No place to call home

Exploring the realities of homelessness in Toronto

No place to call home
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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Anthony Schofield walks south on Jarvis Street pointing out landmarks as he goes. The landmarks he describes are not buildings or intersections, but instead indications of homelessness.

“You’re looking at what’s residual of something that 10 years ago would have blown your mind,” he says, describing the state of homelessness in Toronto and the dramatic changes that have taken place. For him, these changes are very personal. Schofield was homeless for much of his life, and is now employed by various organizations to do outreach work and run educational programs.

According to Schofield, the gentrification of the city in the past two decades has pushed the homeless presence to the outskirts of the city’s neighbourhoods, and consequently, out of public awareness.

“In [Moss Park and St. James Park,] you would see dozens of people on benches, most of them lighting up, sleeping on benches,” he says. He remembers Toronto’s homeless population being much more visible, especially in very public spaces.

 “15 years ago every doorway would have someone sleeping in it,” he adds.

LIVING WITHOUT CERTAINTY 

Schofield’s life of homelessness began when he was 12 years old, when he started moving nightly, crashing on the couches of willing friends. The next decades of his life were spent cycling through various living conditions — shelters, others’ homes, and living on the street.

His experiences highlight the complicated typology of homelessness. According to the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, homelessness can take a variety of forms. “Unsheltered” describes the state of living in places not intended for human inhabitants, whereas, “provisionally accommodated” describes situations of tenuous, unstable housing — individuals in these circumstances may not be living on the streets, but lack a permanent residence.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

The circumstances leading to homelessness are highly individual. For Schofield, it was a product of neighbourhood circumstances, early exposure to drug use and abuse, and the lack of a sense of empowerment. These problems, which he experienced nearly 30 years ago, are the same predicaments he witnesses today in his capacity as an outreach worker for various shelters and organizations dedicated to helping the homeless.

He points to the conditions of community housing as one important issue, saying, “If you give someone a crappy apartment, how do you think they feel? Definitely not empowered.”

In January 2014, Toronto Community Housing reported a capital repair backlog of $914,000,000. This deficit is approaching a critical level, and, without additional funding, buildings owned by the organization will fall deeper into disrepair.

HOMELESSNESS AND THE LAW  

In the 1990’s two pieces of government legislation were enacted that have had a significant impact on the lives and visibility of homeless persons in the city. The first is the Ontario Mental Health Act (1990), a portion of which outlines the options available to police officers when they come into contact with individuals demonstrating symptoms of mental health issues. 

The second is the Ontario Safe Streets Act (SSA), enacted in 1999. The latter was born from public concern regarding solicitation in public places, specifically the growing presence of “squeegee kids” in the 1990’s, who were ubiquitous on Toronto’s busiest street corners. 

The SSA has been widely criticized. Issues include concerns about the definitions of “aggressive panhandling” which the act prohibits. The bill defines panhandling in an aggressive manner as “a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for his or her safety or security,” a definition that critics argue is vague.

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JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

In 2011, a study published by York University and the University of Guelph recommended that the law be repealed, claiming that it is egregiously overused and contributes to the “criminalization of homelessness.” Perhaps one of the most impactful statistics in the report is a finding of a 2,000 per cent increased in the number of tickets issued to homeless people for panhandling between 2000 and 2010.

The SSA sets out specific circumstances in which aggressive panhandling may occur, including solicitation near a public transit stop or near a public transit vehicle, or solicitation near a vehicle or in a parking lot. Police can issue tickets in response to violations of the SSA, with fines ranging from $50 to $100.

The Mental Health Act, on the other hand, outlines the criteria police officers must follow when determining whether to take an individual displaying signs of mental illness into police custody for a psychiatric evaluation. These grounds include whether the individual is threatening or has attempted bodily harm to themselves or others, or whether the individual “has shown or is showing a lack of competence to care for himself or herself.”

In Schofield’s experience, the Mental Health Act has also had a profound experience on the work that outreach workers provide. “You can’t just call the police and have someone be taken into custody,” he says. Schofield claims that the act has limited the opportunities for intervention that outreach workers and police have to periods of crisis alone. The act does not accommodate for situations where an individual is demonstrating symptoms of mental illness — without an urgent need for intervention — and would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation upon being taken into custody.

“[If someone] hasn’t said they’re going to hurt me or herself I’m stuck — people have to say these things in order to be considered in crisis,” Schofield adds.

NECESSITIES FOR PROGRESS

Homelessness is a highly complex issue, with a network of underlying causes and complications. Consequently, solutions to homelessness are equally complicated. Inarguably, affordable and accessible housing, or a lack thereof, contributes to individuals’ abilities to secure stable shelter. According to the RBC Affordable Housing Index, the cost of owning a home in the Toronto area exceeds 50 per cent of an average household income; and the costs are only getting higher. The cost of condo ownership is also nearing the 30 per cent level. For low to moderate income households, these costs are simply unmanageable.

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PRIYANKA SHARMA/THE VARSITY

Some steps are being taken at the municipal level to offset the inaccessible costs of housing in the city. Currently, Toronto Community Housing provides housing to around 58,500 low-to moderate income households. However, while they offer both subsidized rent and “affordable” rent rates, the latter is often set at or just slightly below market value, making these options unattainable for many individuals. With the average cost of rent increasing annually in the city, considering more affordable options for one of the city’s most vulnerable populations is essential.

There is also a distinct need for additional emergency shelters. “There aren’t enough beds,” says Schofield. Currently the city has a 3,800-bed shelter system, which simply cannot accommodate the number of individuals in need of shelter on a nightly basis.

Even when space is available, encouraging individuals to take shelter is challenging. “You can’t make people go inside,” explains Schofield. “I can come by, tell them who I’m working for, offer them an option. But if they say no or tell me to leave all I can do is leave a bottle of water and a card,” he adds.

While reactionary measures remain essential to ensure individual safety in the short-term and provide for housing infrastructure in the future, understanding and addressing the individual factors that place people at risk of homelessness is crucial.

It’s a complicated issue, but for Schofield, there’s one universal element: “For most people, this isn’t a choice,” he stresses, adding, “There are any number or reasons why someone ends up on the streets — addiction, family abuse, individual trauma — but it’s rarely a choice.”

With files from Covenant House, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Homelessness Services Toronto, the Ontario Mental Health Act, The Ontario Safe Streets Act, Toronto Public Health, The Toronto Star and the RBC Housing Affordability Report. 

Controversy at the CUSP

Dispute between researchers may damage U of T involvement in international partnership

Controversy at the CUSP

The University of Toronto’s involvement in a highly praised New York applied sciences research institute is off to a turbulent start.

In April 2012, U of T announced that it would be expanding to New York in partnership with other international academic institutions. One of the highlights of the initiative was the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), designed to foster collaborative research and technological development for the challenges facing the world’s cities.

The CUSP is part of the Applied Sciences NYC initiative and was intended to benefit students and faculty alike. 

As part of the initiative, three new campuses were slated to be opened in New York City. Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Warwick, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and New York University (NYU) were also involved.

U of T is the only Canadian post-secondary institution involved in this project.

NYU planned to contribute around $50 million to the program, with New York City providing $15 million in benefits, according to The New York Times.

A 2013–2014 U of T budget report allocated funding of $3.15 million, through the University Fund, to support salary and benefits for 21 faculty positions in the area of cities research and teaching. “Divisions in receipt of this funding will participate in the University of Toronto’s educational and research partnership in the Centre for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) located in New York City,” the report said. 

At the time of the project’s announcement, U of T hoped to send master’s and PhD students to study at the CUSP and carry out their research. U of T also announced that some U of T faculty would take on the role of visiting professors and teach at the CUSP, allowing them to benefit from the research facilities, government, and industry in New York City, and then bring back transferrable expertise that could help tackle challenges in Toronto or other Canadian cities. 

Steve Easterbrook, professor of computer science at U of T, reported a recent research dispute between several U of T staff and Steven Koonin, the CUSP’s director at NYU. 

“Incidentally, I’m no longer willing to have anything to do with the CUSP since Steve Koonin, director of [the] CUSP at NYU, started misrepresenting the work of many of my climate scientist colleagues by writing nonsense in the Wall Street Journal last month,” Easterbrook said. 

On September 19, Koonin published an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which argued that we are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy. 

Koonin posited that the uncertainties of climate science prevent it from being a solid base from which to enact policy decisions. “While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it,” Koonin wrote.

“This decidedly unsettled state highlights what should be obvious: Understanding climate, at the level of detail relevant to human influences, is a very, very difficult problem,” he continued.

These controversial claims drew a response from Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geophysical sciences professor at the University of Chicago. Pierrehumbert wrote an article in Slate titled “Climate Science Is Settled Enough.” 

“What [Koonin] fails to note is that this uncertainty provides an argument for more rather than less action on emissions control, since it means that no scientifically credible argument advanced in the past several decades has been able to rule out the risk that climate sensitivity is at the high end of the range,” Pierrehumbert countered in the article.

Easterbrook suggested that this incident will have a negative impact on the involvement of other U of T faculty members on the CUSP project. “I suspect many others around campus will also now want nothing to do with this program,” Easterbrook said.

Four professors who resarch urban issues were contacted for this story, but said that they have no direct involvement with CUSP, or that they have had limited involvement.

According to Easterbrook, a CUSP steering committee that he served on was struck in 2012 by the university’s previous provost, Cheryl Misak. In April 2013, the committee was disbanded with no reason given.

“I understand that a number of faculty positions in various departments were created with the intent of supporting U of T’s collaboration with NYU… But I’ve heard nothing more about the program in the last 12 months,” Easterbrook said of U of T’s involvement and provisions for the project.

U of T’s website provides little information on the project’s progress.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, said that the university is still working on sending students to study at CUSP. “The University of Toronto continues to be committed to the Center for Urban Science and Progress,” she said.

“We have world-class researchers engaging in workshops, faculty members exploring funding possibilities for projects associated with the CUSP, and we are continuing to work on opportunities for student exchange,” Blackburn-Evans added.

Blackburn-Evans also stated that U of T provost Cheryl Regehr visited New York in May 2014 to continue discussions about furthering U of T’s involvement in the CUSP and that Meric Gertler, U of T president, has also been involved in recent discussions about the initiative. 

Gertler, an urban theorist and expert on culture, creativity, and innovation as drivers of a city’s economy, has often talked about enhancing the university’s relationship with the Greater Toronto Area.

Blackburn-Evans said that projects of this nature often take time to come to fruition. “It takes time and a great deal of consultation to fully realize the benefits of initiatives of this scale, and the university remains excited about the possibilities and potential impact of this partnership,” she said.

Absence of UTSU AGM agenda questioned

Agenda not included again following AGM shutdown in 2012

The University of Toronto Students‘ Union (UTSU) will conduct their Annual General Meeting (AGM) without an agenda for the second year running, with an order of business outlining the proceedings instead.

Last year, the motion to approve the agenda was removed and the procedural document labeled as an agenda was referred to as an “order of business” throughout the meeting. These changes came about after the 2012 AGM was shut down when a motion to approve the agenda failed. Vipulan Vigneswaran, former campaign manager for Team Unite, said that the UTSU’s bylaws stipulate that an agenda must contain the items to be discussed. “The Board shall also include other items on the Agenda as described under Procedural Policy of the Union,” reads the bylaw.

Vigneswaran contacted Cameron Wathey, UTSU vice-president internal, to ask when the agenda for the AGM will be published and noted that the UTSU’s Policy Manual does not mention an order of business. Vigneswaran raised the issue last year and was dissatisfied with the answer he received. “They said they were allowed to do it; I assumed it was allowed or mentioned in the bylaws and policy manual,” Vigneswaran said.

“The section of the bylaws Mr. Vigneswaran has quoted to you refers to a section of the Policy Manual that, from what I can tell, has not existed for quite some time, and is perhaps left over from previous amendments to the Bylaws and Policies,” Wathey said in an email to The Varsity.

Wathey stated that he would notify the Policy & Procedures Committee of the existence of the bylaw pertaining to the agenda. The UTSU’s bylaws require the procedure of an AGM to follow that of the most recent version of Robert’s Rules of Order.

“This year has contentious issues and [the UTSU  doesn’t] want to risk losing an AGM,” Vigneswaran said, adding: “Time and time again, the UTSU  has shown a Machiavellian attitude towards everything. They’re willing to ignore proper protocol and democracy in the hopes of getting their endgame.”

Vigneswaran said he was not confident that the agenda issue can be resolved in time for the meeting. “As someone who’s seen the UTSU’s mechanism of dealing with complaints first hand, I am absolutely confident that if I were to file a grievance it would go nowhere,” Vigneswaran stated.

In late September, Vigneswaran alleged that the UTSU’s bylaws had not received ministerial approval since 1992 and that, therefore, the UTSU’s operations, by the current versions of the bylaws, are illegal. According to Vigneswaran, the most recent version of the bylaws that Corporations Canada has in their possession are those dated March 19, 1992. Vigneswaran outlined his concerns in an email sent to all members of the UTSU  Board of Directors, where he attached his correspondence with Corporations Canada and a copy of the 1992 bylaws. The executive committee positions and the number of representatives that each constituency is entitled to are among differences between the 1992 bylaws and those by which the UTSU currently operates.

The AGM is scheduled for 6:00 pm on Wednesday, October 29.

Update: UTSU bylaw amendments from November 2013 received ministerial approval as of September 24, 2014.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect information about the UTSU class definitions.

Canadian blood inventory at dangerous lows

Young Liberals call for end to gay blood donor ban

Canadian blood inventory at dangerous lows

As Canadian Blood Services’ blood inventory reaches critical lows, the Young Liberals of Canada — the youth wing of the Liberal Party — is calling for an end to the blood donor ban on men who have sex with men (MSM).

Currently, MSM are banned from donating blood if they have engaged in “MSM activity” in the last five years because they are seen as a group at high risk for HIV infection.

According to a report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, MSM make up approximately 47 per cent of new HIV infections. Approximately 71,300 Canadians are living with HIV. Of those, around 53,000 are aware of their status.

The Young Liberals support behaviour-based screening of blood donors, but argue that questions regarding sexual orientation should be left out of the process. They say that other countries have ended such policies without harmful effects.

“Its not a public safety issue, that argument is not correct,” said Kaleem Hawa, president of the University of Toronto Liberals.

“All blood donations are scanned for disease regardless. So it doesn’t actually matter if you are a gay man or not,” he added.

MAKING THE RULES

Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec are the non-profit organizations that manage the country’s blood supply and screen potential donors. In order to “make sure every donation is safe,” the screening questionnaire asks people about their sexual practices. Every single donation is then tested for infectious diseases. 

Though the government maintains what they call an “arm’s length” relationship with these organizations, Health Canada ultimately sets the rules the organizations have to follow, and the federal agency’s approval is required for any operational change.

In May 2013, Health Canada approved a change in the blood donor deferral period for MSM from a lifetime to five years since last engaging in MSM actvity.

Hawa joins many who say that change did not go far enough. “It is a way for the government to save face and say ‘We’ve liberalized our donation policy — gay people can donate blood.’ But the reality doesn’t reflect the principles that the government has stood on,” he said.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

In September, Canadian Blood Services announced that the country’s blood supply was “critically low.”

“In recent months extremely low attendance at blood donor clinics across Canada in combination with the constant need for blood has caused the national inventory to be used faster than it can be replenished. This has created the lowest national blood inventory since 2008,” said the Canadian Blood Services’ statement.

According to the Young Liberals, some 52 per cent of Canadians have required donor blood for medical treatment. Hawa argues that the ban is not only wrong in terms of equality, but that from a utilitarian perspective it is “also one that does harm to us as a society.”

“If the government were to liberalize their policy on gay individuals donating blood, you would see a significant increase in that supply,” said Hawa, adding: “There are people who want to donate blood who are not being given the opportunity to.”

“HOW IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME FEEL?”

Franklin* said he attempted to give blood when he was in high school. He was in a monogamous relationship at the time and would have been accepted as a donor based on all other safe sex criteria. However, he was rejected solely on the fact that he had a same sex partner.

 “After filling out the questionnaire you meet with a rep. They asked me if that answer was a mistake, and when I said it was not, they told me they could not accept my blood,” said Franklin.

“They still wanted me to encourage my friends and family to donate. It really pissed me off. Why should I help you after that? How is that supposed to make me feel?” he added.

Franklin said that when a blood drive came to his school later that year, some of his friends refused to donate in protest at his exclusion. “I am aware that they are at an all-time low, but if they truly wanted to they could change that,” he said.

“The blood services in Canada are supposed to be independent, and if they pushed for this and made a case for change I believe it would happen,” Franklin added.

A QUESTION OF SAFETY?

Dr. Brian Cornelson, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said the ban is a holdover from decades ago. “I think this started in the days when there was so much that was unknown and, not surprisingly, a lot of fear,” said Cornelson, adding: “There was fear that a lot of gay men weren’t being tested and wouldn’t know their status, or would be infected after their last test.”

Cornelson noted that tests available in the 1980s could take up to 12 weeks from the time of infection to find a positive result. “Back in the mid-80s when the rule was established there was arguably a rationale for it,” he said.

But Cornelson feels that times have changed and says that the gay community’s experience with HIV could even be a point in favour of allowing them to be blood donors. “Gay men are arguably the most sensitized to the risk of being HIV infected, and [are] therefore more likely to get tested than the average heterosexual having casual sex,” he said.

This is in line with Health Canada’s own findings. In a 2011 report, they estimated that 20 to 24 per cent of HIV positive MSM were unaware of their HIV status. They also found that “there was a much higher proportion of people who were unaware of their HIV infection [34 per cent] in the heterosexual exposure category.”

“Canadian Blood Services is always desperate for donors. Arbitrarily ruling out an entire population is, in my opinion, a hysterical knee-jerk reaction to the damnation of the Canadian Red Cross for mishandling the situation in the ’80s,” Cornelson said.

*Name changed at student’s request.

Tradition prevails at Trinity College Meeting

Two amendments fail at meeting on October 6

Tradition prevails at Trinity College Meeting

Two amendments designed to change all 16 references to Trinity students from “Men and Women of College” to “Members of College” in the Trinity College constitution, and to desegregate the traditionally gender-segregated Trinity College Meeting (TCM) held at the end of each academic year, were voted down at the TCM on October 6. 

Haley O’Shaughnessy, president of Rainbow Trinity, put forward both motions. 

The motions were intended to accommodate people of all gender identities and expressions, reflecting the fact that not all students fit into the binary of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ 

“The amount of unnecessary cissexist structures at Trinity College is frankly ridiculous,” O’Shaughnessy said, alleging that the current constitution perpetuates the gender binary and does not recognize the rights of all Trinity students. 

The constitution designates all students who pay Trinity student society fees as “Men and Women of College,” which leaves the voting privileges of non-binary students ambiguous. O’Shaughnessy added that, in practice, non-binary students have had voting rights, but only because Trinity College members do not recognize them as non-binary. Trinity College is the only college at the University of Toronto that refers to its members in terms of gender and has designated leadership roles for men and women.  

Some students raised concerns that the amendments could hamper other gendered structures within Trinity College. O’Shaughnessy argued that having male and female representatives are quotas, rather than gender segregation. She further noted that having such a structure is one of the only ways the college can have more female leaders.

Although voting at the TCM is usually done via a show of hands from gowned members, both votes were conducted using a secret ballot.

Luis Lopez, the college’s resident head of second year, motioned to hold the vote by secret ballot, which was narrowly approved. “I think that nobody should feel guilty for voting their real opinions,” said Lopez, adding: “People are more confident when they know they are making a decision when they feel it’s right instead of being peer pressured. ”

Cas Legrand, the college’s non-resident head of second year, also supported the secret ballot. “Open voting would have simply resulted in a divided college, with certain individuals marked in addition to personal accusations of being deemed sexist [or] homophobic,” said Legrand. 

Although many students present at the TCM spoke openly in favour of the first motion, it failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to pass.

Discussion of the second motion was more contentious and was held in-camera. 

Sahal Malek, a second-year Trinity College student, opposed the motion. “I felt that the segregated TCM better served the interests of the Trinity community,” Malek said after the vote. 

“I think the outcome of the secret vote is pretty shameful to our college,” O’Shaughnessy said. 

“They know that our structures are exclusionary to people at our college and instead of voting in favour of these amendments, they were cowards and hid their cissexist views behind a secret ballot,” she added. 

Madeline Hancock, a second-year student, saw both perspectives. “There are many who were against the amendment who did not get the right to express their opinions, which was not fair,” Hancock said, referring to the fact that the votes were held before everyone had a chance to speak. 

Overall, Hancock expressed disappointment at the outcome. “If a member of the college could vote in good conscience to exclude and marginalize their peers, they should not be given the privilege to hide their opinions behind a secret ballot… I hoped that empathy and a desire to make all members of our college feel welcome would overcome ignorance, ties to tradition, or antipathy regarding our peers that feel excluded. I was proven wrong,” she said.  

O’Shaughnessy said that she will continue to fight for more inclusive practices at the college. “I love this college enough to say that we need a wake-up call about our exclusionary policies,” O’Shaughnessy said. 

O’Shaughnessy has put forth a non-binding motion at the next TCM recommending that student leaders refer to Trinity students as “Members of College.”

Ebola prompts faculty response

Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s Ebola Working Group working to contain the disease

Ebola prompts faculty response

University of Toronto faculty are at the forefront of a global health response to the Ebola outbreak that has killed over 4,400 people. 

On October 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the death rate of West African patients reached 70 per cent and that the number of new cases may soon reach 10,000 per week. 

Though there are no confirmed Canadian cases, a number of Canadians who recently took trips to West Africa have been kept in isolation after reporting Ebola-like symptoms. So far, all have tested negative for the disease.

“We know how to deal with this” 

According to Dr. Eleanor Fish, associate chair of international collaborations and initiatives and professor of immunology, it is unlikely that Ebola will become a pandemic in Toronto.

Toronto previously dealt with the outbreak of an infectious disease in 2003, when a tourist who visited Hong Kong brought severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to Toronto. Forty-four Canadians died of the disease, and 400 became ill. 

During this previous event, a number of faculty played important roles in containing the outbreak, including David Naylor, past–U of T president and former chair of the national advisory committee on SARS and public health; Sheela Basrur, former Ontario chief medical officer of health; and Allison McGeer, a microbiologist and infectious disease consultant.

Ross Upshur, clinical public health division head at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that the SARS outbreak identified numerous flaws in Canada’s healthcare system that were subsequently addressed.

Upshur is now leading the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s Ebola Working Group, which has highlighted the importance of rapid response to a viral outbreak. 

The working group consists of both professors and public health students. 

“Communication between Public Health Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the WHO has been improved,” the working group said.

Fish echoed the working group’s findings. “I don’t want to say we’ve set the standards, but from our experience with SARS, we know how to deal with this,” she said. 

“We identified hospitals, we identified teams, we have all the personal protection equipment,” she added.

University response

University administration is also taking a proactive approach to the health threat posed by Ebola. A notice released by the university through Blackboard provided information on the virus, as well as contact information for university health resources.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of media relations, said that the university is committed to supporting faculty, staff, and students through a potential public health threat. “The university relies on the information provided from the relevant Ministry and health agencies, and will follow any recommendations from these agencies,” she said. 

Similarly, the university’s Health and Safety Policy, published by Angela Hildyard, vice-president, human resources and equity, makes an exhaustive commitment to high health and safety standards. “The University will strive to exceed the legislated requirements by adopting the best practices available to protect the University community,” the policy says.

The risk of potential outbreak has nonetheless caused students to think seriously about their own medical security. 

Mary Githumbi, a third-year international student, said that her University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) would afford the same treatment as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), but expressed concern that administrative burdens associated with the plan could cause issues. 

Ontario disqualified international students from OHIP in 1994, leaving international students to pay private health insurance fees through UHIP.

“This is a barrier to healthcare since the student may not have the finances to pay upfront,” Githumbi said. 

RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

Fish expressed concern that Canadian discourse on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa only recently became more urgent, and said that the slow international response played a key factor in the virus’ migration from West Africa to other parts of the world. 

Although the outbreak began in fall 2013, Fish said that Canada has yet to contribute certain basic tools, such as personal protection equipment, medication, and hydration equipment. 

“Where are our priorities?” Fish said.

In the meantime, Fish is committed to using her research to help quell the outbreak in West Africa. 

Her research focuses on using synthetic interferon, a substance naturally released by the body’s immune system, to reduce replication of viruses. 

Fish said that the Ebola virus, like SARS, blocks interferon to evade immune response. By producing interferon, Fish added, it is possible to boost the immune system and inhibit virus replication. 

Though there is no human trial evidence that the drug is effective for treatment of Ebola, Fish said that studies of interferon’s effectiveness in primates are encouraging. Interferon also has the advantage of being currently available, unlike many study drugs currently being developed for Ebola.  

“Time-wise, there’s some imperative to do something urgently. Interferon is available, we’ve drafted a protocol, there are individuals in Guinea who are interested in implementing this as soon as possible,” Fish said.

The Ebola Working Group at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health is mobilizing research to help curb the outbreak. 

“As a top-rate research institution, we have the capacity to conduct research to gain a comprehensive outlook on the biological, epidemiological, ethical, and social components of the Ebola outbreak,” the group said. 

The group emphasized the importance of using the large-scale outbreak as a learning opportunity for future outbreaks. “Due to the scale of this outbreak, it provides us with an opportunity to understand the disease better and how to treat it,” the group said.

Meanwhile, some students described the need to be involved in broader discussions of public health.  

Victoria Banderob, third-year health and disease and anthropology student, said the outbreak provides a real-time case study for students and faculty from every discipline at U of T. 

“This institution is [full] of minds that have this ability, and those at the helm of organizations will have no one interjecting or criticizing their decisions unless questions are asked,” Banderob said.

Fish said that the university’s Beyond Sciences initiative, where undergraduate and graduate students come together to look at ways to improve global health outcomes, is one example of student engagement in public health issues. 

“There are many ways that you can get involved in public health … We have First Nations communities that would benefit from social justice. We have marginalized communities … that cannot access [public health] easily,” Fish added. 

Anne Johnson discusses youth empowerment, campus consent

Johnson is executive director of Generation Progress, a non-profit that promotes progressive policy

Anne Johnson discusses youth empowerment, campus consent

Anne Johnson is the executive director of Generation Progress, an American non-profit organization that fosters youth empowerment and community action.

In partnership with the White House, Generation Progress recently launched “It’s On Us,” a campaign that aims to stop sexual assaults on college and university campuses. The campaign’s star-studded promotional video features actors Kerry Washington and Jon Hamm, as well as President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.

The Varsity met with Johnson to discuss changing conversations around campus consent, youth engagement, and social policy. 

The Varsity: As executive director, what does your job entail?

Anne Johnson: Totally depends on the day. We run a variety of campaigns around issues that young people care about. We just launched a campaign a couple weeks ago called “It’s On Us,” and it’s a national campaign to prevent campus sexual assault, so that has been a huge focus of my life for the last couple months — getting ready for that launch of that campaign. But, you know, we also work with young people on campaigns around higher education and student debt, we have a gun violence prevention program, so my days sort of depend on what campaign is happening and working with the young people in our networks.

TV: How do you come up with these different campaigns?

AJ: They’re really led by the young people that we work with… The goal of our work is to empower young people to make change in their communities and I think young people are very sophisticated when it comes to identifying problems — what are the issues that they’re facing, whether that’s access to good jobs or access to higher education or preventing gun violence. Young people know what the issues are in their community, and so it’s really less about picking and more about empowering young people to work on those issues. The campus sexual assault campaign, “It’s On Us,” really came out of work with people in the higher-education community, both on campuses and advocacy organizations saying that there needed to be an effort, a national effort around culture change around campus sexual assault. I think it’s really important when we pick our campaigns to work on that we listen to people, we listen to young people and empower them to do work in their communities.

TV: How do young people get involved with the organization?

AJ: We don’t have chapters on college campuses; that’s not exactly our model, but we work with a lot of individual young people who are working on specific issues, so it might be a young person who’s working on climate change in Mississippi, or it could be someone who’s working on gun violence prevention in Chicago, and we just work with a variety of different people. They’re really issue-based campaigns, so the way that people would generally get involved with Generation Progress would be through an organizing campaign around an issue on their campus, so in California, our gun violence prevention network is working on a campaign called the “Campaign to Unload,” which is working on divestment in the state college system around guns, and that campaign is totally localized.

TV: Could you speak more specifically about what Generation Progress does to combat sexual assaults on college campuses?

AJ: This campaign that we just launched a couple weeks ago — it’s a new effort for us, and it’s something that we’re really excited to be a part of. It’s a campaign that we’re working in partnership with the White House on, and we’ve got a couple dozen really amazing partners in the campaign already, including … the NCAA and MTV, and VH1 and Electronic Arts. There’s all sorts of different partners within the campaign and it’s really meant to be a campaign that shapes the way that we think and changes the way that we think and act around campus sexual assault, so we want it to be completely unacceptable for campus sexual assault to exist, and we want to empower young people to be a part of that solution. So it is not a legislative campaign, it’s not a campaign about a specific policy — but it’s more about empowering young people to stop sexual assault.

TV: Have American colleges been improving their policies around consent and sexual assault?

AJ: There’s this thing called Title IX, and Title IX basically says you can’t discriminate against people on college campuses. It’s the thing that led to women being involved in sports on college campuses — equal access.  But Title IX also says that sexual harassment is a form of a civil rights violation, and so there’s a Title IX oversight of colleges and universities, which was part of the Higher Education Act. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice at the federal level actually have some authority through Title IX to investigate complaints on college campuses. One of the new things that’s happened is that the Department of Education actually released, for the first time, a list of colleges and universities that had Title IX investigations happening on those campuses. And I think that was a really important step, because it brought to light that there is some transparency in this, and that students have the ability to go to their college, and if they don’t find a place to file a complaint, or they feel like their school is not treating them correctly, then they can file a complaint through the Department of Education, and that school will be investigated.

TV: Do you think the types of things Generation Progress is doing could be applied to U of T and other Canadian colleges? 

AJ: Yes, totally. I mean, I think a lot of the work that we do at Generation Progress is about empowering young people to make social change, and I don’t think that matters if you’re in Kansas, Florida, Toronto or anywhere else in the world. I think the campus sexual assault campaign, “It’s On Us,” is a campaign that could be run on any campus anywhere in the world. We actually have a week of action coming up on November 17, and we have events taking place all over the U.S., but we also have young people around the world who are volunteering to host events in other countries. 

TV: How do you think students and staff, just anyone on campus, can try to combat sexual assault? 

AJ: There’s a really good tool-kit that we put together… so I’d encourage people to download it and look through it, because there’s some good advice on things people can do. One of the first things that we’re asking folks to do is to have a conversation on your campus. There’s probably an organization that exists on your campus that is doing work on this issue already, and so I would encourage students to find people who have expertise on this issue, whether it’s within the university administration or student organization that’s been working on it. Set up a conversation, and try to bring more people in, whether it’s student athletes, chapter presidents, [members] of the Greek system, or people who have a profile on campus. Bring people together to have this conversation about what’s happening on campus; what needs to be done. There’s some really great training programs, called Bystander Intervention, that’s teaching people how to step in when they see something that looks like it could lead to sexual assault. 

TV: Have you had any experience with the types of services that colleges provide for sexual assault victims? 

AJ: It varies… schools have set up different programs. There are certainly some fantastic ones, and there are some that need a lot of work… I don’t think there’s one sort of model nationally that everyone’s implementing. I think that’s part of the challenge — a lot of different programs in different places. But I think what’s important for students to know is that they have power in the situation to advocate to the university, to create the programs that they need to help survivors. So I think that is a really important first step. The university community, the faculty, the students — especially survivors — need to advocate for services to help survivors, and also to engage a broader university community in that conversation about prevention.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Youth well-educated, under-employed

Annual Toronto Vital Signs report signals prosperity in the city, but poor job prospects for youth

Youth well-educated, under-employed

Young Torontonians are paying the price for living in a world-class city while struggling to find full-time work. 

This month, the Toronto Foundation released its annual civic report card, Vital Signs. The report aims to paint a socioeconomic picture of the metropolis through statistics. 

The report provides a context for municipal reform by identifying areas in need of improvement and compares the city to other regions in Ontario, as well as major metropolises abroad. 

This year’s edition presents some troubling facts, especially for students and young people in the labour market. 

Rahul Bhardwaj, chief executive offier and president of the Toronto Foundation, recently spoke at the St. George campus in a “Let’s Talk Toronto” panel discussion regarding the report. 

Bhardwaj said that Vital Signs shows that Toronto has become a world-class city, but that its government’s tendency to stick to the “middle road” puts it at risk of stagnancy when it comes to tackling the city’s pressing issues.

Youth in and out of the labour force 

One of Bhardwaj’s concerns is that, despite boasting an internationally-ranked post-secondary education system, Toronto youth face poor job prospects.

Vital Signs reports that Toronto’s youth unemployment rate continues to hover at about 18 per cent. While this has dropped from the 2012 rate of 21 per cent, Bhardwaj says such a high rate is startlingly reminiscent of some of Europe’s more economically-strained cities.

Equally concerning, Toronto’s youth employment rate is hovering around 43 per cent. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study suggests that this is the worst of any region in Ontario.

With so little work available in the city, the study suggested that more young adults are leaving the province to find jobs. 

The discrepancy between the youth employment and unemployment rates also indicate that there are a significant number of young people withdrawing from the labour force altogether. The study said that some of this trend is accounted for by youth enrolled in education or training.

However, Vital Signs reported that about 10 per cent of youth are neither in employment, education, or training. 

At the panel, Shauna Brail, a lecturer in the Urban Studies Department, expressed her concern with the implications of the statistics. She said the findings are especially concerning in cases where communities have heavily invested in youth education in the hopes of brighter futures. 

57.1 per cent of Torontonians over the age of 15 have some post-secondary credentials, while approximately one-third of food bank users in outer and inner suburbs are university or college graduates. “This isn’t how we think of having a post-secondary degree,” Brail said. 

Calling for change

Alastair Woods, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, is worried that discussions on youth unemployment place too much of the onus on educational institutions preparing graduates for the labour market. 

Woods pointed out that Statistics Canada reports only one job vacancy for every six people looking for work, or every nine in Ontario.

Woods believes that strong government action is necessary to solve the unemployment crisis and to ensure the availability and accessibility of job opportunities for graduates, regardless of major.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives indicated that Toronto has the largest gap in the province between youth and adult employment, at nearly 22 per cent. 

In its March 2014 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance studying youth unemployment, the Centre criticized the gap between the billions of dollars spent on the Canada Jobs Strategy and decreasing funding for the Youth Employment Strategy.

The same submission also called on the federal government to take a leading role in helping young people find jobs in their industry, offset costs for those relocating to areas with high job growth, and amend the Canada Labour Code to make unpaid internships illegal.

At the panel, Susan McIsaac, chief executive officer of United Way, also echoed Woods’ hope for government action in solving the issue of youth unemployment.

McIsaac indicated her particular interest in looking at cross-sectional innovations that will create broader positive change across the city. She suggested policy reforms to incentivize hiring youth and help youth gain first-time work experience, as well as programs for civic development.

University initiative

Despite discouraging municipal statistics on youth in the labour force, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, expressed optimism on the employment prospects for U of T graduates. She said that, based on a 2009 survey, the University of Toronto’s employment rate for graduates two years out is 91.7 per cent.

Blackburn-Evans also pointed out the multiplicity of programs and initiatives across the three campuses that aim to further graduates’ career prospects, including co-op programs, professional experience year programs, and career centres.