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.

Trent’s part-time workers may strike

The union body representing part-time faculty at Trent University announced this Sunday that it is in a legal strike position, with the majority of its members willing to stop work.

“We’re pleased, to say the least. This will give us considerably more leverage at the bargaining table,” said Alex Atfield, the interim vicepresident of CUPE local 3908 Unit One. That unit represents about 200 lab demonstrators, markers and contract course instructors, who jointly teach 20 per cent of Trent’s 1,110+ courses (exact figures are not yet available).

Atfield, who teaches a microbiology course at the university, said the vote should help propel negotiations toward an agreement between Trent and the union.

He added that, in his opinion, a strike would bring the university to a near-complete halt.

Earnings of part-time faculty at the university are among the lowest in the province, 22 per cent below the provincial average of $11,807. CUPE is seeking a three per cent pay increase, and also demanding improved benefits.

Unit One members may teach up to 1.5 credits worth of courses in any given 12-month period. Contract instructors at the University of Toronto are under similar guidelines.

The unit’s supplemental health plan provides only a total of $12,000 in health and dental coverage to divide amongst the more than 200 workers, with a $500 maximum benefit per worker. Atfield, who called the health fund “woefully inadequate,” noted that it provides enough for exactly 24 workers to claim the maximum benefits.

CUPE demanded the fund be tripled, and Trent has responded by offering to double it. CUPE also wants a professional development fund, which gives financial aid to unit members seeking to improve their skills, increased from $15,000 to $26,000.

Unit One’s collective bargaining agreement is up for renegotiation, and the union has objected to a proposal by Trent they say would cut the wages of most of their members. A vote of unit one’s membership found 89.6 per cent in favor of a strike, if the school and CUPE cannot reach an agreement.

Over the summer, CUPE 3908 abandoned negotiations on a new collective agreement and filed with the Ontario Labour Board for a lastresort conciliation process. At that time, Trent negotiators declined to comment on the negotiations, which CUPE had labeled “stalling tactics.”

Part-time faculty are a growing force on Ontario university campuses, including U of T, where an increasing number of courses are being taught by instructors on temporary contracts, rather than tenure-track positions. Such instructors at U of T are represented by CUPE 3902, Unit Three.

Both sides of the negotiation blamed low provincial funding of universities for driving the contract faculty hiring trend.

Hot Topic: How far should the university go to accommodate religious needs?

Have your say. Comment below.

San plight put in focus

This week, the University of Toronto will again open its doors and theatre for a long-running environmental film festival. Many of the screenings will take place at Innis College Town Hall.

From Oct. 24 to 28, the eighth annual Planet in Focus film festival will features films such as Bushman’s Secret by South African filmmaker Rehad Desai, who travelled to the Kalhari desert to meet a Khomani San healer struggling to live close to nature despite centuries of colonial exploitation of San Bushmen and their lands. The film details the Khomanis’ present state of poverty and the loss of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

The Bushmen rely on a natural appetitive-suppressant called Hoodia—you may have seen it in the aisles of health shops and even Wal-Mart. North Americans with hefty appetites use it to trim their waistlines, but the Khomanis use it to survive.

Other films of note include The Edge of Eden, which focuses on a Canadian in eastern Russia who takes bear cubs back into the wild, hoping to prove that the animals are not as dangerous and unpredictable as most think.

Toronto director Barry Cohen’s Toxic Trespass takes a look at toxic contaminants that make their way into our bodies, while the eponymous hero of Mr. Wong’s World spends much of his time in Shanghai, buying buildings that would otherwise be torn down—an attempt to preserve some Chinese heritage from the bulldozers.

“It is really important for the festival to have people come to see the films and then feel moved enough to then get engaged in the issues around them. And it is one of the reasons that the festival is set up,” said organizer Andrew Male noted.

The full festival schedule is available online at planetinfocus.org.

Religious accomodation in moderation

Two weeks ago, The Varsity reported on a controversy over the new halal food options that are being served at Bluff’s on the UTSC campus (see “Halal food hard to swallow at UTSC,” Oct. 4). The article itself sparked some heated debate on our website’s commenting system, in the mainstream media, and on many blogs.

This article followed the debate on appropriate religious accommodation, much-covered in the mainstream media. When discussing the intricacies of religious accommodation, tempers tend to flare. The Varsity is committed to freedom of speech. On a topic as sensitive and controversial as religious accommodation, it’s unfair and dangerous to make generalizations based on assumptions. Many, however, chose to make sweeping and often irrelevant rhetorical statements when commenting on the article, both on The Varsity’s own website and ones across the internet that reprinted the article in part or in whole.

U of T has an incredibly diverse student body—one that continues to grow more diverse. Religious accommodation has been an issue on campus in the past and will continue to be one long into the future. It is impossible to fully accommodate every group on campus without infringing on the rights or wishes of others.

Responses to the Oct. 4 article saw uncompromising extremes, from those who view themselves as advocates of secular society to those who believe deeply in accommodation for Muslim students.

Accommodation issues will likely grow more complex as political interests and religious ones butt heads. Since the article was published, Rob Wulkan, the president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, has been censured for telling reporters that a significant proportion of students, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, eat the halal food served at Bluff’s. The Varsity supports Mr. Wulkan for speaking on the issue.

The Varsity aspires to foster discussion on all sides of the debate over religious accommodation on campus. We will continue to report on all further developments on this issue, objectively.

Making Parliament Work

Last week marked the not-so-triumphant return of parliament in Ottawa. The weeks leading up to it were exciting ones for journalists—the prorogue of parliament until mid-October, the delayed opening, the Liberals’ (and thus, Stéphane Dion’s) failures in the Quebec by-elections, Harper’s hijacking of parliament by turning every vote into a confidence issue, and the NDP-Bloc rejection of the throne speech. Throughout all this, reporters and commentators across the country played their favourite game: election speculation. The fate of the minority Conservative government seemed to rest upon the decision of Stéphane Dion, a man whose name has been preceded with the word “embattled” in recent months.

But Dion decided to let the throne speech pass. The speech itself was very much like the Conservatives’ mandate: mild, balanced, and not, in fact, all that Conservative. A Conservative minority with three left-leaning parties in opposition hasn’t done the country too badly. The budgets have been about as fiscally conservative as Liberal ones, particularly after being fiddled with by other parties. Harper’s move to declare the Québécois a nation within a united Canada was a brilliant political response to Gilles Duceppe’s separatist rhetoric. More blatantly right-wing policies have been kept in check, as when aspects of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act were not renewed. So far, our government hasn’t done all that badly at their job—governing.

That’s what makes all the more disappointing Harper’s insistence that every parliamentary vote be a confidence issue. Instead of attempting to debate, reshape, and reform bills so that they can get enough support from our elected representatives to pass, Liberal amendments to the throne speech are likely to be rejected. The Liberals, in a show of opposition, will likely only send enough MPs to parliament to allow the speech to pass. All of this is in fear of an election that would likely return us to the same sort of government we have now—either a minority Liberal or Conservative leadership, with sizable Bloc and NDP opposition.

Fear of such an election is helping to set a dangerous precedent, and gives Stephen Harper undeserved power to pass unbalanced legislation, such as his Tackling Violent Crime Act. If the Conservatives’ past environmental plans are any indication, they could very well force the Liberals to choose between an unwanted election or an unsatisfactory environmental policy full of half-measures and concessions to big polluters (we’re looking at you, Alberta oil companies). Harper is attempting to simulate the power of a majority government, something that his party hasn’t earned, and, according to many polls, would be unlikely to gain in an election.

At the centre of all this is the oftmocked Liberal leader. Stéphane Dion hasn’t been well-treated by the media since the Liberal Leadership Convention honeymoon ended in February or so. He’s jeered at from across the floor, his communication skills are questioned, and even his own MPs anonymously e-mail reporters with their criticisms of his ways. As of right now, a trial-by-fire election victory would likely be the only way Dion’s image could improve, but that would require that Harper messes up to a John Tory or Kim Campbell degree.

Despite the negative buzz, of the four leaders, Dion (in true policy wonk fashion) is the only one who is attempting to make parliament work. The NDP and the Bloc are content to oppose most Conservative bills and are eager to head into an election to strip votes off of what they view as a weakened Liberal Party. Dion, if not his party as a whole, wants to do what he was elected to do: represent this country’s populace and pass balanced legislation that reflects their desires. Only time will tell if this session of parliament will be allowed to do so.

What happened to this city’s history?

In a typically understated CBC.ca article on October 17, 2007, citizens of Toronto received some wonderful news: “The Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) has decided the site of the Matador Club is not the right place to put up a parking lot.”

Even if one gets past the irony of “not the right place” (though rest assured that some other place will be), this little gem brings up some big questions that Torontonians should be asking themselves—namely, how did we come to completely disregard our own history?

The Matador Club is one of those classically Toronto institutions that, like Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina, betrays a wonderful and slightly grimy bit of Toronto’s past. Founded in 1964, the Matador has been a folk and country music house in Toronto for over 40 years, hosting such Canadian greats as Leonard Cohen. Yet despite this heritage, the TPA and some citizens in the area thought it would make a great place for a parking lot. The Matador, it was argued, was a “blight” on the neighbourhood— and just think of how many SUVs could fit on the lot.

This type of thinking is typical of Toronto, which now seems more concerned about building condos than protecting its history. We have an obligation as citizens to take a stand against this reckless destruction, reclaim our city’s past and preserve it for the future.

I have to confess that as an immigrant to the city and a student of history, my views on the importance of this project are undoubtedly coloured. But with a new condo on nearly every corner, this inescapable fact stands: developers are constantly seeking new land in Toronto, with little regard for the sites’ historic value. What makes the potential destruction of The Matador even more disturbing is that City Hall—not a private developer—worked actively to destroy the site.

One only needs to walk up and down Jarvis to see my point. What was once the centre of old Toronto is now a disappointing urban vista of dilapidated buildings and parking lots. The city and its citizens dropped the ball and let a glorious stretch of Toronto fall into disrepair (check out some old photos at the Toronto Archives if you don’t believe me).

City planning in Toronto needs to slow down in a big way—I’m talking about a massive reevaluation of the city’s plan, one that includes historic considerations. After all, world-class cities like Paris don’t tear down historic buildings in favour of condos, no matter how hot the market. Reclamation of Toronto’s history for citizens, as expressed in our development and planning, will be crucial to future generations of Torontonians. Take a stand and demand that Toronto begins behaving like the worldclass city it wants to be—appreciate the history that surrounds you.

He’s lost control

“It’s getting faster, moving faster now, it’s getting out of hand…”
—Joy Division, “Disorder”

Forget calling it a movie, or even a film, Anton Corbijn’s biopic about the life and death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis is a work of art and history.

Known to most Joy Division fans as the photographer behind the most iconic images of the Manchester quartet, Corbijn has produced a masterpiece in his very first feature. Filmed entirely in black and white— which nicely captures the essence of Joy Division and late 1970s Manchester— each shot is immaculately framed, as if Corbijn’s old photographs have been brought to life.

As one of the pioneers of the post-punk movement—and the lead singer in one of the most uniquesounding bands in the history of rock music—many people wonder why Curtis would kill himself at the young age of 23, on the eve of Joy Division’s first U.S. tour. The mission of Control seems to be to explain his final, desperate action. As Corbijn put it, speaking before a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, “It’s about a man who follows his dreams and ends up in a very unhappy place.”

Control begins with Curtis (played by unknown Sam Riley) as a 17-yearold. Here he seems like a different person: hopeful, ambitious, sporting a wide grin as he listens to David Bowie records, spouting Wordsworth to impress his mate’s girlfriend. Later he meets Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), and Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway)—the trio who, with Curtis, would form Joy Division, and after his death, become ’80s superstars New Order—and offers to join their then “pretty shit” band.

Curtis also gets married. He and his wife, Deborah (Samantha Morton) are both still teenagers when they tie the knot. At the same time, Joy Division’s star is beginning to rise. The band hires a manager, Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell), who gets them signed to Factory Records. Factory’s head, Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson), is also a British TV presenter and features the band on his now-famous program So It Goes.

As the band starts to tour, Curtis has his first epileptic seizure. Doctors back in Manchester put him on a cocktail of drugs that produce a nightmarish list of side effects (vomiting, acne, swelling of the gums) and tell him to avoid late nights and alcohol (yeah, right). It’s also around this time that Curtis—still in his early twenties—becomes the father of a baby girl named Natalie. His constant touring and withdrawn personality begin to weigh on Deborah— she wants a stable life and a husband who isn’t up all night or on the road.

While on tour, he begins an affair with a Belgian reporter named Annik, with whom he realizes that his marriage to Deborah was a mistake. As seizures continue to invade his life (he even has one on stage), he begins to emotionally unravel, unable or unwilling to perform. “They don’t understand how much I give, and how it affects me,” he writes in a letter to Annik. All of this begins to tear Curtis apart.

Writer Matt Greenhalgh—who used Deborah Curtis’s memoir Touching From a Distance as a reference— does a great job of showing how Curtis—pulled apart in four directions by band, wife, illness, and mistress—finally loses control.

The core cast of Control is superb at recreating their characters, especially Riley—who looks, sounds, and acts just like Curtis—and Toby Kebbell, who is hilarious as Joy Division’s highly motivated yet horribly crass manager.

Another impressive feature is that all the live shots of Joy Division playing are accompanied by versions of the songs recorded by the actors themselves. While this prospect may initially frighten Joy Division purists (myself included), the renditions are superb. Versions of “Transmission,” “Disorder,” and “She’s Lost Control” sound like raw re-mastered reels rescued from Martin Hannett’s attic.

In short, Control is an incredibly fitting elegy for Curtis—a must-see for any fan of rock music—and is easily the best British film of 2007.

Control is currently in limited release.