Student union manager defies death threat

Despite a death threat he received on Friday, the general manager of the Kwantlen Students’ Association has said he intends to continue a lawsuit against KSA’s former execs.

A letter that arrived at Desmond Rodenbour’s home address contained a death threat warning him to immediately abandon the suit. The KSA is suing several of its former executives, whom it alleges used student dues to make nearly $840,000 in improper loans and $140,000 in suspicious payments.

Defendants in that lawsuit include KSA’s disgraced student leader Aaron Singh Takhar and three of his associates. Takhar took over KSA in 2005, in a dubious election. Among his first acts was offering $13,000 in unauthorized rewards to draw students to a special meeting where he had them vote to radically change the union’s bylaws. The prize draw itself was rigged to award the grand prize to one of Takhar’s friends. A forensic audit of the union’s finances found that, under Takhar’s tenure, a large number of funds were transferred to “AST Ventures,” whose name matches Takhar’s initials.

Rodenbour told Maclean’s that the KSA will not drop the suit. “This threat just clarifies how morally bankrupt and desperate the people are who were behind the original scandal,” he said.

Takhar is also facing charges of possession with intent to traffic, after a car rented in his name (and containing 170 marijuana plants) tried to escape police and ended up flying off the road, killing one person in the car. Takhar was driving nearby in another car.

The end of an empire

From the 161st Street subway exit, Yankee Stadium looks like a drab, unmarked grey mausoleum. The mecca of baseball might not be the prettiest facility, but it’s a mythical place for sports fans worldwide.

After 26 World Series championships (and three papal visits), the New York Yankees have closed the doors of the most hallowed ground in the history of sports in favour of a palace of luxury boxes erected just across the street.

The lights of the House That Ruth Built shut off for the last time on Sunday night, bringing one of the greatest eras in sports to a close in less than spectacular fashion, with the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

The Yankees splashed out more money than ever (nearly $400 million) in last year’s off-season simply to retain their core players, and expectations were high coming into 2008. Yet the Yankees find themselves fighting off the perennially mediocre Toronto Blue Jays for third place in the division.

How did it all go wrong?

In years past, ownership put the brunt of the team’s failures squarely on the shoulders of grizzled manager Joe Torre, who was fired unceremoniously after last season and hired mere weeks later by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Torre has since teamed up with old foe Manny Ramirez in California, as the Dodgers cruise into the post-season while the Yankees clean out their lockers.

Instead of faulting Girardi, who did an admirable job this year managing the team’s bullpen, owner Hank Steinbrenner famously put the blame on injuries when he seemed to concede the season in August.

Smug Yankee-haters claim injuries are a non-factor when your payroll is over $200 million. But it’s a fact that a rash of serious injuries are a demoralizing factor that can derail a whole season.

While catcher Jorge Posada and left fielder Hideki Matsui’s seasons were all but lost to various ailments, injuries hit the pitching staff the hardest, starting with ace Chien-Ming Wang’s freak base-running injury in June, Joba Chamberlain’s failed transition into the starting rotation due to tendonitis, and the complete failures of young prospects Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who went a combined 0-8 before hitting the disabled list.

The biggest factor in the Yankees’ collapse has nothing to do with injuries and everything to do with complacency. Certainly this year’s batting lineup had the talent to overcome a few setbacks, but lacked the drive to compete at the highest level.

In failing to make the playoffs despite such a massive payroll, the Yankees have become the latest example of a star-studded team going down in flames. As revenue and team payrolls increase to make a championship push, perhaps a new formula for success is emerging—a core of breathtaking young talent combined with a few veteran leaders to keep the young bucks in line and deflect the media attention when things get tough. It’s a formula that has worked in recent years across all major sports—including the Boston Red Sox, Manchester United, and Detroit Red Wings.

The Yankees aren’t a youthful team. Centre field heir apparent Melky Cabrera played so badly that he was sent down to the minors, and at age 34, it looks like Johnny Damon’s best days are far behind him. Posada and Matsui are inching closer to retirement along with closer Mariano River, as the mammoth contract of Jason Giambi, the least likeable player in the league, finally comes off the books after seven excruciating seasons.

Nevertheless, Yankee Stadium is no more. Word from the City of New York is that the ballpark will be torn down and replaced by a series of children’s baseball diamonds, to make up for the loss of public space taken up by the new stadium.

When the public park opens, I hope someone suggests christening it “Field of Dreams”. Imagine kids with gloves roaming the same ground as did the Yankee pantheon, which may one day be expanded to include modern icons like Derek Jeter and maybe even—gulp—Alex Rodriguez.

While I doubt that new Yankee Stadium will be nicknamed “The House That A-Rod Built,” the team is betting that the star third baseman and close confidant of Madonna will break the all-time home run record there, cementing his place as not only the greatest player to suit up in pinstripes but arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

New memories will be made in time, but the Yankees aren’t heading into their new digs on a high note, and it will take time and a massive change in philosophy for success to come home again.

Concordia: $10 million in the hole

Montreal-based Concordia University is facing budget cuts in all its programs after losing $4 million this year and forecasting a deficit of $10 million for the next year. “[The deficit] is very small compared to other universities, but it is a problem,” said David Graham, provost and VP academic affairs .

Concordia lost $11 million of its yearly financing in 2006 when Quebec changed the funding formula for universities. Since then the provincial funding growth lagged behind salary increases and tuition fees were frozen. To compound problems, after working without a contract for close to seven years, the university’s union is now demanding higher wages.

Although the $6 million budget cuts needed to correct the deficit will be spread across all faculties of the university, the Engineering and Computer Science departments will face the largest cuts. “It’s difficult to be high quality and low cost,” said Mr. Graham, “nobody wants to be the Wal-Mart of education.”

Graham hinted at shifting the burden onto students, citing higher tuition in nearby Ontario: “This isn’t my problem, or the university’s problem. This is our problem, and students are going to have to take some ownership of this issue if we’re all going to get through it.”

It’s time to repatriate Omar Khadr

Imagine spending your 16th birthday detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, facing interrogation with a bag over your head while dogs bark and ice water is poured over you.

Before your seventeenth birthday, you are transferred to Guantanamo Bay and subjected to techniques that the UN and the Federal Court of Canada describe as torture. The only Canadian officials who visit are there to interrogate you. To prepare for their visits, you are subjected to three weeks of sleep deprivation to make you “more amenable and willing to talk.”

Your 18th birthday passes. And then your 19th, 20th and 21st. On Friday, September 19th, Omar Khadr turned 22, marking the grim anniversary of his sixth year detained by the United States without trial. The week before, his trial—set to begin Oct. 8—was postponed yet again due to the prosecution’s failure to turn over important evidence and witnesses to the defence.

By now, Omar’s story is familiar. He was detained by U.S. forces in 2002, at the age of 15, following a firefight in Afghanistan in which he was shot four times, twice in the back. Alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed an American soldier, he faces charges before the widely condemned U.S. Military Commissions, making him the first child to be charged with war crimes in the modern era. Even if Omar is acquitted, the U.S. claims he could be detained indefinitely.

The UK, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Russia, Spain and Sweden have repatriated their citizens from Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. won’t allow its own citizens to be held there either. Canada is the only Western country that still allows one of its own to languish in a place Amnesty International calls “the gulag of our times.”

The Prime Minister has not asked for Omar’s repatriation. He says that Canada has received assurances that Omar has been treated humanely, and that Omar must face his charges through Guantanamo’s judicial process. Unfortunately, these claims do not hold water.

Omar has a right to be treated humanely.

Omar’s alleged mistreatment at Guantanamo includes being handcuffed in stress positions, threatened with rape and violence, subjected to sleep deprivation and denied medical treatment. At age 16, he describes urinating on himself after being held in a stress position for 10 hours. He was then dipped in pine oil and used as a human mop.

This summer, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found that the conditions under which Omar was being detained “constituted a clear violation of fundamental human rights protected by international law.” Canada’s participation breached our own obligations under the Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Following that decision, the Federal Court reviewed documents the U.S. chose to share with Canada, and concluded that Omar’s treatment violated the UN Convention Against Torture.

Both courts found that Canada knew of these abuses while they were occurring.

Omar has a right to a fair trial.

Harper maintains that Omar must face a judicial process. Let’s be clear: a “judicial process” is not something that happens inside the “legal black hole” of Guantanamo Bay.

Omar spent 27 months in Guantanamo before he ever saw a lawyer, and five years before he was allowed to make a phone call to his mother. No charges were laid against him until 2005. Six years have now passed, and no one knows when this “trial” will ever occur. None of the basic rules guaranteeing a fair trial apply at Guantanamo Bay. Last year, 64 Canadian law professors wrote to the Prime Minister advising him that the Military Commissions, under which Omar is being tried, do not provide for a fair trial.

Omar can be repatriated.

The U.S. has never refused a request from a Western country to repatriate its citizens from Guantanamo Bay.

Repatriation does not mean ignoring the charges Omar faces. If the evidence warrants, he could be tried in Canada. Indeed, most countries who repatriated their nationals conducted full investigations into their cases. Being tough on national security does not mean being weak on fundamental human rights.

The current elections in Canada and the U.S. present an opportunity to change course. Both U.S. presidential candidates have vowed to close Guantanamo Bay; even Senator McCain said he would send Omar home if Ottawa asked. In Canada, all four opposition leaders have called for repatriation. This makes Stephen Harper the only candidate for national office in North America who thinks justice can be found in Guantanamo Bay.

It’s time to raise our voices.

As law students outraged by the ongoing breaches of Omar’s basic human rights and by our government’s shameful complicity and inaction, we decided to form a group called the Omar Khadr Project. Law students at schools across the country are joining us.

We’re also joining forces with a broad coalition called Bring Omar Home, which is organizing a Week of Action from October 5–11. The first event will be a rally on Sunday Oct. 5, starting at 1pm at the U.S. Consulate.

Get involved, and raise your voice. It’s time for Canada to act. It is time to bring Omar home.

*Tony Navaneelan, Kate Oja and Judith Rae are law students and members of the Omar Khadr Project, part of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Earlier this year, the IHRP’s human rights clinic successfully intervened in the case of “Canada (Justice) v. Khadr” before the Supreme Court of Canada. For more information, visit and

A clashing solution for Canadian politics

In professional sports, where colours are mixed fearlessly, orange and green complement each other—just look at the Miami Dolphins. In Canadian politics, standard colours are safer—think of the boring red and blue hues of the Liberal and Conservative parties. Primary shades dominate the country’s narrow political spectrum. They represent tradition and prestige, men in navy blue power suits projecting their superiority and paying lip service to democracy.

What this country’s lethargic political landscape desperately needs is a shot of orange and green: a merger between Jack Layton’s NDP and Elizabeth May’s Green Party. A new party, let’s call it the Green Democratic Party (GDP) would provide a refreshing, socially progressive outlook, and reflect the wishes of an increasing number of Canadians. It would also pose a considerable threat to the hegemonic control exercised by the Tories and Grits. The GDP would advocate universal prescription drug coverage and oppose privatized health care; shift the emphasis in Afghanistan to diplomacy, defence, and development; create green-collar jobs; and promote pollution-based taxation. In an increasingly divided country where health care, Afghanistan and the environment are hot button issues, we need a political party that can think outside the box and reshape the tired, traditional style of politics.

Layton’s about-face over May’s inclusion in the televised leadership debates betrayed his anxiety over the Green Party’s snowballing popularity. May is here to stay, and Layton feels the heat. The frumpy but feisty May was tackling environmental issues long before it was cool, and long-time supporters of the NDP and Liberals are intrigued by her policies. Voting in Canada is rarely as simple as selecting the preferred candidate. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and Mays’ non-compete deal is telling. Though the NDP has long been the party of choice for progressives, many would-be supporters cast strategic votes for the Liberals when the Conservatives seem poised to win. Canadians are increasingly dissatisfied with the rigid, first-past-the-post system, and they’re looking for creative ways to make their voices heard. Cap’n Jack must ask himself whether he’s satisfied with his party’s honourable, but ultimately powerless role as the “conscience of Canada.” A merger would appeal to those who see the NDP and the Greens as virtually identical. If the number of viable parties was decreased to three—Conservatives, Liberals, or GDP—the small-l liberal vote would be strengthened, and the GDP would appear more legitimate to voters.

A glance at the major party websites is revealing. The Conservative site’s home page features a photo of Harper at home with his family, relaxing on a sofa and leaning to the right. Harper’s wife Laureen is listed beneath the Prime Minister’s under the heading of “leader,” indicating that she is the First Lady of Canada. The Liberal website is bland and awkward, a fitting metaphor for the campaign and leadership style of Dion thus far. The NDP site is smart, practical, and features an attractive orange glow. But the Green Party’s site is by far the most impressive. Despite its overly commercial aesthetic—it looks more like an ad for Garnier Fructis than a political party website—the Green’s site dispenses with the window dressing and discloses its policies in with clarity. If websites are an accurate measure of political acuity, then May scores points for keeping it real.

Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell was crucified for saying that an election was no time to debate the issues. This doesn’t mean our campaigns have to mirror the celebrity circus of American politics today, where airbrushed candidates compete in a popularity contest—Canadian politics are boring, and that’s a good thing. Our leadership debates have always been more inclusive than they are south of the border; the public support that will allow May to crash the boy’s club on October 1st is democracy at work. Much depends on how well May performs in the debates, but she has little to lose. If she is ignored by Harper and Layton, they will seem like male chauvinists. If she wipes the floor with them, her popularity will only increase. Either way, she will be chipping away at a rotting foundation which supports stale ideas. The NDP and Green Party are similar in spirit, if not in terms of their policies. Their support base includes far more than just hippies, tree-huggers, and university students in Che Guevera t-shirts. By merging, the two parties can offer Canadians a strong alternative; no one will play the vote vacuum in a four-party race. They could repaint the electoral map in the colours of the Miami Dolphins. And they could win.

A time to renew the faith

Since the Kadima-led pullout from Gaza in 2005, Israelis have had little faith that withdrawal from occupation will achieve peace with the Palestinians. Since this divisive and traumatizing experience, Israelis have witnessed the election of terrorist group Hamas to the Palestinian Authority (which many attribute to the pullout, correctly or not) and the subsequent bombarding of their cities by Hamas militants. What was supposed to give Israel relief in the occupied territories has only moved enemies closer to the heartland.

Tzipi Livni was a heartening choice for Israel’s next Prime Minister. Livni is a supporter of a two-state solution and the creation, in theory, of a Palestinian state. Despite the Olmert government’s mistakes over the past three years, these are the only means of attaining true peace. So long as the Palestinian territories remain occupied, both the corrupt Fatah and the fanatical Hamas—two sides of the same militant, authoritarian political coin—will retain their legitimacy in Palestinian eyes. History proves that neither faction has been an effective partner in achieving peace with Israel and a better future for Palestinians. Until Palestinians have greater control over their fate, and thus the incentive to build up their democratic and civil institutions, they will remain in a state of dysfunction and penury. It is this failed state status that gives rise to Palestinian terrorist movements and the culture of glorification. Until this problem is fixed, Israel will never be able to coexist easily with its neighbour.

A two-state solution can’t be implemented immediately. It might be far more prudent to work with Palestinians in reforming their society before handing over full control of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and possibly shared control of Jerusalem) to any one political group. But when the time comes for statehood to be considered, Israel must be ready to give the Palestinians what they deserve. That Livni believes in this, and that she has demonstrated her competence as Foreign Affairs Minister, makes her the right person to restore Israeli faith in the ever-elusive but absolutely necessary two-state peace solution.

ASSU’s labour pains

The Arts and Science Union’s two remaining executives, Edward Wong and Sheila Hewlett, are facing the fallout from last spring’s contested election alone. Last week, interim provost Cheryl Misak froze ASSU’s funding and recommended a new election. In the wake of president Ryan Hayes’ resignation, the remaining execs are one vote short of quorum—according to their own constitution, they need at least one more member to make any decisions. This afternoon, ASSU will hold its regularly scheduled fall elections for four more executive members.

Wong and Hewlett have also inherited a tense working relationship between ASSU staff and some of last year’s execs.

ASSU has three full-time employees. Terry Buckland and Jane Seto Paul have worked there for 25 and 17 years respectively, according to the ASSU website. Ranjini Ghosh, former ASSU president (2002-04), was hired last fall.

The three have been working without a contract since their collective bargaining agreements expired last June. Staff have three pending grievances against ASSU, and negotiations can’t begin until they’re resolved.

None of the 2007-08 executives returned this year, though that could change with today’s exec elections. Ghosh said the changing of the guard hasn’t improved the working relationship: “I think it’s gotten worse, because in the summer the split [between the executives] didn’t exist as much. The staff didn’t have a say in how to run the office.”

Neither Wong nor the three staff members could comment on the pending grievances. If they can’t be resolved, both sides will split the cost of an arbitrator, which can run to to $3,000 or $4,000 per day. Morrison said the two sides will try to settle the grievances outside of arbitration.

Executive assistant Terry Buckland saw his role significantly scaled back last year. Buckland had traditionally attended exec meetings and taken minutes. Beginning last fall, he was no longer invited. The execs began taking minutes in turn and passing them among each other to fill in the blanks.

Buckland used to put together the budget for the execs’ approval. This year, he said, ASSU is working on it themselves: “I don’t have access to this year’s budget.”

Buckland is also president of the Association of Part-Time Students and has sat on different U of T committees in the past. Until last year, he said, he could easily take time off to attend various meetings. He no longer has that flexibility. “I am required to give one week’s notice,” he said. “And it’s very frustrating because sometimes you don’t get a week’s notice.”

Staff also voiced complaints of secrecy, condescending treatment, and disregard for their input. The office was re-arranged over Labour Day, said Ghosh, even though she told Hayes the new configuration only allows one photocopier to be plugged in at a time without blowing out all the sockets in the office. “If you come in the afternoon to the ASSU office, there’s at least 10 to 15 students waiting to photocopy tests.”

Seto Paul said staff wasn’t given the information they needed to run the day-to-day operations of the office. “It’s not been a very happy work environment,” she said. “It was a divided executive for most of the year. Staff wasn’t a part of a lot of things any more, we didn’t know what was going on.”

Eyes on the Prize

The Polaris Prize is an annual music award given to the best “full-length Canadian album, judged soly on artistic merit, without regard to genre or record sales.” It comes with a cheque for $20,000, which has been put to good use by previous winners. Rumour is that Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet donated half the money to his label, Blocks Recording Club, and Patrick Watson used the money to pay the damages on a Budget rental van that his band totalled. As you can see, the award might not be tabloid fodder just yet, but one lucky Canadian artist will hit the jackpot at the gala next week. The Varsity separates the contenders from those who suck.

Rob Duffy

Who will win

Shad — The Old Prince

Here’s hoping that Shad wins the 20 grand, because, as he admitted in the title of his new single, “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home.” Shad deserved the Polaris just for the video, which was a shot-for-shot remake of the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, played in reverse order to find Shad back at the nest, alone in his room.

Who should win

Caribou — Andorra

Caribou’s Dan Snaith crafted a genius formula with Andorra – Beach Boys vocals over a bed of 60s psychedelia that had legions of hipsters singing along to “Desiree.”

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Kathleen Edwards — Asking For Flowers

So let’s get this straight: there’s Sarah Harmer, Sarah Slean, Sarah McLachlan…why wasn’t Kathleen Edwards named Sarah? And didn’t Lilith Fair call it quits in 1999? Who still listens to this stuff?

Who should have been shortlisted

Cadence Weapon — Afterparty Babies

Denied two years ago, the Edmonton MC didn’t even make the short list this year. Let’s hope he’s still having fun at the after parties. Something tells me he’s got that covered.

Chandler Levack

Who will win

Caribou — Andorra

U of T math whiz Daniel Snaith‘s Brian Wilson-influenced Andorra is highly reminiscent of last year’s would-be shoe-in, Miracle Fortress. Trust this year’s Polaris board to turn back time and find a way.

Who should win

Holy Fuck — S/T

The explanation behind Stephen Harper’s federal cuts to Canadian artists, Toronto’s prolific electro outfit deserve far more than their scapegoat status. Fear is four-letter word too, you know.

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Stars — In Our Bedroom After the War

Fulfilling the Polaris’ Broken Social Scene member-quotient, Stars’ boring follow up to 2005’s Set Yourself On Fire has the love-lorne Montrealers up to their old tricks: orchestral chamber pop, sweet morning-after laments that read like an aspartame hangover, and the tortured (read: dubious) sexuality of Morrisey-lite Torquil Campbell.

Who should have been shortlisted

Sandro Perri — Tiny Mirrors

Toronto experimental artist Sandro Perri’s intimately crafted full-length debut was a breathtaking foray into hand-plucked folk that spoke achingly of love. Collaborating with some of Toronto’s most talented improvisers, his inspired arrangements veer delightfully into ambient noise, samba, and free jazz. Obviously, Canada’s critical public was too exhausted from their Kevin Drew jack-off session to bump Perri to the shortlist, ongoing since 2001.

Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

Who will win

Black Mountain — In the Future

The most hyped to emerge from the rainy west rode last year’s prog tidal wave with their coattails blazing. Judges love any genre revival, and these aww-shucks kids are perfect for the part.

Who should win

Caribou — Andorra

A John Cale for the twenty-first century, Dan Snaith takes typical heartbreak angst and covers it with honey. “Irene,” a discombobulated “Stephanie Says” for the slacker set, is worthy of the prize on its own.

Who shouldn’t have been shortlisted

Stars — In Our Bedroom After the War

Don’t get me wrong, I have no hate-on for these endearing, Montreal-based romantics. But when you are selling out Exhibition Place, do you really need $20,000?

Who should have been shortlisted

Destroyer—Trouble in Dreams

The judges will be kicking themselves into next month for not giving props to Dan Bejar’s brilliantly woozy European blues. But alas, a penny for his thoughts was never (even close) to enough.