On August 31st, 2022, documentary filmmaker Kenneth J. Harvey took part in a segment on CBC Anthony Germain’s show “On The Go.” CBC titled the episode after Harvey’s film trailer “Matt holds up a sign, and their description states, “Matt Barter has been a thorn in the side of Memorial University president Dr. Vianne Timmons since tuition hikes were announced last summer. Their feud has become the subject of a supreme court battle… and now a documentary.” Below is a transcript of the episode:
Anthony Germain: When Memorial University announced plans to double tuition in 2021, there were protests, nothing massive though, nothing huge. But one student, Matt Barter, was dedicated to keeping up with the pressure about those tuition hikes and so last December, Barter stood near MUN President, Dr. Vianne Timmons, during a public meeting and he held up a sign. It was in the shape of a small red stop sign and it simply said, “Stop Vianne” and that is where his trouble started and an eventual ban from campus and that story and the sequence legal battle caught the attention of our next guest documentarian Kenneth J. Harvey who is in the studio. Good afternoon.
Kenneth Harvey: Afternoon. Thanks for having me in.
AG: I’m glad you could come in. I want to start with the trailer that you released just yesterday, right?
KH: That’s right.
AG: You looked at the massive protests that many people listening will remember. I remember some of these stories actually being covered in the national news.
KH: They were big, the parkway in particular.
AG: 1972 and 1980 where students literally shut down parts of the school and the city in 1980. What was the purpose of that cinematic juxtaposition?
KH: Well, it was just to show, we started in 1972, there were thousands of students occupied the Arts and Administration building in 1972 and they were there for 10 days I believe, 10 or 11 days. I interviewed Bob Buckingham about his participation, the local lawyer and asked, “what happened to you? what were the disciplinary measures against anybody?” and nothing.
KH: And then with the Parkway Vigil I was part of that in 1980.
AG: That’s just around the corner here.
KH: That’s right and we shut down the parkway when Judy Lynn Ford was killed by a dump truck. We came out and it was thousands of people, we shut it down. The police came and tried to disperse us, and nobody was going anywhere and then we heard that they were detouring traffic down to Elizabeth Avenue so then the next Monday after the weekend we shut that down too. As I say in the trailer, they’re trying to move us, people were pushing us with their cars, we shut down the city. We shut off the two main arteries, so the city was shut down.
AG: Student protestors making a point.
KH: Exactly and then you know how was I dealt with from MUN? Nothing. And then cut to Matt Barter in a room standing next to the president with 30 people there and he holds up a sign and he’s banned for three months. You know he’ll allowed to attend classes, but he has to check in with security like a criminal every time he comes on campus. And the sign just to add about the sign, the sign said “Stop Vianne” but underneath it was you know stop tuition hikes and there was some other print there as well right, but the main thing was Stop Vianne. And he’s had a big problem with the new president. I mean she’s not the first president that he butted heads with, the last president Gary..
KH: Yeah, he, I mean Matt, did the same sorts of things.
AG: He’s persistent.
KH: He’s very persistent yeah. He’s an army of one you know but he was also concerned and I was too when I heard of the story of the $50,000 that Vianne spend on redoing her office and I actually went over on the campus and into the tunnels and around and looked at the infrastructure with Matt pointing out the leaking, the puddles of water on the floor, and the elevators not working, the rusty ceilings and everything.
AG: I think young Matt Barter has probably filed more access to information requests than a good number of people in this very building. He’s persistent, right.
KH: They actually limited him now.
AG: Have they?
KH: Because it’s just constant but I mean that’s him, he’s persistent and these days you know who’s protesting? It’s pathetic that this guy gets banned. I mean I was an activist; I mean you look back at the days where people were passionate about things, and you know he’s one guy doing this.
AG: Yeah. I certainly had discussions with people at Memorial University about the reaction and the stance the university has taken with him, and I’ve also interviewed Kyle Reese, Matt’s lawyer on a couple of occasions and I’ve interviewed Matt himself. What is it about him that gets, what do you think that it is about him that gets under Vianne Timmons’s skin to the extent because the legal proceedings, the ban, these kinds of things can’t happen without the thumbs up at the very top, right?
AG: Because you know a PR strategy would be, you know what ignore him.
KH: Oh man, PR, come on. When I saw this, I said who is running the public relations at MUN? My God almighty. The things is you know first and foremost understand autism. Right, have somebody in there you know to deal with someone in the administration you know as a liaison to deal with people you know issues of any sort. They don’t right now, I interviewed the ex-VP as External with the MUN Student Union. And she has OCD she said and there’s nobody on campus to help, to faciltate..
AG: People with exceptionalities.
KH: But they’re also taking down you know posters there, the students’ union put up posters in support of Matt, they were all taken down.
AG: They didn’t have the right stamp on them or something?
KH: They’re just not allowed to put posters up there anymore without the permission of the university. I mean it’s insane.
AG: It usually results in spray paint from what I recall.
KH: Someone said to me they need a good week of graffiti.
AG: I’m not advocating that.
AG: Listen I want to play a clip from the trailer that you released yesterday towards the end you’re speaking with Matt about why he feels MUN has been so heavy handed with him. Let’s give this a listen.
Matt Barter: They seem to be really wanted to punish me because they think I’m an easy target because I’m a student who has autism, they think of me as an easy target. I think that MUN sees me as somebody who they thought wouldn’t be able to stand up for themselves.
AG: Alright, so that’s Matt Barter. With respect to the autism, I understand what’s he’s trying to say that the university sees him as a soft target because I think they thought he was alone but there’s no evidence that MUN has some kind of anti-autism bent to it, is there?
KH: I’m just making a documentary and recording what people say.
AG: Alright, what drew you to this guy?
KH: I saw Matt around at a lot of arts events over the years, he goes to most arts events, he’s been at my films when they’re shown at the Nickel. He stands out, he’s a cute looking kid, he got the long hair. He’s usually by himself and very very adamant about what he believes in, he’s a big arts follower. So I knew him before all of this and I spoke to him a couple of times and so forth and then I saw what happened where he was banned from MUN for holding up a sign in a room and I thought okay this is going to be a massive story, this is going to be a big story, freedom of expression you know and what’s happening to it and it was initially for like a day.
AG: It flared up.
KH: Nationally as well right. And then I thought what happened? Does anybody care about this guy at all? Does anybody care. I interviewed, I don’t think people realize the damage that this kind of stuff does. I was in the tunnels interviewing Matt and a student came up who was an international student walked by and went “woah Matt I love the work you do,” he didn’t know him, “I love what you’re doing with the tuition hikes and it’s affecting us really deeply the international student community, it’s really bad and I support you 100 percent” and he said you know the problem is now that you know we really are afraid to speak up because of what happened to you and a lot of us are frightened. And if anything, it’s because of the repercussions from the university and I’ve had three people who I interviewed said the exact same thing.
AG: What about certain faculty come out and support? In fact, I think the former Provost Noreen Golfman has actually said. What do you make of the reaction from faculty and someone with the stature of Ms. Golfman?
KH: Well, I interviewed Noreen for the documentary and she’s you know in support of Matt. I mean she dealt with Matt extensively in her position over the years.
AG: I think she was leading protests when she was younger.
KH: Exactly but she would you know when Matt stood up and protest and did his thing, she would say to him “Matt are you finished? or we’re going to have a question period afterwards and you know you’re more than welcome to voice your opinion but let me finish what I’m saying. She didn’t ignore him.
AG: A different approach.
KH: Well, your president, you’re running a corporation, you really need to be able to deal with whatever comes your way.
AG: And dissent in the various forms. And the other thing is I think at some point Dr. Timmons suggested she was afraid for her safety so the accusations got kind of serious and I don’t know what the evidence was to be fearful but..
KH: Matt’s a sweet guy.
AG: So, the documentary, last question for you, it’s obviously underway, when do you think it’s going to be released? And how much work do you have left to do before it’s ready for a screening?
KH: It’s going to be in the fall of next year and we’re still looking for a network. My company, I’m an independent producer so I’ve done docs for the doc channel, CBC, Gem, and so forth so we do a trailer and then we pitch it, so we got to get the networks on board. But the trailer is on YouTube, and it’s called Matt holds up a sign if people want to have a look at it.
AG: Alright, put the link up on my Twitter account for that. Appreciate you coming in. Thank you very much.
KH: Thank you very much for your time.
AG: That’s Kenneth J. Harvey, he makes documentary films in St. John’s with Island Horse Productions. What do you make of the story? Of course, a bit of a saga with Matt. He’s been covered off and on, not as much as he would like to be covered I would tell you he’s persistent in terms of asking us when are you going to cover this aspect of the story but obviously with a documentary film, a good reason to sort of check in plus MUN is back in business more or less next week, students back in full I think the week after. Give our talkback line a call. What do you make about what happened to protests on campus? It used to be sign of a healthy student democracy, it does seem to be a bit muted of late. Toll-free 1-800-465-6846. Here in town 576-5207. Would love to hear from you. Send us an email as well if you like rather than your voice email@example.com.
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.