TORONTO, ON – Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis has cancelled his long-standing lecture at the University of Toronto, and has called on U of T Administration to address structural deficiencies in graduate student funding in order to save the academic year and U of T’s global reputation.

Lewis, who also served as Leader of Ontario’s NDP, UN special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to Africa and Companion of the Order of Canada urged all other invited speakers to cancel their engagements until the conclusion of the strike by education workers at U of T, members of Unit 1, Local 3902 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3902-1).

His announcement came on the same day University President Meric Gertler ended a lengthy silence to faculty, students, and the university community by making inaccurate claims about graduate student funding at the university and the potential hiring of replacement workers to perform CUPE3902-1 work.

“Stephen Lewis’ show of solidarity is a major boost to the members of the U of T community who support our fight for structural change to graduate student funding,” said Craig Smith, spokesperson for CUPE 3902.

Stephen Lewis’ letter is presented in its entirety here:

“Given the rejection of the most recent tentative agreement by members of CUPE3902, I am cancelling my participation in the Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Student Conference on Thursday, March 26.

I join the faculty members, undergraduate students and their families, writers, thinkers, and politicians from all parties and levels of government in calling on the University of Toronto Administration to improve its offer and come to the bargaining table to end the legal labour action of the 6,000 education workers of CUPE3902.

The University of Toronto is Canada’s premiere research institution and sits atop a number of global rankings. It plays a key role in the Canadian knowledge economy and produces original research of which all Canadians should be proud. Graduate students are an absolutely crucial component of this success. They do the bulk of the face-to-face teaching and the work necessary for the functioning of the university. But to focus on their labour as teachers is to ignore the fact that their primary role is as researchers and early stage academics. I can tell you first-hand that U of T’s graduate student research makes the world a healthier, safer, and more equitable place. Graduate students should be in the lab, the field, or the library-not on picket lines fighting to have their rights enshrined in a Collective Agreement to prevent another strike in a few years’ time.

The ongoing strike not only undermines U of T’s reputation, but damages its ability to attract top minds. In solidarity with CUPE3902, I urge other invited speakers not to cross picket lines and not to speak on campus until the University of Toronto Administration offers a fair and equitable deal to the members of CUPE3902 and recognizes their crucial role in the University’s success.”


For more information, please contact:

Craig Smith, CUPE 3902-1 Spokesperson, 416-836-1825

Ryan Culpepper, CUPE 3902-1 Vice-Chair, 416-452-6562

Kevin Wilson, CUPE Communications, 416-821-6641