Campus divides at AGM

Partisan politics emerged as a key theme of the UTSU annual general meeting that took place last Thursday. The three-hour meeting saw all agenda items pass and publicly unveiled a right-leaning student group critical of UTSU, which featured prominently in discussion and debates.

As in past years, the meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. started late. At about 6:30 p.m., Chair Ashkon Hashemi, who also serves as internal coordinator for CFS-Ontario, called the meeting to order. Many UTM students were also in attendance.

No Q&A

Five minutes into the meeting, student Brett Chang asked if there would be a general question period for business not stated on the agenda. Hashemi replied that discussion would be limited to motions already stated on the agenda.

Peter Buczkowski, a board of directors representative for UTM, attempted a motion to add a period for general questions onto the agenda, but Hashemi replied that general questions can be asked after the president’s address.

Michael Scott asked why there would be no separate question period held. Hashemi reiterated that questions could be asked after the president’s address and invited Michael Scott to make a motion moving the address to the meeting’s end. Mischa Menuck made the motion, which was defeated.

Throughout the meeting, student Brent Schmidt stated that motions had to be submitted by a November 17 deadline that he described as ill-advertised.

“I feel that there’s many people in this room who came here wanting to talk about things who haven’t been able to,” Schmidt said.

Invited guest-speaker Leslie Jermyn, chair of CUPE 3902, touched on student political engagement “in these difficult times.”

In his address, UTSU President Adam Awad spoke about recent UTSU successes that included both increased student participation in events and a rise in movie and event ticket sales from 200 per week to often over 200 a day. Awad also criticized university administration for their handling of the G20 and the Faculty of Arts and Science academic planning.

Partisan accusations

Schmidt and Chang both accused UTSU for only increasing clubs funding by 15 per cent while raising the campaigns budget by 120 per cent. They both claimed that students are better represented by clubs they participate in than what they allege to be “partisan advocacy campaigns.”

Awad explained that campaigns often represent all members and include the recent protest against flat fees and academic planning proposals from the Faculty of Arts and Science. He added that percentages are misleading and that he considers campaigns to be underfunded.

“If you feel unrepresented, it’s important to engage with the organization,” said Awad. “Coming out to this meeting is a great first step, but it requires coming often, it requires sending emails, and asking ‘What’s going on with this?’ […] It requires going out to meetings on a regular basis because all members have a vote every time we have a commission meeting.

“If people have specific issues that they want to see the union take up, it’s a matter of engaging with us and actually coming out and participating and that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to respond.

“But if we don’t ever hear from you, we’re not gonna know what your issues are.

Michael Scott criticized UTSU-run events such as disOrientation for “not embracing a diversity of opinions,” citing the pamphlet’s “blatantly one-sided” stance against ideologies such as capitalism and neoliberalism. Awad replied that UTSU sponsors a diversity of events and cited its participation in a Campus for Christ fundraiser.

Menuck challenged Awad to name a UTSU-run event that strained from its normally left-leaning ideology. Awad reiterated that students have to participate in UTSU to have their views voiced.

“We haven’t been approached by a group that has a completely opposite ideology from the groups that did disOrientation,” admitted Awad. “That has nothing to do with our capacity to deal with groups that have different beliefs doing events. It’s about people using the student union as a structure for organizing engagement with issues on campus.”

One specific club was mentioned during the discussion.

“The basic principle of a democratic society is that people of different ideologies and opinions should be heard and should be given equal treatment,” said Jorge Prieto, before explaining that the University of Toronto Free Democrats, a group whose website declares its advocacy for “traditional democracy and free market capitalism,” was denied funding.

Prieto alleged that the group was denied funding after it was “deemed to be right-wing and elitist,” before noting the funding of multiple left-leaning political groups.

“My question is should the purpose of UTSU be to provide services and things that are good for all students,” asked Prieto, “or should it be to promote a particular ideology that tends to divide rather than unite the campus?”

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Awad responded that services are just as political as campaigns, citing how offering health and dental plans is done in response to a lack of comprehensive drug and dental coverage. He then referred club funding allegations to VP Campus Life Corey Scott, who called the allegations “upsetting” and said the process is not political.

“Reading over the application, I didn’t even get the idea that it was a right-wing club,” said Corey Scott. “I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, because we aren’t denying any clubs on the basis of ideology. There were actually several clubs I didn’t even want to fund, but I would because it’s not my place to be saying that and the committee agrees.”

In a follow-up email to The Varsity, he noted that the club did not apply for funding for the current academic year

“Our correspondence shows that the club applied for clubs recognition on October 9, 2010 and sent an email inquiring about long-term funding on Friday, October 15, 2010 — the deadline for long-term clubs funding applications,” said Corey Scott. “This club has not attended the mandatory Club Executive training session which is requisite for long-term funding. We have not received a hard or digital copy of a funding application to date.”

He added that the club is still eligible for short-term funding if a representative attends club executive training and noted that Prieto was not one of the official contacts UTSU was corresponding with.

After Awad’s address, both UTMSU President Vickita Bhatt and board of director member Mariam Sheikh praised UTSU for their work for UTM students. Neither mentioned their affiliations with UTMSU.

Name Change Semantics

A motion passed to legally change its name from the current “Students’ Administrative Council of the University of Toronto” to “U.T.S.U.” after the name change was approved in a 2004 referendum.

Awad explained that senior administration would only allow the use of “University of Toronto” if it was able to approve all by-laws, audits, elections, and more. He said “a bit of creativity was needed,” admitting that having to use initials only “is a bit ridiculous” but ultimately useful since UTSU will save legal fees by not having to change documents related to the student commons project.

Awad then presented three proposed name changes for commission, “to make them more accessible to students.”

While replacing “Equity Commission” with “Social Justice and Equity Commission” generated little feedback, the other changes provoked substantial debate.

Two students criticized switching “External Commission” with “Community Action Commission” for being less value-neutral, while most controversy surrounded replacing “University Affairs Commission” with “Academic and Student Rights Commission.”

“Personally I don’t think UTSU works for students’ rights. I think UTSU has been actively working against the entire student body to target specific groups. I don’t believe their policies focus on the lives of students and improve them directly,” said Chang. “Until UTSU begins to represent students, not just one group of students […] I don’t believe they have the legitimate right to change their name to student rights.”

Michael Scott disagreed with the change for another reason.

“There are lots of student issues external to the university that should be brought to a commission that don’t necessarily fall into the community action label. I think renaming it as such will have the affect of self-selecting out [students] who don’t identify themselves as activists.”

Jiayi Zhou noted that she participates in all three commissions and said that “there is value in asserting” their roles.

“I dispute the idea that Community Action Commission must mean ‘Activist’ Commission,” said Zhou. “Community action has a much broader and more important meaning than the narrow pigeon-hole the opposition had tried to put it in.”

Criticisms of student engagement

A handful of students who participate in commissions criticized detractors for not doing likewise. Schmidt gave an impassioned response.

“I think it’s maybe a little a bit offensive to those students who are in this room who find it hard to even find the two hours of day to come to this AGM, to be told that our opinions only matter if we come to the commission meetings.

“’Cause quite frankly I study a lot to attend this university; I do a lot of activities in the community, and to be involved in student politics as well is a heavy burden. And I do want to participate and I try to come to meetings, but I do not believe that my opinion is only valuable insofar as I attend one of those meetings.”

Schmidt was met with an indirect reply from a single-parent student who says she commutes four hours each day.

“It really upsets me when I see students who don’t participate in the community,” she said. “When you put yourself into that ring and file a complaint and stand up and make statements at the podium, you need to be accountable for how much time you’ve invested into student affairs.”

After conversation digressed, the motion was called to question and was passed. A five-minute break was then called.

By-Law Changes

Seven changes to UTSU by-laws were approved, most involving minor rephrasing. One proposed ammendment generated about half an hour of discussion. It would change the three executive appointees to the Elections and Referenda Committee from the top executives positions to any three executives.

VP Equity Danielle Sandhu clarified that the was motion intended to “avoid situations of conflict of interest” that UTSU executives have had to manoeuvre around for years, since many executives have sought reelection.

“I find that there’s actually a truckload of things that could be put under this category of elections,” said Schmidt, explaining why he would abstain from the vote. “I don’t think this deals with any of the things that students came here to talk about.”

After some confusion, Daniel Bertrand, UTSU representative to the Students’ Law Society, clarified to attendees what a conflict of interest entails.

One student moved that the board, rather than the executive, be made responsible for choosing which executives sit on the committee. Hashemi ruled the amendment out-of-scope from the original proposal. He welcomed an appeal to his ruling, which was discussed in depth before being defeated.

A motion was passed to remove chairing the Blue Crew, a campus cheering squad, from the list of responsibilities for the VP Campus Life. Sandhu explained the group had become redundant after four years of inaction and replaced by other campus spirit groups, although Chang and Michael Scott said the motion was defeatist.

Hashemi closed the meeting at 9:30 p.m.

The print edition of this article incorrectly quoted Corey Scott as saying “…we are denying any clubs on the basis of ideology.” He actually said that UTSU is not denying funding on ideological grounds. The Varsity regrets the error.


In case you missed it…

Didn’t attend the meeting and think our article is long winded? 6 fun facts from the UTSU AGM:

Last year’s AGM started at 6:45 p.m. and finished at 11:00 p.m.

Hashemi asked a moustached Bertrand if he was aware that movember was over.

Noting the success of pancake brunches for commuter students, Awad observed that UTM students seemed to eat four times as many pancakes as St. George students.

There was slight confusion as Hashemi addressed “Scott,” pointing in the direction of both Michael Scott and UTSU VP student life Corey Scott.

Sandhu said she was relieved at not having to wear the Blue Crew over-alls

Awad mentioned that UTSU could focus more on offering movie tickets, but stated he’s more of a bookworm.


A challenger appears

Student Political Action Committee (SPAC)

SPAC’s Facebook group describes itself as “a forum for ideas of how we can pursue the mission of increasing accountability, efficiency and realism in our student union” to confront individual grievances with UTSU.
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Co-founders Schmidt (top) and Chang (bottom) stressed that the group will launch next year and is a non-partisan advocacy group. A significant amount of members participate in right-leaning groups on campus. When asked if they would be running for election, Chang told The Varsity he would not, while Schmidt declined to comment.

SPAC photos by ANDREW RUSK/The Varsity

U of T gives nurses a check-up

A new study on the trials and tribulations of Ontario nurses working in correctional facilities has recently been released. Generally, correctional nursing is an unexplored topic, but the results of this new study reveal the problems unique to the profession.

“It’s a study that hasn’t really been looked at. No one has really examined the work environment of these nurses before,” said Joan Almost, co-principal investigator exploring worklife issues in provincial correctional settings. Approximately 500 nurses work in Ontario’s provincial correctional system, caring for almost 9,000 people. The study included interviews with 17 nurses from different jails, prisons, and detention centers. The study also surveyed 30 managers.

“Understanding the perspectives [of] correctional nurses […] is critical to providing appropriate support,” said Linda Ogilvie, manager of corporate health care at the Ministry of Community and Safety and Correctional Services. Results of the study show the following main issues with correctional nurses’ working environments: heavy workload, lack of up-to-date nursing education, and the prioritizing of security over health care.

“The main focus of correctional facilities is security,” explained Almost. “Security hinders their scope of their practice and thus they have limited control over it. They can’t control their practice due to the security focus of their setting.” Explaining the intricacies of this specific problem, Joan points to the issue of the correctional officer always having to be present in the health unit. “If the officer is busy, a potential medication delivery might be delayed. If the inmate has to be moved from the cell, and the officer is not around, medical attention is delayed.

“Correctional officers are really in control,” she added. “Officers can either limit the role of the nurse or be a great asset to them.”

These problems, according to Almost, “Ultimately impact job satisfaction, and job burnout. The correctional nurses need support to do their jobs effectively.”

The study compared with older national reports of nurses outside correctional facilities showed interesting contrasts. Correctional nurses surveyed said that they had more emotional and relational disputes with their colleagues. They also showed a lower sense of personal accomplishment than nurses in other sectors. “However, correctional nurses reported similar levels of autonomy as well as similar levels of collaboration with physicians,” explained Almost. Correctional nurses reported lower levels of burnouts and higher intent to stay in their job. “Even though they had higher dissatisfaction, they stay in their jobs because they do enjoy them,” said Almost.

Discovered in the study was the statistic that while emotional abuse is high within nursing in correctional facilities, physical abuse is hardly present; there is more physical abuse found in regular hospitals. “It’s a security issue, and the goal is to maintain safety of everyone working there. Because security’s the main focus, it makes sense that there is a lot less physical abuse,” explained Almost.

While correctional nurses seem to be dissatisfied with a lack of support towards problems in their profession, they also seem to be very satisfied with the work they do. “It’s very satisfying seeing progress made with the inmates,” explained Almost. “The combination of the autonomy and being able to do a lot more in their role are one of the many reasons why correctional nurses enjoy their profession.

“The next study we’re hoping to do is to make some sort of educational process for the nurses. Since they are short staffed, they don’t have the opportunity to go to educational sessions outside their work.” Almost added that correctional nursing is very unique. “As a profession, we haven’t looked at it closely. We should explore and look at their work environment and try and improve the support for their role.”

Need a distraction?

Taylor Schmitz is a PhD student in U of T’s Collaborative Program in Neuroscience, and conducts studies at the intersection of neuroscience and psychology. By measuring activation in the visual cortex in his most recent experiment, he tested both younger and older adults’ ability to focus on pictures and select relevant information from them.

Schmitz assembled a group of 15 healthy young adults with a mean age of 22.2 years, along with a group of 15 healthy older adults averaging 77.4 years of age. Before conducting the experiment, Schmitz chose to observe two specific parts of the brain: the parahippocampal place area, or PPA, which responds to images of houses and buildings; and the fusiform face area, or FFA, which responds to faces.

Although 15 individuals in each group may not seem like a very large sample size, Schmitz assures that “the brain regions being studied do not differ significantly from one individual to the next. Some studies make the mistake of generalizing specific findings, but this does not concern us, because of the brain regions that we chose to study.”

Schmitz selected photographs of expressionless faces from a “psychological and computer-recognition database,” and cropped all hair and non-facial features from each picture. He then obtained images of houses from real estate websites.

In the “adaption” task, participants were placed in an fMRI scanner, and were asked to identify whether each face that was presented was female or male. Results showed that the older group generally made more errors when identifying male and female faces. PPA activation was significantly greater for the young adults, and overall FFA activation tended to be greater in the younger group as well.

In the second part of the experiment, both groups were asked to look at a picture of a 50 per cent transparency face that had been superimposed on a picture of a house. Researchers asked participants to focus only on the face, and identify its gender.

The fact that the PPA was activated in the older adults during this task showed that they were encoding both the face and the location, despite being asked to focus only on the face. In contrast, younger adults did not encode the locations at all but only encoded the faces, showing activation in the FFA only. Ten minutes after the study was conducted, the older adults also still remembered the places that corresponded to each face.
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“Our brain-behaviour results suggest the intriguing possibility that a reduced discriminatory signal originating from receptive field push-pull mechanisms might underlie age-related declines in perceptual attention,” Schmitz mentions in his study.

Schmitz concludes that younger adults possess a perceptual filter that can separate out unwanted information, while only focusing on what is relevant. On the other hand, older adults have a “leaky” perceptual filter, which means they tend to process more irrelevant information.

However, Schmitz has yet to understand what precisely occurs at a neural level to make the filter “leaky.” Further experimental work will also include altering the perceptual load — in other words, varying the opacity of the pictures — in order to see how each group responds to the stimuli under different conditions.

At present, Schmitz is focused on expanding his current findings by altering the images and observing the brain changes that occur in each age group, in order to fully prove that older adults are more vulnerable to distraction.

Is Canada a democracy?

In the conventional language of today’s political science, Canada is a prime example of a democracy because of its political stability, free elections, and extensive civil liberties.

I, however, mean to imply something deeper with this question. Democracy, in its Greek roots, means “rule by the people,” but are Canadians the ones who are really calling the shots in Canada? Is this democratic parliamentary system truly democratic?

If you think these are just musings of a far-left socialist unsatisfied with bourgeois democracy, think again. For now there are thousands of Canadians asking themselves this question.

In the last two weeks, we’ve witnessed two events that have cast doubt over people’s trust in this “democratic” system.

First, after the House of Commons voted for a very moderate Climate Change Accountability Act, it was the unelected Senate that killed the bill without debate in a snap vote. Parliamentary experts say this is the first time in at least 70 years that the Senate has killed legislation from Commons without a hearing. U.K. commentators point that even the House of Lords in their country hasn’t done this for years.

Then Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, with implicit support from the Liberals, decided to skip over the Commons for a decision that was apparently not all that important: keeping 950 soldiers in a “non-combat” role in Afghanistan until 2014. As such, the Harper government is not only going over the Commons’ previous decision to end the mission in 2011, it has done so without even debating the issue in the place that is supposed to be the heart of Canadian democracy.

These events are not accidents, nor are they the result of a Prime Minister who is surprisingly arrogant and dictatorial in his style. These are in fact very consistent with the democratic system in Canada. This is how this system works. This is what democracy in Canada looks like.
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One could easily list a good number of reasons why it is not the people who rule in democratic capitalist countries. I point to four here:

1) The real decisions that determine the lives of the majority of people in this country are in fact not made in the House of Commons or even 24 Sussex Drive. Eighty-five per cent of the Canadian economy is controlled by just under 150 banks and corporations. They are the ones who decide whether you’ll have a job, what you will buy, and how high your living standard is.

2) It’s not very hard to see the revolving door between government and business in capitalist countries. Jim Prentice, Harper’s former environment minister, just left “public service” to join CIBC in Toronto. It’s debatable in which position he would be more useful. The reality is that the agendas of the Conservative and Liberal parties are primarily set by corporate interests. He who pays the musician, sets the tune. This is why, in 1933, farmers and workers in this country decided to launch a political party of their own that would represent their own interests. This was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later fused with the Canadian Labour Congress to become the New Democratic Party. This was, to quote its founder Tommy Douglas, “a party of mice” as opposed to two parties of black and white cats. But the party that was supposed to radically alter this system (according to its founding Regina Manifesto) hasn’t yet done so and is not exactly trying either.

3) The NDP has learned, as have other socialist parties around the world, that the capitalist state can’t just be appropriated and used by a socialist party that aims to destroy it and bring about real, participatory democracy. Suppose the NDP came to power in Canada tomorrow. What would really change? How can it change the enormous apparatus called the State? You can vote to elect your MP and MPP, sure. But have you ever thought of the massive bureaucracies that work independently of the people you just voted in? They are the ones who really run the show. How many times have you voted to elect your local policeman, judges, or public corporation CEO?

4) Canada, like every other capitalist democracy, has what I call “Safety valves.” Just in case a socialist party actually came to power bringing about real empowerment and democracy to people, there are quite a few unelected obstacles who have “emergency” powers to stop it from doing so: the Senate is one of them. The other more important one, is the Governor General who is but a humble “representative” of the Queen of England. And if you think the Governor General doesn’t have any “real” power, try to remember how Mr. Harper made a cursory call to Michelle Jean to prorogue the parliament, twice in less than two years.

These are the realities that every Canadian has to think about. These are the facts that remind us we don’t really run the show in this “democracy.”

Fuming about the Senate killing the climate change bill, NDP leader Jack Layton shouted that: “The Senate should be abolished!” He is right. The New Democratic Party should aim not only to rid Canada of this 19th century relic of tyranny, but should also work to overthrow the modern tyranny of bourgeois “democracy.”

Arash Azizi is a member of University of Toronto New Democratic Party Club’s executive and a co-chair of the Marxist Discussion Club.

What’s that in my food? — Whey!

Whey is the fluid left over when milk is made into cheese. It is used in everything from ricotta to the popular Swiss soft-drink Rivella.

The Western world didn’t start using whey until the 1950s, when farmers noticed that weeds growing along streams near cheese-making factories were unusually strong. The waste from cheese factories was first used as fertilizer, before scientists confirmed that this by-product was healthy.

But it took modern society some time to discover its nutritional value. Hippocrates is said to have drunk whey. Little Miss Muffet, from the famous nursery rhyme, actually did “[sit] on her tuffet, eating some curds and whey” in the 17th century.

Interestingly, whey contains the same proteins as human milk, which are distinct from the protein found in cow’s milk. As a result, whey is an important ingredient in baby formula.

Isolating the protein content of whey produces whey protein, which is extremely popular in the body-building world. Whey protein is also an important ingredient in protein shakes and post-workout recovery foods, because it is easily digestible and thus efficiently absorbed by muscles.

The health benefits of whey are further illustrated by a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 which showed that when consumed as part of a high-glycemic-index meal, whey promoted the release of insulin. Thus, whey may be beneficial for individuals suffering from Type 2 diabetes.

In addition, the presence of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, in whey is also significant, since BCAAs play a key role in metabolism.

Whey is useful as a food additive thanks to its ability to bind water and prevent food from going stale. As a result, whey is essential for evoking cheesiness in cheese-flavored chips, as well as enabling the creaminess in aerosol spray cheese.

In the 1990s, scientists discovered that after forcing whey protein through a high-pressure tube, the resulting microparticles acquired a fat-like texture. As a result, microparticulated whey protein, sold under the brand name Simplesse, is now found as an artificial fat in low-fat cheese products and desserts.

In the past 50 years, whey has gone from being a mere by-product to becoming an essential component of hundreds of foods. Whey’s story shows that what may appear to be waste isn’t always the case!

The Varsity Interview: Scott Thompson

While Scott Thompson wearing a brassiere may be nothing new, his venue for wearing one certainly is. Well known for playing Queen Elizabeth II and the outspoken, flamboyantly gay socialite Buddy Cole, Thompson pushed the boundaries of queer comedy with his characters from the Kids in the Hall. The iconic Canadian comedy troupe merged the cynicism of the ‘90s and the silliness of Monty Python, articulating the art of dark humour.

Thompson recently reunited with his fellow Kids for their mini-series Death Comes to Town, but shortly before starting the Brampton shoot, the comedian was diagnosed with cancer. A year later and cancer free, Thompson is back in heels and back with the Kids, but this time they’re the real kind. He takes the role of Plinky, the buxom dame in Ross Petty’s family musical, Beauty and the Beast.

The Varsity: How did you come to play one of the lead female roles in this production?

Scott Thompson: Well, these roles are always played by a man, it’s traditional. I was just asked and I had nothing else to do. I thought my book was going to come out two months ago and I thought I could do it. I am doing it, and loving it.

TV: You’re coming out with a book?

ST: I have a book coming out tomorrow. It’s called The Hollow Planet. It’s a graphic novel, the first of three.

TV: Is it at all autobiographical?

ST: No, it’s a complete fantasy; a comedy fantasy adventure at the centre of the earth, pure pleasure. I took the two things that I love in the world, fantasy and comedy, and tried to put them together.

TV: What prompted that?

ST: Well I started writing it ten years ago as a screenplay. I took it around to a number of studios and they all said, “We love it, it’s highly original, but we’ll never make it,” because it had giant women, mammoths, elves and trolls in a fantastical world and, you know, it was starring me, an obscure gay comedian from Canada — it was ridiculous. But I knew that it was a story that I had to get out, so I decided to turn it into a graphic novel, and that’s what I’ve been doing the last two years.

It’s the story of Danny Huskin. He’s a very straight, middleclass, conservative businessman. I wanted to find a way out of the box I’ve been in, the stereotyping box. Because I’ve been openly gay my whole career, all people have wanted to give me were gay roles and the truth is most gay roles are really awful. They’re roles that an activist would write, not what an artist would write. They’re all about being a positive role model and all that crap. That’s boring in drama. I created a vehicle with Danny so I could play something like a super straight guy. That was my thought behind it. Of course, it’s ten years later and now I just want the story out. If it became a movie, that would be wonderful, but I’m very happy with it just being a graphic novel. It’s a beautiful thing, the art is gorgeous, I’m extremely proud of it.

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TV: Speaking of the typecast box, when Buddy Cole was becoming a regular character on the show, did you have any apprehensions of being typecast?

ST: Honestly, no. I had no idea. I didn’t realize how narrow-minded people would be; it took me a long time to realize that if I was to get out of that box I had to do it myself. I’m no longer angry about it — I was for many, many years. I’m more philosophical about it now. But at the time it did bug me a lot, because I kept going, “Look at The Kids in the Hall. I play everyone, why can’t I play those people?” But they wouldn’t let me, so that’s the way it was.

TV: What do you think it is about a man dressed in women’s clothing that generates that immediate humour?

ST: Interesting, because it doesn’t work the other way does it?

TV: No.

ST: No. Here’s my theory: the reason males dressed as females works immediately as comedy is because a male dressed as a female is a fall from power, and comedy is like a science. Comedy is chemistry. Comedy happens when someone loses status. For example, if the Queen of England trips and stumbles, that’s hilarious. Now, if a homeless leper trips and stumbles it’s not funny, because the distance between her status and what happens is greater, and that creates comedy. Let’s say we lived in a matriarchy where women were in control, and I think Canada actually is drifting towards matriarchy in some ways, so in 20 years, when women are completely in control of everything I think that it will be the reverse.

TV: So have you found that the way this humour is received has changed since the late ‘80s?

ST: I think you might be right. Yes, I think the further women advance, the less funny drag will be. There will come a time when it won’t be funny at all. Now for the Kids in the Hall, we always wanted our women to be just characters, so we had to work very hard against people laughing at us just because we were women. You look at the way we did drag and the way Monty Python did drag and it’s very different. We never wink at the audience. Even the kind of drag I’m doing in this show is different; it’s an old-fashioned style of drag. So in a way this is the first time I’ve really done drag — true drag.

TV: Did it become frustrating when audiences took the cross-dressing on The Kids to be comical?

ST: Yes, and that’s why we always worked very hard at making our women not comical-looking. When we first started out they would make our hair bigger and our clothes sillier but we were like, “No, this woman wouldn’t wear that, we have to look like how this woman would look.” That was a big deal for the hair, makeup, and wardrobe. That was a big evolutionary leap, in a way, in comedy.

TV: Looking at your most recent project with the Kids, Death Comes to Town, how has the dynamic in the troupe changed since your start at the Rivoli?

ST: We don’t fight as much. And I’ll be honest, making that series was so different than making Brain Candy [the troupe’s 1996 feature film]. It’s hard for me to even judge because I was quite ill when making it so it was very different for me. All I know is they carried me. They took great care of me and were amazing. Even though it was difficult, in some ways it was maybe the easiest shoot I’ve ever had to do, because all I had to do was concentrate on being alive between action and cut. Everything else, it didn’t matter. I injured myself during the shoot and I was in a wheelchair for a lot of it, but it didn’t matter for me because when I was shooting I was so concentrated and so happy to be doing what I was doing and not in a hospital, not getting chemotherapy.

TV: Did you find acting at the time served as an escape?

ST: Yes, absolutely. Also it was the Kids in the Hall coming back together again, so I had something to live for. I told my doctors, “I’ve got to be better. August 10 I’ve got to be in front of the cameras in heels, you’ve got to get me there. I don’t care if I arrive thin and hairless — at least I’ll be thin.”

TV: Do you have a preference between theatre and camera?

ST: Right now I’m loving live theatre. I love both of them but I get a real thrill out of being on stage now. I don’t really worry now about bombing, that’s the least of my worries.

TV: In the 2004 documentary I, Curmudgeon, you describe yourself as not having a censor button —

ST: Boy I wish I’d never done that movie, I’ll be honest.

TV: Why is that?

ST: I don’t feel like a curmudgeon anymore.

TV: No? When did that change?

ST: The last couple of years. I’m no longer a curmudgeon, no. I don’t even have the balls to see myself in that movie, because I don’t think I was in a happy place. I still get angry at a lot of things in the world but a curmudgeon seems like a person who’s bitter and I’m not bitter. I pulled back and went the other way.

TV: Would you still describe yourself as not having a censor button?

ST: Oh, that’s still true.

TV: And how does that factor into working on a family theatre production?

ST: Well that’s a testament to them for hiring me. It’s difficult though. What helps me is that I like kids a lot. If I didn’t like kids it might be a problem, but I really do love them. I also think it’s important to talk to them like adults, but I know there are certain things I can’t say to them, which is fine with me because I don’t want to scar them. I like to tease them and I think they really enjoy it when I say things that are a little strange to them. It’s an interesting dance I have to do, especially with my problem…my “Tourette’s” problem.

TV: Favourite man dressed in women’s clothing: Jack Lemmon, Divine, or Lady Gaga?

ST: [Pause] I would say Jack Lemmon. Jack Lemmon is hilarious, Some Like it Hot is my favourite comedy. And because Divine is not really dressed as a woman, he’s a drag queen, and Lady Gaga… I don’t even want to get into that one.

Beauty and the Beast runs to January 2 at the Elgin Theatre.

What’s that in my food?

After receiving a conditional pass from a Toronto Public Health inspection last October, University of Toronto Scarborough restaurant Rex’s Den is getting back on its feet by enforcing stricter sanitary rules and updating their employee training procedures.

Outlined in the TPH’s Establishment Inspection Report, Rex’s Den fell short in 11 areas including proper washing of room surfaces, providing towels in the food preparation area and thermometers in the storage compartment, proper use of utensils, containers and wrappings to avoid contamination and hand contact with food, and ensuring the food-handling room’s ceiling is kept clean and in good repair.

In compliance to TPH stipulations, Rex’s Den displayed a yellow conditional pass on its front entrance for 48 hours, when the follow-up inspection was set to occur assuring that their infractions had been corrected. The sign also acted as a way to inform customers that they faced potential health risks by choosing to eat at the restaurant at the time.

But patron Alline Kazarian maintains that seeing the yellow pass did not discourage her from ordering her usual. “After a brief conversation with one of the servers, I decided that these infractions weren’t serious enough for me to reconsider my choice to eat at Rex’s.”

Echoing Kazarian’s comment, it is outlined in the TPH’s “Food Premises Inspection and Disclosure System” that having “a potential health risk to the public” does not necessarily indicate that it is “unsafe” to eat at that particular establishment.

Joel Clark, business manager of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, who also own Rex’s Den, explained that all infractions were corrected either during or a few hours after the inspection, garnering the restaurant a green pass, which indicates that the premises is in compliance with the TPH’s sanitary standards.

Receiving the conditional pass, Clark said, was the product of a series of unfortunate incidents and bad timing. “The inspector came in at lunch hour, which caused him to witness a lot of things that [were] still in the process of completion.”

He cited the issue concerning the kitchen’s ceiling as an example, explaining that there was a “water leak on the system the day before the inspection and when the inspector came, facilities management were still finishing their work.”

Despite the gravity of the incident, Customer Service Manager Alexander Gemitti believed that Rex’s Den had benefited from the experience.

“It certainly contributed in bettering the way we serve our customers — we are taking what we have learned from our inspections and incorporating them in our system.”

Gemitti said that every employee, old or new, is always in constant training and that checklists have been put in place to ensure that everyone is performing their tasks properly and up to par with the restaurant’s new standards.

Clark also added that ever since the inspection, it has been stressed that “a task doesn’t end with food preparation and is only completed when [each staff has] cleaned everything and put away [cutlery] and foods in their proper stacks.”

Some students, however, like frequent Rex’s Den patron Morgaine Craven, are still wary about the implications of the conditional pass. “Even with these improvements in place I am still concerned about the restaurant’s issues regarding contamination.”

She believes that standards concerning food, once set, should never be broken. Craven is worried that “the practises that were fixed directly after the inspection will once again be committed in the near future.”

Rex’s Den has undergone a total of four inspections since 2009 and received passing results in three of these inspections.

It’s not easy being green

This year, the University of Toronto is number one when it comes to green campuses. U of T received an A- on the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card, making it the leader of over 300 schools surveyed in Canada and the United States.

“I hope it will make students and faculty and other members of the U of T community more aware of the fantastic things the university has been doing in this area for a very long time,” said Vice President of Business Affairs, Cathy Riggall. “Too many people are not aware of our leadership in this area and are not aware that we have been a leader for so long.”

The report, prepared by the Sustainable Endowments Institute based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, uses seven categories to evaluate how well an institution meets its own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. In administration, food and recycling, student involvement, endowment transparency, and shareholder engagement, U of T achieved As. The remaining categories — climate change and energy, green building, transportation, and investment priorities — yielded Bs.

“There are a lot of really cool initiatives coming out of the university,” said President of the Arts and Sciences Student Union, Gavin Nowlan. “And there are a number of campus groups that are really pushing for a more sustainable campus.”

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Specific programs that add to the University of Toronto’s green image have come from both the administrative and student bodies. These include the Lug a Mug program, which saves students $0.25 at participating coffee shops on campus when they bring their own mug, trayless dining at New College, and post-consumer composting which was introduced in cafeterias last winter. Last year’s sustainability office piloted a project that encouraged paperless teaching. “Faculty members signed on to a pledge to reduce paper consumption in their offices,” explained Nowlan. This fall, the eco-tray program was launched in an effort to replace disposable takeout containers with reusable ones.

“Many of our programs have been in place for a number of years,” expressed Anne Macdonald, director of ancillary services. “So in some ways it is a little surprising that we were not recognised with higher scores in previous years.”

Under the leadership of Director Jaco Lokker, U of T’s food services increased their emphasis on sustainable food procurement. Having been in partnership with Local Food Plus since 2006, food services have striven to increase the amount of local, organic, and vegetarian-fed products used on campus.

According to Macdonald, the Chestnut and New College residences stand out as having especially sustainable cafeterias when it comes to both local procurement and waste reduction. Along with University College and Aramark locations, these cafeterias also have organic and vegetarian-fed options.

Riggall assures students that the administrative team is always investigating new technologies and methods to keep U of T eco-friendly. The university hires managers to look after their investments, but U of T’s Responsible Investing Committee is currently considering how to encourage managers to take sustainability into account in their decision-making processes. The administration plans to maintain a focus on options that make financial sense, such as installing interactive displays and other modes of promoting awareness. Currently, there is a display up in the lobby of the exam centre on McCaul Street that shows the history of sustainability at U of T.

Nowlan thinks the university needs to tackle other concerns such as waste disposal on campus.

“This is an issue we’ve brought up with the admin before,” he said. “Many students don’t know that the university doesn’t use the city’s garbage services. The university has its own garbage service.” He went on to explain how improper recycling increases waste disposal costs, which is ultimately felt by the students. “We’re continuing to put pressure on the university to tackle larger issues like [this].”