Close encounters key to co-existence

From grad students to seniors, young children to young couples, a diverse crowd came out to U of T’s Faculty Club on Nov. 4 for John Wall’s talk on “A Quest for Co-Existence: People and Other Animals in an Increasingly Human World.” Wall, who is director of the Jane Goodall Institute and a doctoral candidate in Carleton University’s geography and environmental studies department, appeared as part of U of T’s Centre for Environment seminar series.

As dusk fell Wednesday evening, Wall asked his audience: what are the processes and prospects of living with endangered species? How do people adapt to living with animals, and vice versa?

“[Dr. Goodall’s] research has opened up a new view into animal behaviour, and chimpanzee behaviour and ecology,” Wall said. “She doesn’t see a sharp division between what we need to for other species and what we need to do for people. As she often puts it, ‘Let’s make a better world for the Earth and all of its inhabitants.’”

A trip to Uganda as a volunteer development consultant shaped Wall’s research interests. Not only did he become more aware of complicated conservation and economic development issues in the region, but he also began to wonder about how people and animals co-exist.

“The encounter” was the motif of Wall’s talk. He pointed out that because not everyone can share the same experiences, each individual encounter is unique. Direct encounters as well as indirect and vicarious experiences can shape our position towards not only animals, but other social groups and communities as well.

“For me, an encounter with a chimpanzee, Sophie, changed my mind about people and animals. I was beginning to see myself in her eyes,” Wall said. “Subsequently I thought, ‘Humans are animals too, and just as our eyesight, hearing, smell, and touch are in continuum with other species, some of those species have capacities in those areas that far, far exceed our human capacity.’”

Recently, Wall has focused on the mutual adaptations of people and threatened species. He has investigated eastern wolves in the Ottawa Valley, grizzly bears in Canmore, Alberta, and North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy.

Wall said he hopes to continue working in human-animal studies that address conservation and development, and to examine how people develop their ideas of nature. “As we learn more about [encounters], and begin to see ourselves in the other,” he said, “it completely transforms our relationship and our desire to live a peaceful and successful co-existence.”

Beyond Bruce Lee

Now entering its 13th year, the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival does not always attract the best of Asian and Asian-themed cinema. (The opening night gala in 2007 was Finishing the Game? Really?) However, it usually does provide a good chance to see some hidden independent gems, as well as Asian-produced box office hits unlikely to land a North American studio distribution deal. This year’s line-up is looking exciting, particularly because of the centrepiece presentation: Red Heroine (1929), the only surviving martial arts film of its period, will be screening Friday at the Royal with live musical accompaniment. In addition to the vintage kung foolery, here are three more major screenings.

OVERHEARD
VVV

The last decade has been a disastrous one for the Hong Kong film industry. Once among the most vibrant and prolific film producers in the world, an annual output of 400-plus theatrical features has dwindled to around 50 thanks to a combination of rampant piracy and a shortage of new talent. Overheard, the festival’s opening night gala, comes from Alex Mak and Felix Chong, two of the makers of Infernal Affairs (2002), one of the few really worthwhile and globally successful Hong Kong films this decade. Overheard is one of the region’s most successful local productions this year, and it is indeed above average for contemporary Hong Kong commercial filmmaking. Ostensibly about three cops (Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Daniel Wu) tasked to spy on a business firm suspected of insider trading and price fixing, Overheard isn’t so much a suspense thriller as a slick soap opera, with Koo tempted into corruption to support his dying son and Lau holding a secret affair with another cop’s estranged wife. The story walks the line of believability in its later scenes, and I’m not sure I’ll remember much of this a few months from now. Overheard is, however, serviceable entertainment. And as anyone who’s been following Hong Kong cinema over the last 10 years can tell you, there’s something to be said for serviceable.

FISH STORY
VVVv

A Japanese punk band primarily famous for having broken up “one year before the forming of The Sex Pistols” (as on-screen text tells us twice) record their last single, a Dadaist oddity called “Fish Story” based on a bit of bad translation from a paperback published just after the Second World War. A meteor races towards Earth 37 years later, and two men in a Tokyo record store spend their last hours attempting to decipher the meaning of the one-minute silence within the song. Amid these book-ending plot threads, director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s very deadpan comedy (based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka) shifts to several different subplots spanning four decades, the connection between them ambiguous until the final scene. Compulsively watchable for its dry tone and enigmatic plot, Fish Story is an entertaining testament to the importance of chance—until the ending explains how everything fits together, and the effect becomes somewhat anticlimactic. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the revelation, but I wish Nakamura had taken a cue from the film’s band and left a little more to the imagination.

YANG YANG
VVVV

Yang Yang is the second feature-length film from director Cheng Yu-Chieh, whose Do Over received some acclaim on the festival circuit in 2006. The film follows its title character, a Eurasian teenager (Sadrine Pinna), as her mother marries Yang Yang’s track and field coach and her best friend Xiao-Ru becomes her stepsister. Shawn (Bryant Chang), Xiao-Ru’s boyfriend, takes an increasing interest in Yang Yang, and tensions rise between the two friends. Shot in claustrophobic close-ups with a handheld camera—a technique easier to take in small doses, admittedly—Yang Yang is still a strikingly intimate drama with naturalistic performances from its three leads. Director Cheng shows considerable skill with mood: he knows how to evoke his characters’ restlessness in visual terms.

The Reel Asian Film Festival runs from Nov. 11 to 15. Locations include Innis Town Hall and Bloor Cinema. For more information, visit reelasian.com.

Turnout drops for Drop Fees

On Thursday, Nov. 5, protestors braved the cold and hail for the Day of Action for a Poverty Free Ontario. Across the province, students, labour unions, and social justice and antipoverty groups pushed the Ontario government to support multi-year funding for new poverty reduction measures. The annual protest is traditionally organized by the Canadian Federation of Students as part of the Drop Fees campaign.

The protest’s focus and community involvement expanded this year, even as many participants noted that attendance decreased. “People are saying it’s a bit smaller,” said U of T student David Perry, playing his djembe as he moved through the streets. “People question why I support a protest, but we need to get the message out there.”

Before the event, U of T Students’ Union president Sandy Hudson predicted a higher turnout due to additional community involvement. “There are far more groups involved this year than there were last year. Last year was very, very student-focused and this year we have tied it into the broader issue of poverty,” Hudson said.

“The campaign is about sending a strong message to the government to make social services affordable and accessible to the province,” said Hadia Akhtar, VP external for UTSU.

As for the Drop Fees campaign, Hudson said “We’re hoping to get tuition fees reduced to 2004 levels, because that’s what the opposition parties have signed on to. The tuition fees framework that the government has been using to increase our fees for the last four years expires in December, so we’re trying to make an impact on that.”

St. George students gathered at Sid Smith before joining contingents from UTM, UTSC, Ryerson, and York. Other community organizations also joined the protest as it converged at Convocation Hall. The group then marched along Wellesley, south on Bay to College, and back to Queen’s Park.

A flatbed truck adorned with CFS logos led the protest, blasting music. Attendees waved placards as they marched, and some brought props and costumes. Ali Karin, a student from UTM, dressed as Drop Fees Man, a caped superhero battling against the government to drop fees.

“I see so many enthusiastic people,” said Doville Skersyte, UTM student and protest marshal. “It’s so wonderful that no matter what kind of weather it is, people are really enthusiastic.”

While Hudson’s goal may have to reduce fees to 2004 levels, many advocated for no tuition fees at all.

“We think there should be no fees for students and in fact all students should be paid a stipend,” said Elizabeth Rowley, Ontario Leader of the Communist Party. “We have always supported students fighting for a reduction of fees.”

At its peak, the protest stretched roughly half a city block. Some students, however, chose to watch the commotion from a distance rather than join in.

“The way to engage with the issue of tuition is to adopt a more constructive approach,” said Shakir Rahim, an exec on the Association of Political Science Students. “What is actually going to get results is to try to analyze where these two groups can come together and make the series of compromises that are necessary to find a realistic solution to the problem.”

“When I started at U of T, the Canadian Federation of Students was able to bring out large numbers of students to these protests,” said Gabe De Roche, international relations student and president of the U of T Liberals. “They didn’t need to meet on the patio of Sid Smith, they could meet on front campus. It looks like they printed too many signs.”

No free press for The Garg

On Oct. 25, the University College Literary and Athletic Society withheld The Gargoyle’s access to its student levy fund after rejecting the student newspaper’s proposed budget. The UC Lit did this out of concern that too much of the budget was allocated to food, alcohol, and parties. On his blog, UC Lit speaker Andrew Rusk says The Gargoyle spends 20 per cent on food, drinks, alcohol, and parties, compared to the two to three per cent at The Varsity, 6.5 per cent at The Mike, and 10 per cent at The Strand.

As someone who has worked for various student newspapers, I understand how food, drinks, and year-end parties can boost morale and show appreciation for unpaid, overworked staff. It’s especially true for a newspaper that is completely driven by volunteers, as is the case with The Gargoyle. This incident shows there is a serious problem with how much control a student union has over the funding of a student newspaper.

Namely, that it literally has enough power to stop a newspaper from printing.

No student government should ever control funding for a student newspaper, be it at UC, U of T, or any educational institution. A separate board of student directors, newspaper ombudspersons, or a combination of both should be what provides oversight on issues like hiring and appropriate budget funding.

Preceding the decision, The Gargoyle poked fun at members of the UC Lit by annotating the minutes from a prior Lit meeting, only further illustrating why the paper’s funding should never have come from the very organization the student newspaper is responsible for criticizing.

The budget has since been re-evaluated, and eventually approved. Nevertheless, this incident has set up an atmosphere of increased animosity and a “funding chill.”

Unlike a “libel chill”—where news organizations are less likely to pursue specific hard-hitting investigative stories on specific people or corporations out of fear of litigation—a “funding chill” restricts criticism of a ruling institution out of fear of reduced finances (just look at the CBC and the current Harper government!).

If The Gargoyle is to avoid a similar situation in the future, one of two policies will need to be put in place. Either The Gargoyle should establish itself as financially independent from the UC Lit by taking over management of its own student levy, or some other policy should be put in place to ensure future levy funding is never restricted, withheld, or further delayed by the Lit. The $13,418 student levy fund is not a grant and it has no other specified purpose than to continue to finance the 50-year-old UC student newspaper.

A true student press should never suffer ongoing fears of being shut down at any moment, especially when publishing criticism of student politics. But if nothing really changes in this situation, The Gargoyle will continue to run the risk of having their production halted by the decisions of the UC Lit. That’s a terrible reason to stop the presses.

UTSC gets new sports complex for Pan Am Games

U of T will host several events for the Pan American Games in 2015, which means new athletic facilities at UTSC and upgrades for St. George campus. UTSC’s North Campus will be the site of a $170-million sports complex, including gymnasiums, fitness and training facilities, two Olympic-sized pools, and a 10-metre diving tank. The downtown campus will get turf upgrades at Varsity Stadium and a double artificial turf field on the back campus. Scarborough will also play host to the new Scarborough-Malvern LRT, a direct transit connection to the Toronto subway system.

Emily Kakouris, a third-year student who plays soccer and field hockey, is excited about the prospect of expanding sports infrastructure at UTSC. “There are many sports and activities coming out of UTSC, but very limited space to accommodate them,” said Kakouris.

Franco Vaccarino, principal of UTSC, shared her enthusiasm. “This project speaks to the needs that I’ve been hearing from the first day I got [to UTSC]. This need refers to the present substandard athletics facilities that accommodate only 4,000 of the current 10,000-student population,” he said.

The federal and provincial governments will provide 56 per cent of the funding, while Toronto and the university will each make a 22 per cent contribution. UTSC’s tab comes to $37.5 million, and it wants students to pay $30 million through levies.

Scarborough Campus Student Union president Zuhair Syed, excited “beyond words” at the decision, said students can vote on whether to ratify the levies in a referendum in March 2010. “The decision has to be made by students but the fact that we can present this opportunity [to them] is the first and biggest step,” said Syed. “Our job is to present the facts to the student body.”

Asked how UTSC would pay for the facilities if students vote against the levy, UTSC spokesperson Laura Matthews said the university is confident the levy will be passed.

“Students need to be mindful of the levies and vote against them,” said Joeita Gupta, spokesperson for No Games Toronto, set up in early 2009 by U of T students and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty to campaign against Toronto’s bid. The group argues that resources going towards the Pan Am Games would be better spent on health care, childcare, education, and poverty, among other areas. Gupta, a U of T student who sits on Governing Council and is an exec at the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, added that the group isn’t opposed to athletics or better facilities at UTSC.

“Although I won’t be here when it’s done, it is an investment. But it’s frustrating [because of how] we are struggling with tuition as it is,” said secondyear social science student Clara Price.

The UTSC campus will play host to the Games’ swimming, diving, fencing, modern pentathlon and Parapan volleyball competitions, while the downtown campus will host field hockey, futsal (a variation of indoor soccer), and soccer, in addition to the opening and closing ceremonies for the Parapan Am Games.

Student Code of (mis)conduct

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board began like any other, with the usual formalities. After premiering the university’s new online strategy, Jill Matus, vice-provost of students, moved on to address the impending review of the Code of Student Conduct, slated for the next several months. Thus began the meeting’s high drama.

Part-time student representative Joeita Gupta, who had already drawn critical attention to earlier points in the meeting, now reached the peak of her performance. Gupta delivered her points with clarity and determination. She called for the outright scrapping of the code, saying that such a disciplinary framework has been used to restrict students’ rights to free speech, especially when such speech challenges the university administration. She noted the 2000 TA strike and the debacle surrounding the Fight Fees 14 two years ago as examples of such misuse.

Jeff Peters, president of the Association for Part-time Undergraduate Students, addressed the board as a guest speaker. Peters also questioned the Code of Student Conduct, almost perfectly echoing Gupta’s sentiments from only moments earlier. This would have made for an unremarkable and superfluous speech if not for the fact that Peters has a speech impediment that gives him difficulty speaking. On this particular night, he was also struck by a cough that often overcame his body and appeared to nearly knock him down.

As this spectacle wore on, and Chair B. Elizabeth Vosburgh asked Peters to wrap up his speech, he stood his ground and starkly refused. He asserted that he had many points to make and that he would speak for as long as he needed. The chair was nevertheless firm, causing Gupta to intervene and insist that Peters be given more than the usual allotted time due to his impediment. The confrontation devolved into a shouting match between Gupta and the chair. In the end, Peters did wrap up and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

Gupta and Peters are certainly neither foolish nor naïve, and their combined spectacle entirely reframed the meeting. Rather than simply paying homage to the university’s strengths, those in attendance were called upon to confront the shortcomings and inequities perceived among members of the student community.

Whereas U of T is undoubtedly a world-class institution that should proudly promote and celebrate its virtues, a single-minded focus on this hampers progress in the long run. Rather, improving the experiences of students requires bodies such as the Governing Council to realistically attend to the challenges and shortcomings that persist.

Before closing the topic, Matus responded that the code would be done away with only if widespread sentiment against it is made apparent in the coming months. The door to significant change therefore lies open, and the onus is on all members of this university to make their voices heard. Do we agree that the university is a hierarchical corporate structure and that students, like employees, are subject to particular rules of conduct? Do we instead agree that the university is a community of equal members, all subject to the same rules of conduct? Or do we simply shut up?

Maciek Lipinski-Harten is a graduate representative on the University Affairs Board.

Gargoyle gets its levy

The Gargoyle, University College’s student paper, can start publishing regularly again. Its revised operating budget was approved on Nov. 4 by the University College Literary and Athletic Society, which controls the paper’s levy funds. More importantly, the two groups plan to revisit the current funding structure, which hands the paper’s surpluses back to the UC Lit.

The paper’s previous budget was rejected by the UC Lit after the student council claimed the paper allocates too much money to food, parties, and alcohol. The paper argues that this spending amounts to compensation for the volunteer staff that produce The Gargoyle. These expenses accounted for $2,705 of the original budget, which asked for $15,030. The approved budget grants $13,418 through student levies, plus $2,000 for a new scanner.

The paper is currently talking with college admin to sort out whether or not they are allowed to consume alcohol at production nights, another of the UC Lit’s concerns.

“To me it seems as if the bigger issue was the consumption of alcohol on campus, without consent or knowledge given to administration,” said Daniel Tsekhman, president of the UC Lit, in an email. “Since that was taken away from the budget, [it] passed almost unanimously.”

The new budget has cut out any future spending on drinks, saving the paper $532.30 this year. In its place, two $300 honorariums were created for the two editors-in-chief, Rosy Rong and Emily Sommers. [Disclosure: both editors sit on The Varsity’s board of directors. Several Varsity staff and contributors have also contributed to The Gargoyle, and at least one staff writer is affiliated with the UC Lit.]

With the budget passed, editors maintain that the UC Lit has a punitive funding policy, in which the Lit takes back any unused funds from The Gargoyle’s levy and has no obligation to reserve it for future spending on The Gargoyle. Last year, the paper had a surplus of $1,000.

“The levy system right now punishes us for good management,” said Gavin Nowlan, treasurer of The Gargoyle and president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union. “Any dollar we don’t spend, we lose.”

Because of the policy, the paper does not have a reserve fund and needs to appeal to the UC Lit for any expensive capital purchases.

“We already recognize the flaw in the system, and have already decided to revisit it,” responded Tsekhman. “A small group of us will meet with Gargoyle staff to hammer out a better policy, then go to council to have it approved.” He said that over the past two years, the Lit has contributed more to The Gargoyle’s capital purchases than it has taken back inunspent levies.

Rong, the content editor-in-chief for the paper, said the paper would prefer to save its own money and not have to rely on appealing to the Lit for big-ticket items.

While both parties hope to move forward amicably, Gargoyle editors expressed apprehensions.

“We need to get rid of [the] culture of meeting, not really coming to a conclusion over anything, and just reliving all of the same conversations at the Lit meetings,” said Nowlan.

Countdown to Copenhagen: U of T’s student delegation

Over 10,000 negotiators—and many more journalists, activists, and the like—are expected to arrive in Copenhagen this December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP15. A little over 800 of them have been identified as members of the youth constituency, and you just might recognize 10 of those exuberant faces.

Drawn from myriad disciplines—Peace and Conflict Studies to engineering—the 10 students make up the University of Toronto’s delegation to COP15. Selected based on our proven dedication to environmental activism, U of T’s group will be one of the four campus delegations present, the others being Yale, Oxford, and the College of the Atlantic.

If you are envisioning the cliché of vegan liberals who wear hemp sweaters for all occasions, you guess wrong. Yes, some of us are fond of plaid, and many are suspected cyclists, yet we have been thoughtfully selected to best represent the University of Toronto. Within the delegation, there is an architecture student, a yoga instructor, a former ad executive turned PhD candidate, and myself, a journalist. One of the members is a soon-to-be mom. Another makes excellent cookies (yes, vegan ones).

The delegation began with the thought that university students can so easily fall into the trappings of the ivory tower, and lack opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge outside the classroom. Spearheaded by the Centre for the Environment, the delegation is intended to highlight the importance of an affair in some distant Scandinavian capital.

COP15 is arguably the most important meeting of climate leaders. They’ll be meeting to discuss, well, the fate of our planet. With the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol due to expire in 2012, COP15 has been set as the deadline to map out our common post-Kyoto future. It is imperative that the international community band together to forge a new international protocol that addresses climate change.

Against this backdrop, the U of T delegation has been formed to serve two main purposes. One, as members of an academic institution, we hope to engage the campus through creative means. We’re doing this in many ways, such as our Youtube campaign allowing students of all disciplines to upload videos of themselves answering the question, “What would you like for Canada to do at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen?” The videos will be collected to become part of a larger video installation effort. We hope the video campaign will enable us to carry these individual voices with us to Copenhagen.

Two, we hope that by collaborating with the Canadian Youth Delegation, we will take part in holding our government accountable, and remind our leaders that thousands of young Canadians are concerned for the state of our shared environment. The delegation also hopes to engage with the international youth contingent to advocate for a science-based agreement to cut carbon emissions by 2020—the only scenario identified by the scientific community as ensuring that humanity will avoid catastrophic climate change.

“I am excited for the chance to get involved directly as a member of this delegation, and to represent and voice the concerns of students here at the U of T at COP15,” commented David Gordon, who is part of a joint-university research team studying climate politics of Canada and the European Union. With every effort by these environmentally-conscious great minds, the University of Toronto takes one collective step closer to a much greater future.

May Jeong is a member to the U of T Delegation to COP15 and will be writing for *The Huffington Post on her experiences at the climate summit this December.
For instructions on how to get involved, email uoftcop15@gmail.com or go to uoftcop15.ca (under construction but up soon).*