Court orders Quebec profs to back down

Striking professors at the Université du Québec à Montréal are to tone down their tactics in the last days of the semester, the Quebec Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday. Judge Jean-François de Grandpré granted a 10-day injunction that bans any attempts to intimidate students, staff and faculty, or to block them from entering campus buildings.

UQAM professors are demanding wage increases of 11 per cent over three years and the employment of 300 additional staff. The injunction came after recent one-day strikes and a five-day strike last week, which shut down classes Wednesday and Thursday. Professors have been without contract for nearly two years. Their union, SPUQ, rejected an offer two weeks ago. The offer promised 25 new hires and an immediate four per cent wage hike, according to UQAM.

Last week, online commentators expressed outrage that professors are striking for higher wages during a recession.

“We’re not going to be able to support this [influx of students] so this is the time to invest,” said Carey Nelson, a UQAM language instructor and SPUQ negotiator. Nelson told The Varsity that student enrolment generally increases in difficult economic times, when chances of employment are scarce.

Cries for funding also come in the wake of a 2007 audit that found UQAM on the edge of bankruptcy, due to badly planned real estate undertakings that cost up to $750 million. UQAM professor Beatrix Beisner recently told the CBC that these losses should not have affected professors’ salaries, which she said fall short of their counterparts at other Quebec schools.

“Why should the university suffer as a whole—in terms of its major mandate, which is education—why should that suffer?” Beisner asked.

UQAM has reassured students that classes taught by lecturers, who are represented by a different union and are not striking, will keep running and that the trimester will end as planned. Negotiations between professors and university administration are scheduled to resume after April 6, when professors will return to the university.

With files from Hilary Barlow

Gastronomy: Natural Laxatives

There is a vast array of bathroom-friendly literature available to North Americans. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series comprises nearly one hundred books, and begs the question: why are North Americans spending so much time in the bathroom? The “constipation epidemic” is common in developed countries, though many choose not to actively address the issue.

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, “[It’s] estimated that constipation affects nearly 15 per cent of the North American population, or 42 million persons in the United States alone.” Poor diet is generally the cause, evidenced by the wide range of laxative products on the market today. There are numerous adverse side effects to laxative use, such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and altered nutrient absorption. Many natural dietary alternatives provide the same benefit while posing no health risk.

Throughout history, some common cures have included aloe vera, buckthorn, basil leaves, dandelion, chamomile, flowering spurge, cinnamon, peppermint, wild indigo, and tamarind. Many of these plants are still used today, commonly incorporated into teas, cooking, and supplements.

Prune juice is one of the most well known and, similar to figs and dates, their laxative effect can be attributed to high fibre content. Bananas, prunes, walnuts, and seaweed are all examples of foods that lubricate the intestines. Papaya, sweet potato, and figs promote bowel movements. Flaxseed and psyllium seed are examples of demulcent herbs that reduce bowel irritation. Fennel, bran, senna leaf, ginger, and cayenne pepper also promote digestive health. In general, a high-fibre diet, fresh juices, and plenty of water act as natural colon cleansers. Foods to avoid include fatty, fried, and processed foods—all of which have come to play a huge role in modern diets.

“Natural laxatives help stimulate peristaltic effect on the large intestine to get rid of the digested residue,” says family physician Dr. Meenaz M. “Regular cleansing not only helps improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also raises your energy levels.”

Paying better attention to gastrointestinal health can prevent a myriad of illnesses. Laxative abuse can result in a wide range of complications, such as gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, liver problems, and bowel ulcerations. Some of these digestive diseases are virtually unheard of in developing nations such as Africa, where intake of fruits and vegetables is high. Embrace some of these foods into your daily diet—your colon will be thankful.

Grad assistants vote on strike mandate

Graduate assistants could go on strike, if they vote to approve a strike mandate today. A positive vote gives the CUPE local 3907, the union representing 310 graduate assistants at OISE and U of T, the right to strike if negotiators are unsatisfied with admin’s offered terms of contract.

The strike would interrupt, and possibly halt, professors’ research projects.

“Essentially the university’s taken a hard line, claiming financial difficulties as a result of the recession,” said Ajamu Nangwaya, the union’s chair external.

The union has been in negotiations with U of T admin since November. After a period of unsuccessful negotiations, conciliation meetings are ordered.

“The university met with the union on Friday and several dates, towards the end of April, have been set aside to continue the negotiations,” Angela Hildyard, VP of human resources and equity, said in an email to The Varsity.

Nangwaya said admin is taking away seniority rights, reducing working hours necessary for GA status and increasing the number of half-year contracts over eight-month ones. He also said U of T is offering an annual salary increase of roughly 1.75 per cent in comparison to the three percent other CUPE locals receive.

Earlier this year, teaching assistants in CUPE local 3902 reached a settlement with U of T after months of negotiations and an approved a strike mandate.

U of T grad assistants vote today at 1 p.m., in OISE room 214.

Hub of the university

Renowned faculty and alumni. World-class facilities. Top-notch programs that offer limitless discovery. Yes, the University of Toronto clearly has its spot among the most highly regarded universities on the planet.

There just seems to be one thing left for the school to hang its hat on: a vibrant university sports scene.

It’s hardly the Blues’ fault. Just walk through the Athletic Centre on any spring day and try not to notice all the OUA Championship banners Varsity Blues teams have raked in this past year hanging in the main lobby. Clearly, there’s a lot worth cheering for.

It’s possible the shadows of the old Varsity Stadium still linger, bringing to mind memories of an ugly, crumbling mass, desperately in need of repair. The same could describe the university’s most ridiculed, and unfortunately, most publicized sports program, the men’s football team.

So maybe that’s why, in the summer of 2002, bulldozers mercifully demolished the stadium, in an attempt to take out some of the stink from the armpit of the campus.

With the emergence of the Varsity Centre out of its stale ashes, the Faculty of Physical Education and Health looks to the future in hopes of building a strong, stable university sports scene, bringing the Varsity Blues back to its glory days.

The first step involved hiring Diamond & Schmitt, an internationally recognized architecture firm and no stranger to the St. George campus (their portfolio includes the Bahen Centre for Information Technology and the Davenport Wing of the Lash Miller chemistry building), to design and execute the new Varsity Stadium.

Duncan Higgins, the project manager for the first phase, said that Bruce Kidd, the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, came to Diamond & Schmitt’s design team with a clear vision for the new stadium. Instead of one closed to campus by high brick walls, Kidd wanted a stadium that was welcoming and inclusive to the community as a whole.

“That was defined as the goal by the dean and […] we had to work very hard with the city to maintain that and make sure that happened,” said Higgins.

This resulted in an open fence along the perimeter of the stadium giving passersby a clear view of the field. The fence also provides places for groups of people to gather, like the front entrance to Varsity Centre on Bloor Street and the corner of Devonshire Place. Today, a raised plaza allows anyone to sit comfortably and watch the action inside.

More than that, the new stadium features first-class facilities, such as the field turf and the track circling the field. Both have the highest possible rating by their respective international bodies. This summer, the stadium will host a world-class track and field meet on June 11 featuring Olympic triple gold medalist and world record holder Usain Bolt.

“[The new Varsity Stadium] will give a real new focus and a sense of pride to people that are involved in the athletics departments at the university,” said Higgins. “There will no longer be the embarrassment.”

Revitalizing the sports culture at U of T clearly is not an overnight project, even with a brand new $92-million state-of-the-art Varsity Centre. It will require years of successful planning and execution on the part of alumni, faculty, athletes, and students.

Masha Sidorova, an ex-Varsity Blues athlete and recent grad of the U of T’s Physical Education program currently completing her Sports and Event Marketing degree from George Brown, was a member of the Varsity Centre’s implementation committee as the co-chair of the Council of Athletics and Recreation from 2006 to 2008.

Sidorova said the Council started to target first year students in 2007. By informing frosh leaders about Varsity sports and educating them on important resources, such as websites for Varsity team schedules and how to book a section at Varsity Stadium, they encourage colleges and faculty to get in the game.

“That helps you set the ground and build that tradition right from the get-go,” said Sidorova. “[First years] can learn from their leaders and peers that this is what we do at U of T, or this is something cool to participate in.”

Sidorova believes students can decide for themselves during their first few weeks at school whether supporting U of T sports teams will be something they participate in.

“Not when they’re almost done university […] and thinking ‘Wow! I didn’t know we had a swim team and we hold national championships,’” says Sidorva. “[They need to know] that we have a tennis team and rugby team involved in great competitions and [they] have the ability to watch them.”

Judging by the much-increased support for the football team’s home games, the hard work is paying off. For example, on Sept 3, 2007, over 3,000 fans showed up for their first-ever game played at the new stadium. Last year, decent crowds turned out to watch the team dramatically snap their 49-game losing streak on a last-second field goal, and witness a second victory at home with a blowout win over rival York.

Sidorova believes the university can get the word out by making more students aware of the Athletic Centre. Game events are posted inside the building and on U of T’s main home page daily.

One idea that was kicked around involved high-definition monitors, which are found at or near the front entrances to most buildings throughout the campus, to post Varsity game times and locations. Yet colleges and facilities that host these monitors have the right to display whatever content they want. One could logically assume Hart House would want to use their monitors to inform people about an upcoming show performed at their theatre, or that the Medical Science Building would want to tell others about their seminars.

A possible solution could involve cross-promotion. For example, the Medical Science Building could agree to promote men and women’s basketball games and in return the Athletic Centre would promote graduate programs that may interest some Physical Education undergrads.

As for now, supporters are using a wait-and-see approach to see if the seeds planted in first-year students will begin to grow, blossom, and spread to others.

“I think sports are extremely important and […] it’s a memory that you can take away and bring home,” said Sidorova. “Obviously, winning helps too.”

Editorial: Flat fees would pose significant problems for many U of T students

With a $9 million deficit on the horizon, we accept the fact that U of T will have to make some painful financial decisions. But the flat fees solution proposed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—which will require incoming students to pay a set, five-course fee rather than paying per course—holds serious repercussions for students working their way through school, gaining valuable experience on campus, or simply trying to balance extracurricular commitments while keeping up their grades. The proposal will affect a sizable portion of the student body, and yet it’s being rushed through with little regard for student needs.

The full-time versus part-time split already poses severe problems for working students. Part-time students have no respite from student loan officers, and full-time students have no time to earn a living. Add an emaciated job market to the situation, and it’s hard to imagine where the Faculty imagines students are going to find the income to be students, even if part-time. The Faculty’s proposal for a flat fee is rich given that we’ve heard time and again that tough economic times are good times to be in school. This obvious problem has only been addressed provisionally by flat-fee proponents. We still don’t know how or when students will reap the benefits.

It’s not just a personal finance issue. The flat fee proposal is supposed to improve the classroom experience, but for many students, that’s only half of what being at U of T is about. U of T is vocationally challenged: many departments suffer from a serious lack of internship and work-study opportunities. Of course, a university this size offers myriad options for students hoping to bolster their employability after graduation. The catch is that you have to find them yourself, and you have to commit to them on your own time.

At The Varsity, we know all too well how difficult it is to be an active member of the student community and an active student at the same time. We take fewer courses because our time is finite. And it goes without saying that nobody has money to waste.

Any university experience consists of more than simply attending classes. It means getting involved on campus, finding opportunities, and boosting one’s CV. For many students it means hard work in and out of class, scrounging for enough money to pay the bills, and performing well enough academically to justify the expense of being enrolled. The flat fees proposal presupposes a streamlined educational experience that does not exist for the majority of students, here or anywhere.

We might have more patience for the Faculty’s proposal if we truly believed it was a last-ditch effort to solve the deficit. Instead, the university’s first step whenever financial troubles arise is to download the cost to students. In an age of bailouts, it’s time for David Naylor to lay some very public tough talk on the province. And the province might listen—that is, if flat fees weren’t already an option.

New hockey stick test machine could help reduce breakage

A revolutionary new ice hockey stick test machine looks primed and ready to shoot down its competition.

It just needs to be built.

Unsatisfied with the current principal method used to test stick durability, University of Waterloo engineering prof John McPhee set out to design a new system.

Primarily, he wanted to build a machine that would help improve the reliability of one-piece composite hockey sticks.

Since their introduction nearly a decade ago, they have grown rapidly in popularity among professional and amateur hockey players because of their performance boost—greater accuracy and velocity of shot.

McPhee, an avid sports fan, followed the progress of the new sticks and noticed they broke frequently.

“That’s the big problem […] there’s so much stick breakage and we really need [a better] way of testing the sticks,” said McPhee.

Darren Stefanyshyn, a mechanical engineer and associate professor at the University of Calgary was hired on by the NHL to devise solutions that would reduce the amount of one-piece composites shattering apart.

To do this, he used three-point static bending tests on the sticks: a method where a stick is placed horizontally, supported it at both ends, and then slowly pushed down in the middle. However McPhee doesn’t believe this way of testing tells the whole story.

“That’s going to tell you how flexible a stick is. It’s not going to really tell you much about stick breakage,” said McPhee. “Especially when the blade itself was never loaded up. They just loaded the shaft.”

McPhee believes the answer will lie in testing the sticks dynamically. In other words, measuring the effects acting on the stick from the time it makes contact with the ice to when the puck leaves the blade.

Inspired by his work as a technical advisor for Golf Digest magazine, where computer-controlled robots were used to test out new golf clubs and balls, McPhee designed a robot based upon the same idea: a machine that repeats the exact same shot over and over again.

To make this happen, McPhee realized he had to overcome one major design obstacle.

“You need arms to attach to the stick at two different locations,” said McPhee. “Furthermore, the hockey stick has to be able to bend between those two places.”

As golf clubs are held with both hands at the same spot, testers can get away with using a one-armed robot clamping down on the club grip at a single location.

He decided to tackle the problem by working on it with one of his students, Matthew McQueen, who approached McPhee for a fourth-year sports engineering design project.

Initially, they hooked up several sensors to an elite hockey player and had the player take 19 slapshots while tracking the three-dimensional motions of his hands on the shaft.

“[We then] used that data to determine what the plane of motion was for swinging a hockey stick,” said McQueen.

Once finalized, McPhee and McQueen were able to design and build a tabletop prototype for the robot driven by a hand crank from the point where the stick contacts the ice to after it shoots the puck.

McQueen’s successor on the project, Etienne Genoud, also a student of McPhee’s, came up with a new design that incorporates the hockey stick as part of the system, not just an attachment.

“This [design] wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a hockey stick in it,” said McPhee. “You’d have a motor spinning and at the other end, the arm would just be sitting there not moving.”

This design has not yet been assembled, but McPhee says they’re very close. With the help of Genoud, using computer-aided design to finalize the parts and enable a machine shop, they can begin building the components.

As for industry response to McPhee’s latest hockey stick tester design, he says the companies contacted haven’t exactly embraced the new robot.

“They don’t seem to be ready for that yet,” said McPhee. “I just don’t think [hockey is] as sophisticated or technologically advanced an industry yet.”

Howeer, success might be as simple as finding the right customer.

“Maybe the NHL should be the customer […] a lot of marketing success involves a little bit of luck, you know?” said McPhee. “Anyway, we’re going to keep getting the word out there.”

Duplicity, hypocrisy, and blind acquiescence

Many see British MP George Galloway as a downright nuisance: a politician at the vanguard of ultra-leftist populism, who subverts the mainstream view of Western foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. His pro-Palestinian position and characterization of the West as “imperialist” have inflamed governments around the world. Canada’s Immigration Ministry recently described him as a “security threat,” and subsequently barred him from the country. But even Galloway’s harshest critics must concede that he poses no security threat whatsoever, and that the ban imposed upon him must be motivated by something else.

Despite the Immigration Ministry’s assertions that it was not directly responsible for the ban, it’s likely that the move was motivated by a request from the Jewish Defence League. A pro-Israel organization, the League wrote an open letter to the government requesting that it “keep this hater out of the country.” The director of the organization’s Canadian chapter, Meir Weinstein, participated in a joint interview with Galloway for Britain’s Channel 4 News on March 20th (widely available on YouTube), in which he stated: “We are determined to uncover any proxy agents of Hamas and Hezbollah, and we’ve been successful with regards to Mr. Galloway […] we will be looking into these organizations in Canada that have invited him […] their links to terror groups as well.” Galloway responded by promising that if the ban was not overturned, he would speak using “other means,” possibly via video conference. Weinstein replied, “If he uses those other means we will see to it that the Canadian government will be monitoring every individual and organization that has anything to do with it.”

These thinly veiled threats should be alarming to all Canadians, regardless of whether they agree with Galloway’s views. Galloway had been invited to speak in Toronto at the Metropolitan United Church at the behest of the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Ryerson University Student’s Union, and the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War. Under Section 34 of the Immigration Act, the Canadian Border Agency can declare an individual inadmissible for “being a member of an organisation that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts: of espionage, of subversion against a democratic government, or of terrorism.”

During a recent trip to the Gaza Strip with the charity “Viva Palestina,” Galloway accompanied a convoy carrying fire trucks, ambulances, food, and medical supplies. If the government of Canada views these as reasonable grounds to bar someone from entering the country, then it must be prepared to bar the Red Crescent and the many UN organizations that deliver aid to Gaza on a regular basis.

The ban imposed by the Immigration Ministry demonstrated the extent to which the Harper Government has moved to allign Canada with Israel and some of its most intransigent supporters like Meir Weinstein. Canada has perhaps the most ardently pro-Israel government in the world. While many Canadians see the need to show solidarity towards the Middle East’s truest and most vibrant democracy, the government’s position extends far beyond mere support. Though both European governments and the new Obama Administration have made tepid criticisms of the State’s expansion into parts of the West Bank and the incoming right-wing bloc’s cynical rejection of the two-state solution, Harper has yet to utter a single word of disapproval. Now he is actively preventing a critic of Israel from entering the country.

The duplicity of the ban’s supporters, both inside and outside of the government, is astounding. Many remember the infamously Islamophobic Danish cartoons of 2006, which were defended by members of the Right on grounds of free speech. That same year, Hamas won Palestine’s first-ever truly democratic election, and had their legitimacy ignored by the very same governments who had purportedly invaded Iraq on a messianic mission to spread democracy to the Arab world. Many reacted with understandable outrage when CUPE President Sid Ryan proposed banning Israeli academics who refused to denounce their own country’s policies. Yet many of the same individuals praise the ban on Galloway, claiming that this case is not an issue of free speech.

One can imagine a different situation, in which a less pro-Israel, leftist Canadian government tried to prevent a polemicist of the opposite political stripe from speaking in the country, perhaps after receiving an open letter from the president of CUPE. In such circumstances, the outrage would be tremendous, and it would be perfectly justified. Under no conditions should the government of a free and democratic society actively prevent someone from engaging in dissent, so long as this dissent is peaceful.

The ban on George Galloway is an affront to the most fundamental principles of Canadian democracy: openness and freedom of speech. Canadians of all political stripes should be appalled that their government is unwilling to rise to this most elementary moral standard and allow George Galloway to speak in this country.

The case against Galloway

It was difficult not to applaud Alykhan Velshi, an aide to the Minister of Immigration, when he announced that the government would not intervene in the decision of the Canada Border Services Agency to bar British MP George Galloway from entering Canada. The Border Service Agency has argued that Galloway offered financial support to Hamas, a terrorist organization by Canadian standards. Galloway, for his part, seems to accept this reasoning—if he had supported Hamas, he would not dispute the decision. However, he claims that he has never supported Hamas or any other terrorist groups.

No matter—Galloway has not been given his due. He has done far worse than lend support to Hamas. In October of 2005, the United States Senate published a report that presented evidence that Galloway’s “charity,” which campaigned against sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, had received direct funding from the Iraqi government. These funds were diverted from the Oil-for-Food program administered by the UN, and so stripped from the most desperately impoverished Iraqis. Paul Volcker, now one of President Obama’s chief economic advisers, chaired a separate UN inquiry, which found that Galloway’s wife had been paid a sum of $120,000. A second report produced by the British House of Commons was more damning (if that’s possible) and resulted in Galloway’s temporary suspension from the House along with calls for further inquiry.

Galloway has been, and still is, a hysterical political extremist, but that is no reason to keep him out of the country. His alleged complicity with the subversion of the Oil-for-Food program and collaboration with Saddam Hussein is. This program was intended to shelter Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens—children, the sick, the elderly—from the sanctions aimed against the Ba’ath regime. It is difficult to imagine a politician doing worse than accepting a direct inducement from Saddam Hussein, but Galloway, if the allegations are true, would have topped that by profiting from Oil-for-Food—stealing from the neediest to finance a propaganda campaign that blamed the West, in a twist of macabre irony, for the suffering of the poorest Iraqis.

Up until this point, Galloway has been rewarded for his behaviour. He became a darling of the Left after delivering a vitriolic harangue to the U.S. Senate in which he praised the courageous “resistance” of the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq, tossing in lavish praise of the Assad dictatorship in Syria for good measure. For this, he was given a positively glowing profile in The New York Times, and showered with praise by the Daily Kos and The Nation. Stopping Galloway from entering Canada is not enough. While Saddam Hussein may no longer be around to roll out the red carpet for Galloway, there are plenty of regimes that will still offer him the royal treatment—and Canada should not be one of them.