ASSU’s crooked election

The Arts and Science Student Union is in deep trouble on three separate fronts. Documents have surfaced proving their sitting president conspired to overturn an election he lost and retake control of the union, aided by a chairperson he helped appoint and another powerful ASSU exec. Meanwhile, a poisonous atmosphere in the ASSU office has administrative staff filing grievances against elected executive members who are locking staff out of meetings and restricting their role in running the union. ASSU does not have a voice in choosing the Arts & Science Dean, and none of its executive members have office hours, though the union is active in social advocacy groups outside the university. Ongoing issues have polarized the union in debate over how well it represents the will of its members—the 41,000 Arts & Science students who pay the union roughly $615,000 per year in dues.—ANDRE BOVEE-BEGUN

Ryan Hayes, last year’s ASSU president and the winner of this spring’s scandal-ridden elections, manipulated election results with the union’s CEO and another exec, documents obtained by The Varsity reveal. Emails and chats ranging from March to May 2008 show Ausma Malik, who served as CEO briefly to conduct a review of the disputed election, received instructions and improper input from Hayes and exec Alanna Prasad throughout her tenure.

ASSU is the union representing the university’s 40,000-strong Arts & Science undergrads. They receive roughly $600,000 in annual funding from a student levy, produce the Anti-Calendar, and have representatives from the course unions of every Arts & Science faculty.

Hayes lost ASSU’s March 8 election to Colum Grove-White, causing an outburst that threw the meeting into recess. After Hayes demanded a review of the meeting and alleged that that Grove-White violated pre-campaigning regulations, ASSU launched an investigation. The chair of the meeting, Noaman Ali, annulled the vote and stepped down.

In a March 26 email conversation, Hayes and Prasad pursued the idea of having Malik put forth as a candidate for elections chair and CEO during the investigation. Prasad asked Hayes in a email, “Confirm Ausma as the chair: Ryan can you see if she’s up to this?” Hayes also wrote of Ausma, “I would trust her 100 percent.”

Throughout her review, Malik consulted Hayes and Prasad on her decisions and allowed them to edit her written verdict on the disputed election that Hayes lost. Emails sent between the three show Malik’s final report on the election to be a collaborative effort between Hayes, Prasad, and a handful of others.

“I’m also coming up with an extensive list of points [sic.] consideration in terms of Ausma’s ruling,” reads an April 8 email from Prasad to Hayes and Malik. In another chat, she wrote, “Ausma’s statement in the ruling is wrong though, that’s why ill [sic.] change it.”

The three discussed how to dismiss dissenting parties. Grove-White and Adler both emailed Malik, questioning her neutrality. “I do want you to know that the choice of you as an ‘un-biased’ chair/CEO had me deeply suspicious,” wrote Grove-White. “The majority of the Executive appointed you as Chair, directly undermining Council’s decision to instate Terry as Chair at the last meeting (and breaching the Constitution.) Why do you think they are doing this? Is this equitable?”

Prasad told Malik: “We have to give [Grove-White and Adler] some opportunity to contribute now (in terms of writing a statement), otherwise they’ll just use that against us.”

Malik emailed Adler’s and Grove-White’s formal statements on the first election to Hayes and Prasad, warning them “please delete after reading/use.”

Various student politicians copied on and forwarded many of the emails include former ASSU president Ali, then-UTSU VP Michal Hay, and Sheila Hewlett, current ASSU council member and then president of the Fine Arts Students’ Union.

The Varsity has attempted repeatedly to contact Hayes over the past week. Hayes refused to comment, and Malik and Prasad could not be reached by press time. Hewlett approached The Varsity to comment, denying that any interference occurred. When confronted with emails showing it had, Hewlett stated that Malik was merely checking with Hayes and Prasad over guidelines to be followed. The emails, however, include detailed strategy discussions planning for the verdict and anticipating any challenges to it. They also marginalize input from Hayes’s rival candidate.

On April 8, Hayes emailed Prasad and Malik about overturning the initial election, stating it was “difficult to challenge that the election was unfair” and asking, “How is the appointment of the new chair and CEO legitimate?”

Furthermore, the three pushed the recessed meeting as far into the exam period as possible in order, wrote Prasad, to “avoid an appeals process after the elections.” 

As course union representatives received word of a late meeting, former CEO and current ASSU executive assistant Terry Buckland emailed Malik advising her to reconsider. Buckland stated that ASSU had previously overturned course union elections “for holding them the last day after classes and during exam period.” 

At the April 23 meeting, Malik dismissed the Hayes’ pre-campaigning charges, citing multiple conflicting versions of campaign rules that left the issue unclear. She then called for a second election.

Malik may have read the decision, but the verdict was already fixed. 

Earlier that day, Prasad had emailed Malik requesting her “ruling asap” so that the ASSU pair could make the appropriate changes. 

With a majority of his supporters present, Hayes managed to win 23-21, raising suspicions among many ASSU members.

“They knew that the vocal critics of Ryan Hayes could not make it on [April 23],” wrote White-Grove to Malik in an email dated April 10, 2008.

Following the election, Grove-White supporters then took their grievances to the university administration, filing a complaint with Jim Delaney, director of the office of the vice-provost, alleging an undemocratic election process. 

These grievances and others led Delaney to consider freezing ASSU’s funds. Delaney has since left the investigation, which is currently in the hands of U of T’s VP and provost Cheryl Misak.

The provost’s office, which handles budgetary matters, can withhold funding if ASSU refuses to follow its assigned recommendations. The leaked emails and chats could have implications on Misak’s ruling, now that they are allegedly in her hands. 

Hayes and Prasad enlisted the help of several ASSU execs to edit the minutes from the March 18 and April 23 meetings. 

In a Google chat, a former ASSU exec editing minutes, Krystyne James, said she had “no idea what was said” because she was not present during the April 23 meeting.

In an interview with The Varsity last week, Misak said she could not comment on the matter, but confirmed that she had been called on to determine whether ASSU was “dealing in an undemocratic manner.” Misak said at the time she expected to settle the issue shortly.


The emails

Update – September 19: The Varsity has received complaints that the correspondence originally posted with this story contains information that is impertinent, and implicates persons other than those involved. In light of the complaints, we have removed the documents and are currently reviewing them.

Possible link between immigration and stroke

With 250,000 new immigrants entering each year, Canada is becoming increasingly multicultural. Over 50 per cent of these individuals choose to settle in Ontario, and many of them experience stress associated with the process of resettlement.

National data has revealed that recent immigrants are less likely to have chronic conditions or disabilities than their Canadian-born counterparts. This phenomenon has been termed the “healthy immigrant effect.” However, resettlement typically involves behavioural and environmental adjustments, including changes in diet, employment, housing, social relationships, climate, and language. These sudden changes may predispose immigrants to chronic stress.

While the healthy immigrant effect may initially protect new immigrants from stroke, chronic social stress may increase their risk. This negative stress may be further worsened by a lack of emotional support or social isolation in a new country. If left untreated, it will continue to affect the cardiovascular system by increasing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

Very little has been done to investigate a possible association between immigration and the risk of cerebrovascular disease, particularly premature stroke. University of Toronto researchers Drs. Gustavo Saposnik, Joel Ray, Donald Redelmeier, Esme-Fuller Thompson, and Patrice Lindsay have set out to explain this phenomenon in a unique study titled “PREmature risk of Stroke Associated with Recency of Immigration to Ontario (PRESARIO).”

Funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the primary objective of PRESARIO is to determine whether recency of immigration, approximated by the date of receipt of OHIP coverage, is associated with a higher risk for ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke in subjects 50 years and younger. The control groups will be comprised of individuals who have resided in Ontario for more than five years.

Other objectives include comparing the control group to recent immigrants to determine whether, following a stroke, the latter have different hospital visit durations and a need for placement in long-term care facilities. Since new immigrants may lack economic or social stability, they may not have the resources to return to their home environment if they suffer a stroke, necessitating long-term care placement. In addition, the PRESARIO study hopes to identify which subgroups of immigrants in Ontario are at a higher risk for stroke by considering factors such as income, age, sex, and settlement area. To achieve these objectives, the study will use data from the provincial healthcare databases.

According to Dr. Saposnik, leader of Stroke Outcome Research Canada (SORCan), this research may have profound implications for health policy. If a link is found between recent immigration and stroke, this may guide policy-makers to consider early access to stroke prevention therapy for immigrants. Dr. Saposnik also suggests that the PRESARIO study might help to implement quality improvement strategies that extend beyond the screening process for new Canadians, to the period after their arrival. For instance, if an association between the recency of immigration and a higher stroke risk is found, a health check-up with a general practitioner for immigrants could be made mandatory.

Unfortunately, these concepts have not been properly researched. Dr. Saposnik hopes that his study will help to fill in this crucial gap of knowledge before any recommendations are made to change health policies and practices. Ultimately, the PRESARIO study has the potential to open up a whole new avenue of research, addressing whether there is a predisposed risk to cardiovascular disease for immigrants due to psychosocial stress.

Ryerson’s non-academic code of conduct takes a page from U of T

Students at Ryerson University are starting the school year with new courses, new clothes, and a new code telling them how they should behave.

On September 3, Ryerson adopted Policy 61, which seeks to hold students accountable for all behaviour outside the classroom that interferes with the interests of the university or the activities of its members and neighbours.

Policy 61 survived an opposition campaign led by the Ryerson Students’ Union including posters, leaflets, and petitions, but student leaders still have concerns. RSU VP Education Rebecca Rose told The Varsity that she worries the new regulations could be used to silence student voices on campus.

Rose said student leaders were particularly concerned since thirteen U of T students were threatened action under the Code of Student Conduct after their involvement in a March 20 sit-in protest at Simcoe Hall this year. RSU executives noticed that the free speech provisions in Policy 61 were taken almost word for word from U of T’s Code of Student Conduct. “We came to realize we weren’t quite as safe as we thought,” she said.

University of Toronto Student Union president Sandy Hudson says that Ryerson students are right to be concerned, particularly about the free speech provisions. “We find it patronizing and extremely concerning that our universities have taken to policing the behaviour of students,” she said. “I think both Ryerson and U of T students should be prepared to challenge the very existence of their respective administrations’ codes.”

Hudson cites research suggesting that the aim of non-academic codes is to stifle student dissent, and notes that student unions across the country stand in opposition to such regulations.

Rose also says that the language in Policy 61 is unclear about which student activities, particularly online, might get them in hot water with the university.
Both non-academic codes—at Ryerson and U of T—extend the university’s non-academic jurisdiction to students’ behaviour on the Internet, but do so only in passing, failing to specify the extent to which students’ online behaviour could be monitored. More specific Internet regulations found in an earlier draft of Policy 61 failed to make their way into the final code. Now that the regulations are official university policy, the RSU intends to educate students about their rights under the new rules. “The policies aren’t really advertised all that well,” notes Rose, “and it’s not until after the fact that they’re really thrown into students’ faces, and that’s unfortunate.”

University of Ottawa dropped its code of conduct before the start of the semester due to staunch opposition from students due to similar concerns. Several other Ontario universities are in the midst of such battles, including Fanshawe College in London.

Gastronomy

Why do I feel especially sleepy just before my 2 p.m. stats class? Sure the material may not be particularly enthralling, but it’s that post-lunch funk between 1 and 2 p.m. when many of us find ourselves desperately searching for a quick energy boost. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, after a heavy meal our brains become much less alert.

The increased level of blood and glucose that occurs after eating often results in lethargy. This concept may seem illogical at first, as it would seem this would supply more energy to the brain. However, studies have indicated the contrary. There is actually an increased amount of blood rushing to the stomach after a meal, to aid the breakdown and digestion of food. With more blood traveling to the stomach, less oxygen is supplied to the brain, which explains the inevitable bout of sleepiness.

This amount depends on the caloric intake and whether the ingested nutrients are carbohydrates, fat or protein. Therefore, the larger the meal, the more tired you feel. Keep in mind that different nutrients are digested at different times. Depending on your metabolism, about 20 minutes after a meal, carbohydrates are the first to be absorbed, followed by proteins, that take 25 minutes to an hour, and lastly, fats which range from three to five hours for digestion. According to dietitian Susan Zbornik, “the more fat you eat, the longer you will feel tired. Although you feel sluggish […] your body is actually working hard to handle all that food.”

There are a number of reactions set off in the brain in response to food, or a lack thereof. Conventionally, orexin proteins are produced by orexin neurons in the hypothalamus. These proteins help us stay awake during the day and become dormant at night. In a study conducted by Denis Burdakov of the University of Manchester, it was found that this neuron activity could be decreased by minute elevations in glucose from an average-sized meal. Orexin neuron activity is highest at low blood glucose levels, explaining why we cannot sleep when we are hungry.

“We think orexin neurons make sure that we are awake and alert when hungry, in order to ensure optimal food-seeking,” says Burdakov. “It makes evolutionary sense for animals to turn off their wakefulness and conserve energy once they have eaten their food, since it could be risky or wasteful to expend too much energy looking for more food.” Thus, it is believed that changes in orexin level can also affect eating patterns. Late-onset obesity could result if levels of orexin protein are too high over a long period of time.

So avoid reaching for a sugary snack when feeling the effects of a large meal, as tempting as it may be. While sugar does provide a quick boost of energy, the effect is short-lived and the resulting increased glucose level will ultimately leave you feeling more tired. In most cases, a moderate dose of caffeine will do the trick. Ulimately, the best method is prevention. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help maintain energy levels and alertness.

Getting the word out on AIDS ed

Chances are, when you were in the seventh grade, you didn’t study the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Thanks to two UTSC students, Suleiman Furmli and Mojib Sameem, that’s about to change for thousands of students across Toronto. A third student, Homira Osman, also presented the handbook to the TDSB.

The AIDS epidemic will be added to the Toronto District School Board curriculum via a new teacher’s handbook called the Abana tool. Abana was developed by Julie Rémy, a photographer on mission in Rwanda for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), who helped collect photographs, stories, and artwork from AIDS-affected children. The meetings were held in secret, since these kids are often excluded from the community if others find out about their illness.

Furmli, a volunteer for MSF, wanted to get the word out. With the help of Sameem, they decided the best way to teach Canadian children about these issues was to go straight to the source: their school curriculum. After contacting the chair of the TDSB, which represents over 102 high schools and 451 elementary schools across Toronto, the two presented the Abana tool to the Board of Trustees at a meeting in spring 2008. The project was approved soon after.

However, the timeline for implementing the program remains unclear. While the Abana tool is to be adopted for curricular programming in physical and health education, and social and world studies, the TDSB has not provided details on when teachers will receive the handbook, and whether it will be a mandatory component. The designated TDSB representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Both Furmli and Sameem expressed hope that the inclusion of the AIDS epidemic in Africa in the TDSB curriculum will encourage students to become more socially aware and promote activism. The two have no plans yet to address other school boards with the Abana tool proposal, said Furmli, but Sameem added that it is definitely an option. “For sure it is something we’d like to do,” Furmli said.

Chemicals That Changed The World: Thalidomide

Few chemicals have a reputation as dark as thalidomide. Developed as a sedative in 1954 by researchers at Chemie Gruenenthal, thalidomide is a synthetic derivative of the naturally occurring amino acid glutamate, structurally similar to other sedatives. Once in the body it acts on the central nervous system through an unknown mechanism to promote sleep and prevent nausea.

Unlike the barbiturate sedatives commonly prescribed in the 50s, thalidomide has virtually no hangover effect and does not lead to dependence, features that made it a popular prescription for pregnant women experiencing morning sickness and insomnia. As such, it was initially touted as a wonder drug that could ease the discomforts of early pregnancy. However, soon after its emergence on the market, epidemics of birth abnormalities were documented worldwide. The most striking symptom of the thalidomide-affected babies was the malformation of their arms and legs, which were short, misshapen, and often absent. Other effects included defects of the ears, eyes, face, and heart. Many affected children died within their first year.

For years, drug manufacturer Chemie Gruenenthal denied claims that thalidomide had any connection to the rise in birth abnormalities, despite mounting evidence. Eventually they were sued for compensation and finally made responsible for the marketing of an improperly tested drug. It was removed from shelves and banned from use.

Thalidomide’s most far-reaching effect has been the changes to drug development it has spurred. The thalidomide tragedy led to a review of the American Food and Drug Administration’s role in drug approval, granting them new power over the regulation of drug safety and the restructuring of regulatory strategies. This new regulatory framework allowed thalidomide to be reviewed and evaluated for its beneficial effects to the immune system.

Today, thalidomide is used as a treatment for multiple myeloma and some complications of leprosy. It is currently being evaluated for use as an anti-HIV therapeutic. Stringent rules are now in place for men or women who are prescribed thalidomide: patients must agree to abstain from sex or use two effective forms of birth control to prevent any unplanned pregnancies. While the use of thalidomide will always be controlled, it shows promise for safe and effective use that may one day outshine its past.

U of T shows Pride

For those new, questioning, or just plain interested in the gay community, U of T offers a litany of events across all three campuses to help ease the introduction.

This year’s week-long Queer Orientation starts off today at UTM with a “Big Ol’ Gay Lunch” at the Blind Duck from 12 to 2 p.m. At the St. George Campus, Gays and Lesbians International will be hosting an event in room 417 at 21 Sussex Ave starting at 5:30 p.m. A meet-and-greet will also take place today at the Cumberland and Baldwin Room of the International Student Centre at 6:30 p.m.

If regular meet-ups aren’t your thing, there are a variety of other events later this week. On Wednesday, Hart House’s East Common room will be host to Queer Salsa, UTM will have “Laser Queer” in their Student Centre, and “Shirley’s Dirty Bingo” will be at UTSC’s Rez Centre.

There will also be events catering to specific genders or sexual orientations. Friday’s BBQ/BBQ celebrates those bisexual, bi-curious or queer, and there are two “Night Out” events, for male- and female-identified students respectively, on Saturday night.

Finally, the whole shebang will end on Sunday with the “This Ain’t Highschool Dance Party” at Goodhandy’s. A combination of dance and drag performance, the event is open to anyone attending university in Toronto, but it’s 19+ only.

For more information and listings of all the events, check out their official Facebook page.

Two out of three ain’t bad

Coming into Saturday’s 37th annual Red and Blue Bowl, the forecast didn’t look good for the Varsity Blues football team. It had been 13 years since they defeated their cross-town rival, the York Lions, and laid claim to the Argo Cup. And while the sky remained grey throughout the game, the Varsity Centre field was nothing but blue as Toronto reclaimed the Cup with a 58-7 win against the Lions.

“It feels so good to finally play four quarters of football like this and beat York,” said Blues receiver Mark Stinson. “We finally have this one blowout and that’s what we needed. We needed this for our confidence and for the program.”

Stinson, who shared the Player of the Game honour with Blues quarterback David Hamilton, began the blowout by scoring two touchdowns on Toronto’s first two possessions, including a 79-yard reception.

“Oh, it’s all Dave [Hamilton],” Stinson humbly stated. “I didn’t do anything. He just put [the ball] where it had to be and he did a great job.”

Hamilton shone by throwing four touchdowns and completing 22 of 32 passes for 465 yards.

Head coach Greg DeLaval commended his two star players: “[Hamilton and Stinson] have been here a long time and they impressed today. We needed our senior players to step up and they did the job for sure. And they gave the young guys an opportunity to play today.”

One of those “young guys” was Blues rookie Andrew Lomasney—the kicker who scored the winning field goal in Toronto’s season opener. Lomasney continued to impress on Saturday, scoring three field goals, including a 35-yarder, against the Lions. Yet Lomasney was unaffected by all the attention he has received, and focused more on his team’s future success: “I’m just happy we’re at 2-1 right now and hopefully we can get in the playoffs this year.”

With a 2-1 record, it’s conceivable that the Blues will make the OUA playoffs. If they continue to dominate the field as they did against York, wins against slumping Guelph (1-2) and McMaster (0-3) are possibilities and may be enough for playoff qualification.

While Coach DeLaval is excited about his team’s prospects, he also recognizes the need to improve. “Our philosophy still remains the same,” he explains. “We’re not talking about wins and losses, we’re just talking about getting better […] in every aspect of the game.”

Coach DeLaval is likely looking to the Sept 20 home game against Queen’s. As good as Toronto was against York, they’ll have to improve to contend against the undefeated Gaels. While the Blues passing game on Saturday was exceptional with 499 yards, their rushing game was not up to standards. “We didn’t run the ball very well and we turned the ball over a whole bunch of times,” said Coach DeLaval. “[When] we play Queen’s next week, if we [don’t improve our rushing game], the score will not be the same, we will not win that game.”

Hamilton also acknowledges Queen’s on-field prowess. However, he remains positive about the Blues’ chances against the Gaels. “Coming with momentum from this [win against York] will definitely help us out,” Hamilton said.

And you could definitely feel the momentum as the team, coaches, and fans poured onto the field after the 58-7 win. The celebrations commenced with the Blues hoisting the Argo Cup towards an increasingly graying sky. In that moment, the rain began to fall, soaking the Cup and the team, washing away years of heartbreak and embarrassment, and beginning Toronto’s new reign as Red and Blue Bowl champions.