Transparency and accountability took centre stage at UTSU’s annual general meeting, pitting union executives against those who wanted better access to documents. After a two-hour discussion, UTSU members decided against changing the way students access the minutes from meetings.All full-time undergrads at St. George campus and UTM are UTSU members. The union represents 41,000 students.The wrangling over minutes began when Jamie Auron, president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society, introduced an amendment that called for UTSU to post all bylaws, budgets, and meeting minutes online by the new year. Confusion and disputes over bylaws regularly come up during spring elections that choose next year’s execs.Union executives didn’t want to make their meeting minutes public. UTSU president Sandy Hudson had first argued that Auron’s proposal didn’t meet techical standards because it called for a permanent change to how documents are accessed. According to bylaws, the execs can make decisions that apply only to the current year. Auron then amended his motion, requesting documents only from past years and this year.VP external Dave Scrivener proposed removing online access to minutes from Auron’s amendment, saying students can already get the minutes through their board of directors representative.As students lined up at the microphone to have their say about the amendment, it was clear Scrivener’s argument didn’t sit well with many of them. Students also complained about poor accessibility, citing absent directors and inconvenient UTSU office hours.“Running a club is difficult without the minutes,” said Catie Sahadath, president of of the Rotaract Club.Adam Awad, newly appointed VP of university affairs, said the meeting minutes could confuse or mislead students. “[The minutes] are not always clear and don’t always include context,” he said. Auron responded that it’s UTSU’s responsibility to make minutes clear, and that the union doesn’t have to approve previous minutes if they’re faulty. The meeting format did not, however, allow for a back-and-forth debate on the matter, as students took turns to address the speaker.Hudson said her main concern was that the U of T administration would see UTSU’s plans for upcoming campaigns if minutes are made public. She said current minutes record discussions, which is information she doesn’t want the admin to have, arguing “our minutes are more transparent than they need to be.” Though she agreed with the “spirit of the proposal,” said Hudson, “We have to make sure that we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot.”Auron put forward a modified amendment to address Hudson’s arguments: instead of minutes, why not post audio recordings behind a password-protected system?But VP internal Adnan Najmi said that the union barely has permission to contact members by email, let alone set up a system that authenticates against U of T’s databases.Judging by the final vote, meeting attendees agreed with Najmi. They voted to post bylaws and budgets online, but the contentious issue of meeting minutes remained unresolved, other than Hudson’s passing remark about creating a working group to investigate options.
UTSU meeting minutes won’t go online
Another one rides the CFS bus
University of Ottawa undergraduate students voted to join the Canadian Federation of Students last week with an unprecedented voter turnout of 21 per cent. The Referendum Oversight Committee confirmed the Yes campaign won with 52 per cent of the vote.CFS often raises contention on campuses, and this past election was no exception.“With a gap of only 250 votes, the fact that the Yes Committee were able to stack its volunteer list with full-time campaigners from Toronto, Laurentien, Carleton, and Concordia completely changed the outcome of this referendum,” said Ryan Kennery, SFUO Board of Administration member and Student Association president.U of T Student Union president Sandy Hudson admitted that she had spent the last two weeks in Ottawa, but defended her participation due to her executive position in CFS and a more general mandate to unite students.She treated her two-week absence as a personal vacation—the maximum amount allowed—and clarified later that CFS had paid for the trip.York Federation of Students president Hamid Osman caught flak for having abandoned the university in the middle of a strike to be in Ottawa.Other allegations have surfaced of CFS’s direct involvement in the referendum process with the group’s national deputy chair Brent Farrington acting as poll clerk.The Yes Committee says membership with CFS provides a stronger student movement, citing the National System of Grants approved by the Conservative government for the 2008 year.Referring to the defeat of the Code of Student Conduct proposed by the University Administration earlier this year, the No Committee insisted the SFUO has already gained major victories for students on campus.Carleton students will pay CFS $378,000 annually for membership. UTSU has been part of CFS since 2003.With files from Andrew Louis
You have one criminal charge pending
It seems like a fairly clear concept to grasp—watch what you post on the Internet. Yet many students don’t think twice about oversharing on Facebook, and it’s becoming increasingly common for school administrators and employers to access that information and even hold students accountable.Stories of Facebook fallout are a dime a dozen. Most recently, Danny Esmaili posted this message on the York Victims Facebook group: “If I am not compensated I will cause damage. Serious damage. Yes this is a threat.” The 21-year-old is in his third year at York University, and his comment referred to the strike that has shut down York for more than two weeks.Esmaili’s post was reported to Toronto Police on Nov. 8. Police also found a photograph of a rifle and handgun on his Facebook page. The Toronto Star reported that according to Detective Rick Ramjattan of 31 Division Criminal Investigation Bureau, Esmaili said he wasn’t serious and the weapons recovered were actually pellet guns.Esmaili’s comments and photographs have since been removed from Facebook, but the charges against him still stand.The underlying issue is that many still think of Facebook as a private medium.Jacob Mantle, president of the undergraduate student society at Queen’s University, is also in hot water over careless Facebook posts.“I like your Taliban picture,” wrote Mantle about a friend’s photo of two girls wearing headscarves.“At first I was reluctant to give an apology. The line to what is private and public is blurred,” said Mantle. He has since issued a public apology.The Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University called for Mantle’s resignation, but announced that he would not be stepping down in a recent assembly. Unhappy with his decision, many are calling for his impeachment.At least 30 people have been charged using evidence from Facebook since 2005. The site was launched in early 2004.In October 2005, 15 students from North Carolina State University were charged with several alcohol offences, such as underage drinking, after faculty members found incriminating Facebook photos.A student from John Brown University, a private Christian College in Arkansas, was expelled in January 2006 once school officials found pictures of the student dressed in drag on Facebook.Eleven high school students in Caledon, Ontario, were suspended last year after the school discovered a Facebook group where they vented about the principal.This February a first-year Ryerson student was faced with 147 academic charges after he created an online study group for one of his chemistry courses.A recent survey administrated by Kaplan Inc. in September revealed that admission officers at 15 per cent of law schools, 14 per cent of medical schools and 9 per cent business schools have visited their applicant’s social networking sites during the admissions process. Many employers have also admitted to checking the Facebook pages of their job applicants.Bottom line: watch yourself online—because you’re definitely being watched.
CUSA cancels charity for ‘white man’s disease’
This week, the Carleton University Student Association decided to pull participation in Shinerama, a fund-raiser for cystic fibrosis research and treatment, citing the genetic disease as “recently revealed to only affect white people and mainly men.”On Monday, the CUSA directors voted 17-2 in favour of selecting another charity to support during orientation week. Some students have labeled the motion “Shinegate,” saying that it cuts off a 25-year-old tradition and a significant source of revenue for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Cathleen Morrison, CEO for CCFF, estimated the school had raised over $1 million during its past campaigns and $20,000 this year alone.While CF is a fatal genetic respiratory disease which does primarily affect Caucasians, that category does include people from Europe, the Middle East, India, and North Africa. U of T professor and CF specialist Dr. Peter Durie added the disease is also quite common among African-Americans, Hispanics, and in rarer cases, patients of Chinese and Japanese descent. “Unlike the message we’ve been getting from the Carleton University saga, it is in fact the most common genetic disease amongst these people.”Former Shinerama National Chair and UTSC Student Life coordinator Drew Dudley denied that CF affects mostly men. He said that while males and females are equally affected by the disease, it is women who are often at a disadvantage. “Women, as a general rule,have their health more severely compromised and they tend not to survive as long as men.”The cystic fibrosis gene was first discovered by researchers from U of T, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the University of Michigan in 1989. Currently, half of Canadians with CF do not live past their late 30s.In interviews with media, CUSA president Brittany Smyth has argued that the intent of the motion was to switch support to another charity. This is a claim CUSA journalism councilor Nick Bergamini says is a “total lie.” It was “a racially charged motion,” argued the third-year student.A student rally is set to take place at Carleton’s Mackenzie Field at noon today. CUSA has declared an emergency meeting for Monday, Dec. 1.
Let the bickering continue
Over the next few months, discussion in Ottawa will focus exclusively on Canada’s economy and an inevitable federal deficit. As usual, this will amount to much bluster and rhetoric from the opposition about how badly the Conservative government has handled Canada’s economy, while emphasizing the need to avoid drastic cuts that contribute to hardships felt across the country today.The only way to avoid a deficit would be a combination of massive spending cuts and tax increases, something no responsible government or economist would advocate in the midst of a global recession. Attacks from the Liberals, Bloc, and NDP will focus on how the deficit could have been avoided—they will talk about “outrageous” and “irresponsible” spending and “wasteful” tax cuts. These hypocritical arguments will not help Canada overcome its economic troubles.After the past two Conservative budgets were unveiled, every opposition party decried the lack of new funding for one pet project or another. Until presented with the Conservatives’ wild spending, the opposition advocated increased spending themselves. The NDP has also taken issue with the corporate tax cuts introduced during the last Parliament, a specious argument since making Canada a more attractive place to do business should be the overarching goal of economic management, especially when the global economy is contracting. In times like these, global trade and business investments are necessary to maintain jobs and income for working Canadians.The arguments discussed will amount to much ado about nothing: the Liberals cannot bring down the government until they elect a new leader next May. The Liberals’ precarious status should make the Conservatives feel more comfortable with leading as they see fit. As Mr. Harper stated during the first Question Period last Thursday, the NDP and Bloc are ready to “[oppose] for the sake of opposing” to win political points with their base.The Official Opposition’s problems are complex: this session, the Liberals will be unable to do much opposing at all. Just as they did in the months before the election, they’ll likely resort to abstaining on confidence motions to register moral opposition without actually forcing another election. While I grudgingly recognize the political necessity of such a manoeuvre, it betrays those who marked “X” next to a Liberal candidate on October 14. Liberal MPs were sent to Parliament to stand up for their constituents’ beliefs, their party’s policies, and their ridings’ best interests. Abstaining MPs ignore their duties to those who elected them for partisan political gain.Ultimately, I believe that the 40th Parliament will give itself a chance to work, and I hope—against all odds—that the pledge made during the election of the house speaker “to operate with a modicum of decorum and bipartisanship” will last beyond the first week of the Question Period. The problems facing Canada and our economy are far too great to justify the nonsensical finger pointing and name-calling that occurred during the past two minority governments.
Asshole of the Month: Free Conrad? No thanks
Disgraced media baron Conrad Black has asked disgraced U.S. president George W. Bush for pardon of the six-and-a-half-year prison sentence he is currently serving for fraud and obstruction of justice.Experts predict that Bush—who has only granted 142 pardons in eight years—might offer a commutation of Black’s sentence. After all, six and a half years is a long time to serve for stealing a few measly millions, and then using more stolen money to cover up the fact that you stole money to begin with. Is that such a crime?An American jury thought that there was enough evidence against Black—commoner that I am, even I wouldn’t deign to call him “Lord” at this point—to convict him. Given the astronomical amount of money involved, his sentence seems to be pretty fair. Let’s not get distracted by fancy terminology: he stole millions from stockholders and then lied about it—a rather disgraceful crime, and certainly not one befitting his social position. The principles of retributive justice therefore dictate that he needs to be sufficiently punished for thievery and dishonesty.In the U.S., the president has the authority to grant pardons as outlined in the Constitution and as interpreted by the courts, to anyone he or she feels deserving of pardon or to someone who has fulfilled his or her debt to society. Mercy is truly in the hands of the most powerful, and as mercy must be dispensed carefully and tempered by justice, the president must be careful not to make too many merciful displays. (Bill Clinton pardoned all sorts of people, including his rich friends, on his last day in office. This did not make him seem powerful—it tarnished his presidency.) Most presidential pardons show mercy to those who need it the least: the rich and the powerful disgraced by pettiness.Of course, this is precisely what Conrad Black is—a disgraced old man, who has neither fulfilled his debt to society, nor been sufficiently punished for his crime. Given the trends, Black’s chances of getting a commutation of his sentence are pretty high. And though it’s a shame, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.Conrad Black is an arsehole, but he’s rich. George W. Bush is also an arsehole, and he is also rich. The rich take care of their own. While he will very likely receive his commutation, and assert that he is a disabused “freedom fighter,” no one will be better for it—not the shareholders he shamelessly defrauded, nor the Canadian public he has insulted consistently, nor the fragile American justice system. Black committed a crime and deserves punishment, just like the rest of us. He ought to serve out the full term of his sentence.But I won’t hold my breath.
Taking a rock ‘n’ roll gamble
Imagine being forced into a band without any knowledge of who you’re going to work with, and what genre you’re going to play. Worse yet, you and your new band will only have one day to put together a full set of music and perform to an audience of other musicians and discerning fans.While the stress of band dynamics can be bad enough as it is, the pressure has been cranked up to 11 for the second annual Toronto Rock Lottery, happening this Saturday at Sneaky Dee’s. Modeled after similar events across North America, the Rock Lottery takes 25 musicians whose work runs the gamut of the Toronto scene, from heartfelt singer-songwriters (Great Aunt Ida), to rock n’ roll bands (The Golden Dogs, The Old Soul), to truly avant-garde composers (Slim Twig, Nif-D) and rearranges them, creating five new bands by luck of the draw.“Going into it, you don’t know what [the band] will be. It could be a rock act. It could be a punk act, it could be a country act,” says Jane Duncan. Duncan started the Toronto version after participating in the Rock Lottery in Victoria, B.C. for four years as a musician. “It can be so diverse, it’s just really thrilling.”The process is intensified by the lack of time—each new band has seven hours to get to their assigned rehearsal space and write a twenty-minute set list of original material to be performed that night. No one is allowed to come in with anything prepared.So how do professional musicians deal with the pressure?“I’m both very excited and very nervous,” says Kyle Donnelly, who plays bass in Toronto bands The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers. “It’ll be a definite adjustment to go from years of experience working with some of my closest friends to seven hours working with strangers.”While Donnelly says he’s looking forward to playing with new musicians, he’s worried about every other part of Rock Lottery that remains alien to him.“There will be no time to dwell on the tiny elements of a song with Rock Lottery, which is not how I write. I write songs with people who I’ve known for four years. We usually spend weeks on songs, sometimes just deciding on structures. With Rock Lottery, it’s quite possible that I’ll be writing songs with people whom I have never met before and whom I have never heard play music.”Donnelly’s concerns are far from unique. Judging from the other participants, a general sense of dread seems to be pervasive. But how much of this anxiety is justified?“I’ve never seen a truly disastrous performance,” notes Duncan. “Even if it doesn’t make any sense musically, it’s still entertaining. In fact, those are the bands that have the most fun.”Past participants agree that writing music is rarely the problem for the assembled bands.“Coming up with a band name took up more time than anything else last year,” notes Woodhands’ Paul Banwatt, who played with Sook-Yin Lee and Brendan Howlett from Gravity Wave for last year’s show. Their band ended up putting together a set of surprisingly polished post-punk, while other configurations ranged from airy electronics to intricate choral melodies. Other bands were not quite as productive. “People wasted time in a lot of funny ways.”In the past, Duncan reveals that some groups have spent their rehearsal time buying “band merchandise” from Value Village, while others have squandered valuable hours working on stage costumes and orchestrating banter. Last year, a group led by Wavelength music organizer Jonny Dovercourt spent their rehearsal time trying to work a mentally unstable homeless man into their act. “They just found him on the street outside the rehearsal space and thought it would be amazing to include him. But he was just far too crazy,” deadpans Banwatt. “It had the potential to be awesome, but it was just such a failure.”In the end, the best Lottery bands are those that focus on having fun. “Some aren’t the most developed or polished, but those tend to be the ones that have great concepts,” says Duncan.Nearly all the former participants said the experience itself was excellent. Some groups even consider keeping the new band together.“We’ve talked about it, but everyone’s so busy. Sook-Yin’s probably the least geographically reachable. But if it came together again I’d be really happy,” says Banwatt, remaining adamant that he would do the Rock Lottery again in a heartbeat.“I would definitely do this again, but I wouldn’t want to take a space from someone else. It’s just really fun.”The participants of the Toronto Rock Lottery 2008 will unveil the outcome of their day’s work at Sneaky Dee’s on Saturday, November 29. Doors at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door.
Play of giants: Nobel Laureate says Africa doesn’t have to play the empire game
“I’m not sure which arm of various empires the University of Toronto is at the moment, but don’t deceive yourselves, you are also part of the new forms of empire.”Poet, playwright, novelist, memoirist, reluctant if ardent political activist—the focus of Wole Soyinka’s speech Monday night to a standing audience at Massey College was not the role of universities within growing spheres of influence, but that topic served as a touchstone.Soyinka, who in 1986 became the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, spoke on “the re-affective empire-building and the need for African nations to be aware of this process and to make a decision of their own volition whether they want to continue to be satellites of the new empires.” The Nigerian writer addressed how artists and intellectuals can contest what many see as the homogenizing effects of globalization, while using more possitive aspects to their advantage.He cited Nigeria’s film industry. Also known as “Nollywood,” it is currently the third largest in the world after the United States and India. Soyinka characterized the cultural output of the films for which Nigeria has become known as “garbage.” As artists, what we are obliged to do is move into this industry and raise the standards,” he said.But Soyinka stressed that empire-building is not reserved for Western European, American, or Chinese business interests alone. The desire to have greater influence over people and entities that would otherwise be independent is widespread. In his opening remarks he described how “Endowments are not entirely neutral, but are loaded with the imperial impulse,” referencing late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who attempted to set up a chair in his name at Harvard, and had in fact begun paying that university before anyone stepped in. This was, said Soyinka, an attempt at “sanitizing Abacha by creating a little empire in the United States at a prestigious university.”Soyinka’s creative, academic, and political lives have long been intertwined. In 1967, when he was 33 years old, he attempted to negotiate a ceasefire with the Biafran secessionists in the lead-up to the Nigerian Civil War. He was imprisoned without trial under the military rule of General Yakubu Gowan, and was held in solitary confinement for 22 months. After his release, he went into voluntary exile in 1971 until the Gowan military regime was overthrown in 1975. He was in exile once more in 1997 when Abacha placed Soyinka on trial for treason in absentia and declared him wanted, dead or alive. In 1999, with the return to civilian rule in Nigeria, Soyinka accepted the position of professor emeritus at Ife University in Nigeria on the condition that no chancellor of the university could be a military officer.“There are too many Scholars at Risk here who have come from Africa,” said the Master of Massey College, John Fraser, in introducing Soyinka. Massey, home to U of T’s Scholars at Risk program, co-hosted the event with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T, the Nigeria High Commission Ottawa, and Hart House, where a similar lecture had been held earlier that day. “One of the reasons I’m so proud that Dr. Wole’s come here is he is someone who has stood up for many years against the reasons that have brought academics, artists, and writers from Africa who have the courage to stand up and be caught out and who have sometimes barely managed to escape with the clothes on their back.”Soyinka once remarked that “truth and power for me form an antithesis, an antagonism, which will hardly ever be resolved.” Asked after his speech about whether universities can also be centres for resisting empire-building, he again emphasized that to want influence is human, but that people cannot be free unless they are given choice.“First, the important thing about universities and youth is that they both be independent. So second, for resistance, what I would say to students is to create a space of their own where they can be independent and create an empire of their own, where they can be themselves.”