The many shades of Varsity Blues

Going to check out the athletic facilities here at U of T is a task I have avoided for years. Although I’ve always known my tuition fees included a membership to both the Athletic Centre and Hart House, I’ve never taken advantage them.

As a fourth year, soon to be graduate, however, I’m now experiencing some regrets. Not only does U of T offer some of the finest facilities in the country, but also a variety of great options to get active and play the sports you love with your friends and fellow students.

I realized that to make the most of my last year here, it was definitely worthwhile to explore the numerous athletic programs that always were and still are available to me as a U of T student.

To my amazement, I learned that the Athletic Centre hosts 44 intercollegiate teams, and multi-tiered intramural leagues in 26 sports, while Hart House offers numerous classes in movement, fitness, and dance.

The opportunities available to me seemed almost overwhelming and it was then and there that I decided that a full fledged investigation into the vast world of U of T athletics was a must, not just for my own sake, but for anyone who might be looking to get involved.
alt text

I decided to start at the top with the Varsity Blues Program.

The Varsity Blues athletes are the bluebloods around our campus and play against other universities at the intercollegiate level.

Dustin Yu is a member of men’s Varsity Blues badminton team. He is returning for a fifth year with the team and will be finishing up his triple major in political science, sociology, and psychology.

“U of T takes pride in sports. The décor of the Athletic Centre reflects the history of our athletic accomplishments,” said Yu.

Besides possessing both brains and brawn, the Varsity Blues athletes are friendly and down to earth.

“We strive to promote an inclusive environment. We welcome everyone and encourage everybody to participate,” said Yu.

But don’t let Yu’s easygoing manner and humility fool you. The Varsity Blues are some of the hardest working athletes on campus. All varsity players practice five to six times a week for three hours each session. Every two out of three weeks they participate in either an all day or weekend long tournament.

Kristine Drakich, who has been the coach of women’s Varsity Blues volleyball team since 1989, told me that although “it takes a significant amount of experience to be able to play varsity level sports,” students should not give up.

“To the risk-takers go the rewards. We have had people walk in and become starters,” said Drakich.

I began to realize that the Varsity Blues Program might not be what I’m looking for as a novice athlete just looking to have some good, clean fun.

Fortunately, as I was about to find out, there are even more options out there.

Intramural, intercollegiate, and tri-campus athletics are offered to all students through their colleges at the St. George Campus. U of T Scarborough and U of T Mississauga both have programs of their own.

At this level, recreational sports such as flag football, broomball, and ultimate frisbee can be foundm among the more mainstream sports like basketball and volleyball.

Rachella Valdez, a fourth year student in media studies and international studies at U of T Scarborough is a member of Intramural Division A volleyball there.

“It’s just for fun. It’s a way for everybody to be active in their own community,” said Valdez.

But for the eager amateur not quite ready to play for the Varsity Blues, the Tri-Campus Program is his or her best bet.

“The Tri-Campus Program is between the intramural and intercollegiate and the Varsity Blues Program. It is more competitive than the intramurals, but less extreme than the Varsity Blues,” Valdez explained to me.

This wonderwoman also plays women’s basketball through the Tri-Campus Program.

“Playing sports has made university so much better. In working with my teammates I have learned to be patient and to trust others.

“If you love it that much, you are going to make time. Who needs a boyfriend anyway?” Valdez laughed.

Although I’d say I’m pretty decent at managing my time, I acquiesced to the fact that I might not be able to dedicate quite enough of it to the rigorous demands of being on an intramural team at U of T. What I was looking for was a bit more low key; maybe a once a week type deal.

The instructional classes at Hart House vary in skill level and intensity and provide students with the opportunity to stay fit in a laid-back and comfortable environment.

“We offer movement-based, non-sport specific programs to all U of T students and staff,” explained Tom Moss, a former U of T student and the current the Manager of Recreation and Wellness at Hart House.

Hart House has a long list of free drop-in classes ranging from cardio sala to stretch works and core fusion to aquatics lessons.

Moss said, “Unlike the AC, we are not Varsity-based. The Hart House is historically the gym for the U of T community. By providing programs for all levels from basic to high intensity we aim to promote fitness and well-being to everyone.”

The facilities at Hart House are impressive as well. There’s an upper gym, a lower gym, air conditioned work out rooms, activity rooms, a suspended running track, and a pool.

But what really caught my eye when I was wandering around Hart House was the beautifully manicured garden in the quad complete with tables and chairs where students were reading and drinking coffee. According to Moss, I was “welcome to relax in it.”

That was more like it.

U of T has widest salary gap between genders in Canada

A recently released Statistics Canada report showed U of T to have the widest gap in average salaries between male and female full-time faculty members in Canada, amounting to some $20,158.

The research paper was based on figures from the 2008-2009 academic year, surveying “full-time teaching staff in degree-granting institutions who are under contract for twelve months or more,” including all ranks and disciplines.

Sara-Jane Finlay, director of Faculty and Academic Life at U of T, called the $20,000 figure “a very blunt analysis,” arguing it was not representative of the effective difference in male and female salaries.

“The biggest problems are that there isn’t a distinction made by discipline where there are vastly huge variations in average starting salaries, and in rank, so when you clump all those things together and you’re including in your analysis someone who’s in the humanities who’s just starting out and someone who’s been here for 30 years, is a full professor and works in engineering, management or law, you’ll end up with a massive difference,” says Finlay.

There are two mechanisms by which salaries get increased at U of T. One is an “across the board” increase, usually between 2-3 percent, and the other is “based on merit” — faculty reviews, publications, and the like. “There is no gender dimension to merit,” said Finlay — she therefore attributed the wage discrepancy to two factors.

“The majority of our senior faculty are men and that reflects the demographics of hiring 30 years ago, and the market salary in male-dominated disciplines tends to be significantly higher than the market salary in female-dominated disciplines.”

Finlay stressed that the salaries are “not something [U of T] necessarily sets,” but based on “what universities across North America would offer.”

“Those ones that tend to have higher salaries tend to be in disciplines that are male-dominated: engineering, computer science, management, business, law; those sorts of areas, and the disciplines that traditionally have lower salaries tend to be the ones that are dominated by women, so the humanities, education, some parts of the health sector. So that’s a huge difference right there and that’s an effect of the market,” said Finlay.

Though Finlay couldn’t say why the higher-paid disciplines are male-dominated, calling it “a huge societal question,” she claimed it was changing, with young women entering higher education at unprecedented rates, “so there are more women to become faculty members than there ever were before. I don’t know why there weren’t more women in engineering 20 years ago,” said Finlay. “Now there are.”

As the university has expanded its faculty, they have hired more women — last year, some 50 percent of new faculty hires were female — and Finlay claimed “we’re doing really well in that regard,” maintaining that “if you were to compare like with like — looking at those assistant professors with their starting salaries in the same discipline — you wouldn’t find that kind of difference. If you were to look at man and women in the humanities with same rank there would be very little difference in their salaries.”

Finlay attributed the increased proportion of female faculty to a wider pool of applicants, reflecting U of T’s “proactive recruitment” — trying to ensure they have applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds.

She also noted U of T’s “family-friendly policies,” such as year-long parental leave, childcare and eldercare benefits, and the university’s Family Care Office as contributing elements in the increasingly female faculty.

“It makes it possible for women to work in academia, and we don’t see the opting-out that you do in other industries, or off-ramping it’s called — where women leave in order to have some time for childcare and rarely come back, either at rank or the level or responsibility that they had before. We don’t see that. People leave for childcare and continue to move through the ranks.”

Finlay attributes U of T having the widest discrepancy in Canada to its size and variety of disciplines. “I believe we offer the most varied mix of courses in Canada,” said Finlay, “and so we have the widest range, so other universities that may not have the full range will have a narrower band of salary difference… People who don’t have engineering and law or management won’t have the salary differences we have.”

Iran: beyond the headlines

The new, all leather interior, white hatchback French-made Peugeot I’m riding in is one of the many cars zooming through Sari’s Khee-abooneh [street], Shoonesh, on a hot and humid April evening. Sari, a few hours north of Iran’s capital, Tehran, is a small city with a population of 200,000. If you’re young, privileged, and bored in Sari, Shoonesh is the place to be on a Friday night. Racing through the narrow streets, you only need a passing glance of consent from a neighbouring driver to signal you that they’re down for a challenge. A black BMW X5 cuts off the Peugeot within minutes of driving down Shoonesh. It’s the perfect partner for the girls I’m with this evening.

“Girls, I think he’s the one. Let’s see if he looks,” says Niusha, the driver of the Peugeot. The other girls giggle — there’s a rush of excitement. Is he going to race-flirt back? He makes a left turn at the next intersection, and our hopes subside. “Damn, did you see his car though? Dr. Habibi just imported one like that from Dubai.”

A moment later an orange Peykan — a common, locally manufactured car that hasn’t changed its model since 1960 — honks at us. “Ah-hh [the Persian equivalent of eww], he’s straight out of the Da-hat [ghetto]. He’s borrowed his uncle’s car.” Niusha quickly cuts him off, and we lose sight of him.

Niusha is a second-year architecture major at Daneshga-eh Noor, a university one hour north of Tehran. I had met her the night before at a party held by one of my uncle’s friends. She’s a daughter of one of my uncle’s co-workers. “If there’s an Enghelab [revolution] tomorrow, believe me, we would be the next Europe,” Niusha tells me, in a conversation not about politics, but about shopping. Her black Marc Jacobs dress and black Christian Louboutin pumps definitely help her argument.

The next night when we’re in her car, her Chanel headscarf dangles around her neck instead of covering her hair as dictated by Islamic Sharia law. When I ask her if it’s fine to be driving around the streets without her hijab, she replies, “I just got these highlights today; I don’t want to hide them.”

Niusha’s frank and free attitude toward life detaches my Western, media-oriented perspective from the reality that ordinary Iranians face. There’s a long list of issues brewing in this country: a boorish President, a budding nuclear program, human rights violations, continual unrest after a corrupt 2009 presidential election, and ongoing international sanctions. Yet for a 20-year-old middle-class girl like Niusha, her concerns don’t involve politics: Western headlines don’t define her Iran.
alt text

This is the difference between an Iranian-Canadian like me, and an Iranian like Niusha. When I packed my bags to leave for Iran, I was ready to face the “crude” realities of the country. I had just finished a semester of introductory Persian and had read all I could on Iranian politics and history. I had exhausted every possible conversation related to the future and politics of the Islamic Republic with every single member of my Iranian-diasporic family.

The city of Sari is where I spent much of my trip this past summer. It’s a small rural city in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran, where my mother’s family lives. Sari is known for a lot of things: scenic mountain ranges, some of Iran’s most fertile Shalizars [rice fields], and probably the biggest pool of hospitals and medical doctors in the entire country.

My Dayee [uncle] Homayoun is a pharmacist and medical supplier for Beemarestaneh Shafa [Shafa Hospital], with supply links to the 10 other hospitals that are located in Sari.

My Dayee’s medical connections provide my family with many advantages. Any member of our family has access to private suites in Shafa for the treatment of anything more serious than a cold. I learned of these benefits first-hand due to some unfortunate sinus problems that required a minor operation. The only upside to the illness was a rare case of medical VIP treatment, which, for two nights, included my own private nurse and three-course (albeit hospital) meals in the biggest private room at Shafa. I was living the life, or so the generous supply of codeine was telling me.

My Dayee’s vast network of business and social ties also worked to my advantage by providing me with an invitation to a party attended only by Sari’s medical practitioners. This is where I would meet Niusha. Almost every specialist and surgeon who was not on call in Sari that night was at that party, including my very own anesthesiologist, Dr. Habibi, from my prior week’s hospital visit.

My immediate impression of the luxurious marble-floored apartment, where the soirée was held, was reminiscent of an image of the Stepford Wives. The women and men were divided. The men huddled around the bar where the male host urged his guests to drink. In another room, elegantly poised and groomed ladies sat on big French antique chairs while socializing with each other. I felt a little disappointed when the host sat me in the French antique room. The corner with the alcohol looked like it would lead to a much better night!

Once I met Niusha things started to turn around. I got a quick explanation of who all the guests were. It turned out the party was no ordinary gathering of couples, and the stylish women were more than pretty powdered faces. There were a variety of dentists, family doctors, and plastic surgeons among the guests. The most impressive of all was Sepideh Yazdani, dressed head-to-toe in black, in typical Persian fashion. At only 35 years old, she’s the head of the Department of Gynaecology at Imam Khomeini Hospital, Sari’s largest, and one of the most prestigious medical centres outside of Tehran. Something along the lines of Johns Hopkins, Sari’s Imam is the training ground for the country’s best medical students. Sepideh is the youngest doctor to reach such a position so naturally; this woman, who seems to have it all, intrigues me. She’s happily married with two young daughters and a successful medical career. Not bad in a country that has a codified law that views the worth of women to be exactly half of that of men.

Further investigation into the matter demonstrates a slight complexity regarding the role of women in medicine. While Sepideh’s success is admirable, under Islamic Sharia law, female doctors’ fields are quite limited. There is not a conscious effort by the Iranian regime to promote professional female doctors. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, there has been an ongoing attempt to separate men and women in almost every aspect of day-to-day life to minimize their physical contact. As a result of this gender segregation, only about one third of all medical students in Iran’s medical schools are women.

The party ended up exceeding my expectations, especially as I discovered huddling around the bar was unnecessary — the alcohol was served to the ladies on silver trays.

However, this is only a glimpse of how a small group of Iranians live. The vodka-cranberries served to me as I marveled at the successful and beautifully groomed the ladies around me, were only a part of my enlightenment process.

While I was reading and listening to music on a swing chair in my grandparents’ house, Olliyah, the 20-year-old housekeeper my grandparents had just hired, would join me in her spare time. My grandparents aren’t particularly well off, but help around the house is typical for most Iranians who have some money to spare. Needless to say, the Iran Olliyah inhabits is a completely different country than the one Niusha and Sepideh live in.

Our conversations over a shared bowl of Zeyton Parvardeh [tiny Iranian olives] on the porch are the only instances where I see Olliyah without her headscarf. She resembles Niusha and the female doctors in terms of Persian beauty, but Olliyah’s style is of a different nature. Her uniform around the house is a long bronze silk skirt, a regular long-sleeved cotton blouse, and a synthetic purple scarf with black beads stitched all over. Olliyah becomes barely recognizable when she removes her headscarf. She tells me it’s inappropriate to walk around my grandparents’ home without her hijab when a man she isn’t married to is present.

She sewed her skirt herself and bought her scarf for 1000 toman [CAD $1]. Our first conversation revolves around how it feels to be 20 years old. I tell her about university and my plans for grad school. She tells me about her husband and her plans to sign up her three-year-old daughter for day care in the deh [village] that’s 40 minutes away. It wouldn’t seem like we would have much in common, but we manage to find common ground through a discussion of clothes and our opinions on President Ahmadinejad.

She confesses that she doesn’t know how to read or write. Her 11-year-old brother died in a highway collision riding on the back of a motorbike when she was 14, and she never recovered from the trauma of losing him. She quit school and stayed at home to help her grieving mother take care of her other brothers and sisters. At the age of 17 she was married off to her husband, Shahban, who was 27. For cleaning my grandparents’ house, she and her husband get free room, board, and food. She tells me she’s saving up to buy her daughter a new dress for the next party her mother-in-law is throwing.

A recent headline in Western newspapers covered Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman from the Northwest province of Azerbaijan who was convicted for committing adultery after the murder of her husband. Cases like this certainly expose the sometimes-tragic circumstances of women in Iran. But for others like Niusha, Sepideh, and Oliyah, life goes on in much the same way it does in the rest of the world. There was nothing overtly political about these women’s lives. The prospect of new sanctions imposed on their country didn’t seem like an immediate concern.

Discussions about Iran often centre on the fact that the country has one of the world’s most active civil societies and usually reference the Green Movement that evolved in 2009 to protest the rigged re-election of President Ahmadinejad. None of the three women I met had any particular attachments to the protests.

Sepideh is a doctor at a state-owned hospital — any overt political stance would compromise her job. When I asked Niusha about the protests, she said it was great fun and that she was a supporter of Mir-Hossein Mousavi [Ahmadinejad’s political adversary]. The way she talked about taking to the streets of Sari, it seemed like she protested more as a pastime than a political statement. She had little to say about the policies of the candidates.

Part of Ahmadinejad’s campaign involved visiting the dehs and giving away money to those in need. Olliyah’s parents were among the recipients of these cash giveaways during the months leading up to the June 2009 elections. She firmly believes that Ahmadinejad was the rightful winner of the election, and that the protests weren’t anything more than a disturbance of the peace. “People our age are out of control. The way the girls were dressed when they were protesting, they might as well have forgotten about their hijab. It was out of control … people are upset they threw them into Evin [a prison in Tehran that houses political prisoners], but I’d rather have crazy things happen in the jails than out there on the streets.”

The death of one protester, Neda Agha-Soltan, captured on video and posted on Youtube, was a violent image of political discord. How could we not rally behind the cause of the Green Movement? But that’s the point Olliyah was trying to make. Watching news footage from North America distances us from what is actually happening on the ground.

My encounters with these three women this past summer helped me realize something: Niusha, Sepideh, and Olliyah are all products of their socioeconomic backgrounds. The privileged 20-year-old, the doctor, and the traditional-minded housekeeper all had different opinions and concerns about their country.

I had a conversation with my Iranian friend Shervin a couple of weeks after my trip. We were discussing the 2009 elections and I told him about the possibility of Ahmadinejad actually winning the elections fairly, relating Olliyah’s experience with campaign donations in the dehs. He immediately jumped at me. “So what do you mean? You’re for Ahmadinejad? What has the Green Movement been for then?”

I felt a little taken aback. Was it really that hard to see the situation from a different viewpoint?

I have no definite answer as to who should be governing Iran. I’ve never lived there, and probably never will. But for those Iranians whose lives depend on the actions of the Iranian government, it’s a different story.

For our Iranian governmental timeline, please click here.

U of T Bookstore now offering textbook rentals

University of Toronto students can look forward to some savings when shopping for textbooks this semester.

Over the summer, the U of T Bookstore launched a pilot program which gave students the chance to rent their textbooks as opposed to purchasing them. The test run was so successful that the bookstore decided to increase the number of texts available through the program.

“The pilot was very positive in that the response overall has been quite positive from students and faculty and that we learned how to best handle the process so we are ready to get it right on a larger scale in September,” Chad Saunders, the U of T Bookstore’s VP Retail, told The Varsity.

In September 2010, the U of T Bookstore conducted a student survey that showed 66 percent of students were interested in renting textbooks. Many American colleges and universities currently offer this option to their students, but U of T is the first Canadian post-secondary school to do so. Also, the U of T Bookstore researched what students don’t like about rental programs in the U.S. and will now be applying these lessons to their own program.

“The inspiration for the program was simply that we are embracing innovation and listening to students,” said Saunders. “The one theme that continues through all of our student survey results is that students want better value.”

“Rent it, use it, return it. Rent your textbooks and save,” reads the U of T Bookstore’s website: and save they will. According to Saunders, the rent-a-text program has the potential to save students approximately 40 percent off each textbook, which makes for substantial savings, considering how many textbooks the average student carrying a full course load is required to purchase each semester. This program is an especially cost-effective option for students who do not anticipate keeping their books once their courses are completed.

alt text
For now, only new books will be rented. At the end of the semester, the student will return the textbook (some highlighting and note-taking is acceptable) and the U of T Bookstore will either offer the used book for sale if it is still being used in the upcoming semester’s curriculum or will sell it to used-book wholesalers.

And this is where recent U of T English and history graduate Tara Wells thinks the program may be flawed.

While Wells believes offering students the opportunity to rent textbooks is a good idea, she also believes the U of T Bookstore may end up losing money in the long run.

“Oftentimes I’ve come across a book or two on my reading list that I know I will never refer to again and that I may only end up reading a quarter of so renting would be far more economical,” explained Wells, 23, who also acquired a post-graduate Certificate in Marketing from U of T. “But I’d say that a downside is that if it is a textbook that gets updated every few years, it would be questionable as to whether the bookstore would invest in this program, since they would eventually have a surplus of outdated textbooks on their hands.”

Saunders was unable to inform The Varsity of the general profit margin on these rentals.

“This is very difficult to say today as there are many factors involved that make it quite different from selling a book,” he said. “The truth is, we are committed to bringing as much value as we can so if we can find a way to lower prices even further, we will do it. We are leading in Canada in offering this solution to students and we will work hard to continue to do that in the near future.”

Although textbook sales are a large component of the Women’s Bookstore’s profits, manager Victoria Moreno remains confident that the store will not suffer at the hands of the U of T Bookstore’s textbook rental program.

“The fact that the University of Toronto Bookstore is offering textbook rentals could affect textbooks sales here, but what will determine that is primarily whether or not the professors order through the us or them,” said Moreno, who took over the store at the end of July and is currently in the crunch of textbook orders.

“I’ve only had good feedback from the professors and many of them say it has always been important to them to support the Women’s Bookstore as an independent and they intend to continue doing so,” she said.

Moreno has been receiving textbook orders consistently over the past few weeks and expects the support to continue despite the discounts the U of T Bookstore is offering students.

Michele Nikolov, who will be beginning her first year in psychology at UTM in September, is looking forward to the savings and is definitely planning to rent her textbooks from the U of T Bookstore.

“This way, what I save on textbooks I can put towards the trip I take to get away from them,” she said.

Nikolov gives U of T kudos for listening to and recognizing the needs of students.

“I’m glad U of T is looking out for the students,” said Nikolov. “The economy is still rough and it’s nice to know that the university I’m going to be attending is on my side, trying to save me money where possible.”

Textbooks in all subjects will be available for students at all campuses. To confirm availability of a certain textbook and to rent, students are advised to visit the U of T Bookstore website at uoftbookstore.com

Are all students treated the same?

September 13 brings a new semester, new students, and the beginning of another year at the University of Toronto. However, as a third-year human geography specialist, this new year also continues the academic disparities I face compared to my fellow students.

The Geography department is one of the oldest at U of T, having just celebrated its 75th year of existence. However, the realities of being a student in this faculty are not always positive. With over 3000 students in Geography, it is hard for me to understand why I face issues with teaching assistant communication and little to no tutorial time.

When I took a first-year course on ancient civilizations with tutorials bi-weekly, I thought nothing of it and continued my adventure in geography for a second year; this time taking five courses within the field. In each of these five courses I received either no tutorials, tutorials once a month, tutorials every third week, TAs whose purpose was only to mark, or TAs students were not able to contact.

Compare this to a fellow student specializing in political science. In his five full year courses he received on average one tutorial per week. Over the course of one 12 week semester, this student had received more than triple the tutorial time I had. Furthermore, a student studying history claimed that even in a course where TAs were set up strictly for the purpose of marking, a class request led the professor to schedule hour long tutorials each week.

alt text
Overall, this unevenness has led to specific occasions where my academics were compromised. For example, while taking an urbanization course offered through Innis College the class was given a difficult assignment. Typically, students could speak about the assignment in a tutorial setting, e-mail the professor (or in this case sessional lecturer) or teaching assistants. However in this particular case, with no tutorials and specific instruction not to contact the teaching assistants, fellow students and I received unfair grades on a vague assignment without a platform to ask questions and seek answers. This outcome seemed inevitable.

These disparities have led me to investigate just why my overall university experience is poorer than the experience of some others. It is certainly not the case that I am paying less for my courses; I paid the same $494.30 course fee in the 2009/2010 semester as my political science and history counterparts.

It is also not the case that the geography faculty is smaller or receives less funding than other arts and science departments. For example, the political science department contains approximately 2000 undergraduate students, nearly a thousand less than the geography department. Perhaps then, it is the case that human geography is a smaller stream within the greater geography umbrella? Under closer inspection, this is also not the case. U of T divides them equally.

I am not alone in facing academic disparity. Equity studies students within New College have also faced inequalities. Recent funding cuts to the department created problems with course availability and shortages of professors. With fewer courses offered the demand was higher and so were the waitlists. Furthermore, the university almost decided not to renew the contract of Equity Studies Professor Rod Michalko, which would have severely weakened the department. However, student outcry led to the extension of his contract.

It should not be the case that some students have their academics compromised by such arbitrary decisions. It comes down to students to push for the equity and fairness they deserve. After all, the 2010 financial review states that salaries related to teaching and research are paid for predominantly by student fees and government grants. We all pay the same price for the education we get: shouldn’t we all be getting the same?

Province awards U of T $6.7 million

The provincial government has presented U of T with $6.7 million through the Ontario Research Fund-Research Infrastructure Program (ORF-RI) and the Early Research Awards (ERA). A total of $4.2 million is awarded through the ORF-RI and $2.5 million through ERA to support projects dealing with matters of health, science, environmental issues and social issues.

“Here in Toronto, and across Ontario, our researchers are making breakthroughs in health care, tackling climate change through alternative energy and clean technologies, and expanding digital media and communications,” said Glen Murray, Minister of Research and Innovation and MPP for Toronto Centre. “The McGuinty government is proud to be helping them discover new ideas, build new businesses, and create the kind of future we want for Ontario.”

The government is funding close to $18 million through the ORF in research infrastructure projects at universities and research hospitals across Ontario. The allotted investment will contribute to the success of 104 projects undertaken by more than 1,300 researchers at 14 institutions in 11 cities throughout the province.

The University of Toronto’s researcher Dr. Dionne Aleman has been awarded $91,324 to implement the use of mathematical modelling to solve healthcare problems. Aleman does research in modelling the spread of pandemic diseases in urban environments.

“We use mathematical models to simulate the unique movements of individuals in large urban areas, specifically, the GTA, in order to better predict the spread of a pandemic disease and to help determine effective public policy mitigation strategies,” says Aleman, who also conducts research in the field of radiotherapy, which is often used as a treatment for cancer.

“If a brain tumour needs to be irradiated, a big concern is the proximity to the brain stem. We don’t want to deliver too much radiation, which will leave the patient in a very bad state, but at the same time we also want to treat the underlying condition, hence we can’t go too light on the radiation — we try to balance the two.”

Mathematical modelling uses equations to examine processes. In the case of radiology treatment, modeling is used to develop optimal directions for radiation beams, positioning of the patient, and distributions of radiation within each beam.

“There are a lot of other sensitive tissues in the area of the tumour, so it is very important to get a dose of radiation that is covering the tumour, but at the same time not going beyond the tumour.”

The infrastructure purchased by the grant is used for pandemic research as well as work in collaboration with the Princess Margaret Hospital. Aleman’s research team also includes two PhD students, one Master’s student and several undergraduate students.

“If you were to actually to look at the specifics of the grant, just about every dollar that is requested from every research group is funding of students, whether they are Master’s students, Ph.D. students or even Post-Docs. If we can’t pay them, we can’t have them doing research.”

Dr. Rebecca Laposa, a molecular toxicologist, has been awarded $170,884 to develop safer pharmaceutical drugs.

“The developing brain is incredibly complex and exquisitely sensitive to toxicity — unwanted side effects occur when exposed to drugs and environmental chemicals,” said Dr. Laposa. “We want to know why and how neurons, also known as the “thinking” cells of the brain, are sensitive to these agents.”

This evolving research field is beneficial to the pharmaceutical industry and the general public, both of whom benefit from new technologies that address health effects caused by chemicals in the environment. Dr. Laposa’s research team includes three graduate students, one technician, and three undergraduate students who focus on how to protect neurons from toxicity, but also study another, more immature, cell type in the brain: neural stem cells.

“These cells are important for the emerging field of regenerative medicine,” says Laposa. “We think DNA damage and the unique ways that neurons and neural stem cells deal with DNA damage are important in the mechanism of brain toxicity initiated by drugs and environmental chemicals.”

Award funding will allow the research team to grow specialized cells like neurons and neural stem cells and study them with a new state-of-the-art microscope that will let them see how these cells change in subtle but critically important ways when exposed to drugs and environmental chemicals.

“Without a doubt, the new equipment will enable us to design studies and make discoveries that we could not even dream about otherwise.”

Warriors at heart

Two members of the Waterloo Warriors football team that was rocked by a steroid scandal this summer have transferred to the University of Toronto and will be gearing up as Blues this season.

Brad Morton, who is in his third year and Hugo Lopez, who is in his fourth, have obtained visiting student status at U of T for the 2010-2011 academic year and will still receive their degrees from the University of Waterloo.

The University of Waterloo suspended its football program for the 2010-2011 season after it came underfire in the biggest steroid investigation in Canadian university history and nine players were confirmed to be involved in “doping-related infractions.”

Eligible players, like Morton and Lopez, however, were able to transfer schools in order to play football this season.

Morton and Lopez, who are both defensive backs, were shocked, saddened, and surprised by the events that led to their football program’s suspension, but are happy to have the chance to be playing at all this season.

“We’re just trying to make the best of it by moving on. U of T has accepted us and I couldn’t be happier to be here,” said Morton.
alt text

Lopez and Morton both acknowledge U of T’s proximity to their families and its outstanding facilities as their reasons for choosing to transfer here.

Morton, a resident of York Region, said, “I can live at home and there’s a comfort level there. U of T’s got a great program and is building up a lot like Waterloo. There’s a beautiful stadium here, great coaches, good players.”

Lopez, who is also from York Region added, “ I’ve got to be close to family this year. I’m going through some rough times with family and being close is a huge thing for me. And there are unbelievable facilities here.”

Morton and Lopez admit, however, that transferring teams has been difficult.

“I miss all those guys and the coach back at Waterloo. The coaches here and the players have made the transition easy, but it’s just a hard thing to get over. Every day is just trying to move on, but there are ups and downs,” said Morton.

“We’ve just got to continue and adjust and be grateful for where we are right now,” said Lopez.

Morton and Lopez, although both proud Warriors, plan to play just as strongly while donning the white-and-blue uniform as Varsity Blues.

Lopez said, “Football is like a brotherhood. Any player knows the brotherhood code. You look out for one another and it doesn’t matter who you are, what size you are or where you come from. You treat everyone equally.

“I was built a Warrior and I’ll finish off as a Blue, proudly. I’ll do the best I can here. The goal is for us to have a winning season like any other team. I’m going to come out strong just like I would for the Warriors as hard as I can and be my best to all my ability.”


Spotlight on:

alt textHUGO LOPEZ

Position: Defensive Back

Height: 6ft 3”

Nickname: Huey, Hughes, Trini

Eligibility year: 4

Program: Spanish/Business

Hometown: Newmarket, ON

Hugo was a starter for all three seasons that he played as a Warrior at Waterloo from 2007-2009. He made 48 solo tackles (22 as a rookie, and 13 each year afterwards) in 22 games as a Warrior.

alt textBRAD MORTON

Position: Defensive Back

Height: 5ft 11”

Nickname: Morty

Eligibility year: 3

Program: History

Hometown: Markham, ON

Brad played for the Warriors during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He recorded seven solo tackles over five games in the 2009 season.

Broken borders

Marc Emery, Canada’s self-proclaimed “Prince of Pot,” is set to be sentenced in a United States Federal Court on September 10. Emery was extradited to the U.S. on May 20, 2010, to serve a five-year prison term for the sale of marijuana seeds over the Internet. Canadian police worked with the U.S.’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to have Emery extradited and charged under America’s vastly more severe drug laws rather than having him serve his prison term in his home country. Emery’s extradition to a foreign country to serve a sentence for activities that took place on domestic soil raises questions not only about prohibition and drug policy issues, but also about Canada’s ability to act as a sovereign nation and protect its own citizens.

Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds openly sold seeds through online mail order from 1994 to 2005. Emery practiced a great deal of transparency in his business, accurately declaring the source of his income and paying all provincial and federal taxes. Though Emery’s store was raided for selling seeds on multiple occasions, Canadian courts repeatedly sentenced him only to fines and no prison time. In Canada, seed sellers face a $200 fine and one month in jail. U.S. penalties are much harsher, and if Emery is not sentenced to the five-year prison term agreed upon in his plea bargain, he faces 30 years to life in the American prison system.
alt text

Though the distribution of seeds is illegal in Canada, no case has been prosecuted for decades and Canadian businesses similar to Emery’s are allowed to operate with little state interference. What makes Emery’s case unique is the fact that the profits from his business were routinely used to fund anti-drug war and anti-prohibition activism worldwide and within the U.S. The DEA press release issued upon Emery’s arrest confirmed that the motivation for his arrest and extradition was mainly political and intended to deal a “significant blow” to “drug legalization lobbyists.” Emery’s admittedly illegal business had no American branches, no American employees, and he never set foot in the U.S. Despite this and despite being a Canadian citizen, he is being extradited to a foreign country to serve a prison term far harsher than any he would have received in a Canadian court.

Whether or not one agrees with Emery’s practices, activism, and drug law reform efforts, it remains clear that his extradition represents our country’s failure to protect its citizens and administer its laws within its own borders. Bending under American pressure to make an example of Emery in the political context of a costly, ineffective, and increasingly unpopular war on drugs, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s extradition order is representative of Canada’s inability to stand independently of U.S. policy and pressure. If Emery is to serve time for his seed sales, he should do so on Canadian soil and under Canadian law, not as a “criminal alien” who has limited rights within the U.S. prison system.

Emery’s extradition is unnerving because it demonstrates our government’s willingness to hand over its citizens to a foreign country when their actions and beliefs are not in agreement with that country’s policies. Clearly, the safety of citizens is not as important to the Canadian government as compliance with American ideology and policy. This is a case in which the alleged legality or illegality of Emery’s actions is far less relevant than the Canadian government’s response to them. Our justice system should not be outsourced on demand.If Emery has committed illegal actions in Canada, he should be prosecuted under Canadian law. Ultimately, Emery’s extradition is a gross injustice done to a Canadian citizen who has never harmed anyone, and a clear violation of the rights and protections promised to citizens by our government. At this point in time, only Emery’s repatriation can serve as a sign of respect for Canadian sovereignty and the right to choose how laws are enforced within our own borders.