Religious freedom is not absolute

Trinity Western covenant spurns the LGBTQ community

Religious freedom is not absolute

As an evangelical institution, Trinity Western University (TWU) requires all students and staff to sign a community covenant. Said covenant, though arguably well-intentioned to promote traditional Christian values, has been ruled to interfere with LGBTQ rights. Most recently, the Divisional Court of Ontario denied TWU’s application for judicial review of its latest rejection for law school accreditation.

This decision received criticism from a recent opinion piece in The Varsity, which argued for TWU’s religious freedom. Yet, the fact that TWU is a religious university does not grant them leave to marginalize the LGBTQ community. TWU’s law school should not be accredited — at least, not yet. 

The offending portions of the covenant include the fact that members must abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”, and (under the subsection “Healthy Sexuality”), acknowledge that “according to the Bible, sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.” These  statements directly contradict the spirit of three levels of Canadian legislation on LGBTQ equality.

Firstly, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is constitutional law that protects the rights of anyone on Canadian soil. S.15(1) of the charter forbids discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although religious freedom is also protected under S.2(a), using this to justify discrimination is a different story. For this reason, S.1 can limit rights under certain circumstances, which is why, for example, S.2(b) on freedom of expression is constrained by S.319 of the Criminal Code on hate speech.

Admittedly, TWU is a private university, and the charter only governs interactions within the public sphere. However, given its immense significance as a symbol of rights and equity, disregarding what the Charter stands for is no small transgression, even on the part of a private institution.

This is not to mention that same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005. It is thus mildly ironic that, in 2015, a law school refuses to acknowledge a practice that has been lawful for 10 years.

Finally, all provinces and territories have human rights legislation condemning the discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation. This applies to education as well as employment (students as well as staff).

Considering this, TWU’s covenant outright rejects the principles that have guided the legal progress of the LGBTQ community in Canada. It is not “moral conformity” to require an institution to be mindful of LGBTQ interests in the society we live in, it is an obligation that is moral as well as legal.

Beyond theoretical principles of equity, LGBTQ isolation at TWU continues in practice.

The Divisional Court of Ontario argued that the covenant deters LGBTQ students from attending TWU, and that signing the covenant would mean disavowing “their very identity.”

Although some have condemned this statement, saying it plays to the stereotype of “unwholesome” pre-marital LGBTQ sex practices, the statement can actually be interpreted in a more logical way.

Simply put, the court is right — it is degrading to force an LGBTQ person to sign a contract that stresses the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. By doing this, LGBTQ individuals would be yielding to the implication that only heterosexuality is acceptable.

Accordingly, LGBTQ students may not always feel at home at TWU. Student Bryan Sandberg — despite his love for the institution — hid his sexuality for two months after his arrival on campus. When interviewed, he knew only two TWU students out of a population of 4,000 who were openly gay.

Under different circumstances, former student Jill Bishop carried out a secret same-sex relationship during her time at TWU. Looking back, she recalls that some professors condemned homosexuality in their lectures, and that she faced a real risk of expulsion if her relationship were to be discovered.

Instead of pushing heteronormativity, TWU ought to make LGBTQ rights a priority. The law is an instrument of social justice and equity; we cannot legitimize a law school that excludes an already marginalized group.

In fact, the Canadian Bar Association argued that it is not enough for TWU to meet the competency requirements for accreditation (i.e. legal skills). Whether the university complies with Canadian law and the broader role of law itself must also be considered.

Universities have a duty to advocate for legal education that promotes equity and respect: only in this way will social justice continue to advance. Although TWU is a private institution, law societies — which are publicly funded -— should hesitate to provide accreditation if doing so involves condoning discriminatory policy.

TWU can have its law school — but it won’t be official until it changes its policies. In the meantime, the doors to accreditation remain firmly shut.

Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying criminology and ethics, society and law.

Five films to see at TIFF this year

Amidst the annual chaos, here are the flicks to seek out at this year’s festival

Five films to see at TIFF this year

Every year, The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is met with flamboyantly frocked celebrities from all over the world, like moths drawn to light. The festival, which runs September 10-20, will premiere works from some of the film industry’s greatest auteurs alongside independent local productions. These are some of this year’s standout showings:

STONEWALL (directed by Roland Emmerich)

Stonewall, starring James Irvine and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, presents the story of the historic New York riots. After devoting most of his career to destroying famous monuments (see: The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), Emmerich strays off the beaten path with a project that, unlike his Armageddon films, is closer to his heart as a prominent LGBT activist. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the stars good-looks and a landmark moment in LGBT history.

FREEHELD (directed by Peter Sollett)

Fresh from her Best Actress win at last year’s Academy Awards, Julianne Moore returns with an LGBT drama film that, like Stonewall, dovetails perfectly with this year’s momentous gay rights achievements. No stranger to depicting LGBT characters, Moore’s performance is the polar opposite of her role in the hit comedy The Kids Are All Right. In Freeheld, Moore stars as a police officer diagnosed with lung cancer. She has to fight the county’s board of freeholders in order to ensure that her pension benefits will pass to her domestic partner, portrayed by Ellen Page.

THE LADY IN THE VAN (directed by Nicholas Hynter)

Adapted from his 1999 play, Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Bennett’s relationship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an elderly homeless woman who parked her van in Bennett’s driveway for 15 years. The indomitable Maggie Smith stars as the titular character (a hilarious reversal of her role in Downton Abbey). Expect riveting performances from Smith, Alex Jennings, and Jim Broadbent.

INTO THE FOREST (directed by Patricia Rozema)

Last year, we had Into the Woods; this year, we get Into the Forest, a film that’s as Canadian as could be. A wilderness survival drama about two sisters struggling to survive in a country house after a calamitous continental power outage, Into The Forest features performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page (who presumably used Julianne Moore’s pension savings to buy the country house). With only their intuition and their wits, the sisters defend themselves against disease, starvation, intruders, and the advent of the apocalypse.

BEASTS OF NO NATION (directed by Cary Fukunaga)

After a baffling season of True Detective, Fukunaga is anticipated to return to form with Beasts of No Nation, a Ghanaian war drama starring Idris Elba as the commandant — perhaps a training-wheels role for his rumoured replacement of Daniel Craig as 007. If you can’t catch this film at TIFF, Beasts will premiere on Netflix on October 16.

Chew on this: La Carnita

Street-vendor-turned-restaurant is worth your time for your taste buds

Chew on this: La Carnita

What is dark, loud, and serves some of the most mouth-watering tacos in Toronto? If  you didn’t guess La Carnita, don’t feel bad — that was an unworthy description.

The walls are plastered with murals of girls and Dia de los Muertos skulls, chandeliers are fashioned from light bulbs, and there is almost always a lively crowd of young adults — La Carnita is located at Palmerston and College, and the former mobile street-food vendor is now a haven for U of T students sick of ordering thai for solo dining on a Friday night. 

Each taco goes for $4.75, and the waitress gladly recommends trying at least three. The pollo frito, my personal favourite, is a delicious medley of chicken, peanut-mole, honey, Rossy’s hot sauce, green cabbage, and salsa fresca.

If you’re a fan, then an order of churros should be your next plan of action. Deep-fried bread covered in a coating of sugar and dipped in a sauce of sweetened caramelized milk — this treat is a physical manifestation of every happy dream you’ll ever have.

Other honourable mentions include the guacamole and chips, as well as their paletas (Latin American popsicles that come in a variety of flavours including cool lime pie, mint chocolate, and butter & Oreo).

Lastly, a word to the wise: at La Carnita, patience is your friend, because a place as popular as this one will almost always mean waiting for a table.

Fresh for frosh

Orientation leaders receive additional training on sexual assault, mental health

Fresh for frosh

Student groups at the University of Toronto expanded the equity training provided to frosh leaders for this year’s orientation week. The Office of Student Life, which runs the Joint Orientation Leader Training (JOLT) program, also expanded its program. These changes come as issues of sexual violence and mental health have moved to the forefront of campus conversation, and the provi nce begins its campaign to combat sexual violence and harassment on university campuses.

Recent years have seen various frosh week scandals. From St Mary’s University to the University of British Columbia, it is clear that acts once seen as harmless and childish, such as misogynistic cheers, are now being viewed as intentionally exclusive and actively dangerous to campus communities. At the heart of these scandals were the orientation leaders who decided to lead said chants in the first place. U of T has not experienced such issues, as student leaders and administrators at all levels have undertaken efforts to ensure that frosh leaders receive the appropriate training in issues of equity and inclusivity.

Training at colleges and professional faculties

This is the first year Innis College has included an equity component to frosh leader training. According to orientation coordinators Brianne Katz-Griffin and Marta Switzer, this year will include “a plenary equity presentation, a plenary session on healthy relationships, and a system on how to handle potential situations [of consent].”

University College’s (UC) orientation training used to focus on discussions on the difference between equity and equality. However, UC orientation coordinators Kimia Karbasy and Rochelle Coelho said that they plan to “go further in depth about what it truly means to be equitable,” adding:

“We want to provide scenarios so that the leaders can identify the feelings of the people involved, identify all the issues, what they see [as] their role and responsibility as a leader and how to deal with a scenario to promote a positive and safe environment for everyone.”

Other student-run orientations, such as the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), enhanced their existing equity training. KPE orientation coordinators Breanna Bitondo and Michelle Lukasik already hold equity workshops led by the vice-president equity of the KPE Undergraduate Association. “[There] is not much change in the training, rather further development, to ensure that the KPE leaders, executives, and spirit crew learn and get the most out of this workshop,” Bitondo and Lukasik said.

“This workshop has been held in the past, however the vp equity has revamped the work that she has done to make it more engaging… for those participating,” they said, adding that the training “coincides with the expectations that the [KPE] has.”

Changes to JOLT

JOLT is a training program provided to frosh leaders from all colleges and faculties at the St George campus by the Office of Student Life. Colleges and faculties must send their leaders to JOLT if they wish to be eligible for a grant from the university to run their own frosh. Other groups such as the Muslim Students’ Association who run frosh events also attend the training.

“The goal of JOLT is to ensure that all orientation leaders on the St. George campus have the same core skill set around safety, bystander intervention, equity, and inclusivity,” said Josh Hass, Student Life coordinator, orientation and transition. JOLT organizes its training into modules that cover the three elements of that goal. Hass is in charge of organizing JOLT, which he does in consultation with members of various divisions including Health & Wellness, the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office, and U of T’s other campuses.

This year, suggestions from the mental health framework study conducted last year were incorporated into JOLT. These changes come from Hass’ consultations with U of T’s recently assembled sexual violence task force. “We’re trying to push from all angles, not just from training. It’s one of those things which are happening mid-summer and by next year we’ll have a concrete plan starting in the very beginning what it’ll look like,” he said.

Bigger changes may also be coming to JOLT next year.  “There have been conversations about the possibility of expanding JOLT,” Hass said, adding that the administration has not “really identified what that expansion would entail.”

The Office of Student Life will be conducting a direct assessment of the leaders training after frosh week in order to identify what changes need to be made. They will use situational questions to gauge what the leaders have learnt from their training as well as collect their experiences during frosh week. Hass encourages frosh leaders to take the assessment, saying “we want that information before we discuss any sort of expansion to the program.”   

How to survive frosh week

Feeling nervous? Don't be. The Varsity's got you covered.

Let’s face it: frosh week is a scary time. Unless you’re some phenomenally social deity who coolly adapts to any newfound situation you’re tossed into, the chaos of your first week at university is often an alienating experience.

Fear not, young froshie. You are not alone. Small talk may not be your forte, your dance moves at the club may resemble a crazed orangutan, and the season finale of Game of Thrones just isn’t a relevant topic of conversation anymore — but none of this means you’ll be confined to a life of solitude and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. If you find yourself convulsing at the thought of ugly frosh-wear and raunchy college chants, take heed of this advice: you’re going to be fine.

1. Get acquainted with your surroundings

Especially if you’re not from Toronto, a big, complicated city could make things objectively worse for you. To avoid this unwanted confusion, make sure to spend some quality time getting acquainted with the campus and downtown areas.

Know the landmarks: Robarts is a central area of the St. George campus, and walking towards the CN Tower means you’re most likely walking south.

2. Don’t feel obliged to do everything Frosh has to offer

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t leave the ol’ comfort zone behind, but if you don’t want to take part in a sweaty clubbing event that feels like the DJ is remixing your insides, then you really don’t have to. Search out the events that fit your interests, and don’t do anything that you know you won’t enjoy.

3. Reap the benefits of freebies

If there’s one thing you can count on during frosh week, it’s the free food and coffee. If you find yourself with a heap of regret from last night’s shenanigans — not to mention a wicked hangover — there’s no better remedy than a no-questions-asked cup of caffeine.

4. Sign up for things

One of the best ways to meet like-minded people is to sign up for clubs and student unions that appeal to your interests. On Wednesday, September ninth, the Clubs Fair will be taking place from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, giving you a chance to sift through the many clubs U of T has to offer — including The Varsity.

5. Relax

Sure, the nausea from the boat cruise doesn’t help, but in the grand scheme of things, this week is only a tiny speck in the entirety of your inevitably sloppy yet glorious undergrad life. Stay calm, drink lots of water, wear lots of sunscreen, and try to enjoy yourself.

Neuroaesthetics: how to optimize your Instagram

U of T deep learning lab uses blog data to create new fashion app

Neuroaesthetics: how to optimize your Instagram

Will machines ever replace man when it comes to completing normal everyday tasks? While we debate and ponder this possibility, there is a research lab at the University of Toronto that’s making huge strides in the artificial intelligence field with their research in machine learning.

Last June, two U of T researchers, Sanja Fidler and Raquel Urtasun, developed an algorithm that analyzes your clothes and gives you feedback on how to improve your personal style.

The algorithm uses “deep learning,” a subset of machine learning technologies. This sounds like something pulled directly from a sci-fi movie; when in fact, U of T is home to one of the leading research labs specializing in machine learning. Furthermore, we’re more accustomed to uses of artificial intelligence in our every day lives through applications such as Apple’s Siri.

Using image posts from the website Chictopia, a fashion blogging website, the research team, which also includes two researchers from Barcelona’s Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI), analyzed over 144,000 posts over the course of a year. Chictopia allows users to publish posts of their personal style, using a tagging system to reach out and connect with other users who are similar in age, shape, style, and other characteristics.

The algorithm is capable of learning and thinking through the intake of data from the Chictopia website. It uses this data to determine the current trends for different geographic groups. Then it teaches itself to identify new fashion trends as more Chictopia posts are made.

“The algorithm is ‘taught’ on [Chictopia], a site where style enthusiasts post their latest photos, possibly tag them (with a list of certain clothing items they are wearing), and then other users comment on the post and also have the option to ‘like’ or vote for the post,” Fidler said.

“The algorithm looks at all this data… and tries to predict how many votes this photo would get. The number of votes is our proxy for ‘fashionability,’” Fidler further explained.

On the user-end, one would give the algorithm a photo to be analyzed, the algorithm would then examine your clothes, as well as the finer details of the image such as your facial expression, body type, composition of the photo, as well as scenery. With the extracted information, it will then think about whether or not the outfit fed to them was the best possible outfit the user could have selected. In the end, it spits out suggestions to improve one’s style which may include a change of skirt or a colour of shoes.

“Our app will not be primarily designed for a designer but for regular people (like us!),” Fidler said, “[f]or example, you are going to a party and you want to look at your best. You take a photo of yourself and the app will tell you whether you look stylish or not (for the particular event) and what you could change to improve your look.”

The fashion algorithm is just one of the many projects that are part of research that looks at different ways in which deep learning can be adapted to everyday use. Although most of the fashion algorithm has been used for research purposes, there is currently a team working on developing an app for mainstream use.

Together with the researchers from IRI, Fidler and Urtasun presented their findings in a research paper, “Neuroaesthetics in Fashion: Modeling the Perception of Fashionability” at the 2015 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) in June.

U of T joins national effort to decolonize education

New principles to narrow education gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students

U of T joins national effort to decolonize education

In light of Canada’s past and present colonization of Aboriginal peoples, the University of Toronto will join 96 other Canadian universities in a comprehensive national reconciliation plan. “The Principles on Indigenous Education” aim to help decolonize education and reduce the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by rewriting curricula to include Aboriginal history, knowledge, values, and culture. It also aims to increase opportunities and resources for Indigenous students, including the promotion of engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Lee Maracle, an Elder-in-Residence and Traditional Leader at U of T’s First Nations House, stresses the importance of conciliation and reconciliation. “I think that without those discussions, there isn’t going to be a good relationship inside Canada,” she said.

Maracle explained that the initiative should extend beyond mere Aboriginal involvement to involving Aboriginal leadership, which she says is crucial during the decision-making and implementation processes of the plan. “In general, Canada has to reconcile with us… I think by reconciling with us, what I mean by that, is that it’s up to us to determine the conditions of reconciliation… the persons hurt would have to be in the driver’s seat.”

Institutional change

The mandates within Universities Canada’s announcement included a dedication to increasing the rate of Aboriginal graduates by working with elementary and secondary schools as well as an effort to encourage other institutions to improve their relationship with Aboriginal Canadians by forming private-sector partnerships to provide opportunities for indigenous students.

Maracle supports the need for working with elementary and secondary schools. “From Kindergarten to Grade 12, that is where the problem area is. If our kids graduate from high school, they go directly to university in greater numbers than any other race in the country. The problem is, they don’t graduate, and they don’t graduate because culturally, everything is foreign,” she explained.

While U of T has several academic initiatives to decolonize education from within its own institution, its projects with elementary and secondary schools and the private sector may need further attention and study.

Lucy Fromowitz, assistant vice-president of student life, highlighted the Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, formed at U of T about six years ago. The council includes several prominent U of T Indigenous voices. “[It is] a cross-divisional group led by co-chairs, the director of Aboriginal Student Services/First Nations House and the chair of the Department of Linguistics, with the vice provost, Students and First Entry Divisions as executive sponsor,” said Fromowitz, adding “[the] council provides a venue for discussion of Aboriginal issues, strategies and program implementation, partnership development, and dialogue and response to external organizations and Aboriginal communities.”

Incorpation of knowledge and experience

With respect to Universities Canada’s new Principles on Indigenous Education, Fromowitz named several academic faculties that are incorporating Indigenous knowledge and experience, such as the Aboriginal Studies Program and the Indigenous Language Initiative on maintaining and increasing the use of Indigenous language.

The Faculties of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health include Indigenous pedagogy. In law, students can obtain a Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies, in partnership with the Aboriginal Studies Program. Courses in areas such as Indigenous Healing in Counseling and Psychoeducation and Foundations of Aboriginal Education in Canada are offered at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “[In] Social Work, Canadian Roots, a national non-profit educational organization, brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in order to foster an environment of shared learning,” Fromowitz said.

When asked what an effective approach to decolonizing post-secondary education might be, Maracle said that it was up to Indigenous communities to determine what would help them succeed at school. “I think we have to be who we are and who we’ll always want to be, and Canada has to restore our language and cultures and they have to carry them through the institutions, their own institutions.” Maracle added that everybody should be able to learn languages such as Cree or Ojibway. “Non-native people have to have access to that language. There’s no reason why we all can’t speak Cree or we all can’t speak Ojibway if we want to.”

The road to arbitration

A recap of last year’s Teaching Assistants’ strike

The road to arbitration

U of T is emerging from the aftermath of a month-long strike that occurred during last year’s winter semester. The strike caused the cancellation of many tutorials and labs and resulted in the implementation of a controversial contingency plan that allowed students to withdraw from classes after viewing their final grade.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 Unit 1, which represents graduate students employed as academic staff, went on strike after their collective agreement with U of T expired and they failed to reach a new deal. The two sides proposed and rejected deals as the strike went on.

Some undergraduate students took to the picket lines in solidarity with their teaching assistants. Professors attempted to continue their scheduled academic programming, with one professor moving his class outside when picket lines blocked the entrance to a lecture hall.

The strike ended when members of Unit 1 voted to accept binding arbitration, meaning that an arbitrator would resolve the dispute and that the union would have to accept whatever decision was made. When the arbitration meeting rolled around at the beginning of July, the arbiter ruled in favour of U of T. This means that going into next year, the labourers who disputed with the university will work under an agreement of which they never approved.