When frat house becomes front of house

The room smelled inexplicably like gasoline and sweat socks, and I really had to pee.

These were my distractions while watching the first of three lesser-known Sam Shepard plays shown at the KA Mansion—the Kappa Alpha house at St. George and Bloor, to the uninitiated. As the actors alternated between overacted bursts of unconvincing mania (which included breaking crockery and lots of screaming) and painfully earnest refrains, I scanned the staging room—a makeshift lounge of church pews and vinyl-upholstered furniture—desperate to locate an alternate exit. My desire to evacuate my bladder far surpassed my wish to endure the rest of the one-act.

Fortunately, the play was short and the intermission that followed—not to mention the next two shows—made the evening worth my while.

The Candles are for Burning Co-op is a community theatre troupe without even a website to their name, the sort of grassroots performance collective I’d always just assumed didn’t exist in bustling, high-culture Hogtown. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, even if it had to happen in a smelly, dilapidated frat house.

Community theatre often lacks the polish of mainstream, “real” stage productions—and the budgets, actors with training, adequate promotion, and legitimate venues—but in my experience, it’s usually worth watching. It’s for the same reason that alternative craft shows are worth visiting, why anonymous indie music acts are worth hearing, why ramshackle art shows are worth witnessing – it’s worth it for the heart. It reminds the creatively inclined in us all that, even though we may be choosing alternate paths, the outlets are there if we look for them.

Inspiration aside, some of the performances were actually good. Like, “wow, I can’t believe this guy is performing this in the front room of a frat house” good. The one-man delivery of Killer’s Head, which traces the last mundane thoughts of a man as he awaits his death on the electric chair, was so convincing I nearly forgot that my bare thighs were adhered to a pleather sofa—I was half-expecting to find the plush velvety cush of deluxe playhouse seating beneath me.

The closing act was Cowboys #2, a somber game of cowboys and Indians that featured two solid performances and a stolen “Road Closed” sign, all of which made for an endearing finale.

The three plays were written between 1965 and 1975, and it shows. Artistically lingering in the aftermath of modern drama movements while simultaneously echoing the generational angst of Vietnam-era America, existential futility is a central theme of each of the pieces. In 4-H Club, the first play shown, the central character talks yearningly about “going away,” as though abandoning the squalor of his present surroundings won’t lead him, transplanted, to repeat his fate somewhere else. Cowboys #2 shows a pair of buddies unwilling—or unable—to occupy a realm of reality, living a make-believe Western scenario until one of them dies.

Killer’s Head is chronologically the latest of the pieces, which might explain why it is the most nuanced and subtle of the three. Shepard was a young playwright in his early twenties when he wrote the other two pieces. With Killer’s Head, composed a full decade later, the interim development of his style comes through quite clearly. 4-H Club and Cowboys #2 are over-the-top critiques of commodification, capitalism, and the unbearable folly of youth that sometimes fail to ground themselves in relevant terms; Killer’s Head is stark and brooding, but it packs an enduring punch.

Overall, for a low-budget community theatre production, the staging and performance were commendable: as in the best grassroots theatre, ingenuity and passion took centre stage.

Cowboys #2 (not pictured) RATING: VVVVV

After the war, an uphill battle

As 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils are herded into internment camps, the reported sites of physical and sexual violence that remain hidden from international scrutiny, Tamil-Canadian students in Toronto are considering how best to engage with a conflict on the other side of the world.

Some students fear for family back in Sri Lanka, as stories of grave human rights abuses come to light. Even for those whose direct relations are all in Canada, it’s hard to turn away from the lurid reports emerging from a place their families once called home.

Shoban Jaya is a grade 11 student at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute who has been protesting almost daily for months. The 16-year-old became active after seeing a video in which a Tamil girl is taken away from her mother by Sri Lankan military officers and raped off-camera. Though his grades have plummeted from the time he spends protesting, Jaya continues to participate, saying he fears an immense death toll if the international community does not act soon.

“I can carry [my education] on tomorrow,” he says, “but I can’t look at the struggle right now the same way. Because if [we do not act] today, there will be no tomorrow,” he said.

Ramesh, a 24-year-old student protestor from McMaster University, agrees. “You can’t ignore it, you can’t stay home and be silent. We’ve been silent for too long.” He compared the Sri Lankan situation to cases of genocide where many believe the international community acted too late, such as the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “We don’t want the world to act too late; we know the world always acts too late,” he said.

Both activists were in attendance at the May 10 Gardiner Expressway protest where UTSU executive director Angela Regnier was arrested. The act was criticized by the Toronto police as being “unsafe” and “unlawful,” but Jaya and Ramesh contend that the risk was justified to bring attention to human rights violations that the media had largely ignored until then. “After blocking the Gardiner, a lot of my colleagues [at work who had] never talked about these issues before […] said ‘tell me what’s going on back home.’ Same with the media,” said Ramesh.

The Tamil Students Association at U of T has taken a decidedly apolitical stance, focusing instead on educating the university community about human rights in Sri Lanka. “We didn’t want to make a political statement, so we’re just about solving the humanitarian crisis, getting NGOs into the country, [and] getting the media back into the country so we can know the truth,” explained TSA vice-president Ramya Janandharan.

Janandharan is critical of the media representations that she says frame the conflict as resolved, saying that the ethnic prejudice and humanitarian issues that caused the conflict are still present. “[The Tigers are] that catch that makes it interesting news, but they fail to realize that it’s a long-term issue… the Tigers are just a symptom of the conflict and not the cause of it,” she said.

Aranie Rasalingam, the TSA’s awareness coordinator, recalled her parents’ experience in the 1983 series of riots in Sri Lanka known as “Black July.” Approximately 3,000 Tamils were killed, including Rasalingam’s uncle. Her parents’ home was set aflame as they slept, and though they escaped and immigrated to Canada in 1987, Rasalingam fears similar atrocities.

“It’s not something that just happened in ’83, it’s happening again now,” she said. “So it really makes you wonder, what is everyone doing? It’s not like people don’t know.”

Years of his life

With the constant pressure to tour and increasing expectations for a quick turnaround of output by the record industry, it’s rare that a musician gets a chance to revisit their rough drafts, those scraps of melody, orphaned lyrics, and incomplete themes.

According to Ohad Benchetrit, that’s what his new project Years is all about.

Benchetrit, who is also an occasional Broken Social Scenester and one of the founding members of Toronto post-rock outfit Do Make Say Think, admits that the project found its genesis partly in boredom.

“Basically, the record is a result of an excess of time,” says Benchetrit, noting that an extended layoff from other projects led to him revisiting previously discarded bits and pieces. “This is me pushing forward the seeds of my old ideas.”

While many artists loathe the idea of reworking the ghosts of unrealized ambitions, Benchetrit relished the task. “I wouldn’t say it was disconcerting. You could see a chronological history [as an artist]. You don’t change over night, and this record is the process of me slowly changing—it’s not the change in and of itself, but this chronicles the process of making a change from the past to [my] future in terms of the kind of music I would like to make.”

Years is something of a kindred spirit with Do Make Say Think, but does not rigidly adhere to the post-rock conventions that group has become known for. “Are You Unloved?,” with its wheezing horns and slow-building crescendo, certainly bring Do Make and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to mind. Yet on other tracks, like the woozy, ambling “A Thousand Times a Day (Someone is Flying),” and the nimble, rootsy “Assassination of Dow Jones,” Benchetrit shows a previously unheard range and an untapped virtuosity with acoustic guitar. The record is certainly one of the most interesting to emerge from the Broken Social Scene alums this year—an eclectic instrumental collection that moves from intricate to epic to abstract.

But why not bring these new ideas to Do Make or Broken Social Scene? Benchetrit worries that his groups may be too set in their ways.

“The thing about Do Make is that there are five solid minds that need to be satisfied—it’s their child as much as mine. What ends up happening, the more that time passes, you can’t help it, you come up with a style. It becomes an intrinsic part of who you are, as a person or as a band,” Benchetrit says, though this is not necessarily meant as a bad thing.

“It’s like a boulder. The smaller the rock, the easier you can push it around, but you add this history, you add these personalities, the rock gets bigger and bigger. It gets heavier. What you find is that it becomes so big you can’t push it in any direction. I just needed a different vehicle for some ideas. That’s what Years is.”

Like many great instrumental rock records, Benchetrit endows the ambience with a greater sense of meaning with his song titles, which often subvert the otherwise sombre mood of the record. It’s hard not to see the dark humour in track titles like “Hey Cancer, Fuck You!” and “Dow Jones,” even though the music is played straight to the point of gloominess.

“The balancing act is trying to do something serious, but not taking yourself too seriously. It’s a way of alleviating the pressure and not being too heavy-handed—song titles for an instrumental band are a way around that,” Benchetrit notes.

Despite his effort to assuage the darkness of his music—for now anyway—his mind is going to have to return to the macabre. At the time of our interview, Do Make Say Think was just starting work on a score for Tales of the Uncanny—a 1919 German film noted by many historians as being the first proper horror movie—along with Toronto’s Final Fantasy and German artist Robert Lippok. The film is being rescored as part of the Luminato festival, and they will perform the whole thing one time only, for free, in Yonge-Dundas Square.

“It’s almost like a Twilight Zone episode—it’s in five segments, and there are five different stories. Basically, they recreate a novel or short story in each segment. It’s amazing how many places took that. It’s scary [to try scoring a movie], but I’m looking forward to how it turns out.”

Between providing music for a film that many cinema historians consider sacrosanct, to having the audacity to work with his ghosts of projects past and introducing humour to gloomy musical landscapes, Benchetrit seems, to say the least, game for a challenge. It’ssomething that’s sorely missing from music today.

Tales of the Uncanny, as scored by Do Make Say Think, Final Fantasy, and Robert Lippok, screens for free in Yonge-Dundas Square June 11 as part of the Luminato festival. Years appears in the Arts & Crafts Showcase at North by Northeast on June 17 at The Courthouse (57 Adelaide E.).

Groups organize against migrant mistreatment

Organizers from No One is Illegal, Justicia for Migrant Workers, and Migrante Ontario organized a community meeting at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at U of T on Saturday, in an attempt to coordinate a response to a series of U.S.-style raids on southern Ontario workplaces and detentions of migrant workers since April.

On April 2, the Canadian Border Service Agency and South Simcoe Police raided Cericola Farms in Bradford, where poultry farm workers were taken to the Heritage Detention Centre in Toronto. About 100 workers were reportedly held in cramped quarters while an immigration official rushed through their rights in English.

According to South Simcoe Police, the raids were carried out on suspicion of Immigration Act violations, abuse of workers without status and human trafficking.

Justicia, who provides legal assistance and support for migrant workers, along with the other groups, was able to assist some of the detained workers following the raids. They claimed the workers were told to sign forms surrendering their rights to counsel. According to Justicia, these alleged forms were not in accordance with the Immigration Act and were “illegally concocted.” Two weeks later, about 40 migrant workers were deported.

On May 27, Immigration Enforcement raided the Lakeside Greenhouse in Leamington.

Flor, who has been employed as a cleaner in the greenhouse for two years, said that nine of her coworkers are currently behind bars.

She said that for the most part a migrant worker would clean greenhouses and washrooms, tend to agricultural tasks, and harvest crops—“the most simple jobs most of us would like not to do.”

“All we want is to be able to work, so that we can survive in our own countries.”

Presently, the detained Leamington workers, all of whom are Mexican citizens, are being held in Windsor County Jail. According to Justicia, some of the arrested have filed refugee claims and fear for their lives back home. One of the detainees is pregnant.

The meeting heard a second testimonial from Panya, who came to Canada from Thailand to make more money for her family back home.

Expecting a friendly workplace environment, Panya’s hopes were thwarted when she found her employer too controlling. When he stopped paying her regularly she quit, soon finding work elsewhere.

The move landed her in trouble with immigration authorities, as it violated the terms of her work permit. After spending three weeks in jail, the threat of deportation looming, Panya sought the help of a union worker who helped her get a lawyer and translator. She’s since won an open work permit.

“Non-permanent—that is, with status that doesn’t allow them to become citizens—and non-status immigrant workers are crucial to the Canadian economy,” said assistant professor of Canadian studies Todd Gordon.

“They’re a cheap and vulnerable source of labour that can be highly exploited by employers, therefore boosting the latter’s profitability. If all non-status or temporary migrant workers were removed from the country, whole industries would shut down, such as [agriculture,] childcare, janitorial services, and construction, among others,said Gordon.

“What this tells us […] is that the raids aren’t likely designed to remove all non-status workers, but to reinforce their vulnerability—don’t organize, don’t vocalize your complaints, stay quiet [and] under the radar, and work hard.”

Freshly Pressed

The Fishwives – No Time for Swordplay (Badd Brothers)

Despite a professed weakness for the uncomplicated riffs of the Shins and the White Stripes, Toronto quarter The Fishwives’ jaunty pop-rock has a sound that’s entirely its own. Combining euphoric melodies and driving rhythms, the band exhibits lyrical and musical maturity that’s surprising given the members’ young age.

Most of the Fishwives are multi-instrumentalists, so the members constantly switch roles and vocals duty from track to track, lending versatility to the band’s sound.

Opening track “Rum and Band-Aids” features a jumpy, organ-inspired keyboard line and frenzied guitar, while top MySpace hit “Before It Spreads” includes a manic drum passage and soaring vocal hooks. The band is also capable of more lilting melodies on tracks such as “Clearly Dear” and “Shrug,” which builds steadily to a distorted climax before sliding into a soft sequence of piano chords.

Even on “Disarmed,” an acknowledged “joke song,” the band manages to be funny without resorting to gimmickry. Plus, the track’s infectious bass lines and guitar-shredding interludes help it to blend in inconspicuously with the rest of the album. It’s an impressive first effort, so this burgeoning band is one to watch.

—Niamh Fitzgerald

Lady Sovereign – Jigsaw (Midget)

The latest salvo shot from the mouth of Lady Sovereign is a boisterous blend of popping attitude and droll British humour. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the diminutive grime diva, though Jigsaw isn’t without its occasional misfires.

Sov’s unapologetic, take-no-prisoners temperament is as evident in the album’s feisty beats as it is in her savvy, self-aware lyrics. As she admits on “I Got You Dancing,” “Think twice before I break-dance / I might fall on my arse and break my arms / Give my white girl skank a chance / I don’t cha-cha or dance with the stars.” Sov’s sampling of The Cure’s “Close To Me” on the track “So Human,” however, is unexpected and feels inconsistent with the rest of the album.

The big surprise on Jigsaw is Lady Sovereign’s newfound emotional sincerity. Listeners get a rare treat on the title track as Sov sings bittersweetly about lost love. It’s great to get rare a glimpse of Sov’s soft side. In the context of the album, it provides a little breathing room, like an intimate conversation held in the corner of a rowdy party. While poignant and private, Sov’s reflections don’t interrupt the good times for too long.

As such, Jigsaw lives up to its title: the pieces don’t always fit together, but the process of trying out new combinations is what makes the game fun.

—Rae Matthews

Patrick Watson – Wooden Arms (Secret City)

Québec native Patrick Watson offers an eclectic collection on his latest record, but it’s not as eclectic as one might hope.

Watson’s lovely voice wafts its way through songs both wistful and whimsical, soft and hard, intense yet full of dreamlike airiness. His musical arrangements vary, with biting, throbbing percussion weaving into delicate harp melodies. Watson begins with a gentle lightness, only to turn up the dark and bitter, then back again, feeling like a soothing massage that suddenly hits a sensitive, deeply buried nerve.

The title track wanders into a Venetian vaudeville act à la Tom Waits while drifting through a Claude Lelouch montage. Other songs seem to belong everywhere from European circus sideshows to Wiccan yoga classes.

Yet for all his floating around, the album never quite escapes its Nick Drake-meets-Final Fantasy disposition of soulful folk reaching for playful profundity. The songs are at heart simple, sometimes even naïve, and don’t really require Watson’s experimental dressing-up. In the end, they all sound pretty much the same, despite occasional adornments. It’s a very pretty album overall, but only if you can manage to stay awake throughout.


On the road to suicide awareness

Ben Verboom initially resembles an ordinary student: 20 years old, studying Physical Education and Health at U of T. Approximately five minutes of conversation with him, however, reveal he is anything but average. Currently, Verboom is cycling across Canada to raise awareness about mental health, an issue he has direct and gripping experience with.

“I grew up in Ajax, Ontario,” said Verboom, “with my parents, my older brother, and my younger sister, and yeah, we were a normal, middle-class family. I had a very close relationship with my father, and how we bonded was through cycling—that was how we got away from everything, how we built our relationship.”

That all changed when Verboom was in grade 9.

“Everything was normal, family going great, and in January of 2004 […] I came home to find a police car in my driveway. I asked them what was up, and they said ‘oh, we’re just doing a routine check around the neighborhood, don’t worry too much about it.’ […] I thought it was kind of weird.

“A few hours later my brother, mom, and sister had all arrived home, and the police came back. They sat us all down, and told us that my dad had been found—that he had died. It was a gunshot wound. And they took my mom outside, and […] then she came in and told the three of us that he had taken his own life.”

Verboom’s father had suffered from clinical depression for several years prior, a fact that took Verboom and his siblings by surprise at the time of his death.

“For me it was extremely sudden,” said Verboom. “Because I was completely unaware that he did suffer from depression, and I didn’t know too much about mental illness—and I don’t think the average 14-year-old really does—which is [why] I guess what I’m doing is raising awareness.”

Immediately following his father’s death, and for many years after, Verboom felt mainly “anger, fear, and confusion—those three were big.”

“Because it’s one thing to lose a parent,” he continued, “that’s a terrible tragedy. But the confusion associated with someone choosing to end their own life [is] very hard to deal with, because you do question the role you played in it—what you did to cause it, and what you could have done to prevent it.”

In the past year, Verboom came to realize that the emotion and awareness his experience has brought him could be used to help others.

“The bottom line, I think, is that people suffering from depression feel isolated from society—pushed to the margins. There’s this stigma surrounding mental illness. The general public doesn’t know the basic facts about it.”

Verboom maintains that his primary goal is not to make the people surrounding a depressed individual aware of that depression, but rather to promote a shift in the nature of the dialogue concerning mental illness. He hopes to educate people about depression and the resources available to those suffering from it.

“We have to start looking at [clinical depression] as another disease,” insisted Verboom. “A physiological disease, like cancer, or AIDS, and not a moral issue—it’s a chemical imbalance in their brain, and like any other physiological disease, it’s not something you decide to have, it’s something you have, and you live with, and you try to cope with.”

In cycling across Canada discussing clinical depression, Verboom is attempting to reframe the dialogue in this manner in order to de-stigmatize the disease, allowing for an open and empathetic discussion of it.

Over the span of his trip so far, which began on May 20 in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, and will end in Victoria, B.C. in mid-August—9000 kilometres in 90 days—he has been amazed at the prevalence of depression.

“Basically every day I run into a few people who have gone through something similar to what I went through, or what my dad went through. And really, the reason we don’t realize how prevalent it is is because we don’t talk about it […] I suppose the number-one goal of this is to start a dialogue—a compassionate, and empathetic dialogue, where people who are suffering from depression can come out and speak comfortably, and get the treatment and resources that are available.”


For more info, or to contribute to the Cycle to Help campaign, see cycletohelp.org

Breaking up is hard to do

Imagine you’ve just suffered a devastating breakup. You’re heartbroken and still pining for your ex. Your friends tell you that hastily entering a new relationship is the worst thing to do. But current research says otherwise: for some people, rebounding may be a helpful and effective way to get over an ex.

Stephanie Spielmann, a PhD student in psychology at U of T, studies romantic relationships under the supervision of associate professor of psychology Dr. Geoff MacDonald. Her current research on how certain types of people cope with rejection from their partners is soon to be published in the esteemed Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Specifically, Spielmann has found that anxiously attached individuals—those who chronically need other people and have the most difficulty dealing with breakups—may actually benefit from rebound relationships. In fact, even just thinking optimistically about finding a new partner may help these people get over an ex. Spielmann talked to The Varsity about her current research and her background in psychology.

The Varsity: How did you become interested in psychology?

Stephanie Spielmann: I actually thought that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, so I took psychology just to learn more about people. I took several developmental [psychology] courses as well. But then I had a great experience doing research with Dr. Anne Wilson [associate professor of psychology at Laurier], and I realized I loved research and I decided to stick with psychology in grad school.

TV: What sparked your interest in studying romantic relationships?

SS: I started researching romantic relationships for my undergrad thesis. Then when I came to grad school to work with Geoff [MacDonald], he already studied romantic relationships as well, and it just seemed like a natural progression to work from what I found in my honours thesis. And that’s how Anne Wilson is an author [on the paper] as well, because it all started from my undergrad and then we moved on and she stayed with us, working on the project.

TV: Why did you choose to attend U of T for grad school?

SS: Geoff’s research really interested me, and we just seemed like a really great fit. U of T has such a great research program and really great social psychology professors, and we meet regularly, so we’re kind of mentored by all of them. But [Geoff and Anne] are my primary mentors.

TV: Can you tell us about your current research?

SS: Basically, anxiously attached individuals are the ones who have the most difficulty letting go after a breakup. Most people with time tend to get over relationships and move on, but these people seem to get stuck for some reason. We are interested in why that is. Past research has also found that they’re not as optimistic about future relationships, but these are the kinds of people who really need relationships. So we wondered, maybe if they’re not optimistic about finding someone new, they’re going to feel like their ex-partner is the only one they have, and so they hang on to that ex for that reason. If that’s the case, we wondered if we helped them feel optimistic about future partners, maybe they’d be able to let go, and that’s what we found. When people read a magazine article that suggested that it’s really easy to find a new partner, then these anxiously attached people were able to let go of their ex-partners. But, it’s just the beginning. It’s a very temporary effect most likely. In real life it might take something a little stronger than reading an article to fully let go of your ex, but it’s heading in a positive direction to help [anxiously attached people] let go.

TV: How did you initially come up with the research idea?

SS: We’ve all experienced breakups. And just talking with my girlfriends and guy-friends about their breakups, it seemed to be a big issue. Some people just kept going back to that ex-partner. They knew they weren’t right for them, but they kept going back, and it was sort of like “why are you doing this?” It didn’t seem logical to me. So I’m really interested in finding that out.

TV: What are your plans for future research?

SS: Beginning this summer, we’re going to start talking to people who are in a relationship, and see how they feel about their ex-partners, and see how the quality of a current relationship affects how you feel about an ex. These are going to be people in new relationships. Because these insecure [anxiously attached] people might not be very choosy about who they start a new relationship with, that relationship might not be of the best quality. If they’re not in a very good relationship at the time, does it really help them get over an ex? We’ll see all kinds of people because it’s really great to compare how more secure people react, and see whether these anxiously attached people are responding in a different way that suggests it’s more maladaptive.

TV: Do you think that researchers will ever find a foolproof method for getting over exes?

SS: We’re such social people, and we all really want relationships and to be loved. So I don’t know if relationship problems will ever go away. Every little bit that we find can help people move on, and behave more adaptively. Breakups are always going to be hard, but if people can cope with them more effectively then that will improve everyone’s situation.

TV: Outside of an experimental setting, any advice you’d give to people going through a breakup?

SS: I think one of the important things about this is that even when we make these people feel optimistic about finding a new partner and say they even do find a new partner that’s not really helping them to solve their own personal insecurities. It’s sort of like a band-aid solution. I think that it is important even for insecure people after a breakup to not just focus on finding a new partner and getting over the ex, but to really focus on their own feelings about themselves. The more you can take care of yourself after a breakup and the better you feel about yourself, you might not feel like you need someone else to validate you. You’re not jumping into something that could in the end be even worse than hanging on to your ex.

TV: Is there any advice you’d give to undergrads and aspiring researchers?

SS: I had such a great mentor in undergrad. I feel like that’s really important to really get in with some professors, learn about what they do, and learn about how research works. Research isn’t for everyone, but it’s very important to get some experience with that in undergrad. You don’t want to commit to grad school and be stuck in something that you’re not interested in. Professors are there for you, they’re a great resource for you, and they’re willing to help.

First Nations uni a mess

Saskatchewan’s troubled First Nations University of Canada has yet to publicize a taskforce report–due on May 11–containing recommendations on restructuring the university’s board of governors. The taskforce was struck after threats from the province to withhold $200,000 in funding.

FNUC, established in 1976 as the only university in Canada with the majority of its leadership composed of First Nations chiefs, has been steeped in controversy for years. On Feb. 17, 2005, Morley Watson, then FNUC board chair and vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, took over the campus in what some have likened to a “coup d’état.” Watson suspended three employees, immediately replacing them with a former Liberal candidate, an FSIN employee, and his sister-in-law. He seized the central computers at FNUC, copying the hard drive that contained all faculty and student records. He ordered a forensic audit, following which two of the former employees were charged with fraud.

Since then, the university has lost a president, two VPs, a third of its teaching faculty, half the administration, and almost all of its students. Enrolment has declined from 2,500 students in 2005 to 787 today. Last year, the provincial government stepped in to bail out the university in the face of a $1-million deficit.

Current board chair Clarence Bellegarde was optimistic when the taskforce was struck in March: “We’re confident that we made positive and significant progress in responding to CAUT’s [Canadian Association of University Teachers] concerns over our governance issues,” he said to the Leder-Post. “We’ve come closer together on exactly what the issues are and what it’s going to take to resolve these issues.”

However, FNUC is not famous for listening to its taskforces. An All Chiefs Task Force, set up soon after Watson’s takeover of the school, reported in November 2005 that the FNUC’s board of directors was politicized. The taskforce recommended a smaller board that would be responsive to the FNUC and wider academic communities, but the taskforce’s recommendations were not implemented. In response to the school’s disregard for the taskforces’ recommendations, the CAUT censured FNUC by discouraging faculty in Canada and around the world from working or speaking at the university.

The FNUC board of governors has 26 members, 18 of whom have voting power. Of those 18, 14 are council chiefs of various Saskatchewan First Nations. In January 2008, a second internal report recommended a 12-member board with four chiefs, leaving more room for students, faculty, and provincial government. The report also recommended creating a university senate to provide a voice for chiefs and other interested parties. This recommendation was also not implemented.

Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Supreme Court overturned an earlier academic freedom ruling against FNUC. In spring 2005, indigenous studies professor Blair Stonechild’s invitation to an Assembly of First Nations conference at the university was rescinded without cause. Stonechild requested that the university president raise the issue at a board of governors meeting, but his invitation was not reinstated due to Watson’s opposition.

“Watson demonstrated personal irritation or antagonism toward Stonechild, all seemingly associated with the events that began to unfold on Feb. 17, 2005. He linked his feelings about Stonechild to the question on the table concerning the symposium. This meeting ended with no decision having taken place regarding the matter raised in Stonechild’s letter,’’ Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ross Wimmer told the Leder-Post.

University of Regina Faculty Association Executive Director Patricia Fleming, whose organization brought the case against FNUC, recalls the February meeting and says that Stonechild never said anything inappropriate. “I was personally at the meeting, and Blair Stonechild categorically did not make a derogatory statement towards the chairman of the board,” she said. She claimed many professors at FNUC are choosing not to speak up for fear of retaliation, something she calls “self-censorship.”