‘Hey Jim!’

A U of T student was among seven protestors arrested Monday for a day long sit-in at finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby constituency office.

“We got the message that [Flaherty] was too busy to speak to us. We negotiated to speak to the chief of staff and he was not interested in having any kind of discussion,” said Indra Noyes, the fourth-year psychology student who was among the seven.

Last Saturday marked the third such protest in recent weeks by the group People for Climate Change, which formed to pressure the government to take stronger action on climate change as world leaders gather for negotiations in Copenhagen. Demonstrators have also occupied the offices of environmental minister Jim Prentice and labour minister Rona Ambrose.

The group wants Canada to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. On Monday, they delivered a letter to Flaherty, calling on him to make commitments that include passing the Climate Change Accountability Act and signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. “Climate change is a human rights issue, and First Nations in Canada are feeling climate change worst and first,” the letter reads.

Protestors crashed the office at 9:30 a.m. and chained themselves together, while others picketed outside. Police arrived shortly after but let them stay until 4:30 p.m., when the office closed. Two protestors had to be carried out.

During the day, demonstrators sung, chanted, tweeted, and spoke to media. Their rendition of “Hey Jim”—a take on “Hey Jude”—failed to net a meeting with the minister.

Flaherty’s office could not be reached for comment. Press secretary Chisholm Pothier told CTV that occupying the office was “the absolutely worst way to get a meeting with the minister.” Pothier said the group did not make a formal request to meet Flaherty before the protest.

All seven were charged with criminal mischief, trespass, and loitering, according to Noyes. They also had to sign an agreement of non-association until their Jan. 14 court date, with exemptions for those who work together.

Noyes sits on the board of the U of T Environmental Resource Network, and is involved with Rainforest Action Network Toronto and Community Solidarity Response Team, an activist group that works with communities affected by Canadian mining companies. The companies have long denied allegations of human rights abuses from at least 30 countries.

Despite what she called an incredibly disappointing response from Flaherty’s office, Noyes said there are more sit-ins planned, though she did not know specifics.

“Non-violent direct action has been a part of every single struggle of social change,” said Noyes. “If our government doesn’t lead, then the people will lead and the government will have to follow.”

A little bird told me

“The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted.” Such sentiments were expressed frequently during the turmoil over last summer’s Iranian elections. When foreign press was barred from attending demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Twitter became the easiest way for dissidents in the country to make their voices heard.

The phrase could also apply to last week’s annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students. The controversial Motion 6 passed, making it harder for member unions to defederate. (Thirteen campuses across Canada have defederation campaigns underway; 11 have already submitted petitions. A spokesperson said the changes will not affect petitions filed before the national executive meeting in January.) A massive reform package, aimed at making the CFS more transparent and accountable to its members, was mostly rejected.

The CFS allowed one journalist accreditation to cover the AGM: Emma Godmere, Ottawa bureau chief of the Canadian University Press. But journalists from the McGill Daily and the Concordian came as members of their student union, and proceeded to use Twitter to cover the event at #cfs09. Godmere also used Twitter to live-blog the event.

The CFS stopped the unaccredited McGill Daily and Concordian reporters from posting under their papers’ banners; they continued tweeting under their own names. The reporters from the Quebec student papers posted tweets like “…no francophone media at all will be allowed in. Shame.” Godmere, with tweets such as “Motion referral carries with amendment,” was allowed to continue posting as a CUP reporter.

“I was approached by a CFS staff member who casually mentioned that if the other two papers kept tweeting, the official media credentials for CUP could be retracted in the near future,” said Godmere.

Twitter opened a floodgate of opinion and debate from people who would not otherwise have had a say, either because they did not attend the AGM or because CFS policy forbids reporters from interviewing delegates until after the closing plenary.

Twitter accounts covering the event came in four categories. Pro-CFS posts came mostly from CFS staffers or supporters, while anti-CFS posts were mostly made by student politicians and reform supporters. Live blogs had journalists and others giving play-by-plays. Lastly, joke accounts were designed to disrupt, add humour, or embarrass members on either side.

It wasn’t always easy to follow the action. Both the pro- and anti-CFS factions would endlessly re-tweet the same sentence, occasionally leading to a wall of identical text.

There were also accounts with minute differences in their names, making it difficult to distinguish legitimate accounts from saboteurs. For @cfsQuebec, an account from frustrated Quebecois students, there was @cfs_Quebec, posting, “I need some gum to cover my beer breath.”

Reactions to the passing of Motion 6 elicited such responses as “Motion six defeated, 1/3rd of delegates question top-down authoritarianism, BUT chair fails to recognize result” from @CFSQuebec.

“Thousands of students across the country getting ready to revolt against the CFS if motion 6 passes…” from @TBYS_.

And from @csuconcordia, “CSU and other schools walk out of CFS meeting!”

On the lighter side, an account claiming to be the “Cdn Fed of Goats” said, “but i wanted bleat on motion 6!!!” “Concerned delegates cannot find hot dog cart. Can an insider please confirm where the hot dog cart is located,” chimed in @foodsolidarity, while @cfspalin contributed such tweets as “All the mavericks in the house put your hands up.”

Joey Coleman, a blogger for Globecampus who was following #cfs09, told The Varsity the social network “broke the wall.” Coleman, referencing the CFS’s reluctance to allow media coverage, added, “Twitter is impossible for the CFS to stop, short of installing cell-phone jammers.”

Coleman has followed past CFS AGMs, and said Twitter made this one different. “[Previously] we didn’t really find out about what was going on behind the scenes—you heard whispers.”

Godmere, at the closing plenary session when all the motions were voted on, used Twitter to provide up-to-the-minute coverage. She said she enjoyed the discussion the site facilitated, but worried about the “negative voices involved in that dialogue.”

Godmere said that some of the joke accounts added humour to the proceedings, but others only added further divisions. “You had no idea if it was someone inside or outside [the AGM] tweeting,” she said, adding that some delegates voiced concerns of privacy violations.

For more coverage, see “Double or nothing,” also in this issue. Follow The Varsity on Twitter here.

A moving feast

Last Sunday, the Muslim Students’ Association and the Muslim Association of Canada gave away food and held a dinner for over 200 families at the Scadding Court Community Centre. Community members gathered to commemorate Eid-Al-Ada, the Feast of Sacrifice, which occurs the day after pilgrims performing the Hajj in Saudi Arabia descend from Mount Arafat.

“It’s a celebration of devotion to God and occurs at the end of the major pilgrimage,” said Anton Kurtanik, the MSA’s community affairs coordinator. “To symbolize the sacrifice of Abraham, they [Muslims] sacrifice an animal.”

Traditionally, Muslims will sacrifice an animal for Eid-Al-Ada, keeping a third of the meat for their family, giving a third to their friends, and the final third to the less fortunate.

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Volunteers distributed over 1,800 pounds of halal meat, the equivalent of of 60 lambs and one cow, to over 750 people. “Considering it was the weekend before exams, it was amazing to see so many volunteers come out,” Kuratnik said. MSA members numbered 30 among the hundred or so volunteers. After the meat was distributed, families dined on chicken curry, salad, potatoes, and rice. A children’s table provided face-painting and crafts.

The MSA can be reached at uoftmsa.com and communications@uoftmsa.com

Words Action Thoughts Community Heart, a U of T based group with over 400 members, works with children and youth in the Regent Park community. WATCH sends volunteer tutors to Lord Dufferin Public School to work with students aged five to 18.

On Dec. 16, the group will host its 11th annual holiday dinner. Volunteers will deck out Hart House’s Great Hall with a Christmas tree in preparation for an evening of music, games, food, and presents from Santa. WATCH is aiming for over 170 children to attend, and hope to have 60 to 70 volunteers.

“We really aim to give the children a nice Christmas, because many of the families we help can’t have a big dinner or give the kids nice presents,” William Sanh said, the group’s sponsorship coordinator. Most of the toys have been donated through six toy drives they held this year.

“The classrooms are overcrowded and the teacher cannot help them one-on-one,” said William Sanh, the group’s sponsorship coordinator. WATCH also runs an after-school program called Girls and Boys K Club, where student volunteers run an arts and crafts room and help kids with homework, as well as supervising kids whose parents work late.

“All of our volunteers find it great because they get to a build a close relationship with the kids,” Sanh said.

WATCH holds a blood drive each semester, and members also volunteer at a soup kitchen at the Church of the Redeemer at 162 Bloor St. W.

To get involved with WATCH, check out their Facebook page or email uoftwatchcommunity@gmail.com

To defederate, or not to defederate

Daniella Kyei, VP Equity for the University of Toronto Students’ Union, told The Newspaper in an article published in November, “It isn’t completely realistic for any single body to represent all 41,000 undergraduates.” This is a glaring contradiction to the “Welcome Statement” on UTSU’s website, which declares, “UTSU is your students’ union.” There’s a conspicuous gap between UTSU’s claim to represent all U of T undergrads, and the reality that on a campus as diverse as St. George, one group cannot represent all, leaving many feeling powerless and unrepresented.

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At St. George, the sense of being disenfranchised has grown to such a degree that there is widespread talk of defederation around campus. Leaders from many of the colleges and the professional faculties have expressed a desire to separate from UTSU. Jimmy Lu, president of the Engineering Society, told us “Engineers have always had a UTSU separation committee. UTSU campaigns do not provide any benefits to engineering students…” Francesca Imbrogno, president of the St. Michael’s College Student Union, told The Varsity that defederation is a possibility, remarking, “opinions around SMC are pretty serious because no one sees the cons of defederating.” SMCSU will even be holding a town hall on defederation in January. Finally, Daniel Tsekhman, president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society said, “The UC Lit aims to be driven by the opinion of the UC community. If students want to leave, then we will start an open discussion to see if it’s the best option.”

The size of our university community is a big factor in the increasing divide between UTSU and U of T, as students generally feel like a number within the larger university community. The colleges and faculties, on the other hand, promote a sense of identity. They tend to have focused, medium-sized student governments where it’s easier to feel connected to local representatives.

Barring a road-to-Damascus-conversion, UTSU will continue to operate with little transparency and accountability. The colleges and professional faculties already have the infrastructure to provide the services that UTSU provides, such as the health/dental plan and the TTC metro-passes. Catherine Brown, president of Victoria College Students’ Union told us, “At the end of the day, before VUSAC defederates from UTSU we need to make sure that any services we lose from defederating we could provide ourselves.” The colleges and professional faculties could work together to provide these services, while being connected more directly to the students they represent.

If students want a mechanism with which to exit or enter the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the UTSU executive must provide one.

UBC student union moves to withdraw UN human rights complaint

Two student union executives at the University of British Columbia are facing impeachment for filing a human rights complaint to the United Nations over affordable education. Last Thursday, Blake Frederick, president of the Alma Mater Society, and Tim Chu, VP of external affairs, held a press conference to announce that the AMS, which represents over 45,000 students, has put forward the complaint regarding the federal and provincial government’s failure to provide accessible post-secondary education to all.

“Since the tuition fee freeze was lifted in 2002, student fees in British Columbia have more than doubled. The high cost of tuition means that many capable students, particularly those from lower-income families, are unable to get a university education,” said Frederick. The complaint to the UN claims that the provincial and federal governments are violating Article 13 (c) of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which states that “Higher education shall be made accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

In a press release, Katrina Pacey, counsel for the AMS, said, “We are asking the UN to hold the government accountable for their complete failure to live up to their commitment to provide accessible higher education.”

The UN complaint took the community, including other AMS execs, by surprise. The AMS Council held an emergency meeting last Saturday, and unanimously voted to retract the complaint. The council also called for Frederick and Chu to resign for not consulting the council and the student body before submitting the complaint. Frederick and Chu did not attend the meeting.

“This wasn’t something that had been talked about in the student council, or in any public meetings for that matter,” Matthew Naylor, council representative for the faculty of arts, told The Varsity. Andrew Carne, representative for the engineering faculty, wrote in an email, “AMS Council, which acts as the board of directors for the society, was completely blindsided by this and first heard about it through an article in the Vancouver Sun.” He added, “[T]his is greatly concerning [sic], as it means the entire process of drafting the complaint was carried out in secrecy without consulting students or their elected representatives on Council.”

Frederick told The Varsity that the executive committee was made aware of this complaint and agreed to go forward with the case. “We raised the topic of the UN complaint several times at our executive committee meetings […] VP finance Tom Dvorak and VP academic and university affairs Johannes Rebane signed the contract with Pivot Legal Society to go forward with the complaint,” he said. “Council would have knowledge through the [minutes of the] executive meetings sent for approval.” Dvorak and Rebane did not respond to calls and emails for comment.

A special council meeting is set for next Monday to recall Frederick and Chu. Frederick and Chu were given until Wednesday to resign. If they do not, the council will impeach them at Monday’s meeting. Frederick said the pair have no intention of resigning.

Facebook groups for the two sides have sprung up. As of press time, the group “We oppose the AMS impeachment of Blake Frederick and Tim Chu” had 386 members, and “Impeach the AMS President and VP External” had 1,287 members.

Just a bunch of hot air

On the morning of Dec. 1, an e-bulletin was sent around to the U of T community confirming that we had signed on to the made-in-Ontario sustainability pledge, titled Ontario Universities: Committed to a Greener World. Critics say this isn’t enough, deeming it a watered-down version of the Presidents Climate Initiative.

The original PCI was drafted in the United States, and now has 615 signatories there and 13 in Canada, most of them in British Columbia.

In Ontario, Trinity College at U of T signed it, but the initiative has been met with resistance from the Council of Ontario Universities, and in particular, U of T’s president David Naylor.

Critics of the Ontario version say it is less effective and less binding than the original version. Joanna Dafoe, who helped establish the UTSU Sustainability Commission, has been a strong advocate for the older, nation-wide PCI. She criticizes the newer, Ontario version as “inconsequential for reducing the university’s carbon footprint.”

A line-by-line comparison of the two versions shows how they differ in key respects. Unlike the older version, Ontario’s rewrite does not specifically address climate change, but speaks broadly about how universities could advance sustainability. It does not include mention of greenhouse gas emissions targets, it omits Ontario colleges, and it advocates a voluntary rather than regulatory or binding framework.

The Canadian PCI requires “a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions.” What Dafoe is waiting for, she says, “is the willingness on the part of the administration to make a sustained effort to reduce emissions.”

Naylor’s argument against the Canadian PCI is that U of T’s campus is too large to accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions: “It’s like saying you’re going to measure the chemistry of chicken soup,” Naylor told The Varsity in an interview last April, calling the PCI “more show business than substance.”

However, Dafoe points out that U of T has already measured greenhouse gas emissions on campus, through a building-by-building inventory of emissions, complied by the university’s Sustainability Office. Measurements of emissions from utilities, waste, and transportation are available on the SO website, she notes.

Danny Harvey, a climate scientist and professor of geography, says there are several ways U of T could reduce its carbon footprint. Creating energy-efficient facilities should be the top priority, he says. Some university administrators are wary of the costs associated with substantial building retrofits and green design, but Harvey points out that universities could see significant financial savings over the long term from energy-efficiency retrofits and better design.

Other student leaders appear to be split over the COU’s position. The Canadian Federation of Students and Sierra Youth Coalition are critical of the Ontario PCI as committing only to the “status quo.” In contrast, Dan Moulton, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is quoted in the COU press release as saying, “Ontario’s students appreciate this pledge.”

Dafoe adds, “the adoption of a comprehensive sustainability framework for the entire university is really important in terms of making environmental gains on campus.” She is skeptical whether that will be accomplished if the Ontario universities set the bar low for themselves with their own version of the PCI.

New world order

Despite prognostication from the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar that 2012 is the world’s end date, the world’s tipping point will most likely begin around 2016. After that, global warming, rising sea levels, and the resulting migrations of millions of people are thought to be unchangeable. If Cleo Paskal’s latest work, Global Warring, holds true, these massive changes will only be the beginning.

In the future, Paskal envisions, the devastation that humanity has brought upon itself through environmental degradation is only the first step in escalating geopolitical tensions that will erupt into full-scale war. Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars predicts the same thing. This change in temperature will begin to fundamentally alter how governments deal with each other, turning already conflict-prone areas into powder kegs, while pushing the seemingly stable northern countries into potential collision courses.

Already, the green debate, a nice-sounding term considering how dirty the fight is getting, is becoming increasingly polarized. The “refuse-niks” claim that the scientists and their models are wrong. In essence, their argument is that the world need not concern ourselves with the goings-on of the climate that has sustained us for millennia.

The ramifications that even a slight temperature variation can cause are staggering, according to Paskal. With a generally warming world, developing countries will see millions of people flee their coastal areas. Many of the smaller states in the Pacific will simply slip below the waves. Heat waves could bake the cities of London, Paris and Berlin, resulting in substantially more deaths than the estimated 35,000 caused by the heat wave that rolled through Europe in 2003, according to New Scientist.

More important is the shift in geo-political power that will result. America, ravaged by rising ocean levels, will see a drastically altered landscape with Manhattan, Miami, and Los Angeles in need of numerous dykes and dams—frightening considering the substantial failures in these very systems in and around New Orleans. Lacking a hegemonic power, China, Russia, India, and potentially Canada could come into greater conflict with each other. China and India, with the largest populations in the world, could face instability due to massive migration. At the same time, these two nations both stand to gain from projecting their power across the Pacific.

While the Chinese and Indians jockey for power, Canada, Russia, and the U.S. will be fighting over the Arctic and the Northwest Passage. In addition to the resources boom thought to be hiding beneath the icy tundra of the north, the Northwest Passage is poised to become the next Suez Canal. With the potential to cut thousands of kilometres off traditional shipping routes, control of this straight will send the economies of Siberia, Alaska, and Northern Canada skyrocketing. Future boom cities—like that of Churchill, Manitoba, a city that is often forgotten, ignored, or unknown to the majority of Canadians—could become the 21st-century version of Rio, Rotterdam, Halifax, or Hong Kong. However, control over this straight will mean that Canadian and American interest will more than likely diverge. As both countries bristle, the 49th parallel may become significantly more guarded than in years past.

Sadly enough, Cleo Paskal’s dire warnings of global warring will fall upon deaf ears, as politicians will be complacent on the reduction of greenhouse gases. The Copenhagen climate conference will most likely bring about no significant change on the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At least we can say that we have been warned. As for myself, I’m looking to buy property in Churchill.

Countdown to Copenhagen: kids our hope for the climate crisis

Kids truly say the darndest things. Earlier this week, I found myself tearing down Rosehill Ave. near Yonge and St. Clair, on my way to give a talk to the environment group at an all-girl’s middle school. One of the teachers had heard about the delegation from the University of Toronto that will be attending the Copenhagen climate summit from December 7 to 18, and had inquired whether a delegate would speak at the school.

I was soon facing a semi-circle of youthful faces, eagerly waiting the cardinal knowledge I had to share on climate change. Because I had not expected such a young crowd (the youngest was 12), I was not sure where to begin. I briefly introduced myself as a student of political science and environmental studies. I described the diversity of the U of T delegation, and our hopes of not only reporting back on the negotiations, but also playing a part in placing pressure on the Canadian government, thereby holding them accountable for their actions (or inactions). I then introduced the UN Copenhagen climate summit as a self-imposed deadline by the international community, aimed at coming up with a post-2012 climate agreement that will succeed the current one, the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol.

I described, in my most animated disposition, how there were families losing their homestays in sub-Saharan Africa and entire countries being submerged under water in the Pacific. I explained the seemingly monolithic concept of “equality,” and how it plays an important role as we navigate between developed and the developing, rich and the poor, north and the south. I even mentioned—in truth for dramatic effect—the Plan B scenario of shooting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to block sunlight, which would turn the sky yellow, but block further UV rays from warming the Earth.

When I finished, there was a pause. I was utterly terrified that my talk of politics and science had gone over their heads, and that they had been falling asleep with their eyes open. But then, they began peppering me with questions.

Do you think if there were a different government leader, things would be different? What will happen when we use up all the resources on all the continents? How much coal do we have left? How are carbons formed? I heard on the news that they are thinking of kicking Canada out of the Commonwealth. Is this true? How did this all start? Why are the poor countries also the ones most affected? Even if we build more wind turbines, won’t we need energy from coal and oil to build them? How does coal mining work? What is so terrible with the tar sands? And the ever-endearing: Do you think, um, we could, maybe, solve all of this mess someday? Followed by the impossible-to-answer: What can I do to help?

One girl even asked, in all earnestness, whether I thought that the world would end. When I answered no, that I have faith in human ingenuity, she followed up by asking that even if we did save ourselves, whether humans in the future wouldn’t repeat its mistakes all over again.

Regarding the scientific questions, I muttered something about how I never paid attention in Grade 8 science class (“but you all should!”). They patiently listened as I attempted to explain the beginning of it all with the Industrial Revolution, and they watched attentively as I wrestled with big themes such as cross-generational justice.

When it came to the ubiquitous and inevitable question of what one little person can do to help, I was at a loss for words. I am really not sure. The current political situation does not allow for effective direct political engagement, and perhaps it is intentionally designed that way. There are only so many times you can send letters to the editor and strip in a flash mob before that becomes ineffective. There are limits to how many times you can donate to the Suzuki Foundation or Greenpeace.

Not everyone has the privilege to be present in Copenhagen. But that is why students like those in the U of T delegation are Copenhagen-bound this weekend: to be the eyes and ears, and hopefully voices, of those who cannot go.

I remain utterly amazed by how the young environmentalist cubs I spoke to seem to intuitively understand that everything is in fact political. And perhaps this sort of willingness to ponder deeply over an issue is what is needed. Perhaps what we can do is to live deliberately, and this doesn’t need to be accomplished through grand measures.

There is no price tag on engaging with others, and you can ask questions too. We have youth by our side, if not the sheer force of hope.

You can follow our blog at uoftcop15.ca.