in the Gaza strip to recreate the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings."
On Monday, November 13, the largest coordinated walkout yet occurred with tens of thousands of high school students from 41 schools across Ontario. The November 13 mobilization was claimed by Students of Ceasefire Now, the student front of the coalition Ceasefire Now, which consists of a convergence of Palestinian, Jewish, and solidarity groups that have been calling for an immediate ceasefire as their main demand. The November 13 day of action built upon the existing student networks that emerged rather sponteneously and rapidly in preceding weeks.
Even though Canadian public opinion remains divided on many aspects of the situation, a clear trend is emerging in support for a ceasefire, and these kind of actions probably have something to do with it. According to recent polls by Angus Reid and Mainstreet Research, between 65% and 71% of Canadians are somewhat or in favor of Canada calling a ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian aid. Furthermore, 68% believe that the current priority in the context of Israel's retaliatory attack on the Gaza Strip is to protect Palestinian civilians and guarantee humanitarian aid.
In a statement released by Students for Ceasfire Now in advance of the November 13 walkouts, the group wrote: “We cannot simply continue to come to school every day and live life as usual while this genocide is happening.” The student group is demanding the protection of Palestinian students, an end to the punishment of solidarity with Palestine, the inclusion of Palestine’s history in school curriculums, and that “Canada stops providing financial, military, and political support to Israel."