A video has surfaced on the Internet claiming that Muhammed Elmi Ibrahim, a U of T student who went missing last year, has died fighting for a group with ties to an Al-Qaeda. The Toronto Star reported that Ibrahim was the first of six Somali-Canadian men who disappeared from Toronto last year and who are suspected of joining Al-Shabaab, a youth militia group in Somalia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not confirmed his death.In the last two years, over 20 Somali men have disappeared from Canada and the U.S. to fight with Al-Shabaab, according to the CBC.The video provides scant details of what happened, stating only that Ibrahim was “killed in battle” and that “he was firm and calm, rushing toward death.” It shows a man purported to be Ibrahim talking about the historical significance of a mountain in Saudi Arabia. The opening paragraph that accompanies the video states: “Glad Tidings to the youth in Canada. Your dear brother Mohamed al Muhajiri has succeeded. Don’t be sadden but rather rejoice in the news of your dear brother and follow his foot steps and march forth in the ranks of the honest mujahideen in Somalia.”Ibrahim had worshipped at the Abu Huraira Centre and went by the nickname “Canlish,” a reference to the Scarborough neighbourhood he grew up in. An English major, he was known in his community as bright, well-spoken young man with a great future. Omar Kireh, an administrator at the Abu Huraira Centre, told reporters that while Ibrahim came to the mosque frequently in his youth, his attendance dropped off as soon as he entered university. If the reports are true, Kireh said, this would be a loss for his family, community, and Canadian society. “It’s very sad…everyone had high expectations from him,” he told the Star.Ibrahim went on the traditional hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but did not return with his travelling companions. Five other Somali Canadian men, Mahad Ali Dhore, Khalid Aden Noor, Mustafa Ali, Ahmed Heybe Ahmed, and Abdirahman Yusuf, also disappeared around the same time and had also worshipped at the Abu Huraira Centre.Ibrahim’s family, who are in mourning, have turned away reporters.
Missing student ‘killed in battle’ for Somali militia
UTSC gets credit/no credit course option
UTSC students can now take one class with the credit or no credit option as part of their degree. The St. George campus’s Curriculum Renewal Committee approved the option to Arts and Science Students in 2008. It is not available at UTM.Under this option, the student’s mark in the class does not factor into their GPA. Students need 60 per cent in the class to get a degree credit, or CR, on their transcript. Those with lower than 60 per cent get a “no credit,” or NCR.“This option will give students an opportunity to explore the various courses on campus not at the expense of your GPA,” reads an email from Aisha Khaja, VP academics for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, and UTSC student affairs dean Tom Nowers.Students need to choose the option before the last day to add the course. The credit/no credit course cannot count towards satisfying program requirements. The decision, once made, is final. The instructor, however, is not told which individual students in the class are doing the course on that option.“It took a little while for students to grasp a couple of its features, that they couldn’t switch back if they were getting 51 per cent or 90 per cent, and that they shouldn’t be using this to avoid a non-stellar mark in one of their hard program-requirement courses,” said Glenn Loney, assistant dean of the arts and science faculty. “But now that those things are sorted out, it seems to work well. They seem to like it and are taking advantage of it,” he said.Execs of the Arts and Science Students’ Union want the option expanded to two course equivalents. “I think that because the breadth requirements for the next academic year are changing, the faculty should consider increasing the opportunity to exercise the CR/NCR option,” said ASSU executive member Grant Gonzales. ASSU president Gavin Nowlan said the no credit option will allow students to engage a wider variety of courses and to take intellectual risks.
It’s 11:30 a.m. on a typical weekday morning. Society is awake, people are working, students are in class, and almost everyone is looking forward to lunch.Jay Onrait is sleeping.He’s not a lazy student napping through a class, an unemployed victim of the recession, or taking the day off and calling in sick. Onrait is sleeping because he’s tired; he had a late night. He didn’t get home until 4 a.m. And this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. He’s been doing it every weekday night for years.Why is Onrait doing this to himself? Is he jetlagged? Does he have insomnia? Can he not resist Toronto’s late-night underground rave scene? Although one or more of these may be true, Onrait has been doing this because it’s his job. Every night (or morning) at 2 a.m., Onrait and his partner in crime Dan O’Toole host the late night edition of Sportscentre on TSN. After the hour-long sports show, they make a few edits (the roughness is “part of the charm”) and then call it a night and go home. That episode of Sportscentre plays as the Morning Loop on TSN until noon the next day.Before he ventured off to host Olympic Morning on CTV in Vancouver (or as he calls it “CTV Galaxy of Stars Olympic Spectacular”), Onrait met with me at a Spadina bar on a Friday in the late afternoon—just after he woke up. “When I first got into the industry, people told me that you will survive if you remember one thing: you’re always working when everyone else is off. I’ve really learned to just accept that aspect of it,” Onrait told me over a couple pints, “but preparation is the key.”“The mood is fun at 2 a.m.,” he said. “I’m like the oldest guy in there. It’s hilarious. We never see our bosses—ever. [Producer] Tim [Moriarty] is basically in charge. It’s like the asylum is abandoned and the inmates are running it at night. It never feels like work.”
According to Onrait, work is not something he likes to do. When he first started volunteering at ITV Edmonton (while doing an undergraduate pharmacy degree at the University of Alberta to take over the family business), he realized quickly that he was really drawn to the sports guys because “they were just having more fun.”Fun is a good way to describe the antics that have garnered Onrait and O’Toole a loyal audience and has helped build their reputation as comic relief on TSN. “Chemistry is what makes our show work,” said Onrait. When I asked him how much preparation goes on between him and O’Toole for their banter during the show, he quickly responded, “zero.” He credits his bosses for giving the pair a lot of leeway and trusting that they know where the line is. Not that they have never crossed that line before: Onrait asked me innocently, “Did you know you can’t say douchebag on TV? I didn’t realize you couldn’t say douchebag on TV.”A graduate of Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program, Onrait started interning at TSN as a writer while attending school. After graduating, he had a few gigs around Canada including working in Saskatchewan and hosting morning news program the Big Breakfast in Winnipeg. In 2001, Onrait returned to Toronto to work for the NHL Network before landing a job with TSN a year later.When Onrait discussed his journey to get where he is today or the paths of others like him, he started to get a little sentimental. The industry has changed across the country and it seems to have upset him to some extent. “It’s not like the old days where if you wanted to be a broadcaster, you could go to a place like Swift Current and be on television,” Onrait emotionally explained. “They’re all being shut down. They really did serve a purpose. They were a chance for [new broadcasters] to go to make mistakes.”The people he’s talking about are his peers at TSN, of which he had only the most positive things to say. “Everyone gets along kind of ridiculously well, [there’s] no egos. I think we’re all appreciative of what we have. More than that, there are no assholes. I would tell you if there were. I wouldn’t name them, but I’d tell you if there were.”Discussing specific personalities that he admires at the network, Onrait reassured me there is no one there he doesn’t like, but did share a few he truly admires. “I love Rod Smith. To me, when I first got here as a writer, to now, he’s always just been the nicest guy in the world. And he’s an amazing journalist. I also love [Chris] Cuthbert,” continued Onrait. “He is just a great example. This is a guy who calls the gold medal game at the Olympics, the pinnacle of his profession, and he couldn’t be more down to Earth or nice if he tried. I try to follow the example of people like that.”As the interview progressed, Onrait felt as though he needed to get a few things off his chest.First, the CFL. He hates the comparison to the NFL. “Nobody that enjoys the game is under the illusion that these players are better than NFL players,” said Onrait in a way that made me feel a little guilty. “Young people are missing the point: celebrating a unique Canadian game with Canadian rules. They say it’s stupid. It’s different! You don’t have to compare it to the NFL! It’s a different game. Just enjoy it for what it is. It gives Canadian athletes, CIS athletes, a chance to play pro. And it’s just fun! Just go enjoy it, have a few beers and just chill out.” He leaned back in his chair. It seemed like he’d been keeping that one bottled up for a while—beer is a good release.Next, Onrait moves on to the Rogers Centre. Of course, he only refers to it by its former name. “The Skydome is just atrocious. It’s a bad atmosphere for the CFL and for baseball. I despise that building. I feel they should implode it. You can write that down by the way.” I oblige. I have never heard anyone use the word “despise” so strongly before.On his future, Onrait joked that he is planning on working on Sportscentre for the next 40 or 50 years, to which I’m sure most of his fans would not object. He said he has no plans to try something new. Even when I prodded him with questions about maybe becoming a hockey “insider” or calling play-by-play, he seemed set in his ways. “I like doing that kind of stuff but it feels too much like work to me. That’s not why I got into this business.”
UTSC gets Pan Am levy
Students at UTSC have voted to pass a levy to pay for construction costs of the sports complex that will host the 2015 Pan Am Games. The referendum ran from March 17-19. It netted the highest ever referendum turnout at UTSC, with 2,337 votes cast, a voter turnout of 23 per cent. Unofficial results were released Sunday morning. Ratification is expected at the board of directors meeting on Wednesday, March 24.“I’m on campus right now and it’s pure excitement,” said John Kapageridis, president of the Scarborough College Athletics Association. He said he realized there is a lot of work to be done. “We do want to address the concerns of the ‘no’ voters. We want everyone realize the potential of what is to come.”For over a month, campaigners from both sides have been trying to get students out to vote. Town hall forums were held by both teams in recent weeks.“We are excited to learn from our Student Union that our students have decided to proceed with this partnership,” reads a press release from UTSC principal Franco Vaccarino. He called the complex an outstanding legacy: “Because of our shared vision and ongoing commitment to work together, we are able to bring about transformative change for this campus.”
Adrian Crutchley, a fourth-year student and member of the “Vote No” campaign, said he was glad that the referendum elicited debate that allowed students to make an informed decision. “I wish the No side voters and No side supporters would have been more vocal and supported the cause more,” he said, commenting that though the No side gained momentum toward the end, it was too little, too late.Crutchley congratulated the Yes campaign. “Let’s make sure the $30 million is well spent and something that UTSC and all people can be proud of,” he said.The Pan Am sports complex will be located at Military Trail and Morningside Avenue as part of an expansion project that runs to $750 million. Students will contribute $30 million over a 25-year period, amounting to 80 per cent of UTSC’s share of the bill.Once the levy is implemented, full-time students will pay $40 per semester and part-time students will pay $8. This amount will be inflated at a rate of 4 per cent annually until 2014, when the rates go up to $140 per semester for full-timers and $28 for part-timers.“I hope the new athletic centre lives up to the hype that’s been created around it,” said Bhavani Munshi, a second-year UTSC student. “I’m not thrilled to be paying for a facility I will most likely not be using after I graduate, but the prospect of building something for my university’s future is exciting.”The 300,000-square-foot complex will house multi-purpose gyms, fitness and training centres, a 200-metre indoor running track and two Olympic-sized pools among other facilities. A Scarborough-Malvern Light Rail Transit system is also included in the package.Vaccarino said in the Vote Yes forum that the old athletics space will be used to host recreational events and study space. The new complex, he said, will offer students a number of job opportunities.Construction is estimated to be a two-year project, according to Laura Matthews, UTSC’s media contact. Breaking ground will begin in late 2011 or 2012. In a press release, mayor David Miller said that the vote will strengthen the case for moving ahead in a timely manner with the LRT construction.
The professional sports year tends to follow a predictable pattern. When the seasons change from summer to fall or winter to spring, the games are especially exciting. But before this, the excitement is not as palpable. Here is a sports fan’s guide to getting the most out of the doldrums of March before the awesomeness of April starts raining down.
For baseball fans, the idea of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training is the sign that the long winter is over and the games are ready to begin. Unfortunately, that event occurs in mid-February, and March brings an entire month of meaningless spring training games. Unless fans are enamoured with battles for fifth starters’ jobs or bench spots, the games offer little incentive in terms of excitement. Plus, once the season starts, the rosters seem to shuffle every day, meaning that the team that breaks camp often looks quite different in June and July. Spring training games make for awful television as well. I remember watching a Blue Jays spring training game that was inexplicably broadcast on Citytv. The final out was recorded during a pre-taped segment and not even shown. For a casual baseball fan, spring training is the time to brush up on a long-neglected team, or perhaps a hated opposing team, in order to invent some heckles for the upcoming season.
The first few days of March Madness, which took place last Thursday and Friday, featured enough games that if no major upsets take place, there is still enough going on peripherally to keep any fan entertained. But after most of the favourites take care of business, and the Cinderella teams lose their glass slippers, the Madness becomes something of a mild haze. The choices in the later rounds often come down to cheering for teams that are still left in your pool that you would never want to cheer for in real life, like Duke. The other possibility is jumping on the bandwagon of a random school that you have never heard of before (or will again) or the one with the prettiest uniform. Plus, the final game of March Madness takes place in, you guessed it, April. So tell people that you knew that Cleveland State was a sleeper all along and don’t reveal that you never actually knew that there was a Cleveland State.
The problem with March Madness, at least from a broadcaster’s perspective, is that single-elimination games with real emotion reveal the plodding speed and lack of heart demonstrated in a March NBA game. By this point, many teams have already decided that they are not going to make the playoffs (or had it decided for them), and tank the rest of the games in order to have a better chance of landing a high lottery pick. For teams that are still in it, March is when the grind really starts to set in and players seem far less fresh, especially considering that the NBA feels the need to have every team play each other twice, resulting in frequent cross-country road trips. If you happen to be a Raptors fan, the team still has a shot at advancing into the postseason, which is an increasing rarity in these parts. So if the Raptors are your passion, check out the team before the playoff matches are set. If the local team qualifies, the games are played at odd times to boost television ratings.
The Olympics revealed that hockey can be exciting without fighting, and the start of the playoffs in April are always a blast until the weather gets nicer and the prospect of seeing a semifinal match with a random team is easily trumped by going outside. The grind in the NBA is just as noticeable in the NHL, especially in an Olympic year, where the games become even more compressed.
Basically just wait until September, or June, if you prefer the Canadian game. I don’t know, you could watch to see if Brett Favre is going to come back for another season. Or perhaps you could rent the Keanu Reeves classic The Replacements. Either activity should keep you entertained until the start of the season.
Big prize for micro-history
Natalie Zemon Davis, an 81-year-old history professor at U of T, has received the prestigious Holberg International Memorial Prize. The Holberg is awarded for excellence in law, theology, the arts, humanities, or social sciences. It is worth over $768,000.Davis has been called one of the most creative historians writing today and praised for her multi-faceted approach to the study of history, which includes politics, class, gender, folklore, and personal identity.Some of her most notable works are those of “micro-history.” The Return of Martin Guerre (1983) is about an imposter living in a village in the 16th century. Trickster Travels (2006) features a Muslim, Leo Africanus, living in Christian Italy in the 16th century after being kidnapped by Christian pirates, and explores ideas of cross-cultural communication.Davis took some time to chat with The Varsity about her narrative approach to history and how she ended up meeting science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.The Varsity: The award committee cited your narrative approach to history. Can you tell me about that approach and why it is important for the kind of historical stories you tell?ND: My work has quite a range and some of it is narrative in the sense that it’s storytelling. Some of the books I’ve written have been more thematic. I did a book on gift-giving in the 16th century and though there were lots of stories along the way in the book, the narrative was a developmental narrative on the topic of gifts.I try very hard to make people come alive in the writing, because I feel I owe it to them to see the world, to see it as they saw it, and I owe it to my readers to make it accessible.
TV: Can you tell me a bit more about your cross-discipline approach? What inspired you to have this inclusive history?ND: I was doing social history, which tried to bring in a social economic dimension. I wasn’t doing the story of states or a kingship, I was doing a story about working people and their attitude to the Protestant Reformation to start off with, and right from the very start the economic life of these artisans and their thought about religion had to be part of the story. So it started out in a way that was already interdisciplinary.In the early ’70s, I got really interested in anthropology. I had certain kinds of problems dealing with rituals of working people and things that happened in carnival that I couldn’t make sense of with the kind of rational theory from standard economic history or standard social history.The final thing was when I got interested in literature and narrative, so looking at historical sources in a new way. Often when historians look at a text they decide “is this really from the 16th century?” and so on, and then they extract the meaning of the text. What I started to do was pay attention to the way they told the story.The Varsity: You mentioned that you are writing about slavery in Dutch colonies. What other future projects do you have planned?ND: [Laughs] That’s a challenging book, the one about slaves in Suriname, it’s going to take me a little while to finish that, because I’m doing it stubbornly once again. I am telling two family stories in which I bring in everything. One is a family over four generations, which starts with the African great-grandfather and goes through the daughter slave, the granddaughter slave, and the great-grandson that is manumitted. Then I am telling a second story in the same colony through a set of Jewish plantation owners. This is a real challenge I have given myself, not just doing these general patterns, which I could do tomorrow, but this story through these lives.I have another one of these “crossing boundary people” that I want to write about, another micro-story. In this case, a Romanian Jewish French folk linguist who lived in the 19th century.TV: Your husband, Chandler Davis, is a retired mathematician and also a writer—he wrote for Astounding Science Fiction.ND: Yes, he’s a science fiction writer, that’s correct!TV: Has he continued that work? How did he get involved in that?ND: He has been a fan since he was a teenager and started writing things in college, and started publishing things in the ’50s. There is going to be a book coming out in the spring with some of his stories and some of his occasional political writings, and that’s already out of the boards.He wrote for Astounding and then later for Galaxy. When I first met him, I was a historian, I wasn’t into science fiction. He introduced me to Isaac Asimov and Ted Sturgeon.TV: What was it like meeting Isaac Asimov and Ted Sturgeon?ND: Isaac Asimov and his wife were just wonderful. Ted Sturgeon was a rather a poetic type. Then Judy Merril, she was very friendly with Chan and I knew her too. [Merril was a science fiction writer, known as “the little mother of science fiction.”] She founded the science fiction library.TV: I know. I go there a lot, since I’m a huge fan of science fiction.ND: This is just an interesting coincidence. I rushed to the library to find out who Holberg was after winning the prize. Ludwig Holberg was an absolutely fascinating man. The government of Norway founded this [prize], but Holberg died in 1758 and he was a polymath. His greatest specialty was as a historian.I was quite tickled by this because wonderful people have won this prize and I admire them all so much, but none of them have been a historian first and foremost. Holberg was first and foremost a historian, but he also wrote memoirs, poems, and science fiction! He wrote Journey to the Centre of the Earth [not to be confused with the Jules Verne book of the same name], which he wrote first in Latin and then translated into Norwegian.
UTSU elections a joke
The results of last week’s UTSU elections are in, and the incumbent Stronger Together slate came out on top. Aside from the relatively high turnout in this election, which stands unofficially at approximately 7,150 voters, the conduct of the two campaigns show that the UTSU elections process is a broken one.Writing close to the beginning of the elections period, we were alarmed not only by the negative tone that the campaign had taken, but also by the abundance of non-U of T students who came to this campus to campaign on behalf of the status quo. While the election results show a win for the incumbents, Stronger Together should be troubled by the fact that this win was delivered to them by an army of campaigners who don’t even attend this university.Throughout the campaign period, The Varsity, along with scores of eyewitnesses, reported that much of Stronger Together’s corps of volunteers was made up of individuals with strong ties to the Canadian Federation of Students who were based not at the University of Toronto, but at Ryerson and York. They include people like Toby Whitfield, Sean Carson, Caitlin Smith, and Rodney Diverlus from Ryerson; Krisna Saravanamuttu, Dashika Sekvasivam, Alastair Woods, Nadine Tkatchevskaia, and Nila Zameni from York; and non-students Faraz Siddiqui and Estefania Toledo.The extent of their involvement was on full display during the ballot counting at UTSU’s office, when Stronger Together appointed a team of scrutineers comprised of almost all off-campus campaigners.Halfway through the second day of counting, when it had become clear that the results were going to show a Stronger Together win, those very same non-U of T student campaigners began to put on buttons that said the following:“Whose campus? OUR CAMPUS.”CFS supporters from Ryerson and York are wearing buttons proclaiming U of T to be their campus? This kind of arrogance is just another indicator of a systemic problem at the union—one that will remain for at least another year under a Stronger Together UTSU. The CFS and their supporters perpetuate this idea of “ownership”—that the campus belongs to them. But the student union, which is supposed to belong to U of T students, now belongs to the CFS, a national lobby group.Furthermore, our election campaigns are no longer about policy, and have devolved into a series of disgusting political tactics. There are well-documented instances of what can essentially be described as race-baiting on the part of Stronger Together. Shozab Raza, a core Stronger Together supporter, wrote the following to a South Asian member of the Change Facebook Group whom he did not know. “I was hoping we could talk sometime because I find it contradictory for desis (and for that matter all people of color) to be supporting the change slate.”Not only is it highly offensive for a campaign that calls for unity and togetherness to engage in explicit identity politics, but it’s a corruption of the ideals that lie at the heart of a democratic student union, where we should be striving to tear down the barriers of race, means, gender, and sexual orientation that supposedly divide us.These are the politics of personal destruction, the politics of fear, and they have no place in our elections.With the campaign behind us, it is now up to the members of the Stronger Together slate to show us that they can govern. But as Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, said, “you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” If the Stronger Together campaign was one of poetry, we are pessimistic that U of T students will see an improvement in the tone of our politics as poetry is abandoned in favour of the tough, more prosaic choices of governing. But members of Stronger Together should have no fear if they want to run for re-election again—UTSU’s unblemished 100 per cent incumbency rate, along with an army of volunteers who do not go here, should deliver them another year at the top.
News in brief
U of A re-examines mental health policy
The University of Alberta’s board of governors will vote on a mental health policy later this month. The program encourages staff and students to report anyone on campus displaying a change in behaviour suggesting they could cause themselves or others harm.A team would review the information and assess the student. Depending on the result, campus security may be contacted.The intention is that psychological support will be made available hours after a report is made. Dean of students Frank Robinson said the action is not disciplinary and that the university cannot force someone to see a psychologist.“But we can talk to them and offer those services, make them very available, if that would help that person.”Programs like this one have been developed after numerous school shootings, including the mass killing at Virginia Tech, Robinson’s alma mater.—Carolyn ArnettSource: CBC News
Virginia Tech receives threats
A video and postings on YouTube have threatened another attack on Virginia Tech, nearly three years after the deadly shooting. A YouTube account called “nextvirgtechkiller” sent threatening messages like “the massacre is incoming,” students have voiced concerns for their safety.The Virginia State Police and FBI believe the threats emanate from Italy and pose no direct threat to the community.University president Charles W. Steger has urged students to remain calm and continue their daily routines, as there will be an increased police presence throughout the university. Students and faculty have been instructed to avoid visiting and replying to threatening content on the Internet and to report any suspicious activities to the authorities.—Sasha KalraSource: Associated Press, Virginia Tech website
Groups decry proposed change to Aboriginal student funding
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has released a new report criticizing the current structure of post-secondary education funding for Aboriginals. The current system, the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, allocates funds to band councils, who in turn allocate funds to the band members who qualify.The report suggests scrapping the current system and creating a savings account for those who qualify to ensure equal access to post-secondary education. The sum provided to each student would remain unchanged in the scheme.Although the report says that there would be no funding cuts, both the Canadian Federation of Students and the Assembly of First Nations chastised the report, calling its proposals “gimmicks” and saying that the proposed structure does not address the needs of the Aboriginal community. Neither group commented on the report’s findings that the allocation of education funding is corrupt.—Kari VierimaaSource: Globe and Mail
B.C. fights former student over $20,000 loan
Former University of Victoria law student Kent Glowinski is set to face the B.C. government in small claims court over $14,589 of student loans borrowed more than five years ago, at prime plus 2.5 per cent. He works for the federal government in Ottawa.The court date is the next chapter of a year-long legal battle complicated by a number of legal filings made by Glowinski, including a claim that he never borrowed the money and a claim that student loans violate the Charter of Rights.Crown counsel submissions describe Glowinski as a “a self-absorbed, aggressive, and vexatious litigant.”Glowinski, in an interview with the Globe and Mail, said the proceedings are “like a scorched earth policy: ‘Don’t fight the government or we will take you down.’”Early this year, Glowinski allegedly offered to repay the loans with interest. The province, however, appears determined to see the case through and is set to return to court later in March.Glinowski filed for bankruptcy in 2004, but B.C. does not recognize bankruptcy as a defence against student loan debts. According to B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong, “There is [the] question of deterrent to others who might see a lack of collection action as an indication that you don’t have to pay your bills.”—Charley WangSource: The Victoria Times-Colonist