Fined and fuming

Issuing the “No Levy” campaign 20 demerit points and a $150 fine was not enough. The Election Referenda Committee decided to add another five demerit points as a “slap on the wrist.”

The campaign, which urges students to refuse to pay $18 per year to operate the Varsity Centre, was penalized for allegedly trying to intimidate Sandy Hudson’s “Unite U of T” slate into supporting it. After appealing the punishment, the campaign was harshly rebuked for “presenting frivolous and irrelevant accusations” to the appeals committee.

“No” campaigners sent an email to all members of the Unite slate early Monday morning, asking the slate to endorse their position on the Varsity Center levy and citing the slate members’ avowed commitment to accessible, publicly-funded education. “No” campaigners asserted that this stance made it impossible for Unite U of T to be neutral.

“They have not taken a position,” said Ryan Hayes, who is leading the “No” campaign. “And to add insult to injury, when someone asks them to, they turn around and file a complaint that could have gotten us disqualified.”

Hudson insisted, however, that there were no such intentions. “We have nothing against them. We just wanted to ensure that the elections and referenda did not interfere with each other in a negative way.”

Election and Referenda Committee co-chair Faraz Siddiqui pointed to the last paragraph of the email No Levy campaigners sent to the Unite slate: “If we do not hear back from you by tonight […] we may need to reconsider our campaign strategy, but more importantly, how we as progressive students will be able to work together in the year ahead,” read the letter.

“It was ominous messaging,” said Hudson. “So [Unite] went to the CRO so they would be aware of the potential issue.”

Hayes confirmed that letter informed Unite slate members that, if they did not endorse the No Levy position, No Levy would reword its campaign materials in a less “considerate” manner: The materials would say simply to “vote no” instead of “no levy.” As four out of five Unite can-

didates were Yes/No propositions (they ran unopposed), this could induce students to check “No” on the ballots—disqualifying those candidates.

In their appeal, the “No” campaign cited similar tactics in a Canadian Federation of Students campaign, one in which some Unite members participated. That argument, ruled a “frivolous and irrelevant” accusation, landed the “No” campaign a further five demerit points.

“The email […] asked us to take a position by that night, and we weren’t able to sit down as a slate and talk to each other about it,” said Hudson.

“When we talked about it the next day, we decided that […] we would like to have the plebiscite run its course.” Hudson reported the email to the CRO before that meeting.

The emails in question are currently online, viewable on the No campaign’s Facebook group “How Stupid Do They Think We Are? Vote NO Levy March 4th-6th.”

Familiar territory for Leafs Nation

The roller-coaster that is Leafs fandom is climbing the rails once again. Whether it plummets down the other side is yet to be seen. With a score of six points back of eighth and 14 games left, the Leafs manage to hold onto the chance of a playoff berth just long enough for their fans to rationalize the odds of making it. The team is at a fork in the road, and which direction they take will not only decide their fate this season, but for seasons to come. The road presents three possible paths. The first is for the team to put together an amazing run, squeezing into the last playoff spot in early April. The buds may actually fare better than most would predict.

Toronto’s first round opponent would likely be the overachieving Montreal Canadiens (who have a question mark between the pipes with rookie goalie Carey Price), or the inconsistent Ottawa Senators, a team with an obvious lack of depth on the bench. The Leafs have played well against each team this year, splitting the season series with both rivals. The New Jersey Devils, another possible matchup, would pose more of a challenge for no other reason than All-Star goaltender Martin Brodeur. However, given the fact that many of the Leafs, most notably Darcy Tucker, often rise to the playoff occasion, anything’s possible.

But in the long run, would making the playoffs,or even the second or third round, really accomplish anything? Considering the unlikelihood of winning the Stanley Cup. A playoff birth would only relieve the mounting pressure on Peddie and Tannenbaum to change their authoritarian ways. Without increased demands from the fans and the media, there would be no need to fix what isn’t broken. A playoff appearance would only end in long-term stagnation.

The second option, most likely to occur, assures that the team will play well enough down the stretch to instill faint hope in Leafs nation, but miss the post-season by two or three points in the end. This is the worst-case scenario. The club wouldn’t finish low enough to have a chance of acquiring a high draft pick, yet they would finish high enough to lift the pressure to make drastic changes from the organization. And worst of all, we lowly die-hards would be forced to support (or at least pretend to support) another Canadian team for the third straight year.

The third and final path would fix both problems. Tank the season. Throw the next 14 games to ensure that we would finish low enough get in the lottery for the number-one draft pick. For many, this is blasphemy, but hear me out. Pretend Toskala pulled his groin and throw in Raycroft, get Kaberle deported back to the Czech Republic, and feed Sundin Swedish meatballs so undercooked that he can’t be five feet from a bathroom. Crash and burn so hard that Peddie and Tannenbaum can’t pick up their morning paper without enduring an onslaught of disgruntled and resentful fans demanding they release their tyrannical hold on the franchise. Together, they have already led this organization so far into managerial disgrace that a few dubious tactics would seem par for the course.

Sometimes in order to build a stronger future, you have to let the present collapse. No team has ever admitted to tanking on purpose to salvage its future, but maybe in this case, the road less travelled could be the most advantageous. Just wake me up when it’s over.

Docs slam bad ads

“The purpose of health care is to make money.”

It isn’t at every student-organized event that the speaker has to ask his lawyer, sitting in the audience, whether he’s allowed to talk on a given topic. But on Tuesday, when Dr. John Abramson spoke on “The World of Drug Advertising,” hosted by the Health Studies Student Union at Hart House Theatre, he was fresh from testifying as an expert witness in an Ontario Superior Court case on the rights of pharmaceutical companies to engage in direct-to-consumer advertising.

Based on trends in the United States, DTCA is believed to be worth half a billion dollars annually if allowed in Canada, the world’s eighthlargest drug market. The Canadian Institute for Health Information staetd that of all health care costs, prescription drugs represent the fastest growing expenditures. “They want to bring the suit because they know there’s money in it,” said Abramson, a Harvard Medical School instructor and author of Overdo$ed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine.

Abramson was introduced by Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a U of T professor of paediatrics and medicine who is herself locked in ongoing legal wrangling with the pharmaceutical company Apotex, after breaking confidentiality about drug trials which she helped conduct for them in the 1990s.

Strangely, Abramson’s case was launched not by the drug companies themselves, nor by the ad firms that work for them, but by a media organization claiming its right to freedom of expression extends to the right to carry ads ruled illegal in Canada. In December 2005, CanWest Mediaworks—owners of the Global Television Network, several digital channels, newspapers including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and Calgary Herald, as well as the commuter dailies Dose and Metro—filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada.

At issue is the Food and Drugs Act, which allows ads either to name a prescription drug or the condition it treats—but not both. The law is poorly enforced, and illegal ads often reach Canadian airwaves from the United States, one of the two countries in the world that allows DTCA (New Zealand is the other). The regulation do not apply to over-the-counter drugs and the Act does not restrict editorial content concerning pharmaceuticals.

In November, the court ruled that a coalition of advocacy groups could testify on the side of Health Canada. Abramson testified Tuesday before the court on the effects of drug advertising on women.

“We’re not talking about corporate free speech,” said Abramson. “Corporations can say whatever they want. We’re talking about the freedom to use capital—your capital—to mislead you.”

Loony Saskatoon

Bracket fever has struck early this year with the CIS women’s basketball championship set to begin March 7-9 at the university of saskatchewan. The top teams from Western and Eastern canada will battle it out for the coveted Baby Bronze trophy. here’s a quick look at the ‘Elite Eight’ participants.

1 Simon Fraser Clan (22-1) vs. #8 Laval Rouge et Or (12-4)

The Skinny: It’s hard to bet against the defending 2007 CIS champions, but SFU showed they were vulnerable in their upset to number-four Regina during the Canada West semi-finals. In addition, no team has won back-to-back titles since the Manitoba Bisons in 1995-96.

The Clan owns a dynasty of sorts, having taken three of the last six national titles, but with four seniors from the 2007 CIS championship team no longer in the fold, their success will hinge on the play of Canada West MVP Lani Gibbons. The fifth-year guard was third in team scoring with 12 points per contest, leading the nation in assists (5.7 apg) for the third straight year.

SFU boasts a strong inside-outside combination with Gibbons, who shot a stellar 36.1 per cent from three in 2007, and second- year forward Kate Hole, who leads the team in scoring (13.48) and rebounding (8.91). The 6’2” forward will be guarded by Laval’s top player, centre Marie-Michelle Genois. Genois averaged 13.4 points and 8.75 rebounds for the Rouge in the weaker QSSF conference.

The Bottom Line: There’s no comparison. SFU is the best of a tough west, while Laval barely dominated a weak Quebec conference. The two teams haven’t met so far in ‘07. The last time SFU faced Laval in the national tournament was during 2005, when they won by a surprisingly narrow 61- 59 score. Simon Frasier averaged 85 points a game this season to Laval’s 67.

Betting Line: Simon Fraser by 10

2 University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (21-2) vs. #7 University of Toronto Varsity Blues (18-4)

The Skinny: UBC is fresh off a dominant 72-55 victory over Alberta in the Canada West finals, capturing their second consecutive title. Led by stellar guard play as well as sound defence, the Thunderbirds won two of the last four CIS championships (2006, 2004).

First-team all-star and defensive player of the year, Erica McGuiness leads the way for UBC, averaging 17.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a ballgame, while fifth-year Cait Hagarty chips in with 10 points and 4 assists. Toronto will counter with guards Alaine Hutton and Kyla Burwash. An OUA first team all-star, Hutton leads the Blues in scoring (17.1ppg) but struggled when the two teams played on Dec. 30.2006, scoring only 10 points on 4-11 shooting. The Blues fell to the Thunderbirds 72-59 as Burwash scored only five points to go with six turnovers and zero assists.

The Bottom Line: Toronto was 1-5 in exhibition play versus Canada West opponents this season, and will have difficulty advancing against superior competition. History is not on the Blues side: the team’s lone CIS title dates all the way back to 1985-86, and the team hasn’t played on the national stage since a first-round exit in 2002. For the U of T to pull the upset, they will need to shoot better than the 25-77 outing they had in 2006. Post play will be a huge factor in this game. Laila Bellony, who won Blues player of the game in the OUA finals against McMaster, has had success against UBC in the past (11 points 4-9, Dec. 30, 2006), but will battle with UBC’s huge front line led by third-year forward Leanne Evans. Evans has averaged 10.78 rebounds and 2.70 blocks a game in 2007-08. Last time they played, the Thunderbirds dominated the paint, out-rebounding the Blues 48-34. UBC will miss guard Devan Lisson, who is out due to a knee injury sustained during the Canada West tournament. She was second on the team in three-point shooting at 43.6 per cent.

The Betting line: UBC by 8

3 McMaster University Marauders (21-1) vs. # 6 University Of Saskatchewan Huskies (9-13)

The Skinny: Saskatchewan makes its third appearance at the tourney (2006,1982), but will have much to prove after going only 9-13 in the Canada West Central division. They will be in tough against the OUA champion McMaster Marauders who boast a talented group of players in MVP Lindsay Degroot, point guard Taylor Smith, and centre Chiara Rocca.

Degroot led the Marauders in scoring with 18.9 points a game, alongside 7.7 rebounds. The Marauders are a run-and-gun team, McMaster relies on strong guard play to win, boasting five players in the OUA top 20 in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Mauraders throws heavy pressure defence on their opponents, particularly fifth-year guard Rachel Hart, who was named Defensive Player of the Year this past season.

The team doesn’t have much size up front other than Chiara Rocca, so a strong post presence can be effective against them, as Windsor’s Iva Peklova (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Toronto’s Laila Bellony (17 points, seven rebounds) showed in the OUA tournament.

The Bottom Line: Count any home-team advantage out of this equation, tournament hosts University of Saskatchewan Huskies are just happy to be there. Receiving an invite to the CIS championship based on merit is one thing, but geography and logistics? Historically, the host team has participated in the event, but at times diluted the overall talent pool.

This explains why no hosting team has ever won a national championship in the same year. If I were UBC, I’d complain that while McMaster gets to feast on Huskies, the Thunderbirds have to tangle with an upstart Varsity Blues team.

The Betting Line: McMaster by 16

4 University of Regina Cougars (16-6) vs. # 5 Memorial University Sea Hawks (17-3)

The Skinny: Regina returns to the Nationals after a two-year absence for its eighth appearance in 11 years. The Canada West finalist Cougars captured their sole CIS title in 2000- 01. Having shocked top ranked Simon Fraser with a win in this years semi-finals, the team should have confidence to compete with any of the top teams. Regina played all year in a weaker Great Plains division in which they’re the top team (no other team has a winning record). They are led by fourth-year forward Chelsea Cassano who is averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 56 per cent from the field (fourth in the CIS).

Memorial advances out of the AUS for the sixth time in nine seasons, a year after claiming its first CIS medal (bronze) at home in St. John’s, with a 75-60 win over Dalhousie. The Memorial Sea-Hawks are two-time AUS Women’s Basketball Champions following their 64-61 victory over the Cape Breton Capers. Memorial will again lean heavily on AUS MVP Katherine Quakenbush averaging 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, in the Atlantic conference.

The Bottom Line: The Regina Cougars have home town advantage in this match up, but Quackenbush and the rest of the Sea Hawks are a “dark horse” team that could surprise in this tournament. Memorial is averaging 85.9 points a game compared to 73.9 for their opponents. Expect this game to be a low scoring game, whichever team can thrive in that kind of situation will win.

The Betting Line: Memorial University by 4

UTSU breaks the public trust

The University of Toronto Students’ Union ran a full-page advertisement in Monday’s Varsity, urging people to vote on the fate of the proposed Varsity Centre levy in an upcoming plebiscite. What they did not mention is that the UTSU election would accompany the plebiscite vote. This is no mistake, but a symptom of an unnerving trend in UTSU politics. The current Progress/Unite government has gone to great lengths to create a political malaise on campus, allowing a tiny group to dominate a generation of student government elections. Considering this year’s UTSU election is nothing more than a formality, it is impressive that the current politicos found a way to make the unopposed race for office totally illegitimate.

Running alongside the health plan, dental plan, and UTSU Orientation Day, the values entrenched in UTSU’s mandate concern a fair, open, and publicized race each year for the annual student council elections. If this public trust is broken, then students of the University of Toronto have every right to civil disobedience by way of withholding their student fees from UTSU. Unfortunately, this move would harshly punish the blameless clubs and levy groups that UTSU provides funding for. Still, students cannot allow UTSU to hold the health of campus organizations hostage for the sake of maintaining power.

Sure, we’ve seen ads for the “Unite” slate. But we haven’t seen any ads for the election itself. The current UTSU government expects students to glean information about the election from their candidates’ posters, fostering the impression that Unite and UTSU are the same entity. Is that the type of democracy we expect? By not publicizing the election, failing to mention it in ads for the Varsity Centre plebiscite, or even posting election notices on the UTSU website, the current student council has shown nothing less than contempt for the U of T student body, snarling at the very idea that they should go through the motions of anything as quaint as a fair election.

This isn’t simply a matter of UTSU passing a plan to use $20 million to build a student centre after receiving support from approximately 5 per cent of the student body. This isn’t concerned with student the resources used to support divisive propositions like Israeli Apartheid Week. This isn’t even about UTSU trying to pass a motion to charge every single St. George campus student $480 (with no opt-outs) for a marginal discount on less than a full year of Metropasses. This is about something much bigger—the fundamental rights of students to a government they deserve.

Hugo Chavez is becoming a Caesar

“Yesterday, the devil came here. Yesterday the devil was here, in this very same place. This table where it has been my turn to speak still smells like sulphur.”

These were the words of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations, in September 2006. The “devil” he referred to was U.S. President George W. Bush. While Mr. Bush has not been the best of presidents, he can hardly be called the devil.

A few days ago, the Colombian military launched an attack on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) encampment in Ecuador, a couple of kilometres from the Ecuador-Colombia border. Chavez was quick to condemn the act, calling Colombia “a terrorist state.” He then proceeded to move troops to his country’s border with Colombia, and promised that if Colombia violated the border, Venezuela would respond with military force. How could a Colombian entry into Ecuador to fight the FARC, a group listed as a terrorist organization at the Center for Defense Investigation (CDI), affect Venezuela? It doesn’t.

Venezuela does not have a vested interest, except when establishing itself as a regional power. Then again, it appears that the Venezuelan government has recently given $300 million to FARC. Proof of the donation was discovered on a confiscated laptop owned by Raul Reyes, a member of the FARC leadership council, killed in the recent violence.

Hugo Chavez gained power in 1998. He was the leader of a coup against the previous government in 1992, which failed and ended in a two-year incarceration. Upon his pardon, Chavez turned to politics and was eventually elected to the presidency. In December 2007, he was voted down in a national referendum that attempted to approve a series of constitutional changes, such as abolishing presidential term limits and ending the autonomy of the Central Bank. If passed, the changes would have effectively put the country’s economy under government control, making it a command economy, and Hugo Chavez would be in power indefinitely. Chavez’ persistence in instituting these changes points towards his ultimate goal—a democratically-elected dictatorship.

Chavez joined the accusations of the previous government of being elitist, controlling, corrupt, and squandering the country’s oil wealth. However, despite his claim of making revolutionary changes, in the ten years of his presidency, Venezuela still has a high unemployment rate; the number fluctuates rapidly, getting better and then worse every few months. Chavez may have criticized his predecessors, but they didn’t try to change the constitution so they could remain in power indefinitely.

Chavez wants to be the leader of Latin America, and this is why he has interjected on the Colombia- Ecuador situation. While he has always held anti-American inclinations, and since Colombia is a U.S. ally, Chavez may threaten Colombia to assert his defiance of the U.S. and his dominance over Latin America. Yet his aggressive, seemingly opportunist stance is uncalled for. Before Chavez points out other countries’ misbehaviour, he might want to confront his own hypocrisy: a $300 million paper trail and Venezuela’s major trade with the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of State, in 2006 Venezuela exported $36 billion in goods to the U.S., and imported $416 million worth of agricultural products. Between Bush and Chavez, who’s the real devil?

We don’t need two solitudes

Language and cultural tensions are once again heating up Quebec—and it looks like nothing will be sufficient to quench these fires.

Canadians have been aware of an ongoing separatist debate in Quebec for quite some time now. In an attempt to safeguard its unique majority-Francophone population, and to resist bilingualism and multilingualism, separatist thought seems to be on the rise amongst Francophone Quebeckers. The latest episode in an escalating movement to defend and preserve the French language stems from one of Quebec’s most popular French-language authors, Victor-Lévy Beaulieu. Beaulieu has proposed a symbolic ultimatum: to burn his entire body of work, comprised of some 70 pieces, if nothing is done to stop the surge of bilingualism in the province. Sparked by Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois’s suggestion that Quebec school children could benefit from taking more classes in English, Bealieu’s rash request comes at a time when English-speaking schools are on the rise. Parents are increasingly advocating the value of a bilingual education, insisting their children will have more opportunities with more than just French under their belt. Beaulieu, however, sees bilingualism as a signpost of future Anglicization—and assimilation—of Francophones.

But he is not alone in his his sentiment. Quebec’s language watchdog has accused a popular Irish pub in Montreal of showcasing English-only vintage advertisements for Guinness and Harp Lager, as well as an English-only chalkboard menu and service. This appears to violate Quebec’s language laws, which require French to be predominant on most commercial signs.

In another related issue, the Journal de Montréal featured a report of obtaining employment downtown with a limited knowledge of French, prompting the question of whether there is enough French spoken in downtown Montreal.

Some Canadians claim that Quebec’s laws are intolerant, discriminatory, and even racist. Much criticism and debate has surfaced in recent years over reasonable accommodation of immigrants in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which demands that accommodation be made to various ethnic minorities. As Quebec faces the question of its own identity, confronted by the various cultures of immigrants, the province feels their own French-Canadian culture could be sacrificed. The government encourages only French-speaking immigrants, having abused the principal of reasonable accommodation of immigrants by, for example, contesting the balloting of Muslim women who wear Muslim head coverings such as the niqab or burka.

Those who argue against bilingualism claim that a bilingual Quebec will eventually result in an Anglophone Quebec. Are Quebec’s cultural-protectionist methods intolerant and discriminatory, or are they legitimate practice to ensure that French Canada doesn’t lose its roots?

Sadly, I’d have to say both. In a country where only 7.1 million people speak French at home, compared with the some 20-plus million who speak English, not to mention the neighbouring U.S. where the predominant languages are English and Spanish, Quebec is a fish out of water. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and feeling backed into a corner, Quebec has seized any and all opportunities to preserve its language and culture.

However, Quebecois culture doesn’t have to fade away. The onus to change lies not with French Canada, but with the majority comprised by the Anglophones. Change or a solution, if one indeed exists, will take a significant effort on the part of Francophone and Anglophone Canadians. Although many have expressed their support for a bilingual country, the solution does not lie in a few English Canadians learning how to speak French. English Canada must come together to recognize French as equal in every way to the English language. We need more education, dialogue, understanding and experience. We should celebrate the fact that we can speak two languages here, promoting this as an economic and cultural strength instead of boycotting and undermining either language.

It is safe to assume that Quebec will not back down in its fierce struggle. The province still feels pressure to defend its language, regardless of how many livres leave the bibliotheque.

Where are our bullshit detectors?

The recent developments surrounding the Chuck Cadman controversy serve to confirm my worst fears: Canadians are losing their bullshit detectors.

It’s a real shame too, because I have always found Canadian bullshit aversion rather pleasant, coming from the land down south where they practically invented the stuff. I don’t just say this because Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are a terrible government taking Canada in the wrong direction: I liked it when Canadians raised a ruckus over Adscam, too, and that mess was full of Liberal bullshit.

But something has happened, and I can’t tell if it’s just the winter blues or fear about economic downturn. What we do know is that two days before the tenuously passed budget in spring 2005, high-ranking officials from the Conservative Party of Canada approached now-deceased MP Chuck Cadman, of British Columbia, and made him an offer.

What was on the table, and at what cost?

A $1 million life insurance policy. All he would have had to do was vote against the Liberal budget, triggering an election. That’s a lot of money on the table in July 2005 when Chuck Cadman died of terminal melanoma, a form of skin cancer. But it wasn’t cashed because Cadman voted for the budget and then the Speaker voted for it, breaking the tie as Canadians waited until Christmas for an election to roll around.

We also know that after Mr. Cadman’s death, the Prime Minister acknowledged on tape that he knew financial gains were offered to Mr. Cadman, but that they were “only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election.”

So let’s go over the facts: money was offered to Mr. Cadman, and Mr. Harper knew about it. You with me? Good.

Moving forward two years to this week: a political storm is brewing, the NDP are piping mad, the Liberals are happy that finally they don’t have to look like idiots, and everybody can read. So they flip open their dictionaries to the word bribe: “money or favour given or promised in order to influence the conduct of a person in a position of trust.”

Then, just like you did, they put two and two together and decided that the offer made to Mr. Cadman was a bribe, and they smiled. Mr. Harper, the man of morals and good government, was finally caught with his pants down. And to the press they went.

Now, the PM is suing for libel for two articles published on the Liberals’ website, demanding access to a wide array of documents that the Liberals have gathered in their investigation. But once the story broke, the Conservatives began to backpedal and people are buying it. All I hear now is how this country does not need another election. Apparently everyone should just shut up and prepare for the massive economic downturn that is going to ruin our lives next year. Yikes.

Instead, we need to take a page out of the (American) history books and ask, “What did the PM know and when did he know it?” (The astute will recognize the homage to Richard Nixon.)

Several years ago, Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt published a wonderful little pamphlet, On Bullshit, where he treats the topic with the seriousness it deserves. The working definition proposed is that bullshit is the active disregard of the truth. It isn’t that someone knows the truth and obscures it—that’s a good old-fashioned lie. Bullshit is when someone has no interest in hearing the truth whatsoever. And that’s a dangerous road to travel.

I know that it didn’t seem to matter when an ex- PM was taking bribes instead of making them, but we need a serious inquiry, and we need it soon. This represents nothing less than an investigation of the moral bankruptcy of this government, and Canadians deserve to know.

Let’s demand that someone ask the tough questions on behalf of the Canadian people, and everyone, please—let’s cut the bullshit.