Abolishing the penny

“Thirty cents,” the label on the lollipop jar read.

“What a sweet deal — I’ll take the cola-favoured one.” I dug into my wallet for change, walked up to the counter and handed the cashier thirty cents — thirty pennies, to be exact. Instead of a lollipop, I received a lesson in Canadian law.

The Currency Act of Canada explicitly states that nobody has the legal obligation to accept more than twenty-five pennies as legal tender for any transaction. This means my lollipop, which cost thirty cents, could not be fully paid for with thirty pennies. The cashier refused my payment. “Great,” I thought as I left, “If these pennies can’t even buy me a lollipop, there’s not much else they’re good for. They should be removed from circulation.”

This is the idea behind a growing body of consumers and retailers alike who are supporting the abolishment of the one-cent piece. Pat Martin, a Winnipeg MP, drafted a bill in 2008, proposing that the penny be eliminated from circulation. The Senate has since responded by launching a study concerning the overall utility of the penny in the Canadian economy. The report will be published by the end of this year.

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But why kill the penny? Some, like Pat Martin, see it as a cost-cutting measure. These days, a penny can’t even buy a penny. The cost to manufacture one is estimated at about 1.5 cents. This figure heads up to 4 cents when you factor in overhead costs like shipping and handling. The cost of keeping nearly thirty billion pennies in circulation, plus the difference between the sum of the costs and the face value of the coin, known as the seigniorage, is estimated to cost the government, and ultimately the taxpayers, at least $130 million annually. This number gets larger with each passing year.

Courtesy of inflation, the cost of producing pennies will increase, due primarily to higher labour costs and rising metal prices. Conversely, the face value of the penny is pegged at one cent. This scenario leads to an ever-growing deficit in the seigniorage of the coin and the continuous increase in the overall cost of producing, distributing, and circulating the penny. Inflation will also continue to devalue the penny and lower its purchasing power. The penny’s significance will diminish until we are essentially left with, by one senator’s account, “a piece of currency that, frankly, lacks currency” and costs more than it’s worth. Now where is the sense in that?

Okay, maybe the penny is benefiting the Canadian economy in some way that offsets the cost of circulating them? This seems unlikely, as it is estimated that the penny is used by only 37 per cent of Canadians. The rest of the unused pennies are presumably placed inside piggybanks and tossed into water fountains — or through other creative means, they vanish into oblivion. This hoarding or disposing of pennies, rather than depositing them back into circulation, clearly demonstrates the coins’ futility. A survey in 2007 commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint found that only one in five small retailers and one in three consumers opposed the elimination of the penny. Over half of those consumers who were in favour of removing the penny cited the penny’s “inconvenience” or “uselessness” as its main drawbacks.

In addition to the frustration of having to carry them around and then finally fish them out from the bottom of your pocket to use them, or of the cashier having to give you back the exact change, there is also a cost associated with the amount of time this adds to any cash transaction. An article published in Discover found that it takes “up to three seconds longer to complete a transaction that involves pennies.” This may not sound like very much, but with tens of millions of such transactions happening each year, we’re wasting a heck of a lot of time and money.

So what’s the verdict? The penny is charged with being an inconvenience — a complete and utter letdown in today’s fast-paced, every-second-counts economy. It is charged with being impractical to use as its face value continues to fall into the gutter — literally. Finally, it is charged with being a burden to taxpayers, as it costs well over $100 million annually to keep it in circulation. We’ll have to wait until the Senate provides its testimony, but at the end, I’m seeking the penny’s abolishment from circulation.

PhD grad rejects diploma

PhD grad Masrour Zoghi graduated in a t-shirt at his November 12 convocation.

The mathematics doctorate was visiting from Vancouver and had originally planned on rejecting his diploma.

Speaking with The Varsity en route to his convocation ceremony, Zoghi explained that he was upset with what he refers to as an increasing corporatization of the University of Toronto.

His main issue of concern was the new Munk School of Global Affairs, launched after a $35 million donation from Peter Munk and his wife. Munk is Chairman of Barrick Gold, a mining company registered in Canada.

It was a sentence in the April press release, detailing the donation that upset Zoghi: “The Munk School positions U of T as a leading player in a broad range of subjects from water to cyber security.”

Zoghi alleges Barrick Gold is “known for water disputes around its gold mines” and mentioned an ongoing lawsuit between the company and the authors of Noir Canada, a book examining mining-related corruption in Africa.

“[Munk] comes over and donates a whole bunch of money to the university to set up an institute whose mandate is to study things that are relevant to that corporation,” he alleged. “You really don’t have to be a genius to figure out there’s something kind of not quite kosher about this.”

Zoghi said he feels that the company is “crushing academic freedom” and “making it difficult for academics to question the actions of the company involved,” mentioning a similar donation from Goldcorp to Simon Fraser University.

“’We just want this money.’ That seems to be the attitude universities in Canada seem to be adopting. We don’t necessarily blame the universities themselves. We know universities are in a tough spot right now,” said Zoghi.

“Let’s say you don’t care about people dying and getting poisoned in Tanzania. Should you not care about your own academic freedom either? Is that also up for sale?”

Zoghi intended to hand his diploma to U of T President David Naylor, but he was not in attendance. Instead, the ceremony included a handshake from the university’s chancellor and graduate dean; students then received their degree and posed for a photo outside the chambers before reentering.
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Because graduates approached the stage in alphabetical order, Zoghi was the last in the Doctor of Philosophy section. While the whole section was being applauded, Zoghi shook hands and stood still on the stage for a few seconds, facing the crowd and shaking his head.

He then removed his graduation gown and walked offstage in a red t-shirt among laughter and hushed confusion from the audience. The shirt, with one-inch yellow print, read “U of T Inc” on the front and “Univ for SALE” on the back. Audience members were heard asking each other what happened and what the shirt read.

Zoghi then declined the envelope containing his degree and was photographed for the graduation composite.

“The photo was taken without the gown, but I don’t know if my T-shirt appeared in the photo,” said Zoghi.

The graduate also took issue with conditions on Munk’s donation.

The donor agreement, anonymously obtained by The Varsity, reveals that Munk’s donation comes in yearly increments. Although the agreement clearly states that academic freedom is to be unhealed, the university must report to Munk every year.

A recently published book co-written by Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig states that Munk’s $66 million donation will only be $19 million or less after tax deductions.

Zoghi said he objects to the university “accepting donations that come with so much strings attached that it really resembles more a purchase than a donation. It appears to be that Mr. Munk is literally buying a piece of the university.”

Zoghi is adamant that he will only take back his degree if university administration starts consulting with the wider community.

“I don’t want to be associated with a university whose integrity is compromised this much,” he said. “I will make every effort not to use this degree for a job.”

The Anti-Nuit Blanche

It is the 2nd of October, around midnight, windy and cold — and I can’t wait to get outside. Once again, Nuit Blanche has arrived to bring contemporary art — an exclusive club on the other 364 days of the year — to the masses. Even though my memory of last year’s event is a blurred mix of waiting in the washroom line at Tim Horton’s, drinking gross alcoholic beverages straight from the bottle, and trying to avoid drowning in the constant stream of people, I can’t help but get excited for another round. I mean, the premise of the whole thing would make Andy Warhol wet his pants: bringing art to the street, making it accessible to the masses, making contemporary art relevant to more than contemporary artists.

But oh, this vision seems to belong to a land of utopia. My agenda for this year’s Nuit Blanche was a blurred vision of waiting in the washroom line at the Eaton Centre, drinking hot chocolate from Second Cup, and being really annoyed by all the drunk people (because I wasn’t one). And the art? I saw an old Volkswagen bus that had designs cut into its exterior and a light inside, throwing cool patterns onto the surrounding buildings. It looked like an oversized Ikea lamp that helps babies fall asleep, and even though it was an aesthetic piece it made me wonder whether spending millions of dollars to exhibit something I might as easily see at a Swedish furniture store accomplishes what Nuit Blanche annually sets out to do. While the basic idea of the event is admirable and surely in the spirit of postmodern thought, its execution is not living up to expectations or self-set standards.
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So, why wait one whole year for Nuit Blanche when we have art on our streets and public spaces all year round? I set out to discover those hidden (or not-so-hidden) gems, to make up my very own art discovery route without line-ups, without drunks, and hopefully with something that truly speaks to me. Just like Nuit Blanche is divided into different “zones,” on my quest for public art I soon noticed that certain neighbourhoods exhibited conglomerations of pieces.

Kensington Market

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Kensington is most likely the first place anyone would think of for public art. Not only is the neighbourhood itself something of an art piece (with its beautifully coloured and painted townhouses; the sure presence of some street musicians; and the charming and sometimes puzzling collection of people that wander along Augusta Avenue), but street art pieces are the characteristic feature of the neighbourhood’s appearance.

If you keep your eyes open, Augusta Avenue becomes a gallery sidewalk. The Alphonse Mucha-reminiscent mural painted on the side of a house on the corner of Oxford Street is an example of ambitious street art that creates meaning through the public space it is set in. Set to a lush background of burgundy red, the piece shows a woman surrounded by flowers, with subtle references to Asian iconography. In the context of its location, in the midst of Kensington, as an oversized image lurking over its visitors and inhabitants, it embodies ideas the area has come to represent. It appears that street art at its best is more than a piece of art put in a public space; there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between the locality and the piece.
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Maybe that is the reason why the exhibited art at Nuit Blanche remains in the background: the absence of such a symbiosis fails to create accessibility. As I walk along I see a man finishing up a photo collage on the back side of a building at the corner of Nassau and Augusta. The piece is a group shot of punkish-looking men and women, with various details in close-up layered over the original, creating an image of a fragmented whole. We start talking and he tells me that the people in the collage are all locals, more or less known in the neighbourhood. “The pictures were shot in Toronto, then processed in Vancouver and exhibited in a gallery there,” he tells me. “Then the piece was featured in Canadian Art Magazine and now I’m back in Toronto putting it up on the street.” Evidently, street art can make it into the public consciousness, as other artists, such as the famed Banksy, have shown in recent years.

Queen West

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With its abundance of galleries, and as the place-to-be for creativity-craving hipsters, Queen Street is a creative outpouring. One artist that I have often spotted is Tyler Eli Hallett, who draws paintings on the sidewalk between Beverly and Spadina. Does Hallett adopt this unusual exhibition style out of necessity or is the street an integral part to the art piece? “It’s a necessity until I can find some work,” says Hallett. “I usually don’t mind the cold once I’m in the zone, but winter is starting to be a real pain. I think what I really need is some huge canvases, and a patron who could keep me going until I produce some real work. I kind of think that this sidewalk thing is just practice. This way is definitely good at cultivating patience and humility.”

Although imagining his painting on a canvas would not take away from the message of the work, it is something else that ties the notion of his work tightly to the street: his audience. “Mostly I draw my inspiration from religious or spiritual iconography,” he explains. “I love to feel the connection between God through my work. It’s like my way of meditating. I love to make children wonder about something that isn’t found in video games.” By exhibiting his art in a public space, he exposes his ideas to audiences that would otherwise miss out on the experience, and evokes thoughts that are missing in today’s mainstream culture. Hallett has been painting on the sidewalk for a little under a decade, and when asked why he chose this path he muses: “I love to paint. It’s almost like I can’t help it, and I don’t feel right unless I’m painting. I’m a slave to beauty.” Considering the Canadian winter, this dedication is impressive, and exemplifies the passion necessary to be a street artist.
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Further west at Augusta is a hidden alleyway (right behind Second Cup) that is filled with well-crafted graffiti. Now graffiti is, as Kensington artist Andrew Owen explains, “Not considered art by many artists.” I understand his reasoning: poorly skilled graffiti “artists” have unfortunately branded the public consciousness with hideous tags that scar the cityscape. This perception, however, is unfair to those artists who take their craft seriously and produce powerful tags with their spray cans and creativity. I have always found that graffiti is the visual answer to hip-hop, in that it is very direct and generally concerned with deconstructing the social status quo. There is one piece, very simple but immediate and still of social relevance, that shows a native man dressed in a simple t-shirt and the caption “I am Canadian.” However, Graffiti Alley, as this alleyway is commonly called, is a graphic explosion of vibrant colours and different styles. It’s as diverse as its artists, and individual pieces are concerned with the outside, as well as the inside, world.
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The Distillery District

Yes, the east end features art as well. The Distillery District, which makes you feel like you’ve jumped back in time, is home to several art galleries, art dealers, and weekly artisan markets. It also features several public art pieces along its cobblestone pavements. But here the street art is of a different nature: the pieces are commissioned, and the artists’ names, along with the title of the art work, are engraved on a plate, insinuating a more institutional approach to art. “Institutional street art” may seem like an oxymoron, but it fits within the context of the Distillery District.
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Art for sale is the prominent characteristic of this neighbourhood, and commissioning artists to exhibit their work to complement the public space is not only sensible, but also goes along the lines of the earlier-mentioned symbiosis between locality and art piece. The idea the Distillery District inherently promotes by hosting art galleries and dealers is that art, though a creative outlet, is a commodity that deserves its price and also gives credit to the artist. Thus, a change of neighbourhood and audience evokes a different view of the complexity of street art. Especially interesting is the piece entitled “Passerelle et Portance” by Claude Millette. This is a set of stairs that goes up and down, but has a gap in the middle and is closed off on both ends. To me it seems to comment on the inevitability of life: we try to get ahead, ascend on the social ladder, but at some point we come to a halt, possibly discover we have reached a dead end, and go back down, only to start climbing again. This constant self-evaluation is a concern that everyone, especially artists, has to face, and, in this respect the piece accurately visualizes the worries of those who inhabit the Distillery District.

Student space finds home?

The UTSU board of directors voted last Wednesday to resituate the long-awaited student commons space to 230 College St., the current Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design building, from the original site in Woodworth College.

The option to relocate was put on the table by the university only weeks prior and had UTSU hastening to make a decision. In an effort to gauge the views of the student community, a consultation was held on Thursday November 11 to solicit feedback. Student reactions remained largely congenial to the shift.

The meeting of 30–40 people was comprised of mostly club and levy group representatives, interested students, and board of director members.

During the consultation, concerns arose over the need for a referendum to properly acquire student consent.

“I’m skeptical that students at the time were voting with the expectation that it would be at Woodsworth,” said Steve Masse, former WCSA president and political science and economics student.

Though the referendum question posed in 2007 had no mention of location, campaigning during this time stressed the need for student space at the north end of campus.

According to UTSU President Adam Awad, the university is pushing for the reallocation bid to be addressed in the January cycle of the coming Governing Council meeting.

“Missing a cycle is one more year we have to wait,” he said.

UTSU held a referendum in November 2007 where a majority of students voted in favor of collecting a levy for the construction of a student commons. The outcome of the levy meant students would agree to shoulder two-thirds of a mortgage fund that would span 23 years. The union sought a five-dollar levy per semester, from each full-time undergraduate student, until the opening of the commons. After this point the levy would rise to $14.25 until the mortgage was fully paid off.

The university agreed to bear one-third of the entire cost. The cost of operating and maintaining the commons will fall on students once construction is complete.

In 2008, the Governing Council allocated space, known as Site 12, on Devonshire Road for the construction of the student commons along with the Centre for High Performance Sport. In April 2010, the university concluded the project was “indefinite” due to financial constraints.

According to the UTSU executive, the construction for both has been delayed since 2008 due to financial setbacks on the part of the university. In an effort to get the ball rolling on the project, 230 College St. was offered as a replacement, as the Faculty of Architecture will be moving to 1 Spadina Rd.

According to UTSU President Adam Awad, 230 College St. has a number of advantages over Site 12. These include nearly 10,000 square feet more space, half the cost of original 30 million dollars and the proximity to transit spots. The majority of the expenses for the new location would center on meeting security and environmental standards.

The timeline for the new location means students could be nestling in to a new student commons in 18 months.

“[Site 12] is not a non-option but one is more indefinite and nebulous than the other,” said Awad.

“First off, I’m happy that it’s finally gotten the go-ahead. Students need the space, no matter what,” said ASSU President Gavin Nowlan.

He later expressed a concerns over students having to shoulder construction costs in the original Site 12 deal. “The official ASSU position, the position that we have had for 30 years is that we don’t believe student money should be spent on bricks and mortar for building. The university should be putting up the money for space.”

“This project started decades and decades ago,” said UTSU Executive Director Angela Regnier, who provided context for the decision during the consultation.

Campaigns for student commons have been ongoing at U of T since the 1940s when a student community recuperating from the toils of WWII endorsed a common space all students could share.

With files from André Bovee-Begun

U of T awards honourary degree

On Wednesday, November 10, the University of Toronto awarded Toronto native Dorothy Shoichet an honourary doctor of laws degree in recognition of her admirable business leadership and tireless volunteer efforts, particularly in the areas of education and the arts.

“I am thrilled that my university has chosen to honour Dorothy Shoichet with an honourary degree,” expressed Dr. Charles Tator, professor of neuroscience at the University of Toronto, founder of the ThinkFirst Foundation, and friend of the Shoichet family, in his introductory speech. “She is a living metaphor for the finest qualities that the University of Toronto strives to instil in its graduates; a quest for lifelong education; giving your best effort for public service; and fostering a love for the arts and culture.”

Shoichet earned a political science and economics degree from the University of Illinois before entering the business world as co-manager of the Oxford Picture Frame Company. She helped develop the company into Canada’s largest picture frame moulding manufacturer while simultaneously raising three children. At the same time, she advanced her own formal education in art and art history, writing, and opera.

In an interview with The Varsity, Dorothy Shoichet’s passion for education and the arts shone through.
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Shoichet provided inspirational words of wisdom for recent graduates, current students, and greater Torontonians alike. “I believe that peace will come to the world only through education and the arts because the arts is a civilizing part of life and education is a rounding part of life,” she explained, with her three-year-old grandson’s laughter echoing in the background. “It opens up your mind!”

This credence is certainly evident in how Shoichet lives her life. Her volunteer efforts have included serving as director of Dare Arts, a program that aims to provide at-risk children with access to the arts. Additionally, she has served as both Vice President of the World ORT Union and President of the Canadian Women’s ORT, one of the world’s largest non-governmental education and training organizations. As well, Shoichet has always been an avid supporter of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the Toronto Arts Council, the Art Gallery of Ontario, University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Baycrest, among many others.

Shoichet is also a steadfast voluntary figure in the Toronto Jewish community, promoting the arts locally and in Israel; she is a supporter of the Kolel, the Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, Habimah Theatre, and the Muki Baum Organization for Children with handicaps, and served as volunteer chancellor at the Koffler Centre of the Arts for ten years.
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“The arts are so important because it triggers our imagination,” said Shoichet. She went on to describe the importance of the emotions triggered when one hears a beautiful piece of music or sees an exquisite theatre production. According to her, it is experiences such as these that round out a person’s life.

Shoichet’s activism stretches further. “I’m a feminist, I think I was since the moment I was born,” she stated with pride.

She described the iconic 1978 Virginia Slims magazine advertisement which featured a beautiful woman smoking a long cigarette and the slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” She expressed that, while there have been improvements in the status of women over her lifetime, there are still large steps to be taken. According to Shoichet, “We haven’t come such a long way, baby.”

Shoichet voiced her support for the feminist movement and her concern that it has often been misinterpreted. “It’s only that women should be treated equal to men. Not better, not worse, simply equal.”

In Dr. Tator’s address, he distinguished Shoichet as an excellent choice for an honorary degree, and one whose achievements will thrill and inspire the university’s graduating class. He said that the stated mission of the Koffler Centre is also her mantra: “to bring people together through arts and culture to create a more civil and global society.”

Shoichet’s commitment to the fundamentals of education and the arts is both uplifting and moving. “The two together can revolutionize the world. I believe that passionately,” she said, “We haven’t seen it happen yet, but there are small pockets developing, and it’s pretty exciting to see.”

U of T remembers

It was a sunny, blue-skied morning as people gathered around Soldier’s Tower for the annual Remembrance Day service on Thursday, Nov. 11. Located on the western end of Hart House, the ceremony began at 10 a.m. with a Carillon Prelude and the chime sounds emanated from Soldier’s Tower as children, students, alumni, veterans, and people passing by began to form a crowd.

The subtle melodic Carillon tune came to an end with the wailing sounds of the bagpipes. The man carrying the instrument lead a group of soldiers, young cadets, a reverend, a rabbi, a guru, and wreath carriers out of the tower. The bagpipes came to an end, and Malcolm McGrath, Chair of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee, walked to the podium and welcomed everyone for coming. “This tower was made to honour our fallen comrades […] We will remember the wars and never forget.”

Soldier’s Tower was originally built between the years of 1923–1924 to commemorate the 628 soldiers who died in World War I, but also stood to commemorate the 557 fallen soldiers of World War II.

Rev. Canon W. Ebert Hobbs, then took to the stage and introduced the bands and other speakers. “One of the many reasons we are here today is that we remember,” he said. “We remember the soldiers that volunteered to stand between us and forces of destruction.” He then pointed to a wall of stone engravings attached to the tower, and said: “Over one thousand University of Toronto students, alumni, and staff are engraved on this tower. We remember them because we are a people of hope. Let us sing the Naval Hymn.” A small, five person band began to play. The trumpeters, along with the trombone and tuba players, played the melody, and the crowd sung along.

Following the hymn, was a short poem read by Rev. Mr. Michael L. Knox. The poem was called “High Flight,” written by Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, who was killed December 11, 1941. After Knox quietly walked off stage, a choir began to sing “In Flander’s Fields.” The crowd subtly sung and hummed along.

University of Toronto Scarborough student Barbara Forbes then went on stage, telling a brief story of Major Fred Tilston (1906-1992) a soldier from WWII, and his accomplishments. Forbes told the crowd that within the middle of a fire fight, Tilston ran back and forth between a battle and an army camp six times to get more ammunition and grenades for his soldiers. Finally, when Tilston got shot, he refused to get medical attention until he explained the battle plan to his soldiers. Major Fred Tilston was awarded the Victoria Cross for his achievement in battle.

Rabbi Aaron Katchen then took the stage, and read a Hebrew poem to the crowd. Following the rabbi, was Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, who offered a simple prayer: “Love to all, peace to all, life to all.” The guru then translated the prayer in French, German, Russian, Mandarin, and Persian.

The band then began to play the melody for the hymn, “O God, our help in ages past.” The crowd subsequently sang along. By this point in the ceremony, the crowd had doubled in size from when the ceremony had initially begun.
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After the hymn, the ceremony proceeded to the laying of the wreaths. There was a wreath for the University, the University of Toronto Alumni Association, the University of Toronto Faculty Association, the Students, the Old Comrades, the U of T Contingent Canadian Officers’ Training Corps, the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Toronto Scottish Regiment, the Families, the Colleges, the Children, and finally, for the Faculties, Staff, Campus Organizations, Fraternities, and Sororities. The wreaths were placed in front of the stone engravings of the names of the fallen soldiers who were affiliated with U of T. Rev. Ebert Hobbs then provided a prayer of remembrance. “Let us pray,” he said. “[God] we ask you to bless these wreaths.”

With the words “Amen,” the reverend finished his speech, and shortly after the sound of the conclusive “Last Post” trumpet song began. Trumpeter Brindley Venables played as all the soldiers at the ceremony raised their hands to their heads in salute.

Upon the trumpets’ final note, a moment of silence ensued. Nobody in the crowd spoke, and though the birds chirped and the bagpipes played, the effect of the silence was never lost. Finally, the silence came to an end with the shrill notes played by Pipe Major John Wakefield. The ceremony came to a close with the choir singing the “Reveille,” “We Will Remember Them,” “God Save the Queen,” and finally, “O Canada.”

The crowd began to slowly disperse, many going to take a closer look at the wreaths, and others going to the reception at the Great Hall, where coffee and pastries were served.

Bill C-49 should not pass

When the Tamil refugees arrived this past August, Bill C-49 was put to parliament for consideration. Bill C-49 is an act to prevent human smuggling to Canada and focuses on the apprehension of human smugglers and the ceasing of further smuggling incidents. What is not being recognized, however, is the serious consequences of this proposed law.

The act focuses on amending the Criminal Code to make the trafficking of persons a criminal offence, and includes kidnapping, trafficking in persons, hostage taking, and abduction. With knowledge of brutal cases of human smuggling, this act could seem like the way to cease such a practice in Canada.

However, it is interesting to look into what the legislators meant by a “human smuggler.” Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, expressed her concerns with the bill, stating that it allows the federal government to designate who can be “irregulars” and carries the unacceptable risk of targeting those who seek and are entitled to Canada’s protection. “In addition, the Bill imposes minimum penalties […] it grants the Minister wide and arbitrary discretion to detain deemed individuals and then attempts to prevent independent and rational review.”

Bill C-49 actually proposes jailing “irregulars” for a minimum sentence of one year while their immigration status is pending, with options for plea given once every six months. How does this affect legitimate immigrants? Well for starters, with the term “human smugglers” not being completely defined by the bill, and with the implication of “irregulars,” then who is in fact going to be targeted by this bill?

Immigration is often a process that makes it almost impossible to come into Canada without certain hardships, and it could be said that many do so under precarious circumstances. More specifically, let’s consider the Tamil migrants who arrived in Vancouver this past summer. These migrants could all be labeled irregulars, and therefore, these people, whether smugglers or not, would be detained according to the bill. In reality, Canada is imprisoning these people and treating them as criminals for the mere entry into the country by precarious means. This law, judging by it’s vague definition, is really the criminalization of migrants who are fleeing instances of poverty, oppression, and instability.

The bill has been strongly opposed by many health professionals. With high incarceration rates and a denial of health benefits, the bill raises considerable health concerns. “Jailing asylum seekers and denying people access to full healthcare coverage while awaiting a decision on their claims will lead to worsening health outcomes and is a fundamental violation of people’s rights under international and Canadian law,” says Dr. Michaela Beder, a member of Health for All, a migrant justice and health organization based in Toronto. Health care, dental care, and eye care will be denied to these irregulars. Along with the lack of health care, migrants who are incarcerated would only be allowed to apply for a hearing every six months, which would then keep them imprisoned in the interim. These practices are clearly inhumane. The bill also wants to appoint an ex-CSIS director, Ward Elcock, as a special advisor on human migration. The same man was in charge of the G20 police presence in Toronto. As is well known, the amount of police brutality seen during the G20 was targeted at those who did not participate in acts of vandalism. How about putting this guy in charge of immigration? Any sort of immigration is a high-risk objective, and whether it is through refugee claim, applying for work or student visas, or illegally, one runs the risk of being put back into a precarious situation in their own country, as well as running the risk jail, assault, and work abuse for those without status, and adding the risk of being arbitrarily detained for over a year. Putting Elock in charge of an already painstaking process of immigration is not a good idea, as this could invite further abuses into the immigration process.

The reality is, with Bill C-49, Canada may well be going down a road which will increase the amount of abuse immigrants must face. Inhumane treatment toward anyone whether they be immigrants or Canadians of prior generations, is unjust and violates basic human rights. We shouldn’t be supporting a bill which brutally punishes human beings and criminalizes a person for trying to escape the hardships, poverty, violence, and political instability that are found in their country of origin.

University isn’t for everyone

Are there too many Asians at U of T?

An article published in Maclean’s’ annual university rankings guide has provoked many heated arguments for giving attention to this question. The article focuses on a disproportionate number of students of East Asian origin at elite universities, including immigrants, exchange students, and young people with deep roots in Canada.

Opening with the story of a student who avoided U of T because of its large Asian population, the article explores stereotypes of studious, austere Asian students who self-segregate from predominantly middle-class white kids who like getting drunk and, for the most part, can’t compete with “those” braniacs.

Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler touch on sociological reasons for the prominence of ethnic groups in academia and compares contemporary discriminatory policies against Asians with those held against Jews in the early twentieth century.

The feature ends by suggesting universities ought to do more to bridge gaps between ethnic groups on campus. Our own provost and president are quoted in the article, claiming U of T is a harmonious institution, a “rainbow nation” with lots of functional diversity.

The article was subject to angry criticisms, calling it sensationalist, racist and — worst of all — crappy journalism. But not before The Toronto Star jumped on the bandwagon.

The normally earnest Star was slammed for publishing a front-page, above-fold article linked with the Maclean’s feature, focusing on a Chinese-Canadian group urging parents not to force their children into university.

The Star received a plethora of similar criticism.

Both articles, and the resulting controversy, have highlighted three things. First, we are a society profoundly and unhealthfully uncomfortable talking about race. Second, both media outlets missed the fundamental issue behind this phenomenon. Third, the real issue is that universities are not one-size-fits-all institutions and way too many Canadians are attending them.

Universities are about academia. They are intended to be institutions based on critical thought and a free exchange of ideas. Completing an undergraduate degree is supposed to mean one is qualified to pursue graduate studies. While the insight gained during studies can be used in a career, university education has never been about providing practical skills to the general population.

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Ontario high-schoolers in the academic (as opposed to applied) stream are bred to go to university. Although college and other options are mentioned, the focus of many guidance counsellors dealing with Grade 12 students is getting their university applications completed by deadline.

Thousands of students drop out of university every year after realizing it’s not meant for them. This is a huge waste of time, money, and motivation. Universities, especially U of T, are crowded for various reasons, one of them being the huge number of students, not all of whom belong at university. One reason why plagiarism and cheating take place is that some students don’t belong in the university system and are struggling just to get by.

Young people, middle-class whites or not, who want a booze-filled easy ride to a well-paying job don’t belong in university. Children of immigrants who want careers outside of academia don’t belong in university. We need to take university off its pedestal as a status-granting institution for higher incomes and social inclusion.

The proper way for The Star to have reported the story on the disproportion of East Asian students would involve looking at students being coerced by parents and teachers into university, and certain careers, when they are better suited for other options. The reporting could mention the report by concerned Chinese parents and suggest the problem is more prominent among certain communities.

Although there are exceptions, such as polytechnic institutions in Québec, post-secondary education in Canada is largely a duality of universities and colleges. With little in between, we are left with university programs that try to be practical with limited success, and college programs that aren’t sufficiently theoretical.

OCAD University, a degree-granting university for decades, recently added the latter part onto their name. But why would a practical arts school be a university? Theory is taught, but students regularly produce their own art. OCAD being a university doesn’t make sense; it’s actually practical.

In comparison to some European countries, our system of two choices, university and college, is too narrow. Canadian students would be better served by a variety of options, by schools that cater to their career goals and learning habits. Otherwise, we continue to waste society’s time and resources on a vision of universities that doesn’t make sense.