Despite Parliament, Harper sends resisters home

Shouts of “Harper out! Resisters in!” and “Stop the war!” rang out Saturday along Yonge Street Saturday, as a march in support of Iraq War resisters made its way to the U.S. consulate. The War Resisters Support Campaign has been working working towards amnesty for the approximately 200 war resisters in Canada. The march began near Lake Devo on the Ryerson University campus, with support from student groups, labour unions, and various fringe groups. The event was one of at least 19 taking place all over Canada in support of the resisters on that day.

A June 3 motion in the House of Commons showed that the majority of MPs support giving the resisters a path to Canadian citizenship. However, the Conservative government began deporting resisters, beginning with Robin Long in July. Long faces 15 months in a military prison for refusing to fight in Iraq and being absent without leave from the U.S. military.

Jeremy Hinzman, attending the rally with his wife and two children, could face Long’s fate. His deportation date is Sept. 23, pending a hearing the day before. Hinzman is asking for a stay of removal, as granted to fellow resister Corey Glass in July. However, the legal battle would not end with a stay. Hinzman and Glass, among others, will still need leave from the federal government to appeal their cases. Despite the consequences of a possible deportation, Hinzman is resolute. “Whatever happens happens, we did everything we could do to be able to stay here,” he said. “I’d rather go to jail than kill innocent people.”

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley has said the system in place is fair, and resisters should continue to navigate the courts if they want to stay. “We have a system in Canada that’s fair […] with numerous opportunities for appeal,” said Finley. “Once […] the courts have ruled, we expect people to obey the rules.” Activists insist that Finley could bring justice to the resisters, and plan to rally in front of her office in Simcoe on Sept. 21.

Mohammed Ali Aumeer, who performed his poetry and rap at the rally, is a student activist and vice-president programming & outreach of CFS Local 150 at Ryerson. Ali is interested in building inter-campus coalitions to address issues such as student fees, racism, and war. He sees student action as paramount. ”Students have the power to change a lot, change the world, change the environment around them and the best way is to get involved,” said Ali. “I think students are at the forefront of these battles.”

Everybody’s feeling the Blues

Mario Sturino – Former Blues quarterback, 1993 Vanier Cup champion

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Mario Sturino: Yeah, well obviously online with the Internet now, you can follow them on a daily basis. I came to every home game last year. I wasn’t able to come to the first game because of [having a new child], but I’ve been following them for the last three or four years.

TV: How did you react when you found out that they won their first game in seven years?

MS: I was a little upset I wasn’t there. I was very happy for them and I really wanted to be there. It’s good that the streak finally came to an end, especially for fifth-year guys who’ve put in four years and a bit, and finally got the victory they deserved. They stuck with it and worked hard, and it was nice to see.

TV: What do you think the Blues are doing right this year?

MS: I think they have a number of fifth-year guys returning, and that was important for them. I think once you get a taste of victory, once you have that first win, that can really change your attitude. They had a good game against Windsor last week, and now a great game against York, so I think that first taste of victory for these guys was huge.

Glenn McCausland – 1993 Vanier Cup MVP

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Glenn McCausland: I had season tickets last year and I was on the coaching staff in 2001 when they won the game before two weeks ago, so I still follow them, definitely.

TV: Did you see them win on Sept. 1?

GM: I didn’t see them win, but I was watching the headline sports and I saw that they won the game, and [that] they pulled it off in the fourth quarter.

TV: How did you react when you found out?

GM: I was really happy for them because I know that they’d been working hard to try and win that game. They probably deserved to win a few games prior to that.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

GM: I think that probably just the commitment to get that win and try to build U of T from the ground up, and get them back up to a level that they’re accustomed to. The alumni are definitely supporting them harder than ever, so hopefully it all works out.

Bob Laycoe – Blues head coach from 1988-2001 and 1992 OUA Coach of the Year

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Bob Laycoe: Oh sure. [I’m] living out in Vancouver now—a little further away—but with the Internet, you can keep track of a surprising amount of information about the OUA.

TV: Where were you when you found out that the Blues had won their first game in seven years?

BL: I saw it on the Internet. I was surfing the Internet for college scores and I found [out about the win] at that time.

TV: How did you react when you found out they had won?

BL: I was happy for the players—it was good for them.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

BL: I think they’re all trying their best. The coaches and players have a great attitude and things are starting to go their way.

David Naylor – U of T President

The Varsity: How does having a winning football team affect U of T?

David Naylor: First off, you look at the stands, you see a lot of students out here having a good time and feeling great about how the team’s doing—I think that’s a very positive thing for school spirit. The other thing I have to say is a lot of these fans have been here during the lean years. A lot of the players on the field were here for a number of very tough years, so I really want to take my hat off to all the friends of football—the students, the faculty, the staff, and especially, the players to be there when things weren’t quite as positive as they are right now. That’s a group I feel real gratitude to.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

DN: I think a number of things have changed. First, we’ve got a lot of terrific young players. Secondly, changes in the terms of the whole playing field arrangement, settling into a new field, getting comfortable with better facilities, that’s been a positive thing because there’s been so much uncertainty about the facilities. Thirdly, we’ve had great coaches through the years, but sometimes a change is good even if you’ve got a great coach. Changing over gives people a fresh start even if you had a terrific coach before. I think all of these things have come together in a positive way and it’s nice to see. In fact, I find myself looking at the score and the sense of putting yourself in York’s shoes, and having watched it from our side for a few years, [I] sort of wince a little bit and feel some empathy.

Officer Attacks Fanshawe Student Without Cause

Allegations of police brutality rocked the London, Ontario community when an 18-year-old student at Fanshawe College was arrested and sustained a fractured orbital under his left eye.

The incident was also captured on tape by a local television station. A Channel had a crew out that night to report on the chaotic events of frosh week. The unedited film shows a handcuffed student being asked a question by a plainclothes police officer. Although the situation appeared to be in control and the student was responding to the question without struggling, the officer kneed the student in the face.

Under provincial law, the London Police Service was forced to notify Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit about the injuries suffered by the student.

More than 600 people at Fanshawe College have been arrested in the first 10 days of the academic year.

Democracy starts at home

Whenever democratic processes and principles make a splash, it’s worth discussing how and why. Democracy means that instead of acting out of self-interest, people come together and work in unison. On Sunday, September 7, with the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1998 prepared to strike on Monday morning, the University of Toronto sent a contract proposal in the eleventh hour. The delay was the result of the union’s demands for improved working conditions and fair salaries; the deal resulted from the union’s willingness to use their collective power, if necessary, to have those demands met. Their victory—which came without the need to resort to a strike—is a victory for democracy on campus, and a lesson to all citizens.

The details of the new USW contract were laid out to union members last Wednesday, and endorsed by union leadership as a good deal. The deal included an improved policy against harassment, added benefits, and regular wage increases to match inflation rates. Avoiding the strike meant a happy ending for all concerned. Yet this did not come easily.

During contract talks with the University, ongoing since June, the Steelworkers’ mantra was “the University works because we do.” More than a catchy slogan, this phrase was a reminder that an institution is nothing without the people that make it function. The 3,500 USW members affected by recent bargaining are comprised of a variety of administrative and technical personnel, all of whom are relied upon. The union’s message of solidarity had clearly been effective: when contract talks reached an impasse earlier this month, 2,100 union members showed up to vote 87 per cent in favour of a strike. Had these individuals not shown up for work last Monday, the University would have been a vastly different place. There wouldn’t have been technicians available to keep ROSI and UTORmail working in the face of an onslaught of traffic. Administrative personnel wouldn’t have managed OSAP distribution, bursary distribution or the general concerns of new students on campus. In the words of Local 1998 president Allison Dubarry, the campus on the first day of school would have been “absolute chaos.”

The Steelworkers were not alone, as other campus unions were ready to lend their resources and support. “We’ve been working with Steel and other locals on coordinated bargaining since February, and it’s obviously paying off. The University knows when they face one of us, they face all of us,” says Robert Ramsey, Chair of CUPE 3902.

By raising their voices in solidarity with other campus unions, the members of USW gave force to their demands. Acting together, these workers illustrated the serious consequences that would result if the University failed to address them fairly.

Whether a national government or a local university, it’s important to realize that we, as a collective, create the institutions that we live under. Acting individually and competitively, as we are often compelled to do, we see institutions as larger than ourselves. Acting together, we become the institution. It is our duty to participate, to assure that our university remains, above all, ours.

The university’s eleventh-hour contract offer shows that they had the money and the resources to provide USW with a fair deal all along. However, the university was not willing to provide this offer unless they could be sure that the workers were resolved to accept nothing less. This instance exemplifies the crucial balance between power and citizenry. Power is, by definition, active and organized; citizens must work together if they are to have their interests accounted for by those in power. Merely hoping for the best has never been good enough, and it never will be.

Maciek Lipinski-Harten is the CUPE 3902 Life Sciences Steward on the St. George Campus.

Springtime for Elizabeth May

The Green Party headquarters received good news this past Wednesday. The broadcasters’ consortium, comprised of Canada’s top news media outlets, had made their final verdict: the party’s leader, Elizabeth May, will participate in the national debates. Her rivals, fuming over the possibility of her presence in the political spotlight, were eventually silenced as all contention was put to rest. The bold decision to welcome May to the public forum was a response to the fierce outcry that ensued when she was initially excluded. Her legion of supporters—as well as outraged citizens at the sidelines and a growing support group on Facebook—united in protest. The native Nova Scotian has built a career around environmental and social activism; when she heads to the debate podium, all eyes will undoubtedly be fixed upon her.

While support for the Greens has grown incrementally over the years, the party has yet to gain sufficient representation in Parliament. May’s 2006 leadership takeover has boosted the Green Party’s appeal and bolstered its flagging votership. By putting forth policies that integrate environmental sustainability and energy reform into economic considerations, May has prioritized domestic issues like the climate crisis and poverty. Some don’t agree with her hard-line stance on the environment, and perhaps they have a right to be concerned—Canada has never seen a mainstream politician put so much emphasis on “greening” our economy. In a time of economic uncertainty, with a government that has consistently placed global warming concerns on the backburner, it would be foolish to dismiss this candidate. May brings progressive ideas to the table. While one can choose to accept or reject her platform, she should be granted the opportunity to present her positions on the national stage and express her views.

It’s been awhile since Canada had a prominent female politician run for head of government. Memories of Kim Campbell’s short term as Prime Minister are still fresh, but many are looking towards a new female leader. The percentage of female political representatives in Parliament hovers around the low 20s, and minority candidates are even scarcer. While parties have made strides towards including women in the political arena, individual nominees struggle with prejudices within their ridings. For too long, national affairs and policy handling has been male-dominated. The inclusion of Elizabeth May in our dialogue, along with the Green Party platform, marks a turning point in our history and the ongoing struggle for gender equality.

Civics 101

The Set-up

A fat Albertan, a screechy liberal, and a socialist with a mustache walk out of the House of Commons. Although this sounds like the set-up for a bad joke, it’s the start of the next Canadian election.

In a sudden move, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Governor General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve parliament on September 7. This set the political gears in motion for an October 14 election, Canada’s third in four years. If you’re confused, don’t panic—The Varsity explains the rules of the game below.

The History

In typical, polite Canadian fashion, our modern system of government was set in place by the British North America Act of 1867. Crafted in cooperation with the UK government, it is no surprise that our system borrows heavily from their political model. Known as a Westminster system of governance, Canadian government consists of an upper house (the non-elected members of the Senate) and a lower house (the familiar, democratically-elected House of Commons, where MPs can occasionally be seen calling each other names on the nightly news).

The Pieces

The House of Commons is made up of 308 Members of Parliament, each representing an area of Canada. These regions, known as ridings, are divided proportionally among the provinces and territories according to population. For this reason, Ontario has the most seats in parliament with 106, and the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut have one seat each. When a citizen votes, he or she should be voting in the riding that they officially reside in.

The Rules

From the battle of Ypres to the more recent World Hockey Championships, Canada has proven itself to be a nation of team players. Appropriately enough, our country employs a plurality voting system (after all, there is no “I” in “democracy”!) Rather than vote directly for a leader, as in the American system, citizens cast their ballots for party members in their riding. The candidate who receives the most votes in a riding—regardless of whether or not they receive the majority—wins that riding. This system of voting is known as a first-past-the-post system (because the number of votes needed to win can vary widely, some deem it “further-past-the-post”), and is used in some form in 43 of the 191 countries in the United Nations. Many criticize the system as being unfair, as a candidate could theoretically win a riding with a very small portion of the popular vote.

The elected official becomes the Member of Parliament (MP) for that riding, directly representing his or her constituents in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that gets the most seats in the general election. In order to vote, one must be at least 18 years of age and a Canadian citizen.

There are several differences between the American system and ours. Namely, we vote for a party rather than directly for our Prime Minister (he is the leader of the party that wins), there are no Vice Presidents, and our version of the electoral college (ridings) is much, much less confusing.

The Scenario

In these types of parliaments, a closely contested election raises the possibility of a minority government. This occurs when no party has a majority of the seats—fewer than 155—in the House of Commons. Two things can happen: the party with the most seats can pass legislation by striking deals with opposing parties, or it can form a coalition government by official agreement with another party (provided they have a combined majority of seats in the house). Harper, who currently leads a Conservative minority government, cited his party’s inability to push through legislation as the reason for calling this election. Minority governments tend to be less stable than majorities, lasting only one year and four months on average.

The Current Situation

In a matter of a few days, polls went from predicting another Conservative minority government to suggesting a majority win may be likely. Perhaps goaded by the onslaught of aggressive Conservative attack ads flooding the airwaves—and the seemingly unready Liberal party still in debt from the last election—Canadians do not seem to see Dion’s party as a viable alternative. With the left-of-centre vote split between the Liberals, NDP, and surging Green Party, it seems likely that the prediction of a Conservative majority will come true in the short 30-day campaign that is set to unfold.

No puffin, please

If you had asked me a week ago what I thought about bird shit, it would’ve been a quick conversation: not much. This week, I might have to put it in my top ten list of amusing diversions, thanks to the Harper Conservatives’ hilarious attack ad featuring a now infamous puffin taking a shit on Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Who knew puffins would take on such a starring role in Canadian politics?

There is, of course, an expectation that elections will turn personal at some point. After all, who among us really cares about platforms and policies? It’s much more interesting to hear about the failings of our leaders than about Green Shifts, arts cuts, and arctic sovereignty. And we all know that attracting bird shit is a pretty awful quality for a would-be Prime Minister to have. Imagine, Dion actually standing there and allowing a bird to defecate directly onto his suit! Can this man be trusted? Can he lead us during these troubled times? If Dion is soft on birds, won’t he be soft on crime and terrorism as well? The implications are very serious indeed.

These questions had to be raised at some point, and God bless the Conservatives for raising them early. Otherwise, we would have been subjected to weeks of awful debates about how to deal with climate change (will carbon taxes really work?) and promoting small businesses. Capital-B BORING!

Of course, the Liberals are also doing a pretty good job at avoiding these boring issues. And with the help of the NDP, we were able to spend a whole week fretting over whether Elizabeth May would be allowed to debate with the boys—riveting!

Though we might be outnumbered, there are those of us who value old-fashioned boring Canadian elections. There are those who are concerned that, less than a week into the campaign, the papers have been filled with meaningless diversions. There are those who are keen to know what might happen to reduce hospital wait times, help control gun-related crime, and yes, lessen carbon emissions. In short, some want to know about the issues.

Perhaps Canadian elections are turning into American elections, where the most important questions are not about the economy, but about the identity of Bristol Palin’s baby daddy.

There’s hope yet that the parties will have something to say about the issues confronting Canadians. There is still time to raise the stakes, however boring that might be. It is possible that matters of substance will consume the rest of this campaign and that the puffin will be forgotten.

The question is, will anyone still be listening?

Freshly Pressed

Bloc Party — Intimacy – Vice Records

After falling victim to the sophomore slump with last year’s A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party boldly set themselves on a new path with the electronic backbone of their one-off single “Flux.” The details of their third LP Intimacy were even more of a surprise, as they announced the completion of the album and a digital release at the end of August. Intimacy picks up where “Flux” left off, with Bloc Party sounding less like a rock band and more like house music. A wall of electronic beats clashes with deep, chanting backing vocals on “Zephyrus” and “Ion Square,” as singer Kele Okereke painfully laments romance gone wrong, his voice drenched in effects. After a number of uninspired ballads dragged down their last album, Intimacy offers hope that Bloc Party are making the slow songs work. A twinkling xylophone highlights the haunting “Signs” despite Okereke’s brutal lyricism, and Okereke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack make their axes race on “Halo” and “Trojan Horse,” in a similar fashion to the band’s propulsive debut. Intimacy boldly announces itself as a successful departure wherein Bloc Party wisely destroy the mold and refuse to be typecast.— ROB DUFFY

Rating: VVVV

Elliott Brood — Mountain Meadows – Six Shooter Records

The pounding sounds of Torontonian alt-country trio Elliott Brood conjure the ghost towns of Nevada in the days of the American Old West. Sounding like a whiskey-soaked 1930’s prospector, singer Mark Sasso belts out fierce ruminations amid banjo licks and distorted guitars on their sophomore album, Mountain Meadows. They’re not without some modern touches (a gun-slinging Jeff Tweedy comes to mind), but Elliott Brood trades on historicity— the namesake of their LP, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was a terrifying 1850’s slaughter of 100 pioneers at the hands of a Mormon militia during the Utah War. It’s the type of gruesome imagery that would do Cormac McCarthy proud, as the band broods over the final resting place of their bones on the visceral opener, “Fingers and Tongues.” Other highlights, like “Write It All Down For You” and “Without Again,” showcase the band’s storytelling ability and grand melodic theatrics. Like the belly of a beer-swilling rancher, the album sags a bit in its mid-section, but it rebounds with “Miss You Now,” which mimics the bounce of a horse’s trot across a desert terrain. Just like the old west, Elliott Brood is manifestly destined to knock your spurs off, so put down that jug of malt whiskey and allow this band of bumpkins to gun you down. —JUSTIN BEAUBIEN

Rating: VVVV

Underoath — Lost in the Sound of Separation – Tooth & Nail Records

In the interest of full disclosure, I kind of enjoyed Underoath’s breakthrough album They’re Only Chasing Safety—if only for the earnestness shining through their catchy, Christian-themed screamo. The band’s follow up, Define the Great Line, saw the Tampa-based six piece thrown headlong in a post-hardcore direction. Perhaps this dramatic shift was wrought by a text message from God telling them they were going to hell for pandering to innocent 16-year old girls. Underoath returns this fall with Lost in the Sound of Separation, adding textbook experimental flourishes to their heavier sound. The production by Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and Matt Goldman (As Cities Burn, The Chariot), invites itself to a reverb party and never leaves, making for meandering passages of tremolo strumming and electronic samples that feel much more pointless than nuanced. Lyrically, the album charts familiar territory as vocalist Spencer Chamberlain employs trademark spiritual references that come off as borderline sententious. Overall, this collection of songs accomplishes very little other than fulfilling Underoath’s self-aggrandizing prophecies. Here’s hoping that next time the big man upstairs decides to alter the outcome of a sporting event instead. — JP KACZUR

Rating: VV

Saint Alvia — Between the Lines – Stomp Records

This upstart Burlington mall-punk outfit scored a Juno nomination for their self-titled debut, but have since dropped the “Cartel” from their name with the release of their sophomore album. Rising from the ashes of southern Ontario underground legends Jersey and Boys Night Out, the guys in Saint Alvia are veterans who know what it takes to win over legions of suburban teenagers. Yet it never seems like they’re having any fun. There are cheesy tactics galore, be it surf-punk vibes (“Trouble Keeps Me Busy”) or annoying falsetto vamping (“Roll With It”), that consistently reach for the most obvious hook. They add predictable ska touches on “Decadencia de Civilizacion,” which also includes a pathetic Facebook reference (“His status switched to ‘It’s Complicated’”). But the most unforgivable misstep is “Americafioso,” which rails against Canada’s Security and Prosperity Partnership with the United States, including embarrassing overdubs of a speech by anti-SPP advocate Gordon Laxer, who is name dropped in the outro. Through sheer lack of personality, Between the Lines should be considered an encyclopedic document on how to make a generic pop punk album.— RD

Rating: Vv

Okkervil River — The Stand Ins – Jagjaguwar

Suffice to say that Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff is no longer “listening to Otis Redding at home during Christmas.” Four successful albums later, Sheff is on to bigger things, dwelling on rock n’ roll politics on 2007’s The Stage Names instead of girl trouble. This month’s The Stand Ins serves as 2007’s follow-up, preoccupied with what a musician means to the audience. Sheff is plenty self-deprecating, and the results are rarely sunny: on “Pop Lie” the man accuses himself of being “the liar who lied in his pop song.” Eschewing acoustic guitar for glockenspiels, harpsichords, and bouncy percussion, the band seems to have moved on from the orchestral grandness of 2005’s nearly flawless Black Sheep Boy. Sadly, no track can match the poignancy or flat out-catchiness of “Black,” the band’s now semi-infamous ode to incest victims and vengeance. With his perceptive eye focused on his indie-rock star self, Sheff’s self-flagellation is almost winning. And if he wants to accuse his fans of “lying when you sing along,” can you blame us?

—WYNDHAM BETTENCOURT-MCCARTHY

Rating: VVVV

The Chemical Brothers — Brotherhood – Virgin Records

The Chemical Brothers’ new singles collection, Brotherhood, has appeared at a time when electronic music is morphing into the kind of mainstream genre no one ever anticipated it could become. Consequently, the disc functions as a welcome reminder of big-tent style electronica. For me, it all comes down to the fifth track on this collection, “Believe,” a massive attack of sequenced whistles and “huhs,” as the band’s signature wah-wah synth churns behind a vocal track that proclaims, “I needed to believe in something/I needed to believe.” The singles spanning the Brothers’ decade-and-a-half long career echo a dancing-in-the-moonlight kind of free love. And in a scene full of guest lists and cool clothes, it’s refreshing to see such a flood of fun memories come back to electronic music. —DAN EPSTEIN

Rating: VVVV

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