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.
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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.

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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

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.

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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.
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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.


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.
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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.

UTSC makeover in the works

“It’s a very exciting time to be at UTSC,” said U of T Scarborough principal Frank Vaccarino.

Plans for expansion of the crowded campus of roughly 10,000 students have been given a boost by the coming 2015 Pan Am Games.

Ideas under consideration include more academic and residence buildings, an extension to the TTC’s light-rail plan that reaches campus, a performing arts centre, and replacing a section of Military Trail with a pedestrian walkway, complete with cafés and trees.

But the largest idea under review resulted from the coming Pan Am Games athletic centre. Vaccarino’s office has commissioned Pannell Kerr Forster consulting firm to complete a feasibility study on a hotel and convention centre. Results are expected within a month.
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“We’re being real careful with this,” said Vaccarino. “It represents a potential opportunity but before we jump to that, it’s an area we have to understand well.

“UTSC has a substantial space shortage. We’re not able to properly accommodate visitors.”

Vaccarino said a hotel and convention centre could be used to house visiting athletes for the Pan Am Games and other sporting events. He noted the area has much less surrounding accommodation than St. George campus, and said the new buildings could host families visiting students, academic conferences, and international speakers.

The closest hotel to the campus is a 10 km drive. At a conference held last year, guests were lodged in some of the unused residence rooms.

UTSC student Kevin Wang said he’s concerned about rising student fees. A $30 million escalating student levy was approved by a March referendum to build an athletic centre for the 2015 games.

“We already had the referendum which would shortchange a lot of us for next few years for an athletic facility, so adding to that might be a very bad idea.”

“As long as they don’t make us pay another levy, I’m fine with it. [It’s] nice to have more development in our neighbourhood,” said student Martine Lee. “Hopefully we can make use of the hotel or convention centre for student events as well.”

Vaccarino stressed that levies are out of the question. “A student levy would not be part of the funding plan for such a project,” he said, adding that a campus expansion would enrich the local community.

“This is really an opportunity for UTSC to play a role in the development of this region,” said Vaccarino. “When the GTA amalgamated, this area lost some of its self-definition and the UTSC vision is to be an anchor and a catalyst for the region.”

All new developments would take place on the north side of Ellesmere Road, a 50-hectare area owned by the campus currently used for parking spaces and parkland. Called the north campus, the area’s first building, a $78-million instructional centre, is almost complete and is planned to open in March.

The athletic centre, which will include two Olympic-sized swimming pools and space for multiple sports, is planned to be built at the north end of the area, bordering city land. The proposed hotel and convention centre would likely be placed beside the athletic centre.

With files from The Globe and Mail.

The politics of fear

France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy and Canada’s prime Minister Stephen Harper have benefitted from exploiting popular prejudices about immigrants.

When approval ratings are low, some leaders rethink their strategies, come up with practical solutions, and connect with the populace. Others with less integrity seek an easy scapegoat: often in the form of foreigners.

The Roma people, pejoratively known as “gypsies,” are Europe’s largest minority. Somewhere between 500,000 to a million live in France, mostly coming from Eastern Europe. Many live in encampments: cramped lots on the periphery of cities filled with scores of mobile homes. Poverty, disease, and crime run rampant among the squatters.

Long the pariahs of Europe, discrimination of Romani people is well-documented throughout the continent. Historically known as a nomadic people, their wandering has never ceased as European societies continue to stigmatize and deny the continent’s roughly 11 million Roma rightful education and social services.

Five years into the Decade of Roma Inclusion, an initiative backed with $17 billion in EU funding, many remain illiterate and unemployed. A sizable number roam city streets, peddling babies and begging passersby for spare change. Tourists are often pick-pocketed, conned, and sometimes, jumped.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government has been extraditing Romani to their countries of origin for the past year. But the effort has recently been stepped up.

Facing abysmal approval ratings halfway through his term, Sarkozy has been dealing with a rising deficit, staggering growth and a party funding scandal. This year he’s orchestrated unnecessary polemics, with a burqa ban and town hall-style debates on national identity, to distract the electorate and gain the support of France’s extreme right-wing factions.

But the distraction hasn’t been enough. His plans for EU austerity measures are meeting hostile opposition. The French blogosphere is swarming with rumours of violent uprisings on Labour Day resembling the 2005 and 2007 riots—both of which included scores of torched cars and civilians opening fire on police.

Two weeks ago, Sarkozy started an aggressive campaign of Roma deportation. Feeding off prejudice and fear, he’s linked immigration to crime and has begun a program of “voluntary repatriation” for supposed illegal migrants. Adults are offered 300 euros and a seat on a flight to Romania or Bulgaria.

The move has been condemned by both the UN and the Vatican. The EU has questioned the legality of the expulsions, noting that its open-border policies make claims of illegal immigrants difficult to prove.

It gets uglier. Sarkozy even threatened to withdraw citizenship from immigrants convicted of endangering police. The last time French citizenship was revoked from naturalized foreigners was in the 1940s, when Pétain’s fascist-collaborative government expatriated Jews to get them into Auschwitz-bound trains faster.
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Similar scapegoating has also taken place in Canada. Last October, the Ocean Lady docked at Victoria, B.C. with 76 Tamil men aboard. All were released after the Canada Border Services Agency found no evidence of terrorist connections. The event provoked some debate and editorials, but faded from prominence within days.

Since then, Harper’s government has been plagued by scandal: the Afghanistan torture allegations, the long-form census, building more prisons for “unreported crime,” the G20 in general.

The second boat of Tamil migrants couldn’t have chosen a worse time to arrive.

We were we told that these people were aliens jumping the queue and feeding off our tax system, that the Tamil Tigers are establishing a government in exile and sending more boats.

As the boat came closer, our collective intelligence was increasingly insulted. We were hysterically warned of terrorists on board. Rejecting the concept of innocence until proven guilty, the Conservatives still continue to spread these unsubstantiated allegations.

Not only does this slander those involved, it undermines the trust the public places in their government. The danger in throwing around terrorism allegations is that it opens the door to a boy-cried-wolf situation.

Harper’s efforts have largely been successful. With weak media seeking the latest sensationalized story, the Conservatives have gained support from tough-on-crime voters and the pesky Afghan torture scandal is far off the radar.

Terrorism means using fear to coerce. It seems this is exactly Harper and Sarkozy’s approach to public debate.

The Tamil migrants deserve the fair process afforded to all claiming refugee status. The Roma in France deserve concrete moves to help them assimilate into society. The Canadian and French electorates deserve governments that don’t steep to scapegoating when faced with tough questions.

While the Tamil migrant situation is less elaborate than the French expulsion of Roma people, it sets a shared and dangerous precedent. Using xenophobia as a political tool is dangerous, cowardly, and undermines democracy. I trust Canadians will be smart and courageous enough to see past the fear-mongering and focus on getting answers to our real questions.