Herpes email causes flare-up

An indignant article by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford has raised the hackles of U of T administrators, who are defending their choice not to send a mass email informing female students about the vaccine Gardasil.

The vaccine was approved by Health Canada in July 2006 to immunize against four major strains of HPV, which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases and 90 per cent of genital wart cases, and is known to increase the risk of contracting HIV. The vaccine is currently approved for females aged nine to 26.

The university’s clinic gives shots of Gardasil, which cost $400 and is not covered by OHIP for recipients older than 13.

Two Toronto physicians tried for six months to convince U of T to distribute the message.

The 42-word statement reads: “Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women under age 50 today. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection at the U of T today. HPV can cause cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the new HPV vaccine.”

Dr. Rob Wagman and Dr. Raymond Tellier initially thought their proposal had been accepted when the university’s Health Services supported their plan.

“They thought it was an excellent idea,” said Wagman, who sits on U of T’s medical school faculty.

Several weeks later, Wagman and Tellier were told that U of T’s president David Naylor and VP and provost Vivek Goel had vetoed the mass emailing. Naylor and Goel both have a background in health care.

“There is no public health recommendation for mass immunization in our target age group,” said Naylor.

In a statement responding to Blatchford’s article, Goel noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada primarily recommends the vaccine for girls aged nine to 13.

“Experts agree […] that the most efficient use of the vaccine is in younger girls who are unlikely to be sexually active and therefore remain unex posed to HPV,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.

Goel added that the student health clinic website makes the information available for students, who can decide for themselves whether to pursue inoculation.

He also questioned the effectiveness of unsolicited mass emails. “Obviously, the university could send dozens of health-related messages to its students—on a range of important issues from safe sex to smoking cessation. We can only dimly imagine the resulting chorus of complaints from students about paternalistic and intrusive emails.”

The University of Ottawa has sent out a recommendation of the vaccine to both women and men, though Health Canada only finds it “favourable for prevention of infection” for females.

Tellier has pointed to the National Advisory of Immunization’s recommendation that females between 14 and 26 should also receive the vaccine.

Both he and Wagman said the message was meant to increase awareness of the cervical cancercausing virus, rather than advocate vaccination.

“We are not asking that the University of Toronto recommends the vaccine, but merely that it provides information by e-mail to its student listserv, or points to the relevant information,” said Tellier.

Dead students still repaying loans

The federal government is collecting on loans to student borrowers—dead or alive.

Since 2002, Ottawa has forwarded 100 accounts of deceased students to the Canada Revenue Agency, recovering $14,645.53 from their estates, according to figures obtained by the non-profit group Coalition for Student Loan Fairness under the Access to Information Act.

For student loans negotiated between 1995 and 2000, the government can still collect on loans if the death or permanent disability of the borrower occurs six months after graduation. This risk-shared regime, where financial institutions assumed the risk of the loan in return for a fixed payment from the government, ended in August 2000.

The government now directly finances all loans and forgives debts if the borrower dies.

For borrowers who become permanently disabled, debts could be forgiven if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Monte Solberg, is “satisfied” that the borrower “will be unable to repay the loan without exceptional hardship, taking into account the borrower’s family income,” reads the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

“Between April 2003 and June 2007, 921 Canada Student Loans with a total value of $6.5 million were forgiven due to the death of the borrower,” wrote Pema Lhalungpa, an assistant to Solberg, in an email Monday.

But families of deceased students with risk-sharing loans have been getting calls from collection agencies, and the CSLF is calling on the government to forgive those debts.

“There is no reason to have such different rules for the collecting of certain loans versus others,” said Julian Benedict, founder of the CSLF. “I don’t think it matters to the family of the dead borrower whether the loan was taken out in ’95 or 2000.”

Deceased borrowers’ estates are contacted to “determine if there are any available funds to be applied towards the debt,” Catherine Jolicoeur, a spokeswoman for the CRA, told the Canadian Press.

After a borrower’s income tax refunds are applied to the debt, Jolicoeur said, collection activity stops even if there is still money owed.

Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, said the post-mortem collection was a manifestation of a larger student debt problem in Canada. “It’s an example of people falling through the cracks of an already broken system,” she said.

“The whole problem with the system is that it relies on loans,” Hassum said. “It’s a profit-driven approach to financial assistance, because they charge interest rates, there are collection agencies involved, there are third parties that run our loan system on a day-to-day basis.”

CFS has called for an end to interest on student loans and for the creation of a national system of need-based grants.

Solberg’s ministry also disburses scholarships through the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is up for renewal this year. The University of Toronto Students’ Union wants the CMSF and the student loan program “merged into one system that would waste less on bureaucracy,” said Dave Scrivener, UTSU’s VP external.

“Our petition is calling for the creation of a national program, using money from the CMSF towards a dedicated, direct infusion into the system for grants,” he said.

Malcolm X’s daughter sets record straight

The name Shabazz still carries powerful connotations. It was the chosen name of one of the principal figures of the civil rights movement, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known to the world as Malcolm X. A commanding public persona, Shabazz was an eloquent speaker and inspirational leader whose philosophy still resonates worldwide today. His daughter Ilyasah now spreads his message, a responsibility she reflected upon during a speech Monday night at OISE.

“Education was one of the fundamental values my parents emphasized and instilled in my sisters and me,” said Shabazz, one of the civil rights leader’s six children.

“Both my parents understood the value of education and its critical importance to the advancement of our nation. Both understood the importance of education to the movement, and the ongoing struggle for human rights.” Speaking at Canada’s largest university, Shabazz’s discussion of universities’ responsibility called to mind images of her father’s infamous debate at Oxford prior to his death.

Her speech was part of Expression Against Oppression week, a series of campus events organized by UTSU’s equity commission to raise awareness of injustices at home and abroad. From Feb. 4 to 8, U of T will stage for a series of demonstrations, film screenings, art exhibits, and lectures.

On Monday night, 46-year-old Shabazz spoke about the need for an “eternal vigilance.”

“The worldwide struggle for equality and justice cannot be over when racial inequities still exist,” Shabazz told the near-capacity crowd. “In Toronto, there exists a socio-economic polarization between people of European descent and people of the [African] Diaspora, which is really shocking.”

While Shabazz’s discussion centered mainly on marginalized black Americans and Canadians, UTSU VP equity Sandy Hudson, who helped organize Shabazz’s talk, said that oppression crosses all social boundaries. “I think that even though the discussion of oppression was framed in a mostly African-American context, a lot of people can still take something from it, and make it personal for themselves,” said Hudson.

At a Q&A period at the end of the evening, a woman took the microphone to discuss parallels between injustices faced by Canadian First Nations people and African-Canadians, but was shouted down by the audience. Shabazz tried to calm the crowd, telling them she was only there to discuss her own experiences and could not speak to the experiences of First Nations people. Nevertheless, the woman was silenced.

Feb. 21 marked the 43rd anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder, and this month has historically been busy for Shabazz, author of Growing up X. With this year’s festivities coinciding with Black History Month, it proved challenging to fit the XAO event into Shabazz’s busy schedule: “Ilyasah announced the day she would be arriving almost at the last minute, and we only had four days to really promote that she would be speaking,” said Hudson. “I was very worried that there would not be a large turn out in the room for 500 people, but it was almost full, so I was shocked surprised and excited by the response.”

U of T ‘passive’ on investment picks

A new policy on university divestment has already earned critics, as the administration commits to working with students, staff, faculty, and alumni to overhaul investment ethics procedures.

Decision-making power and the role of proxy voting are among critics’ foremost complaints with the new policy. The University of Toronto currently signs its voting power over to investment firms in its employ. A responsible investment movement wants the university to start using its voting power to avoid socially and environmentally damaging investments.

“At the moment we are very passive with proxy voting. We don’t really vote against management. We’ve seen the policy records,” said Thomas Felix, cochair of the Responsible Investment Committee. RIC, a campus coalition whose members include the Canadian Union of Public Employees, UTSU, and the Arts and Sciences Students Union, presented an alternative to the adopted policy, which was ultimately not discussed by Governing Council’s University Affairs Board.

Felix added that ethically secure investments could be more financially stable in the long run, avoiding such pitfalls as lawsuits and other losses caused by social upheaval. “We were disappointed to find that we didn’t take more active ways to protect our own interest, especially through further environmental and social standards that could help in the long term,” he said.

RIC’s proposed policy called for a permanent board of advisors who would issue recommendations on controversial investment decisions. The policy approved by UAB only defines how the university will get rid of unethical stocks, with no process in place to avoid acquiring them in the first place.

“The proposed policy is a more proactive approach to responsible investment,” said Felix. While the university’s policy gives a protocol for getting rid of ethically questionable investments, the draft calls for screening investments before making them.

Critics also expressed concern that the new policy removes elected representatives of the university community from the advisory committee. “We’re not convinced that [a representative system] is necessary, but we’re not opposed to having it,” said Catherine Riggall, VP business affairs. The approved policy is an update of one brought before the UAB in November 2007, which was rejected over concerns that it would strip Governing Council of their authority in stock decisions.

The new policy addressed these concerns with a requirement that the ad hoc committee be approved by GC. Felix said he was confident that RIC’s suggestions would be taken into account in future meetings with administrators.

“I don’t believe that just because this passed, this is the end. Clearly the administration has shown that they want to work with us, and that they just want to get a procedural issue off the ground,” said Felix.

Is U of T funding war crimes?

Our generation was young in the era after the Rwandan Genocide. As children, we grew up hearing tales of the world’s terrible hush in the face of this atrocity. Indifference allowed two million people to die at the hands of their neighbours, and silence sanctioned what humanity should have risen up against.

In Darfur this legacy of apathy continues. There, 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced by the brutal attacks of the Janjaweed, a militia backed by the Sudanese government. The world has watched for four years, but little has been done to end the violence.

What’s more troubling than our acquiescence is the possibility that we may be silent partners in this crime. Many major international corporations operate in Sudan; their taxes help provide the government with revenue for military spending used to fund the campaign of murder and rape that is currently ravaging Darfur.

Research conducted by the Sudan Divestment Task Force indicates that the University of Toronto is invested in two companies whose operations in Sudan merit scrutiny: Total SA, an oil company, and Alcatel, a telecommunications company.

Alcatel warrants particular attention because a major portion of its Sudanese operations involve providing communications for Petrodar—one of the biggest oil consortiums in the country and a significant source of revenue for the Sudanese government. Total SA is suspect because they own the rights to an oil block in Sudan, and have publicly stated that they intend to begin operations as soon as possible. Total SA has demonstrated its willingness to profit from relationships with oppressive regimes. As Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated, “Total has become the main supporter of the Burmese military regime.”

U of T has invested $9.7 million and $7.6 million in Alcatel and Total SA, respectively. In May 2007, the U of T chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) submitted a 50-page proposal to the Governing Council, along with 300 petition signatures requesting that our university divest from offending companies.

On October 30, U of T president David Naylor responded at a Governing Council board meeting. While he stated that the Council condemns the atrocities in Darfur, he also announced that they had chosen not to divest from the two aforementioned companies, as they do not meet the threshold required to warrant divestment.

While we appreciate the council’s strong moral stance on the issue, words will not fulfill our responsibilities as a respected educational institution. Our Governing Council has chosen not only to refuse divestment, but disregard the myriad alternate courses of action in the proposal. There are no plans to engage the companies in dialogue, to demonstrate shareholder concern, or to utilize shareholder votes, as we suggested.

The Governing Council also ignored our recommendation of a screening mechanism to avoid future investments in companies whose operations render them accessories in the Darfur genocide. We had the chance to question the VP of business affairs at the Nov. 6 University Affairs Board meeting. Apparently, the recent decision to install a filter for tobacco investments is already costing the university $20,000 a year. The board claims it would be simply “too expensive” to screen for Darfur as well. Though the University joins STAND in expressing outrage at the four-year-long government- backed campaign of systematic murder and rape, $20,000 is too costly to prevent our participation in this crime.

Queen’s University has already divested from Darfur as of March 2007, working directly with STAND to form their plan for divestment. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and UPenn have already divested. In contrast, U of T is tangled in a web of bureaucracy when we could be helping Darfur.

If the University of Toronto truly belongs in the league of the world’s top universities, it must find the moral courage to avoid funding these crimes, even if it means paying for our conscience in dollars and cents.

Why Israel is an apartheid state

This week, Israeli Apartheid Week is sparking debate across campus as to the true nature of the Israeli state. Depictions of Israel as an ethnically- divided nation will no doubt be countered by those who point to the fact that Palestinians in Israel proper have the right to vote, and enjoy the same status in courts of law. Despite these realities, no mistake should be made: Israel is a state in which non-Jews have an inferior legal status, and its people live different lives depending on their ethnicity.

As any high-school student can tell you, apartheid is a term literally meaning “separation” (or “apart-hood”). It is characterized by the forcible transfer of populations, land control, labour exploitation, and humiliation. Article 2 of the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines state practices that constitute apartheid, all of which apply to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

In 1948, after having declared its independence, Israel established itself as a “Jewish state” in 78 per cent of historical Palestine, after 750,000 people, three-quarters of the native population, were ethnically cleansed from their lands. In 1967, Israel conquered the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine by taking control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This led to the further expulsions of another 250,000 people, and ushered in the longest-standing military occupation of the modern era.

As a consequence of 1948 and 1967, Palestinians now constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world, numbering close to five million. Today, Israel continues to deny these Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, claiming that they are a “demographic threat” to the maintenance of a Jewish majority within Israel.

Hand in hand with the expulsion of the indigenous population has come the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land by the state of Israel. Today, 93 per cent of the territory of the state of Israel is controlled by the Jewish National Fund and other state institutions, reserved for Jewish citizens only.

Similar to apartheid South Africa, present-day Israel also practices containment of the Palestinian population in the “Bantustans” of the West Bank and Gaza. Indigenous Palestinians who live in these open-air prisons are arbitrarily cut off from the rest of historic Palestine by the Apartheid Wall. Entry and exit from these Bantustans—and movement within them—is controlled by Israel through an intricate network of checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements, “bypass” roads, curfews, ID systems, and constant harassment by the Israeli military, all of which make daily life virtually impossible. These refugees’ lives are under the control of Israel. They have no say, they have no vote.

It is worth noting that the analysis of Israel as an apartheid state was developed by progressive Israelis, Palestinians, and South Africans themselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared present-day Israel to Apartheid era South Africa and accused Israel of creating Bantustans for Palestinians.

The apartheid analogy should bring to mind the international activist movement that helped dismantle South African apartheid. Starting in the 1970s, a grassroots popular boycott, international isolation, and economic sanctions were critical to ending the racist regime in South Africa. A similar campaign is crucial to ending the apartheid regime of Israel.

The purpose of International Israeli Apartheid Week is to contribute to this chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid, and to bolster support for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign. This is in accordance with the demands outlined in a July 2005 statement issued by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, who called for full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, the dismantling the Apartheid Wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties.

Nausheen Quayyum is a member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

FDA: Cloned meat is safe

Like a match set to a pile of paper, the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep, set off a firestorm of controversy, and endless speculation regarding the cloning of animals. Now, 12 years later, another event has rekindled the smoldering ethical and moral debate: the FDA released a ruling last month stating that cloned farm animals are safe to eat.

While this decision may come as a shock to consumers intent on going organic, there is no reason to suspect eating cloned farmed animals is unsafe. These cloned animals are not born by traditional reproductive methods where sperm meets egg, but in some ways, the natural birthing process has already been stripped away from animals farmed for consumption. In the cattle industry, the sperm of a singular bull inseminates many female cows. Considered in this light, cloning seems to be just another step of human manipulation in the procreation process.

The FDA investigation is assuredly thorough, and undeniably controversial. The 986-page unreleased report concludes that there are no hidden risks from consuming food from clones. This report removes the U.S. regulatory ban—in place since 2003—of the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats. The report, which includes the raw data studied, analyzed 600 clones and their offspring. The authors found that the nutrient levels in cloned meat and milk were either the same or within normal, accepted ranges. When milk and meat from clones were fed to animals for at least 3½ months, there was no evidence of health problems, allergic reactions, or behavioral changes due to consumption. The report’s overall conclusion was unequivocal: provided that the clones are healthy, there is no reason to suspect products derived from them are unsafe.

The knee-jerk reaction of the media and governmental bodies to this FDA report is not surprising. In reality, it will take years before food from clones actually hits the market. The process of cloning is far more expensive than traditional breeding. Until the techniques are perfected and the cost of production is driven down, don’t expect to be able to buy cloned cow or duplicated ducks at the supermarket.

Another complication is the ethical concern that surrounds the life of a cloned animal. Dr. Gurfinkel, of the department of nutrition at U of T, raised an interesting point regarding this dilemma.

“At the present time, making a single viable clone requires thousands of embryos. Even when a cloned animal is made, the large majority are unhealthy and are born with genetic abnormalities that promote suffering. Now that it has been established that cloned animals are safe to consume, we have to ask ourselves about the welfare of these clones. Is the tradeoff of a novel farming method worth the suffering of the sick and frail clones?” said Gurfinkel.

Secondary to the animal welfare issues is the economic impact that these clones may have on American industry. There is a valid concern that farmed clones will undermine the wholesome image of American milk and meat. Taking the European Union ban on genetically modified organisms as a pertinent example, one has to wonder if clone farming can ever become a worthwhile industry. If the future holds a global ban on these clones, the entire enterprise will be lessened, and the export industry may suffer.

Policy makers need to look beyond the human health concerns of eating cloned farm animals when considering the FDA’s recent approval. This issue requires risk analysis based on moral and ethical grounds, in addition to the currently studied biological issues.

In the end, it’s Dolly who has the last laugh. The FDA hasn’t ruled on the safety of cloned sheep, citing a lack of information.

Come to the Cabaret

“There was a city called Berlin, where there was a cabaret, and it was the end of the world.”

For those whose midterms are stirring up a different sort of apocalyptic vision, here’s your chance to go back in time with the UC Follies’ production of the acclaimed Broadway musical Cabaret.

The scene is set in 1931 Berlin, bleak with political unrest, and the rising Nazi Party. It’s a grim era, but Weimar Germany also has a warm, sensual side—especially Berlin’s indulgent, pleasure-seeking Kit Kat Club. It is here that lead dancer Sally Bowles meets American journalist Cliff Bradshaw. When Sally’s boyfriend kicks her out of her home, she moves into Cliff’s boardinghouse room, and the two fall in love. They’re not the only ones engaging in a cross-cultural relationship: the owner of the boardinghouse, Fräulein Schneider, gets involved with a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz. Can either love withstand the political pressure descending on Berlin?

Despite being a musical, Cabaret is no fluffy romp. It delves into themes of abortion and prejudice, as everyone knows where Germany ends up as the 1930s progress. Nonetheless, Cabaret has received perpetual praise: the 1966 Broadway production earned an impressive eight Tony awards in its first run. Subsequent revivals in 1987 and 1998 have added four more Tonys, a Drama Desk Award, and a Theatre World Award to the musical’s mantelpiece.

An award-worthy performance can be expected from the UC Follies as well. The goal of this student company is to dispel the notion that amateur theatre always seems unprofessional. And if last year’s Follies production of Nine is any indication, director Stephen Low and musical director Lily Ling will once again be working magic.

The cast of Cabaret is made up of a mix of professionals and U of T students who just happen to have remarkable talent. They’ve been working since September on the production, which has been generating major buzz from New College to Vic, and in the mainstream media too: the UC Follies have fans at the Toronto Star and all over the blogosphere— a real feat. So, if you’re strolling by Hart House this week and hear a voice belting out, “Come to the cabaret!” don’t resist. Instead, buy yourself a bargain $12 ticket because this production is bound to please. Cabaret runs from Feb. 7 to 16 at Hart House Theatre. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit uofttix.ca