Occupation began peacefully

By Ulli Diemer

Last weekend’s Simcoe Hall occupation began peacefully Friday night when 23 students remained behind in Senate chamber after the Senate meeting on the library issue was moved to the Medical Sciences building.

University officials cited overcrowding as the reason for moving the meeting from the packed Senate chamber. Students, however, feared that the change in venue was a manoeuvre on the part of nervous administrators to get students out of the building.

Foreseeing the possibility that students might want to return to the Senate Chamber later, a group of students stayed behind to keep the building open while the senators and observers moved to the Med Sci building.

However, when the main body of people had departed, campus police began to lock all doors to the building and set up guards at all exits and at the downstairs windows. They periodically told those remaining behind that the building was closed and that they should leave.

Students arriving late for the Senate meeting were refused entry to the building. No efforts were made, however, to force those still in the Senate Chamber to leave.

Meanwhile, the Senate was in the process of voting down the principle of equal access. After the vote, which exhausted the last official channel of appeal open to the students, took place, students began to leave the meeting. A quickly convened meeting of those still present decided to return to Simcoe Hall.

As they returned, however, they were confronted by locked doors and by campus police prominently positioned at doors and windows.

At this point, students milled about in confusion, looking for entrances to the building and trying to decide what course of action to take. Shouted consultations took place between those outside and those locked in on the second floor.

The confusion was resolved when a student burst upon the scene to report that an open door had been found. The crowd rushed through Convocation Hall to the back stairs, and up the stairs through a door leading into the office of university vice-president Alex Rankin.

They moved through the office and out the other door into the corridor leading to the offices and the Senate chamber. By the time campus police arrived on the scene, most of those outside were in the building.

The U of T police, however, refused to let more students pass through the office or to allow them to use its phones. After some initial scuffling, students made no further effort to enter the office.

At the same time, however, students had been attempting to find other routes in and out of the building. Eventually, they were successful in opening a fire exit at the rear of the building.

Initially, campus police tried to prevent students from passing through it, but later they no longer tried to physically obstruct those passing through. At all times throughout the occupation, however, two or three students remained to guard the door and to ensure that it would remain open.

The seventy-odd students then gathered in the Senate Chamber to decide on their future course of action. They decided that they would remain in the building overnight in order to put pressure on the administration and that they would stay for the entire week if no satisfactory response was forthcoming.

It was also decided that as many of those occupying the building as possible would be engaged in postering, phoning, and other activities to make the student body and the outside community aware of what was taking place and to raise support.

Throughout the night, campus police were allowed to pass through the corridors unhindered, as were representatives of the press. Only the Senate chamber, in which most of the fifty-odd people staying the entire night slept, was generally kept off-limits to the security police. Other occupying students also slept in the reception area of Rankin’s office.

On Saturday night, approximately 50 people again stayed overnight. The composition of the group was somewhat different from those who had stayed Friday night, however, as a rough shift system was worked out with many of those who had stayed the first night going home to sleep and others who had not slept on the floors of Simcoe Hall Friday remaining there Saturday night.

Published in The Varsity c. 1973

Keywords: University of Toronto