A cyclist’s crash course

Kristen Courtney is no newcomer to cycling. The third-year law student at the University of Toronto has been riding her bike for years, and once took a 7,500 km cycling trip across Canada. She has ridden without any problems in nearly every major city in the country, except Toronto.

Since moving here in 2005, Courtney has been hit by cars seven times.

Her accidents all occurred on Bloor, College and Queen streets, the three major thoroughfares where, cycling activists say, bike lanes are most desperately needed.

Most of the accidents were minor, but the sixth one left Courtney with permanent damage to her back, neck and wrist.

Courtney said her accidents have not deterred her from cycling. She has become involved in several cycling advocacy groups, using her experiences to draw attention to problems facing cyclists in Toronto. At a recent event, “Bells on Bloor” in September, over 500 people rode along Bloor St. to protest the lack of bike lanes.

Courtney talks passionately about about environmental law, and after her first year of law school—and her first five collisions—she attended the International Youth Summit on Sustainable Urban Transportation. There, she learned about plans that other cities had followed to effectively promote cycling. She said she was shocked by the city of Toronto’s “unprincipled approach” towards cycling safety and bike lane planning.

Outlining activists’ proposal to plan the city’s bike routes “by looking at where cyclists ride, where cyclists need greater protection, and where potential cyclists would ride if they were provided with safe and convenient routes,” Courtney said bike lanes in Toronto are usually put on quiet side streets where they are not needed. These circuitous lanes often do not connect with one another.

Six years ago, the city council approved the 10-Year Bike Plan, which aims to increase the number of cyclists on the road and decrease the number of collisions and injuries. The plan’s mainstay is the expansion of the Bikeway network, expected to eventually cover the entire city.

According to the city council, 2007 has been a good year for the Bike Plan. Nearly six kilometres of new bike lanes have been approved by city council, and over 20 more have been proposed.

Despite some progress, however, activists contend that the Bike Plan has failed to address major safety issues. One of the biggest problems they point to is the lack of safe east–west routes. Streets like Bloor and Queen are treacherous for cyclists, but the city has made no plans for bike lanes on these streets. In the meantime, many cyclists have been injured or even killed on those routes.

Over 1,000 bike-car collisions are reported each year, but since many accidents go unreported, Courtney estimates the real figure to be closer to 6,000. Stories and statistics like this are alarming, giving lawyers as well as cyclists fuel in their push for more bike lanes. Last week, the law firm McLeish Orlando LLP addressed a letter to the city council on behalf of the family of a cyclist killed on Queen St. in 2005.

The letter pushed the city to consider improving bike routes as it works to make a “cleaner, better Toronto,” and lingered on the city’s ethical obligation to ensure safer cycling conditions.

New federal drug plan a give-and-take

Unveiling his National Anti-Drug Strategy in early October, Health Minister Tony Clement and Prime Minister Harper promised mandatory prison sentences for serious drug offences, a national awareness campaign targeted at youth, and more funding for drug treatment, but did not promise funding for harm reduction programs. This, combined with the government’s promise to “refocus” existing drug programs, has many worried about cuts to existing programs.

Harm reduction aims to reduce the impact of drug use without forcing users to stop using drugs completely. Initiatives can include needle exchanges, methadone programs, and safe injection sites like the pilot Insite in Vancouver.

“The reality is that some people cannot or will not stop using drugs,” said the AIDS Committee of Toronto, in response to Harper’s new strategy. They argue that too much focus on punishment and abstinence will increase the rates of HIV and overdosing. World Health Organization studies show that needle exchange programs reduce HIV/ AIDS infection rates among injection drug users. But Harper still insists that he is going after dealers, not users.

“Our message is clear: drugs are dangerous and destructive,” he said. “If drugs do get hold of you—there’s help to get you off them. And if you sell or produce drugs—you’ll pay with jail time.”

It’s not that simple, according to Diane Riley, Associate Member of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, and founder of the International Harm Reduction Association.

“Lots of users have to be small-time dealers to survive,” she said. “And at the same time the government is doing this, arrests for simple possession for marijuana have more than doubled, if not tripled, in the last year.”

Riley appreciates that the strategy puts extra money into treatment, but she also argues that there needs to be greater choice of treatment to better suit specific users.

“I think people have to remember that harm reduction is secondary prevention, so we have to emphasize that with the Harper government,” she said. “You’re funding prevention, so be sure to fund primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.”

An international expert on harm reduction, Riley has long been frustrated by the attitude towards drug policy reform put forward by both Conservative and Liberal governments. She also suggested that there is also more that U of T could do.

“I’ve offered to teach a course on harm reduction, which I’ve been teaching at York, and U of T is not interested,” she said.

Urban Craftwork

Did you cut the neckband off your T-shirt for that DIY look? Do you know what “felting” is? Maybe you just like making lampshades out of Popsicle sticks? That’s cool—but you could stand to be a little cooler, Popsicle Pete. Even if shelling out sweet coinage for more courses is not at the top of your to-do list, check out these local craft workshops that will turn you into a better, more virtuous, and, ultimately, sexier person. You’ll actually develop a tangible skill—maybe even something you can eat, wear, or both (chocolate underwear?). How many Poli-Sci majors can say that?*

Sewing, Knitting & Textiles

These studios offer a range of different courses, from tailoring and patternmaking to recycling old pieces of clothing. Knitting has taken off in popularity amongst the “cool” and “young” sets. Take delight in creating visual irony in the UC Quad—be that poncho-hooking football player. Everyone loves a good juxtaposition!

Sew Be It Studios and Workshop 2156 Yonge St.

Sew Be It is great for learning the basics of sewing one step at a time. From workshops on zipper use to classes in beadwork appliqué and bra-construction, you can find the thing that most appeals to you. sewbeitstudio.com

Studio Opal – 1184 Queen St. E.

Offering workshops and classes not only in sewing and pattern-drafting, Studio Opal also gives instruction in home décor (cushions, etc.), alteration and customizing. The ’50s-style pastel interior and low-key staff are also tops. studioopal.ca

Knit-o-Matic – 1378 Bathurst St.

Besides organizing yarn swaps and giving away free knit and crochet patterns on their website, Knit-o-Matic is a fun place to pick up your supplies, learn how to cable-knit a toque, and talk about personal issues with fellow crafters at their Stitch ’n’ Bitch Wednesdays. knitomatic.com

Lettuce Knit – 70 Nassau St.

Like Knit-o-Matic, Lettuce Knit offers a swell variety of yarns, and provides useful advice for specific knit projects, like sock-making. Get right to the source and take a dyeing workshop, which lets you customize your effort even more. lettuceknit.com

The Naked Sheep – 2144A Queen St. E.

For all you east-enders, this cozy little boutique has a range of classes and levels, whether you’re considered beginner, intermediate or advanced with a needle and thread. The helpful employees are more than willing to help you find your place within the ranks. nakedsheep.ca

Peach Berserk – 507 Queen St. W.

This iconic Queen St. shop offers not only designer Kingi Carpenter’s signature prints and girly dresses, but also workshops that will walk you through the whole silk-screening process. The class also incorporates insight with regard to starting your own business or setting up a studio. peachberserk.com

Metalsmithing, Encaustic & Glassworking

These workshops tend to be a little pricier for tools and supplies, but the classes (and results) are creativity- satisfying, producing some unique and valuable handiwork.

C1 Contemporary Art Space – 44 Ossington Ave.

If you’re into encaustic painting, mosaic, and book-binding, C1’s goods are practical, fun and diverse. c1artspace.com

The Devil’s Workshop – 955 Queen St. W., unit 112

The Devil’s Workshop will put your idle hands to good use. In their rigorous workshops, you can learn how to do metal printmaking—that is, etch your design onto a steel plate which will then be roller-printed onto a silver or copper setting. Other courses on the menu include lost wax casting and wire-working. thedevilsworkshop.ca

Margie Jewelry Studio – 1402 Queen St. E., unit C4 (lower level)

Includes delicate handcrafting of things like glass-sculpture, bead making, and good old-fashioned metal-smithing fun. margiejewellery.com

Nanopod Hybrid Studio – 322 Harbord St.

This fascinating little studio houses not only a terrific gallery and shop, but also tutorials and instruction in different areas of metal-smithing. One unique option is to take the Recycle + Upcycle workshop, where you can transform old jewelry into something with your own creative mark on it. nanopod.tv

Look out for further installments of Urban Craftwork, focusing on local instruction in such activities as cooking, baking, candy-making, bookbinding, paper arts and soapmaking. Chocolate underwear-making will be included in Part II, although you can certainly experiment in the privacy of your own home. (Just remember to close the blinds.)

*Answer: two.

Toronto Guluwalks a mile in others’ shoes

This past Saturday thousands of people in over 100 cities across the world marched during the annual Guluwalk to show their support for the Acholi children of northern Uganda. The walk, founded in Toronto only two years ago by Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward, has grown to be international in scope, and was recently named one of the world’s best fundraisers by New York-based Non-Profi t Times.

Bradbury and Hayward made headlines in 2005 when for the entire month of July they walked 12.5 km into downtown Toronto to sleep for four hours in front of City Hall, only to then march back home. During the month they also continued to work full time. While sleeping outside City Hall the two friends faced freezing temperatures and numerous run-ins with Toronto’s rodent population.

As many as 40,000 Acholi children walk throughout the night every night of their lives to large towns such as Gulu for a safe place to sleep. Those who don’t walk risk being abducted, raped or even killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel guerrilla army notorious for its use of child soldiers.

Since that fateful month, GuluWalk has grown tremendously. In 2006, 300,000 participants in 82 countries raised over $500,000. The charity has continued to grow in 2007. On February 22, the group organized its first ever Guluwalk Gala.

Speaking on the large stage erected at Metro Hall during the conclusion of this year’s walk, Bradbury urged the crowd to “take a risk and do that one more thing for northern Uganda” by phoning or emailing their MPs, and pressuring the Canadian government to publicly support peace in northern Uganda.

Some MPs have already begun to take notice. NDP Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow was present to say a few words. “Peace cannot be talked down. It has to be from the grounds up, from the community,” she said, going on to argue that with respect to Canada’s role in the 21-year conflict, “we have to pressure our government to say that this is critically important, we have to push the peace process through the UN.” Her call for Canada to allocate 0.7 per cent of its GDP to foreign aid was awarded with a large roar from the crowd.

Almost everybody at the walk was sporting the organization’s bright orange T-shirts, proceeds from the sales of which to Guluwalk programs. A band played traditional African music and the atmosphere was electric. “Can you image walking the walk we just did in the middle of the night, in a much more harsh environment every single day, and doing so for the sake of your own life?” one woman asked. “I really feel like I am making a difference in the lives of these children and so does Bella,” she added referring to her canine companion.

A Guluwalk delegation will be going to Uganda in November.

Visit guluwalk.com for information on how to get involved before next year’s walk.

Book Review: Maynard and Jennica

A conversational tone, humorous remarks, dry wit, and characters the reader will care about—Rudolph Delson’s first novel, Maynard and Jennica, is a hilarious and poignant telling about a couple, their city, and a major world event.

Like most culture in our paranoid and terrorist-conscious society, this novel examines the build-up, execution, and aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not merely a backdrop for the novel, Delson weaves New York into characters’ lives until it becomes a character itself, foregrounded in the characters’ consciousness as well as our own. The red brick walk-up that Jennica lives in is a shelter, but it also becomes a part of her personality; the subway, a stage for romance; and of course, the scarred skyline reflecting the new fear and emptiness.

The novel is much like a Shakespearean play in its fivepart division and slew of characters (all listed in the back for quick referencing), its witty humour, and candid portrayal of human nature. Delson’s characters all speak directly to the reader, telling their story their own way but as if being interviewed or more accurately, interrogated. Maynard and Jennica captures a society changed, and the way humans turn to relationships, and comedy amidst turmoil and tragedy.

Rating: VVVV

Youth teach UN responsibility

While the opening ceremonies of the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide at McGill University presented a shocking personal perspective of mass murder, it was the following two days of panel discussions that would provide the most insight into the complex history, makeup and irrational success behind the subject of genocide.

From Oct. 12-13, various panels discussed subjects like the role and responsibility of business, involvement of international administrative bodies, the place of civil society, and the media’s impact on genocide awareness. Subjects centered on genocide prevention, and acknowledgment of current problems, allowing for comparisons between past events and the current torture in Darfur. From the beginning, the assembly of esteemed international representatives focused on the work youth are playing in preventing genocide.

The 35 youth hosted by conference patron Gordon Echenberg and McGill University’s Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism held that focus. The International Young Leaders Forum held a week of workshops and roundtable discussions on how to prevent genocide and improve human rights.

The youths’ impact was shown, dramatically, when they participated in the conference’s closing discussiona joint panel between the Young Leaders Forum and three of the conference’s most well-known speakers: Sir Shridath Ramphal, Salih Mahmoud Osman, and Roméo Dallaire. It was here that the young leaders presented a declaration entitled “Responsibility to Prevent.” Responding to the long-held concept of “responsibility to protect,” the declaration details genocide’s history and reasons for existence, and lists the group’s plans for future endeavors.

The conference’s closing statement was endearing and valuable in setting a mission that keeps close watch on human rights issues of the present and future by addressing the concerns of genocide’s affect in the past.

The declaration concluded with a call for a future only possible with further involvement from others.

“Our commitment is not limited by time or place. Our success will be measured by atrocities that do not occur. Out goal is a world without genocide. We cannot succeed alone. We ask that you hear us and join us.”

New life in the Green Corridor

Only a scant amount of the life on our planet—estimates range from one to ten per cent—has been discovered and catalogued. With species vanishing at an alarming rate, studying the Earth’s diversity is becoming a high priority. In a relatively unspoiled area of the world, a valuable lesson has been learned: seek and you shall find.

In the biologically rich Green Corridor, a remote region in the Thua Thien Hue province of Vietnam, 11 new species have been discovered by scientists of the World Wildlife Fund. Among them are a new species of snake and fungus-like orchids.

Completely covered in red spots, the whitelipped keelback snake sports a distinct yellowwhite stripe below its eyes and is commonly found near streams. The keelback enjoys feeding on small animals like frogs and can grow to be 31.5 inches long.

Three of the five orchids discovered are entirely leafless, a rare trait among orchids. Unlike most flowers, these orchids are completely chlorophyllfree and, similar to fungi, grow on decaying matter.

Other interesting characters present themselves: an arum plant that is surrounded by brilliant yellow blooms and funnel-shaped leaves, and a plant from the Aspidistra family that grows dark, nearly black flowers.

The skipper butterfly from the genus Zela and a butterfly from a new genus of the Satyrinae subfamily are only two among the eight new species of butterfly identified in the Green Corridor since 1996. The skipper is especially distinctive, exhibiting a flight pattern of quick, darting movements.

Vietnam’s Green Corridor stretches from the Annamites mountain range to the lowland wet evergreen forests of the coast. Dr. Chris Dickinson, chief WWF scientist in the Green Corridor, explained the importance of maintaining these types of ecosystems in a WWF press release: “Discoveries of so many new species are rare and occur only in very special places like the Green Corridor.”

This area is home to considerable numbers of threatened and endangered species, such as the white-cheeked crested gibbon. Hoang Ngoc Khanh, director of the Thua Thien Hue Provincial Forest Protection Department, echoed Dickinson’s sentiments regarding the area:

“The [Green Corridor] is extremely important for conservation and the province wants to protect the forests and their environmental services, as well as contribute to sustainable development.”

WWF experts warn that these 11 species are at risk from hunting, illegal logging, natural resource depletion, and human development. Started in June 2004, the Green Corridor Project, a four-year initiative established by the collaborative efforts of the WWF Greater Mekong Programme and Thua Thien Hue Provincial Forest Protection Department, aims to preserve the lush biodiversity of the Green Corridor.

“The jungles and mountains of Vietnam are fascinating places and they continue to surprise scientists,” said Bernard O’Callaghan, the Vietnam program coordinator for the World Conservation Union. With the possibility of a multitude of undiscovered species hidden in the depths of the Green Corridor, said Dickinson, these recent discoveries may be just the tip of the iceberg.

UTSC student union censures prez

In a surprise motion last Friday, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union narrowly voted to censure its president, Rob Wulkan. The vote was seven for and seven against, with Zuhair Syed, chair of the board of directors, breaking the tie. Two members (including Wulkan himself) abstained from voting.

According to Jemy Joseph, VP academics, life sciences director Suleiman Furmli requested a discussion of halal food on campus and, immediately after, raised the censure motion. “Everyone was surprised—no one anticipated it,” she said. Documents obtained by

The Varsity show that Furmli brought seven charges against Wulkan. Subjects of complaints included his comments to media in regards to the halal menu at Bluff’s, a UTSC campus restaurant. Controversy over the menu has been picked up by media outlets such as the Toronto Star and the National Post.

The censure motion also accused Wulkan of delivering “a falsified fact to the media” with respect to surveys about halal menu implementation.

Joseph disagreed. “The president is the official spokesperson of the organization and he has a right to speak on behalf of the organization,” she told The Varsity.

In a phone interview, Wulkan called the latter point a misunderstanding and maintained that Bluff’s had conducted said survey a year and a half to two years ago.

The document also said that Wulkan harassed VP students and equity, Ahmad Jaballah, but no proof was presented at the board meeting. Jaballah could not be reached at press time, and Syed declined to comment.

The SCSU resolved to recognize that Wulkan “has much room of [sic] improvement” and demanded he write a formal letter of apology to be printed “in a continuing UTSC Student Publication [sic].”

“All that’s within my power is to write a letter to the media,” Wulkan said. “You can’t force the free media to print something they don’t want to print.”

The three-hour board meeting adjourned without going through most of the reports planned because the censure vote took so long, said former SCSU president Lendyl D’Souza, who was critical of the motion. “I felt that the motion had not been prepared well,” he said.

“I think that it was a rush, there were spelling and grammatical errors throughout, it seems that if anything was up to censure, it should have been prepared well. There was not any proof, there was just he-said-she-said, that type of deal.”

Multiple sources confirmed that the vote was not carried out by secret ballot, as mandated by SCSU bylaws. No one protested at the time.

“The chair should be well aware of how policies and bylaws are stated. They treated their bylaws like toilet paper,” said D’Souza. “I think the entire motion should be thrown out.”