You'd expect Halifax to give more of a shit about its student community. Tens of thousands of vibrant minds arriving each September, as natural as the tide coming in, are a resource to make any other city drool. But not this town, where municipal services like Metro Transit and the police go beyond apathy to treat their student customers with contempt. For an example, read "Jaywalking to justice" on page 60, about how one student got welcomed to his new home by a police officer and wound up in a legal nightmare.
The main reason any government can get away with treating students badly is turnover. A student activist who wants something---lower tuition, late-night bus service, a clothing-optional campus---can be passionate and vocal and organized and morally right, but the bureaucracy always has time on its side. Those wheels of change move a lot slower than a Bachelor degree.
Students are getting increasingly sophisticated about dealing with this problem, forming student organizations that can carry the torch while individual students come and go. The biggest such organization in the country is the Canadian Federation of Students, lobbying the federal government on students' behalf since 1981. The newest is the Halifax Student Alliance, demanding better from city hall since last November.
The HSA was formed in response to the regional municipality's epidemic of muggings and beatings. While Haligonians of all stripes---young and old, student and civilian---had been getting pounded on neighbourhood streets for years, city hall didn't care until fall '06, when an American visitor was stabbed to death outside a bar. Facing that potential tourism disaster in a media spotlight, mayor Peter Kelly woke up to the problem and convened the Mayor's Roundtable on Violence.
A study took place to figure out how violence was hitting residents, but it happened over the summer of 2007, effectively excluding the student experience. That oversight, whether by accident or design, was the last straw. The student unions at Dal, SMU and other local schools got together to launch the HSA, then polled their combined membership---over 30,000 students---about violence.
Current HSA chair Mark Coffin, who's also the education vice-president at the Dal Student Union, says the information HSA gave the mayor resulted in a 60-page section of the roundtable's report. And it showed students are more likely to be victims of violence than their civilian counterparts.
Coffin's career as a student politician is probably nearing its end---he's going into his fourth year of an environmental science degree---but the HSA's in it for the long haul. Just the third municipal lobbying group of its kind in Canada, after Calgary and Edmonton, it is the only one with a paid executive director and long-term funding guaranteed from its members, who each pay $2 per year to the organization. The HSA is focused on the upcoming municipal election, determined to make violence and Metro Transit key issues. Hopefully for all of us, they will succeed.
"It's in the best interest of the Halifax economy," Coffin points out. "Students contribute about $300 million annually according to Donald Clairmont, author of the report on violence, so if Halifax doesn't treat its students right, and if we're not making sure that Halifax is an attractive city and a safe city and an easy to get around city, then that number is slowly going to start to shrink. And it's going to have an effect on the wider community."
Liquid paper: In The Coast's recently published Best of Halifax City Guide, we described Just Us! Coffee Roasters as having a "commitment to free trade." Of course we meant to say "fair trade," which is something altogether different---and far more commendable. Speaking of the Best of Halifax, an editing error caused us to accidentally omit the Best Newsstand category from the list of categories printed on page 8, although you can vote for it online. The Coast sincerely regrets both errors and any consternation they may have caused. a
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