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.

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.”

Researching bone loss with orbital experiments

An experiment conducted by Harrison’s group recently completed a 12-day trip through space in order to study the effects of zero gravity on bone loss. In the absence of gravity, bone mass begins to drop. Astronauts, in particular, suffer from this accelerated bone loss when they are in space. “What astronauts experience is a severe form of osteoporosis,” Harrison said. “They lose two per cent of their bone a month.”

The experiment was launched into Earth’s orbit September 14 from Baikonour, Russia aboard unmanned satellite Foton M3. The study will give insight into disuse osteoporosis, a form of osteoporosis that occurs when there is prolonged lack of pressure on the bones. A normal person is able to avoid disuse osteoporosis by moving, but bedridden patients, being unable to apply weight to their bones, are at risk. In space, where there is little or no gravity, disuse osteoporosis presents a threat to astronauts.

Harrison’s experiment focuses on the balance between two types of bone cells: the “bone-eaters” or osteoclasts, and the “bone-makers” or osteoblasts. It is currently unclear whether bone loss is caused by rapid osteoclast consumption, or osteoblasts slowing down their bone production. To tackle this mystery, Harrison’s team sent cultures of pure osteoclasts and pure osteoblasts into space, and have been analyzing the cells since their return to Earth. There have been past studies in which whole animals were sent into space, but unlike Harrison’s experiment, those studies only confirmed that bone loss occurs in zero gravity, not what is responsible—osteoclasts or osteoblasts.

The study is part of a joint venture between the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Harrison was one of only three Canadian scientists selected after the CSA made an open call for research proposals. “It was an experience that I wouldn’t have gotten doing just your typical basic research,” said Harrison to the Varsity.

For the experiment, bone cells were grown inside bioreactors fitted onto a custom-designed, fully automated “mini-laboratory” called eOSTEO. During the trip, the cells were continuously fed a nutrient-rich medium through automatically controlled syringes. Meanwhile, growth conditions were carefully monitored and relayed by satellite every 90 seconds to ground stations in Sweden and Canada. Near the end of the trip, a fixative was added into the bioreactors, preparing them for analysis on Earth. Presently, Harrison and her group are carefully examining the cells, and are anticipating preliminary results in about a month.

‘Unwelcome guests’ sleep easy on campus

Hundreds of them walk around the grounds of the university’s downtown campus on any given day. For the most part, these non-community members— people who have no business with the university—roam around trouble-free.

It’s often hard to tell that those simply passing through or frequenting the stores on U of T property, are neither students, nor staff nor faculty members. According to campus police, an audit of Robarts Library, for example, would yield more people from outside the university community than actual members of this institution. It’s just a features of a downtonw university and the city’s population of 30,000 homeless individuals—a number that activist groups say is, in reality, much higher.

There are dozens of trespassing incidents on campus every month. This September, one of two such incidents involving a trespasser sleeping on campus took place at the orange-roofed Warren Stevens Building.

“Being in downtown Toronto, it’s endemic that you’re going to find more street people than in a typical suburban environment,” said Athletic Centre facility manager Paul Dutchak, as he looked down on a couch-laden lobby below. “Our lobby is more or less a public- access place, and we do have occasional vagrants that come through.”

While the Starbucks and sports store in the building help draw in visitors, bathrooms play their part as well. Every morning, a man and his dog show up to go through a hygienic routine in the lobby’s men’s washroom, says Dutchak, who notes that his staff generally turn a blind eye.

“Just because they’re a poor person with torn clothing and dishevelled hair does not necessarily make them bad people,” he said.

Police have usually only taken action in incidents where public safety is potentially at risk. But, as one of the few places on campus that requires identification to access the majority of the building, the Athletic Centre is likely one of the safest places to be. At least, according to Dutchak.

Trespassers are usually brought to the attention of U of T’s Campus Community Police through complaints made by community members. Reportings of these incidences therefore vary from day to day, depending on the tolerance of the students and staff in a particular building. If a complaint is made, Campus Police simply ask first-time offenders to leave, since the university buildings are private property. A second encounter nets the unwelcome guests a provincial citation for trespassing.

Campus Police operations manager Sam D’Angelo says that because of the university’s open and inviting atmosphere, “you can walk into almost any building and you’ll see people that are here not because they have university business. They are just here.”

According to D’Angelo, there comes a point when visitors outstay their welcome. “The invitation to ‘unwelcome guests,’ as I call them, expires when they become a hindrance to the university conducting business or a student studying,” he said. It doesn’t matter who the “guest” is or what they’re doing, he added.

Chris Lea recalls a time when a man took a swipe at him. The Hart House facility manager was telling a man who was “cracked up”—Lea noted his bloodshot eyes—that he had to leave. The rare case did not turn Lea off the view, shared by other building managers on campus, to approach homeless people with a laissez-faire attitude.

“If something terrible happened in our life, we could end up on the street. You don’t want to treat them badly,” said Lea.

“Our general policy is that people who are homeless are not necessarily bad people, they can be homeless for lots of different reasons.” Usually it is when a person is “smelling really bad” or “snoring really loudly” and thus upsetting a student that they have crossed the line and are asked by staff to leave. Though staff at Hart House have instructions from Lea to call campus police if someone is being belligerent, the university itself doesn’t have a clear outline on how to deal with the homeless—unlike other intuitions, Lea points out.

Seattle’s new Central Library, for example, boasts a security detail to patrol the facility for rule-breakers— such as those who wash their clothes in the sinks—and hand out cards informing patrons who give off an odour where they can find public hygiene facilities to grab a shower. After receiving a few complaints on the issue of “non-students” using Hart House, the house’s new Warden, Louise Cowin, says she has begun to think about the issue, but hasn’t reached any conclusions yet.

Nearly 10 years ago, Margaret Hancock, the previous Warden of Hart House, released a report on the role U of T could have in helping the homeless. The report was spurred on during a time when the growth in the ranks of homeless grew “visibly” in and around campus. The growth was attributable, Harris-era Progressive Conservative government. A push by students for a shelter on campus was rejected in Hancock’s report, owing to the large amount of resources that would be needed if it were to be well-run.

“You can imagine how people would get there, you’re seeing all these folks on the streets, it’s a horrible thing…people are thinking there’s all these empty buildings, why can’t we just open them up and let people sleep there?” said Hancock, who added that the university’s role lies elsewhere.

“I think that the university is the place where people think about these things, they do research on them. They’re influential with policy makers like government, for example, and governments need academics and students to study these things and to speak out about them.”