The Three-Day Diploma

A York University grad who forged diplomas was busted by an undercover reporter from the Toronto Star in December. Peng Sun, 26, also sells academic transcripts and other documents to desperate jobseekers.

Sun guaranteed that his documents, ranging from $500 to $4,000, are identical to the authentic versions from some of the most prestigious universities in Canada, including U of T and Queen’s.

“The paper, its weight, quality, pattern, color, fonts, layout, logo, design, stamp and seal are all the same as the real thing” Sun told a Star operative.

Sun advertises his forged degrees via an Internet bulletin board. All he asks for are date of birth, requested graduating year, and a $400 down payment.

Employers can now verify any U of T degree online, if they know a student’s name and social insurance or student number, within five days.

The rivalry that wasn’t

In sports, a rivalry has the unique ability to add an extra dimension to a game. Meaningless match-ups somehow gain meaning, diehard fans show their teeth, and the end result is almost always a good game. Sadly, the recent showing of the Bills in Toronto was an exception to the rule: a low scoring game, shoddy play by the Bills, and a largely indifferent crowd combined to make the event a snoozer.

As the first NFL regular season game played outside of the United States, the match already had importance. It also added another chapter to the long and storied rivalry between the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills. Since 1966, 86 games have been played between the two teams. Yet the rivalry existed before they played a single match. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson was not allowed to found an AFL team in Miami, so he took the idea—and his money—to Buffalo. The saga has a strong supporting cast that includes Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, and legendary coaches Marv Levy and Don Shula.

Lately, both franchises have struggled to put together strong teams, with the Dolphins losing almost every game last year, going 1-15. After acquiring displaced (and possibly bitter) quarterback Chad Pennington from the New York Jets, the Dolphins made a dramatic turnaround, helped in no small part by their unpredictable “wildcat” offence. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, but the long-suffering faithful had reason to be hopeful after a 5-1 start to the season. With Tom Brady out for the year with a knee injury, both the Fish and the Bills had a serious shot at taking the AFC East. In a pre-game press conference, Jim Kelly explained the importance of the Dolphins-Bills game.

“It doesn’t matter where it’s at, this is a game where it’s very important for both teams. They’re seven and five, we’re six and six. Both teams have struggled. We’ve lost five or six games a piece, but the thing is when it comes down to the end of the year, you have to win those AFC East games,” said Kelly.

For the Buffalo Bills, home is an important place. The roaring, frigid winds and borderline insane fans of Ralph Wilson stadium—named after the near-immortal, 90-year-old owner—play an important role. The weather conditions are especially important against teams used to playing in warmer weather, like the rival Dolphins. Much was made of the Rogers Centre’s closed roof and the effect it could have on the Bills’ supposed home field advantage.

The classic AFC East match-up had playoff implications for both teams. For the hometown Bills, having lost six of their last seven games, it was a must-win situation.

Ronnie Brown made the difference for the Dolphins, running for 70 yards on 16 attempts. The typical freight-train force of Marshawn Lynch was effectively contained by the Dolphins’ linebackers, held to only 31 yards on 13 carries. Pennington was his reliable, unassuming self, throwing for 181 yards with a 79 per cent completion rate. Losman was an unimpressive foil to Pennington’s effort, going 13-for-27 with a fumble and a costly interception in the Dolphins end zone in the third quarter. The frustration felt by the Bills’ offence became evident later in the game when they tried their own version of the “wildcat formation.” After watching it work against their reeling linebackers all game, the Bills were desperate to spark their running game in any way possible. On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Porter made two sacks on what has been a surprisingly good season for him.

The game was promoted heavily with the rivalry between the two teams used as a selling point. Considering that tickets ranged from 90 dollars for nosebleeds to hundreds of dollars for decent seats, pricing may have been the main factor as to why the game did not sell out. Theoretically, the game promised to be an exciting match-up.

“I think that the reason [the NFL] did it was because they realize how big of a rivalry it was and they knew that Bills fans would travel to come up here and watch this game. It’s a big game and to be honest with you, for Canadians this is the best game on our schedule they could have picked for this particular weekend,” said Kelly.

At kickoff, the environment felt like anything but a home game. Gold and green jerseys—most featuring Marino’s 13 on the back—were in abundance in the stands. Although many of the Buffalo faithful made the trip up the QEW, the non-capacity crowd did not provide the play-off like experience fans were hoping for. To make matters worse, JP Losman had the start for Buffalo, as starting quarterback Trent Edwards couldn’t play due to a groin injury.

“A groin pull for a quarterback is not real good because you can’t follow through, you tend to throw off your back foot, you don’t want to push off it too much,” explained Kelly. “I just hope he gets to the point where he’s healthy for a whole season and we’ll really see the real Trent Edwards. He started out hot, you know, the NFL’s all about your quarterback. You see any team out there that really doesn’t have a great quarterback, they’re not doing well.”

Both Kelly and Marino admitted that the rivalry has lost steam in recent years.

“I’m sure Dan would be next in line to tell you that that rivalry, you want to continue to see it because it means so much. It’s not quite the rivalry it used to be back when Dan and I played but hopefully we can get it back to that standpoint,” said Kelly.

At the very least, Ontario’s NFL fans can rest assured that more Bills In Toronto games are on the way, with regular season and pre-season match-ups slated for the 2009-2010 season at the Rogers Centre. The financial success of the series could pave the way for more NFL games abroad in the future.

“I foresee more games internationally in the future, I just think that’s the way the league’s going,” said Marino.

Let’s just hope that the sequels live up to the hype.

Clown college awaits

For those wishing to escape the routine of classes, the National Circus School is accepting audition applications until Jan. 16. The school will hold auditions and mandatory entrance exams this February in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal Grants and scholarships will be available.

Currently the school’s 140 students come from all over the world, with backgrounds in gymnastics, dance, diving, and martial arts. Marc Lalonde, director of the National Circus School, says 95 per cent of students are hired mere weeks after graduation, with many forming their own successful companies or joining the famed Cirque du Soleil.

For more information on the program, check out www.nationalcircusschool.ca

Retraction

On September 25th, 2008, an anonymous letter to the editor was published by The Varsity regarding Sammy’s Student Exchange. Although this was a comment piece, it has come to The Varsity’s attention that readers have interpreted the contents of the letter as factual. The Varsity did not investigate the arguments made or speak to anyone at Sammy’s Student Exchange to confirm such allegations. As such, The Varsity was, and is, unable to confirm that the allegations made within the article were in fact true. Following the publication of the opinion piece, Louise Cowin, Warden of Hart House, conducted an independent investigation into the article’s accusations, specifically regarding intrusive camera surveillance, withholding of employee tips, and violations to the Employment Standards Act. Ms. Cowin concluded that the allegations made were either unsubstantiated or had been since addressed by Sammy’s Student Exchange. Accordingly, The Varsity wishes to retract the letter in its entirety.

The Varsity seeks to provide readers with the opportunity to publish their opinions. However, in light of the reaction to this letter, it is apparent that The Varsity did not properly inform readers on the nature of the piece and that such information contained in the letter was not researched by Varsity staff. The Varsity apologizes for, and regrets, any harm Sammy’s Student Exchange may have suffered following the publication of the Sept. 25, 2008 letter.

UOIT by another name

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology has an identity crisis.

Since the Oshawa-based university, commonly known as UOIT, admitted students in 2003, it has offered undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in business, education, and the sciences.

Many allege the current name is confusing, tongue-twisting, and unspecific. A name change has been in the works since June 2007. A name was to be proposed on Dec. 11, but the school continues wrestling with several suggestions, including leaving it as is. A committee has been formed to make a recommendation in March.

“I think the new name would be better for us in the long run in improving our image as an Ontarian University,” said Sean Corrigan, a forensic science student at UOIT. “The name is really confusing.”

Communications student Natalie Dallaire agrees.

“Often when I say UOIT people think I said U of T, which is annoying. University of Ontario would be cool. If it became University of Oshawa though, I think I’d consider transferring.”

The rebranding process is estimated to cost a million dollars.

Allan Gardens housing activists get 116K from settlement

Eight years after U of T graduate student Elan Ohayon was beaten and arrested for protesting homelessness by sleeping out in Allan Gardens, the City of Toronto and Toronto Police have paid a settlement of $116,000 to him and the two activists who were present at the protest. The activists have announced that the money, totaling nearly $70,000 after legal costs, will be directed at funding grassroots housing initiatives throughout the city in the next five years.

“The money will be put in a trust fund by the Allan Gardens Project,” said Oriel Varga, Allan Garden activist, alumna, and staffer of U of T’s part-time student union. “We will review submissions and pick ten every year with $1,000 funding each project. We want to support local projects and creative ideas and continue our activism.”

The Allan Gardens “sleep outs” began on August 1999, running for 120 successive Friday nights until November 2001. Protestors, including students and other community members, called for the government to provide adequate housing for the homeless, and set up temporary measures while housing projects were underway.

Organizers wanted to shed light on regular instances of police harassment suffered by the homeless sleeping in Allan Gardens.

In October 2000, the protesters were harshly awoken and arrested by a pair of police officers. Ohayon claimed that police assaulted him and destroyed his video recorder.

During his bail hearing, Ohayon did not accept the condition not to go within 50 metres of Allan Gardens, and was sent back behind bars only to be released a few weeks later.

Following the arrests, Ohayon, Varga, and Alex Brown, a third activist, continued sleeping in Allan Gardens every week. They reacted against police aggression by launching a lawsuit which finally reached settlement on December 2008, just days before the scheduled trial.

Varga currently faces charges stemming from an unrelated protest against rising fees. Last year she and thirteen others were slapped with criminal charges after a March 20 sit-in at Simcoe Hall. Charges against nine of the original fourteen have recently been dropped.

Civil rights lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Vilko Zbogar represented the activists. Had there been a trial they would have argued that given the lack of safe affordable housing, the homeless have the right to sleep out and set up shelter free of police harassment. The lack of affordable housing also meant that a police crackdown of the kind that took place in Allan Gardens was a violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to life liberty and security of person.

Referring to the considerable amount of time it took to settle the case, Varga said, “Unfortunately it shows how long it takes with the courts. This is time we don’t have to spare; two people die on the streets everyday.” Varga terms homelessness a “national disaster.”

Peter Munk named Companion of the Order of Canada

The namesake of U of T’s Munk Centre for International Studies has been named to the top level of Canada’s highest civilian honour. On Dec. 30, the Governor General named Canadian businessman Peter Munk among 60 new appointees to the Order of Canada. His fellows among this year’s additions to Companion of the Order are Céline Dion and Ben Heppner for their contribution to Canadian music, and Stephen Jarislowsky for leadership within the business community. This is a promotion for Munk from the award of Officer of the Order, which he received in 1993. The announcement at the end of December cited Munk’s “contributions as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, helping to establish world-class health care and education institutions in Canada and abroad.”

Among Munk’s business ventures is Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining corporation, of which he is founder and chairman. Barrick has drawn fire from human rights and environmental groups at home and abroad for environmental degradation caused by its mines, and forced evictions of indigenous communities. Industry watchdogs draw links between the company and the murder of anti-mine critics by paramilitary death squads in Colombia and Peru. In 2006 the company made headlines with its plan to move glaciers within the UNESCO-protected San Guillermo World Biosphere Reserve for its Pasqua Lama mine on the Argentina-Chile border. The company has since been granted permission to mine in the area on condition it not disturb the glaciers.

The new appointees to the Order of Canada will receive their insignia at a ceremony later this year.

FF14 off the hook and on the attack

The protracted legal and PR battle that began with last March’s sit-in at Simcoe Hall continues, with news over the December holiday that the Crown has withdrawn its charges against nine of the 14 arrested in connection with the protest. The rescinded charges mean that no current U of T student is in court over the sit-in.

The self-styled Fight Fees 14 was quick to assert their group solidarity, though only five of them remain under scrutiny.

“We were charged collectively and continue to fight collectively,” said the group’s spokesperson, Gabi Rodriguez. Rodriguez is among the U of T students whose charges were withdrawn.

While the case has been out of the headlines since the start of the school year, the FF14 will try to re-enter the spotlight with a “celebratory and movement building” event expected in late January. Police arrested the 14 based on allegations from U of T’s administration that the occupation of Simcoe Hall turned violent. University employees claimed they were forcibly confined to their offices by a 30-strong group of students including the 14. Much of this evidence has not been made public, and with charges withdrawn, it likely never will be.

Rodriguez has responded aggressively, pointing to the evaporating criminal charges to say they were unfounded.

“The charges were bogus from the start. They were a politically motivated assault on political organizing at our campus,” she said. “The Crown was unable to provide timely and complete disclosure to what were clearly empty allegations.”

Members of U of T’s administration could not be reached for comment over the holiday weekend.