March 4, 2022

SGPS Senator – Statement on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The following statement was read at Queen’s University Senate on Tuesday March 1st 2022 by Emīls Matīss, SGPS Graduate Student Senator. Dear fellow senators, today I am grateful to be given the opportunity to bring our attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I will start by highlighting key events, share my family’s story, and then discuss what is currently being done at Queen’s and what I believe we must prepare for. Events In 1991 Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted to declare their independence from the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been subject to Russian aggression since its people have sought to escape the Russian sphere of influence. Each movement for increased cooperation and integration with the West has resulted in threats and retaliation from Russia. The current state of war began in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea. In the spring of 2021 Russia started amassing its troops on its border with Ukraine. On February 22nd, 2022, after months of denying that an invasion was imminent, Putin ordered an invasion of two eastern regions, Luhansk and Donetsk, under the guise of peacekeeping after recognizing them as sovereign states. Two days later, at 03:00 GMT, Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine. It is important to note that calling the Russian Invasion of Ukraine a ‘crisis’ or ‘conflict’ is inappropriate. It conveys a sense of neutrality or equal responsibility that does not reflect the naked aggression Russia is perpetrating on Ukraine. For those wondering why we have stopped referring to Ukraine as “the Ukraine”, it is because Ukraina roughly translates to “the borderlands” and is an artifact of an outdated translation. Today using “The Ukraine” can be interpreted as undermining the sovereignty of the country, much as Putin’s condescendingly referring to Ukraine as “Russia’s little brother”. Personal Story Although I am not Ukrainian, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to me, is personal. My ethnic background is Latvian, and although I was born in Canada, English is my second language. My family was forced to flee the Soviet invasion of Latvia in the 1940s. My grandparents, on both sides, met and married in Toronto after escaping foreign aggressors, and this is how I came to be born and raised in one of the largest diasporic Latvian communities in the world. It is in this community that I have thrived, where I celebrate my heritage, language, culture, and where I have shared it with others. I have previously served as the Treasurer, Auditor, and Chairperson of the Latvian National Youth Association of Canada. My paternal grandfather, Uldis Matīss, was 17 when he was forced to leave his family home in Latvia in August of 1944. Eventually finding his way to Merbeck, Germany, he finished his high school education in a Latvian displaced persons camp. He then attended the Baltic University in Exile in Pinneberg, Germany, for two years before securing a visa to emigrate to Canada. Once here, he spent a year working on rail projects before attempting to return to post-secondary education. He found his way to Queen’s in 1950, where he was accepted in a Bachelor of Applied Science program and awarded a year’s credit for his prior education, graduating in 1953. He subsequently became a prominent electrical engineer. His choice of Queen’s wasn’t arbitrary. It was not the only school that accepted him. He chose Queen’s because it was further from his friends and surrounded by fewer distractions than there were in Toronto. He felt that he had already lost everything, risked so much, worked too hard, and that he couldn’t afford to lose what he saw as his one chance to rebuild a future robbed from him. Growing up in Canada I attended Latvian elementary school, though with some reluctance, on Saturday mornings, and Latvian High School on Friday nights. We studied our language, culture and history — with the latter including discussion of Latvia’s long history as an occupied nation. The many war crimes our people suffered such as the Soviet deportations in 1941 and 1949 of more than 60,000 Latvian Nationals to remote and inhospitable regions in Siberia. Many subsequently perished in gulags. My Ukrainian friends share this background. In their Saturday Schools they learn about and commemorate the loss and suffering endured by their people in the Holodomor – The Terror-Famine that occurred from 1932 to 1933 when the USSR perpetrated genocide by starving the Ukrainian people. A tragedy that resulted in 4 million deaths and demographic losses estimated at about 10 million. Like the countless brave people of Ukraine today, my great grandfather chose to stay and defend his country. He was executed by the KGB in 1960. For me, and those with similar stories, these events form our collective memories — and what we are now seeing in Ukraine evokes multigenerational trauma. On Sunday, I joined my fellow Latvians to show solidarity and support for Ukrainians. Seeing the Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Polish, Georgian, Azerbaijani, and countless other flags brought me to tears as I felt as though I was living in the photographs of decades past . More than 30,000 demonstrators marched from Yonge and Dundas Square to Nathan Phillips Square. My parents and grandparents demonstrated 31 years ago, sounding the alarm when Soviet forces tried to overthrow the government of Latvia that had just declared its restoration of independence, and to me, it feels like history is repeating itself. Yesterday I participated in a call with Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Canada, Bill Blair, along with my colleagues representing the Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, and Ukrainian youth organizations and groups. I am proud to report that Canada is responding to this unjust aggression and that more measures are underway. We heard calls by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to recognize the studies Ukrainian students have completed when they find their way to Canada. Our Ukrainian colleagues are grateful for our solidarity and assistance. I cannot fathom what they are experiencing, and I am in awe at their resolve. Current State and Plan I […]
February 8, 2022

Statement of Support for PSAC 901

The SGPS continues to stand in solidarity with PSAC Local 901 in demanding adequate support for graduate student educators and researchers who are integral to the proper functioning of Queen’s University. The university has stalled the bargaining process, but it is clear that our members need and deserve support now. While the university didn’t verify the reported vaccine status of students on campus until November, we have been in classrooms since September supporting undergraduate learning. While graduate funding packages have not increased since 2006, and inflation during that time increased by over 31%, we have been reworking our research proposals due to COVID-19 without the guarantee of extra funding for time lost. Finally, while our members have continued to experience racist attacks near campus and student housing, and while the university collected data last year showing that QTBIPOC students and students with disabilities feel much less safe on campus (in a report ironically titled “From Input to Action”), the university refuses to provided mandatory anti-racism and sexual violence training. Our members have been isolated, underfunded, and overworked for years. COVID-19 outbreaks have made ignoring these issues even more untenable. Mental health claims on our insurance plan increased by a staggering 40% in the 2020-21 school year, and of the 667 people who answered our Fall 2021 member survey, 480 (71.96%) asked for private mental health care subsidies from the university. Our well-being is deteriorating during the pandemic, and the university cannot wait until after the pandemic to address our needs. We need support now in order to continue playing the important roles we do on campus. Signed, The SGPS Executive