Dark is the art

The Varsity explores Toronto's all-night outdoor art festival

Dark is the art

If there’s ever a night to indulge your artistic curiosity, it’s Nuit Blanche. It’s an evening that never seems to go quite as planned, but sometimes that can be for the best — you see parts of the city you wouldn’t normally enter, stumble across exhibits you didn’t intend to see, and engage with your curiosity in a way you wouldn’t usually do. With all this in mind, here is a record of our evening, featuring the art that we did (and did not) plan on seeing.

Wanwu: Metamorphosis, 2014

This was one of the projects I was most looking forward to seeing. Taking place on the green-lit rooftop of City Hall, a “canvas” was laid out, and what smelled like Chinese ink was spilled all over it. In an hourly performance titled Metamorphosis, a flute player came out with a dancing performer wearing an unsettling mask. The performer then used interpretive dance to create a painting through his movement in the ink. The idea was that as this was happening, water would rain down and simultaneously destroy the art as it was being created. Unfortunately, while the  mixing of different mediums was interesting, the people who sprinkled water onto the canvas looked like volunteers and failed to create the illusion of “water falling onto the paper in a steady stream like rain” (as described on Nuit Blanche’s website). Even though all I heard around me during the performance was “This is so weird” or “I don’t get it,” everyone made a point of clapping enthusiastically at the end. 

—  ­A.P.

Split Chorale for Viljo Revell, 2014

Visiting this project felt more like an experience than a viewing of performance art. Inside City Hall, the artists created a type of inverted theatre. A projection of video montages was reflected on the central stalk in the building, showing a male chorus singing in a continuous drone. At the same time, a legion of “real” choral singers wearing tuxedos were watching the audience from the wrap-around balcony over the first floor. The projections would occasionally silence, and the present choral singers would begin to sing. Confusing yet enticing, it was fun to walk around the stalk and see the different projections in which some of the chorus members deviated strangely from their singing (like the one guy who took his pants off, and another who peeled and ate a banana). The exhibit was pretty much exactly what it had said it would be and was one of the best-organized exhibits I saw at Nuit Blanche.

­—  Aneta Perehinets

Sex Worker, Truth & Archetype

I made my way down to Queen and McCaul to see Sex Workers Truth and Archetype, created by Esther Buckareff, Barbara Greczny, and Michelle Breslin. Meant to challenge “the public to redefine who or what is a sex worker,” the exhibit was made up of stylized photographs of nine different sex workers expressing how they view themselves. Each photograph was accompanied by interviews with the participants on a range of topics, including feminism, sexuality, law, family, and work. They were wonderful — my favourite was “Outlaw” and depicted “Fiona,” face covered, holding a gun, and kneeling next to a dog in the woods. Documentary videos accompanied the portraits, and in my mind they were the best part of the entire exhibit. Each story is candid, allowing the viewer unprecedented access into the lives and thoughts of the participants. I could have listened to the interviews for hours and would definitely visit again: the exhibition runs at the Beaver Hall Gallery until October 23. 

—  Erin Tobin

Global Rainbow

Yvette Mattern’s impressive light installation, Global Rainbow, blazed across Toronto’s night sky, visible to anyone visiting the southwest of the city. At first glance, however, the rainbow seemed but another light among many in a large city like Toronto. Indeed, all the seven colours merged into one while the crowded streets and myriads of city lights distracted the viewer from the piece. Yet, when I managed to place myself in a darker corner of Chinatown, the rainbow took on a completely different appearance. Each of the seven colourful strips of light appeared to be an individual artistic display — beautiful, unique, and personal. After sharing this intimate moment with the artwork, I no longer lost the rainbow in the colourful collision of lights. It is striking how an art piece of such scale can have a greater impact in a more intimate setting. 

—  Lola Borrisenko

Supporting the Arts, Another Project By Tough Guy Mountain

I found my way to the Whippersnapper Gallery, where we stood outside of a tiny glass box in which the performers were encased. In the box, painters created art on canvasses and each other, while corporate executives looked on from an elevated platform, spewing manifestos about art contracts. The only hitch was the crackling microphones through which the corporate executives spoke, making it nearly impossible to hear them.

—  E.S.

The Insomnia Project 



The Insomnia Project consisted of spectators sitting in the hotel lounge of Hotel Le Germain Toronto, watching a projected display of images while a fedora-wearing interviewer held  a conversation with someone above the lounge. The conversation was apparently digitally screened to insomniacs across the world and, while it was calming to listen to the interviewer’s voice and there was a certain novelty to peeking into the interviewee’s life, the performance was boring overall. The chairs were too comfy to stay awake in during Toronto’s largest and most universal insomniac night.

—  Emily Scherzinger

Between Doors 

Between Doors dealt with the age-old question: do we have the freedom of choice? I was presented with a set of doorways — then another, then another, and so forth — and encouraged to walk through the installation based on automatic decisions. However, I found the artists undermined the complexity of their subject by moving into cliche territory: the doors within a given set had contrasting terms or phrases written on them — “in love” / “never in love” and “I can’t change” / “nothing changes” are a few examples. The installation became a teen magazine quiz instead of a meditation on freedom and will.

—  Ivana Dizdar

Texting Syria

Around midnight, the crowds around Queen Street started to worsen, and it was pretty much impossible to see any art, so I headed past the hordes to Queen Street & Strachan Avenue, near Trinity Bellwoods Park. Just inside the park was Texting Syria, an exhibit by Liam Maloney. Inside a shipping container, photographs are displayed of Syrian refugees texting their missing families. Before entering the exhibit, you are asked to text a phone number, and then while looking at the portraits, text messages between the refugees and their families appear on your phone. It’s eerie reading messages like “It’s ok. We’re under siege but they are able to bring in bread” from your own phone. The photographs themselves were compelling, but the entire collection along with the messages can be seen online. I left a little disappointed, because while it was an interesting premise, it wasn’t worth the 40-minute trek. 

—  E. T.

Gap Ecology (Still Lives with Cherry Pickers and Palms)

Gap Ecology, though a massive installation, took a second to notice (or at least to recognize as art). Several boom lifts were parked off of Queen Street — they fit in with the road-closure signs that were up all over the place, and let’s be honest: in Toronto, crane-like mechanisms are no less common than lampposts. But upon looking up, it became obvious that the tops were filled with palm trees. The image of uprooted trees is always unsettling, and even more so amid the concrete hub we call our city.                                                             —  I.D.

“Fighting for true democracy in Hong Kong”

Students march in support of ongoing protests in Hong Kong

“Fighting for true democracy in Hong Kong”

Students armed themselves with umbrellas as rain threatened when they gathered in King’s College Circle on October 1 to support ongoing protests in Hong Kong. 

The protests, known as the “Umbrella Revolution” or the “Umbrella Movement,” call for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Currently, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive is elected by a committee of 1,200 members in accordance with Article 45 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, a constitutional law that went into effect following the handover of Hong Kong by the UK. The same article allows for “gradual and orderly” change in the specific method for selecting the Chief Executive.

“The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures,” the article reads.

The student march was one of several marches province-wide organised by the Ontario United Front for Hong Kong Students (OUFHKS). The group was quickly set up by a group of Hong Kong students at postsecondary institutions across Ontario.



Similar protests and demonstrations were held in over 70 cities worldwide, including nearly 20 cities in Canada.

“Fighting for true democracy in Hong Kong”

Sharon Chung, a second-year GIS and computer science student and founding member of the OUFHKS, said organizers skipped classes and endured sleepless nights to organize the protests. “We are fighting for true democracy in Hong Kong,” Chung said. 

“We really hope we can help people in Hong Kong to raise awareness to people in Canada [and] internationally,” added student Lee-Ki Sin, a fourth-year cognitive science student and OUFHKS executive. 

The protesters gathered at King’s College Circle and walked up St. George Street to the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) a couple blocks north of Bloor Street West, where a petition was left on the steps of the front door. The HKETO was closed in observance of the Chinese National holiday, the sixty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

An estimated 1,000 people participated in the protests, including students, union representatives, and Toronto residents. 

Sin was surprised by the turnout. “We weren’t expecting that many people,” she said, adding: “Every participant was really calm and respect[ed] everyone’s views.”

Jason Ngan, a second-year student at UTSC, said he joined the protest to support the democratic rights of Hong Kong citizens. “The main objective is universal suffrage for Hong Kong people,” said Ngan. 

According to a decision by the Chinese government on August 31, the 2017 Chief Executive Elections “may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage,” however, the candidates will be selected by majority by a nominating committee that has the same structure as the current Election Committee.



Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates felt betrayed by the decision, fearing that the nomination committee would be little more than a filter for the Beijing government. Scholarism, a Hong Kong student activist group formed in May 2011, organized the protests, demanding that candidates be chosen through civil nomination. Other political groups have since joined the protests, calling for civil nomination and the resignation of Chief Executive C. Y. Leung. 

There is also anxiety amongst students from Hong Kong as friends and family back home join the protests. “Most of us are stuck [in Canada],” said Nicholas Yip, a second-year mechanical engineering student.

Chinese National Day

The University of Toronto has approximately 6,000 students from mainland China and approximately 300 from Hong Kong.

At the same time as the protests, a group of Chinese students celebrated Chinese National Day in King’s College. The students stood around in a circle and sang national songs as people gathered to join the protests. They later dispersed peacefully just before the protest moved on. The organizer of the Chinese National Day celebration declined to be identified.

Fang*, a student from mainland China, said mainland Chinese students feel hurt at the perceived rejection of shared national identity. “They think they don’t belong with us,” said Fang.

“Hong Kong is a beautiful girl. She used to be in a relationship with Britain. However, Hong Kong was arranged to marry China and Britain gave her up. Hong Kong does not feel that China is [her] true love,” said Chengyuan Ma, a second-year political science student from mainland China.

Chung said that organizers with the OUFHKS were aware of opposing values. “We are focusing on Hong Kong democracy and our friends (back home).”

Ben Kong, a second-year political science student and president of the University of Toronto Chinese Politics Society (UTCPS), said he does not believe Hong Kong’s identity to be separate from his national Chinese identity. “Hong Kong has its own distinct culture like other [provinces] in China. Our distinct culture doesn’t separate us from our Chinese identity,” Kong said.

“[T]he Chinese element in the Hong Kong identity cannot be separated,” he added.

*First name omly used at student’s request.

UTSU faces criticism for “undemocratic behaviour”

Several motions defeated at UTSU board meetings, will not proceed to AGM

UTSU faces criticism for “undemocratic behaviour”

Several motions were defeated at meetings of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Board of Directors on September 29 and October 1. These motions will not be put before UTSU members for a vote at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). 

The defeated motions included a motion to change election rules through changes to the Articles of Continuance, an alternative Board of Directors structure, and a motion to investigate the relationship between divisional societies and the UTSU.


The investigation motion, moved by Pierre Harfouche, UTSU vice-president, university affairs, was aimed at improving the relationship between the UTSU and divisional societies on the St. George campus. Harfouche identified a positive relationship between the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and proposed that a report be drawn to examine the feasibility of replicating the UTSU-UTMSU relationship with divisions on the St. George campus.

The motion proposed that the UTSU executive committee carry out the examination, and requested that a report be drafted by Harfouche and Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president.

However, Bollo-Kamara spoke against Harfouche’s motion, noting that the existing arms-length relationship between the UTSU and the UTMSU evolved under different historical circumstances. Bollo-Kamara attributed the arrangement, which includes stipulations in the UTSU’s bylaws about fee collection and UTMSU representation in the UTSU, to logistical demands from the distance between campuses, which made access to UTSU services difficult for UTM students.

Ella Henry, director for the Faculty of Law, put forth an amendment to the motion that would hand over responsibility for the investigation from the executive to the Policies and Procedures committee, which she considered more suitable to conduct the investigation due to its knowledge of structural changes. “I proposed amendments because, in general, I prefer to delegate substantive decisions to committees of board members rather than the executive,” said Henry. 

Bollo-Kamara supported Henry’s amendment, while representatives of student societies seeking fee diversion from the UTSU to their respective student councils — Engineering Society, Trinity College, and Victoria University Student Administrative Council (VUSAC) — expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed changes.

“The intention of the original amendment was to make it bipartisan,” said Ryan Gomes, director for the Faculty of Engineering, adding: “To take it to a different committee with a more partisan affiliation is unfair and inappropriate.”

Henry’s amendment was passed but the motion as a whole was defeated. “I expected the motion to pass, so I thought it was worthwhile to amend it. I may bring forward a different motion at the next meeting along similar lines,” she said.

Elections Procedure Code violations “a technicality”

Harfouche also proposed amendments to the rules that govern UTSU elections through changes to the Articles of Continuance. The amendments, if passed, would have banned cross-campaigning between director and executive candidates, and restricted the right to campaign to U of T students, alumni, faculty and staff. UTSU chair Ashkon Hashemi argued that one could not amend articles to include items which should be covered by the EPC.

However, the board approved amendments to the EPC recommended by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) from last year’s March elections. These will effectively allow the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) to override UTSU’s bylaws at their discretion. Additionally, any endorsements that slates receive during elections must now be approved by the CRO before being made public.

Bollo-Kamara said that the ERC has the sole authority to amend the EPC, though changes must be approved by the board “as a formality.”

The changes were approved despite the EPC forbidding any changes once the nomination period of an election had begun. The nomination period for the UTSU by-election began on September 29, the same day as the first Board of Directors meeting. When this issue was raised, Ashkon Hashimi, UTSU chair, dismissed it as a technicality. Bollo-Kamara said at the meeting that the EPC, complete with the proposed amendments, had already been given to candidates before the amendments were approved.   

Connor Anear and Tina Saban, co-heads of college at Trinity College, were concerned with the UTSU’s actions. “We were very disturbed that the UTSU was willing to act in direct violation of its bylaws,” they said in a joint statement. “The fact that the UTSU handed out the the EPC before it was approved by the [Board of Directors], and then used this to convince people at the meeting that the new EPC needed to approved in order to maintain procedural fairness — effectively handcuffing the directors into making a certain decision — shows the troubling lengths the organization will go to in order to have its way,” they added. 

“Inequitable structure or nothing at all”

Gomes also brought an alternative Board of Directors structure to the table, under the intention that it would proceed to the AGM for consideration by the membership. The proposal was defeated. At the meeting on September 29, Gomes was handed documents containing legal counsel from the UTSU’s lawyers, which stated that his proposal was unfeasible. Gomes was given just five minutes to read the documents and prepare his defense. “I crafted that motion in good faith and we did a lot of consultation on it,” said Gomes. “I honestly don’t know if everything they did was in good faith. It’s hard to say. I’m on very good personal terms with all of the executive… but the way that everything was done and the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have legal counsel, I found that to be very concerning,” he added.  

Saban also expressed discontent at the board’s rejection of Gomes’ proposal. “I’m extremely disappointed, though I can’t say I’m surprised, that the UTSU chose to shoot Ryan’s motion down internally rather than allowing the greater student body to make a decision. Now we are faced with an inequitable structure or nothing at all. This is just another case of undemocratic behaviour by a broken union,” she said. Gomes plans to keep pushing his proposal forward. According to Gomes, any motions received 90 days before the articles of continuance come into effect on October 17 must appear on an agenda. Gomes plans to petition for another General Meeting, likely in January of February, where his motion will appear on the agenda. 

Gomes’ proposal includes the creation of 19 membership classes to keep college and faculty representation on the board, as well as the creation of an Equity Committee to address representation of marginalized groups. “I think it’s very important for our membership to actually have a say on these things,” Gomes said. Gomes added that he would look at the motion again and see if there are ways he can make it better, taking into consideration the concerns of legal counsel.

Bollo-Kamara said that the UTSU sought a legal opinion to ensure that the board fully understood the implication of the motion. “[I]t would be irresponsible and a violation of fiduciary duty to submit a proposal for consideration that is ‘infeasible’ and would cause ‘paralysis’ of the UTSU,” she said.

UTSU’S response “frustrating”

Rowan DeBues, VUSAC president, along with Ben Coleman, student governor, and Kaleem Hawa, chair of the Trinity College Meeting, proposed that all potential members of the Student Commons Management Committee immediately declare conflicts of interests and club affiliations — a move designed to reduce biases and conflicts of interest regarding the postponed Student Commons project. 

DeBues described the experience as “frustrating.” DeBues expressed that he does not want to see the UTSU fail. Instead, he wishes to see it reformed and stronger. “I think that by blocking motions left, right, and centre, limiting discussion, by leaving things opaque, just mean[s] the more frustrated people will be, and the more likely they’ll want to dissent,” DeBues said.

The AGM is scheduled for October 29.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the Student Commons Management Committee motion was defeated at the board meeting. In fact, the motion was not discussed at the board meeting. Additionally, the motion to change election rules was actually proposed as a change to the Articles of Continuance.

“It’s a work in progress”

New TYP home plagued by inaccessibility, plumbing leaks, lack of space

“It’s a work in progress”

If you walk by 123 St. George Street, you will find the new home of the Transitional Year Program (TYP).

Last February, the University of Toronto’s Governing Council voted to move the TYP from its old building at 49 St. George Street to the new space, shared with Woodsworth College. 

Forty-nine St. George Street will instead serve as the future site for the $88 million Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship, though the centre will span more than the original lot.

The TYP is an eight-month access-to-university program intended for adults who do not have the formal qualifications required for university admission. 

Space Issues

TYP students have complained about a number of issues with the new location. Principal among the concerns is the lack of space.  

Kriya Siewrattan, president of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), said that the lack of space is just one issue. “There are currently concerns about the lack of a fully accessible entrance into 123 St. George Street, inaccessible washroom spaces, plumbing leaks, and air quality,” Siewrattan said.

Charmaine Williams, associate dean at the Factor-Interwash Faculty of Social Work and the provost’s special advisor on accessibility, oversaw the transition from the old building to 123 St. George Street. 

Williams said the university actively addresses problems that arise at the new space, and will continue to be so. “It’s a work in progress,” she said.

“[I]t’s very different when everybody comes in the fall — now you have all the bodies there and suddenly you realize, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t actually work the way we thought it would when we looked at it on paper.’ I think the stuff they are experiencing is what you experience in a new building,” Williams added.

TYP associate director Thomas Mathien said the move was largely smooth, although there were some problems. “Adjusting to the space has been difficult, but the move itself was smooth,” he said, adding: “There are some problems with the finish of the building, but I think these are inevitable when moving into renovated space. They are being dealt with – maybe not as quickly as we’d like, but they are being dealt with. We like what we’ve got.”

“Challenges to its autonomy”

Though the physical movement of the offices was largely smooth, there was a great deal of contention surrounding the original decision to move the program. Some saw the move as a potential threat to the program’s existence. 

APUS was a vocal critic of the move. “Through the course of its existence, the Transitional Year Program has faced challenges to its autonomy and its capacity to continue to provide access to education to marginalized communities,” said Siewrattan.     

“There has been a sense that resources to TYP were being cut so as to motivate a move to Woodsworth [College]. The university administration maintains that the Transitional Year Program will continue to be autonomous, but that sharing space with Woodsworth College will be a more efficient use of resources. Meanwhile, TYP students felt like they were being moved out of their home at 49 St. George Street,” she added.

Williams acknowledged that the move was hard for some students. “What students told me was the tension around the program was very hard for them,” said Williams, adding: “Because they wanted to focus on this important opportunity that they had, and it was at its best a distraction, sometimes was really divisive. They felt very supported by the program, and they were very excited about where they were going next.

However, Williams took issue with the idea that university administration is threatening the program. “That argument has been disputed at so many times in so many places by so many people. This new space is very visible, in a very central part of the campus. TYP is considered a very important part of how we make U of T education accessible to underrepresented and marginalized groups,” she said. 

“There are other people out there saying ‘No! This is the beginning of the end!’ But it’s nothing that you ever hear from anybody who has the decision-making power,” she added.

“Geared towards support”

Mathien maintained that program administration would continue to offer numerous supports to students in the program.“Students come in at various levels of academic accomplishment. We’ve had students come through here successfully who had not even completed grade nine,” he said. 

Mathien said that, in any given year, 60 to 80 per cent of students successfully complete the program. Those who do so are given regular admission into the Faculty of Arts & Science with two-and-a-half first year credits. 

The program also provides university access to students from marginalized communities. “We have target populations who we serve, and which are defined by a number of circumstances: race, ethnicity, economic level, family situations. We have about 40 per cent of our students this year who claim some sort of disability,” he said, adding: “Everything about this program is geared toward support.”

Pressure on UTSU heats up ahead of AGM

Election grievance process concludes ahead of administrative response to Student Societies Report

Pressure on UTSU heats up ahead of AGM

Pressure on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is heating up ahead of its Annual General Meeting (AGM).

At the close of elections last March, the new executive committee faced unresolved grievances, divisions demanding fee diversion, and the possibility of their own funds being withheld by university administration. Already, there have been changes in a bid to address these controversies, including several amendments to the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) passed at board meetings last week. One such motion effectively allows the Elections and Referenda Committee to override UTSU bylaws in the interests of upholding the spirit and principle of the election. 

Outstanding grievances

Vipulan Vigneswaran, former campaign manager for Team Unite, filed grievances surrounding the five extra hours of voting at UTM in response to the closure of the campus due to inclement weather. Vigneswaran said that the extension of voting time at UTM was illegal because it was not set up under the EPC or the UTSU’s bylaws. “They’re saying they were compensating for voting hours lost. Sure, but you also had online voting,” Vigneswaran said.

Vigneswaran also took issue with the inclusion of Luis Moreno’s name on the paper ballot for vice-president, external. Moreno dropped out of the election prior to voting, giving Team Unite an explicit endorsement on his way out. Votes for Moreno were counted as spoiled ballots. 

Vigneswaran said that he was confident that Team Unite’s candidates would have won their elections for vice-president, external and vice-president, internal were it not for the fourth day of voting and the inclusion of Moreno’s name on the ballot. “It’s completely changed the way everything played out,” Vigneswaran said.

Vigneswaran also said that the UTSU failed to comply with the university’s Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, which governs the collection and release of funds for student societies. Vigneswaran does not think that the UTSU behaved in an “open, accessible and democratic” manner — elements that are mandatory under the policy in order for the UTSU to receive its funds.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, said that the definition of “open, accessible and democratic” is cloudy, despite being discussed at last year’s Student Societies Summit. Blackburn-Evans declined to confirm or deny that the UTSU has received or would receive its funds, instead citing a clause in the policy, which states that student society fees can be withheld after a society’s own complaint procedure has been exhausted and if there is  reason to believe significant constitutional or procedural irregularities exist. Blackburn-Evans said that the Administrative Response to the Student Societies Report, which deals with issues of democracy in student societies, will be forthcoming shortly from the provost to Governing Council.

“At this point, all grievances have already gone through the UTSU’s internal processes. The election results were approved by the Board of Directors and subsequent grievances were defeated near unanimously,” said Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president. 

“We hope this will clarify the purpose of the Code and minimize complaints stemming from perceived technical violations,” she added. However, according to Blackburn-Evans, the university has not yet concluded its investigation into the election complaint it received last year. Blackburn-Evans said that the university will be in touch with the relevant parties upon the conclusion of the investigation.

Platform promises progress

Since the completion of the grievance process, the UTSU has begun work on its election promises, which include campaigns to lower tuition fees, lobby the government with regard to unpaid internships, and implement a drop credit policy. A drop credit policy would allow students to remove one or two bad marks from their transcript that may have been caused by extenuating circumstances.

According to Bollo-Kamara, Grayce Slobodian, UTSU vice-president, external, is working to bring back the Drop Fees campaign and is organizing a rally to be held during second semester. “We are looking forward to engaging students in this campaign and mobilizing them to take action on issues specific to U of T such as flat fees and unfair ancillary fees, in addition to broader issues such as the dearth of provincial funding for post-secondary institutions in Ontario,” said Bollo-Kamara. 

For her part, Najiba Ali Sardar, UTSU vice-president, equity, has been involved in unpaid internship activism and is prepared to launch a large-scale campaign. “This issue is extremely important to me and I have been committed to it as I have been much before my involvement in student politics,” Sardar said. 

Sardar and Bollo-Kamara both spoke at Parliament’s Finance Committee in Ottawa, a report of which was entitled “Youth Employment in Canada: Challenges and Potential Solutions.” Bollo-Kamara said that several of the measures she advocated are recommended in the report, including increased protection of interns under relevant legislation at federal, provincial, and territorial levels, and gathering data on unpaid internships and precarious work among youth.

Student groups join calls for national inquiry

Government inaction on missing, murdered Aboriginal women prompts criticism

“Am I next?”

In September, Aboriginal women across Canada took to Twitter and held up signs asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper if they, too, will be murdered.  

The campaign — organized by Holly Jarrett, the cousin of Loretta Saunders, an Aboriginal student who was murdered earlier this year — called on Harper to launch a national inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

On Saturday, Sisters in Spirit vigils were held in communities across Canada to honour the growing number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls.

Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a report that said that, in the last 30 years, nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada. According to a report from Public Safety Canada, human traffickers systematically target Aboriginal females, who are more likely to suffer from drug abuse, poverty, and mental health issues.

Despite widespread demands for a national inquiry — with one petition on Change.org racking up nearly 325,000 signatures — Harper has refused, saying the issue is a criminal one. 

Now, student groups are joining the calls.

Autumn Johnson, co-president of the Aboriginal Law Students’ Association at U of T, said that a national inquiry “can help to identify problems in the investigations, can be helpful in improving relationships, can help to give a voice to the missing and murdered women and their families, and help provide answers.”

“[It] can also identify gaps or issues in programming and services, identify systemic issues that may exist, review socio-economic factors, and make recommendations for change based on the findings … The vulnerability of Indigenous women as victims of violence and murder is a systemic problem,” Johnson added.

 Both Johnson and Zachary Biech, Hoof Clan Leader of U of T’s Native Student Association, are unsurprised by Harper’s repeated refusals to launch a public inquiry. Biech sees it as a political move.

“I feel from Harper’s perspective, it would really be embarrassing on the part of the government to actually inquire some of their failures, and it also highlights the failure of the relationship [with Aboriginals],” Biech said.

Johnson echoed Biech’s sentiment, saying Harper “does not want to commit that level of time and resources to the issue.” 

“[He] would not want his government to be in the spotlight for action or inaction which led to preventable deaths of Indigenous women in Canada,” Johnson added.

Najiba Ali Sarder, vice-president, equity of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, said that the issue comes down, in part, to spending cuts for Aboriginal programs. 

“Harper has cut countless Aboriginal programs. It isn’t a [coincidence] that there is such a high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. It is a systematic flaw,” she said.

Although New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair said that if the NDP were in power, a national inquiry would be held, Biech was skeptical.

“I would like to believe that [the NDP] would hold true on that promise. However, we all know the value of election promises, or rather the lack of value. So for that reason, I would advise caution when fully believing what any political party has to say about that,” he said.

While Aboriginal women are disprortionately targets of crime, Biech urged the public to recognize the other side of the story: Aboriginal women’s strength. 

“I would be very cautious of victimizing indigenous women too much in the language of any discourse on the topic because indigenous women are a very important group of people. Particularly indigenous communities have women recognized as key vital centers of the family and the community, and they have been exposed to disproportionately high amounts of risk,” Biech said.

“[T]he resilience and the strength is something that ought to be celebrated as well when talking about this issue because that’s really the end goal … to maintain that resilience and maintain the strength despite the amount of risk and the amount of hardship and, obviously, the murders and bad things that are happening,” he added.

DisOrientation defies mainstream

Alternative orientation week creates space for social justice

DisOrientation defies mainstream

Environmental activist Trish Mills has been arrested twice for her opposition against the Enbridge Line 9 Pipeline. Part of the pipeline will pass through Toronto, and will carry chemically-laden bitumen to the east coast for export. There is a high risk of an oil spill, Mills says, an event that would disproportionately affect low-income communities. 

“From the Frontline: Dispatches from the Line 9 Blockade,” where Mills was a panelist and discussed these issues, was part of DisOrientation, a week-long series of panel discussions and events. DisOrientation is hosted by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), an environmental and social justice organization at the University of Toronto, and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). OPIRG seeks to foster safe spaces where concerned citizens can safely contest mainstream ideologies. 

Setting the tone for these panels was the theme “Defiant Spaces,” which encouraged industry professionals and political activists to share their skills and knowledge on controversial issues like sex positivity, apartheid, and decolonization. According to Housam*, a third-year political science and equity studies student who attended DisOrientation, while confronting traditional power dynamics was a vital component of these events, OPIRG and their allies are not solely interested in defiance, but also in figuring out “how people who are marginalized use their voices, and in what kind of space.”

Challenging capitalist privilege was a key component of DisOrientation. This was evident in the opening acknowledgment at several panel discussions that the event was taking place in Toronto, the unceded territory of the Mississauga and New Credit First Nations people. Corporate interests have a particularly damaging effect on Indigenous and other marginalized populations, said panellist Danielle Boissoneau. Boissoneau spoke of her “ceremonial responsibility as an Anishinaabe woman,” and of her fight against “colonial capitalism.”  

The week also included panels on building radical student democracy, the impact of austerity on disabled people, and a screening of The Internet’s Own Boy followed by a Q&A with director Brian Knappenberger.

Yogi Acharya, OPIRG-Toronto programming and volunteer coordinator, said, “OPIRG serves as the bridge between campus and community,” adding: “It is vital to provide students space to engage with these issues and ideas on campus and in our city.” 

While DisOrientation is marketed to first-year students as an alternative orientation week, professors, alumni, and community members also attended the events. Many participated in the open floor question period at the end of the talks, citing their concerns and sparking debate.

Helen Lenskyj, professor emerita and sports sociologist, was a keynote speaker at the “Game On: Building Pan Am Resistance” panel. Lenskyj spoke of the “magic of sport,” or sport’s ability to act as a smokescreen to far-reaching violations of human rights perpetrated by multi-national sporting corporations. Lenskyj also spoke about the university’s complicity in the Pan Am and Parapan American Games, which are set to place in Toronto in 2015. 

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, which will be home to visiting athletes competing in pentathlon, aquatics, and fencing divisions, recently commenced operation at the university’s Scarborough campus. These types of facilities require funding, and in the case of the Scarborough Sports Centre, said Lenskyj, students are paying the price. 

Before and after the Games, the centre will be the home of the Scarborough campus’s Department of Athletics and Recreation, and will be open to UTSC students, faculty and staff.

In 2010, students passed a levy on whether future UTSC students should pay for the centre, in addition to having an increased fee starting in September 2014 devoted to the Centre. Last September, incidental fees were increased by $95.01 per semester for full-time students. Students will pay the increased fees for the next 25 years. 

Lenskyj expressed her disagreement with the fee increase, saying that students not yet born will be paying for a facility that will no longer be state of the art. 

Anti-poverty activist Kelly Sue Burgess spoke of alternative uses for the money. Burgess explained that homeless centres in Toronto are overflowing, with an estimated 92,000 people on waiting lists for affordable housing. There are also fears that a process of displacement will occur in preparation for the Pan Am games, similar to the displacement caused by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. 

According to Al Jazeera, 250,000 people from low-income neighbourhoods were forcibly removed from their homes to make room for the World Cup.

Both the “From the Frontline” panel and the “Game On” panel represented the essence of OPIRG’s definition of a defiant space. According to Brad Evoy, a student activist and blogger who formerly served as external commissioner at the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), DisOrientation served as an introduction for many students to “broader areas of community organizing and environmental justice, and how these areas intersect actively with campus.” 

Evoy added that DisOrientation was an opportunity to re-orient students away from “a campus framed in ideological and social contradictions.” 

*First name used at student’s request.

Fall reading week unlikely for UTM, UTSG students

Individual faculty schedules render possibility of a fall break challenging

Fall reading week unlikely for UTM, UTSG students

It is unlikely that a fall reading week will be implemented at the Mississauga and St. George campuses in the foreseeable future, as the university is bound to a commitment to end the academic year by April 30 and each university faculty must set its own sessional dates independently.

According to Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of media relations, the autonomy of each faculty allows for schedule flexibility. 

In 2009, the Faculty of Arts & Science, the university’s largest faculty, decided to change the way in which academic breaks were scheduled in an effort to maintain an appropriate term length. That year, university administration dropped fall break from five days to two days, and added a two day break in December.

Blackburn-Evans said that the change was made to improve the student experience, although she did not elaborate on how the change directly benefited students as much as it benefited the scheduling done by faculties. 

Other universities have moved towards incorporating a fall reading week in recent years, including Brock University, which implemented a fall reading week following the release of a recommendation from Brock University’s Mental Health Strategy and the Brock University Students’ Union. The recommendation stated that a longer fall break would reduce student stress levels. 

University of Toronto Scarborough has a week-long break in the fall term, while UTM and UTSG do not.

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) president, said that implementing a fall reading week on campus is one of many ways that the university could take a proactive approach to its mental health strategy for students.

She added that having a week-long break in the fall term would enable students to evaluate their course selections, seek out additional support to fulfill academic requirements for their program, and better manage workload.

As it stands, there is no indication from university administration that the issue of a fall reading week will be subject to review, although Bollo-Kamara said that the UTSU has brought up the issue with both the provost and vice-provost, who said that any changes should be done on a faculty-by-faculty basis.

Bollo-Kamara said that the UTSU wishes to bring the issue of a fall reading week to the forefront for faculty officials, and is hoping to work with faculty course unions on the issue.

Abdullah Shihipar, Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) president, said that although ASSU is not currently lobbying the Faculty of Arts & Science for a fall reading week, it does not oppose the possibility. “Certainly, at an [academically] demanding school like U of T, a fall reading week would give students a chance to rest and would do wonders for mental health,” he said.

Shihipar added that the two-day November break is a good start, but said that implementing a fall reading week at UTSG would be more difficult. “Such a drastic change, we believe, will not happen at the faculty level unless there are discussions on the issue at higher administrative bodies at the university. Because of this, ASSU is not currently working on the fall reading week with the Faculty but again, we are not opposed to it,” he said.