Hamilton’s Johnson Aziga is the world’s first person to be charged with murder for spreading AIDS. His trial, in process since last October, involves two counts of first-degree murder and 11 counts of aggravated sexual assault. Aziga knew about his HIV status in the ’90s and did not disclose it. He infected multiple women, and two died of AIDS-related complications. Aziga’s case is expected to come to a close next month; in the meantime, the world is debating the criminalization of HIV. Controversies have flared in recent weeks.HIV/AIDS is a social issue like no other. There is no cure for AIDS; like hepatitis and diabetes it must be medicated and controlled for a lifetime. It carries a stigma like no other infection, with links to sexual preference and practice, race, and poverty. Since 1998, AIDS has been the only disease one can be charged for exposing others to (not necessarily infecting them with) under Canadian law. Since then, there has been a grey area concerning consent and malice.At first, the idea of criminalizing HIV disclosure seems logical: in order to give real consent, people must be informed of their partner’s status. But opponents raise convincing arguments which reveal the big picture. UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme, believes criminalization only adds to our extreme misunderstanding and prejudice towards the HIV-positive. Increased stigma means embarrassment and thus less testing. At the same time, some will assume that the law somehow protects them against infection.Aziga’s case involves variables. Aziga is Ugandan-born. One witness said that she asked Aziga directly if he had AIDS, and was lied to. Some of his former partners were infected, while others were only placed at risk. Judges are supposed to base decisions on legal precedents. While the outcome of Aziga’s trial should make it easier to settle this debate, the case is more complicated. Sexual dynamics are difficult to understand and even more confusing to legislate, especially in a country of diverse cultural and medical norms.What Canada needs is a Royal Commission. Yes, these notoriously lengthy commissions cost millions and occasionally lead to corruption. They have, however, provided our nation with legal and social guidance about such complicated issues as women’s rights, bilingualism, and Aboriginal issues.Almost 60,000 Canadians live with positive status. The significant amount of those affected by AIDS makes it necessary to inquire into the relationship between the disease and Canadian law, attitudes, and public awareness.It’s widely unknown that the vast majority of HIV court cases involve heterosexual couples. Anthropologists suggest that this is not due to people’s ability to dodge the justice system; rather, it is increasingly assumed that the LGBT community has better-established codes on disclosure and safe sex, perhaps as a result of the AIDS crisis in the ’90s. If the minority is able to deal with this, why shouldn’t the majority?This commission could investigate all the issues surrounding AIDS in Canada, including its affect on the gay community. We need laws to protect people from being intentionally infected, but we also need to reach a better understanding of this disease to challenge the widely-held stigmas about it. The commission could propose training for HIV-positive people, and measures to ensure that more people get tested.With these commissions, a national discussion is started, and many are given a voice. A committee of diverse experts delivers suggestions to legislators, who try to figure out solutions. We’ve done this with other issues. We must for AIDS.After all, this is a perfect opportunity. Because of Aziga, Canada is being watched by the rest of the world. Rather than allow the jury’s decision in a complicated trial dictate our laws, we must examine our thoughts and beliefs in order to establish a more inclusive and just society. Canada can set a precedent, helping to solve one of the world’s toughest questions.
Canada needs a Royal Commission on HIV
Marginalized students shafted?
With UTSU election season underway, the atmosphere on campus stands in marked contrast with that of last year. This round of elections has seen the formation of two opposing slates: Demand Access and Change. While the much-needed debate is welcome, something is becoming increasingly clear about the “Change” mandate proposed by presidential candidate Jason Marin: it is not a change that students—particularly poor and racialized students—can afford.During a recent debate hosted by The Varsity on CIUT radio, Marin presented the three focal points of his platform: school spirit, student space, and bridging the disconnect between students and their union. On the surface, these points may appear reasonable, but upon closer examination their substance is highly problematic.Marin suggested that parties, or a “homecoming,” would build community. However, there is no lack of activities for students on campus: there is a lack of active students. If a slate is sincerely committed to building community, as opposed to catering to the already hyper-engaged core of students most likely to vote, financial barriers and systemic racism need to be met head-on. During last week’s Task Force on Campus Racism hearing, student after student discussed feelings of alienation—exclusion from the campus community—as a result of Eurocentric curricula, poor representation of marginalized groups in faculty, and numerous incidences of prejudice. Also mentioned many times were financial barriers that prevent marginalized students from properly accessing their education. These financial barriers range from the lack of affordable student housing to rising tuition fees—issues that have been sidelined by the Change slate. If Marin believes that the main issue is “not enough parties,” he is dangerously mistaken.Secondly, we can all agree that student space is crucial. Indeed, students have been active in pushing for greater and more accessible spaces—opposing the expansion of the Second Cup in Sid Smith, or the eviction of the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students. However, Jason Marin’s model, based on his elaborations during the debate and more importantly his track record, differs significantly in substance from what students have demanded. The issue isn’t whether student space is needed, but rather who should pay for it. Problematic for both slates is their support for a Student Commons to be constructed with student fees. Marin cites the New College Student Lounge’s renovation as one of his achievements. As he explains, this was achieved through a $50,000 donation from the New College Student Council. Why are students, already burdened with tuition fees and living expenses, expected to carry further financial burdens to fund basic public services like physical infrastructure? Bricks and mortar should be funded by the government and the university, not by students already struggling to stay in school.Lastly, Marin discussed the disconnect between the student union and its membership, a valid point. Marin claimed that campaigns should start from the grassroots. However, what is Marin’s track record? Where was Marin when campaigns were brought up by such rank-and-file students?Marin himself has been disconnected, if not openly hostile, to such campaigns at his own college—let alone at the university level. Marin was absent when students organized against the 20 per cent New College residence fee increase and condemned their activities afterwards. He also failed to participate in the work to address the underfunding and underdevelopment of Area Studies programs, most of which fall under New College. Unsurprisingly, Marin was also absent from organizing against U of T President David Naylor’s plans for deregulating tuition.Marin was asked whether he supported positions taken on broader issues of social justice, or on precarious campus food workers, and his answer was an unequivocal “no.” At the same time, his answer on whether he saw David Naylor as an ally—a man who advocates for tuition fee deregulation—was an unequivocal “yes.” The clear message to marginalized students on campus is that the Change ticket will ignore their needs at a time when we need stronger representation.An open letter by Lucho Granados Ceja stated the following: “Good leaders must champion our issues to the powerful by taking direction from our communities. Jason, sadly, only takes direction from the administration. Racialized people and their allies need to support leaders that support us, and they will not find such leadership in Jason Marin and his Change ticket.” Marginalized students on campus and their allies would have to agree.Gabi Rodriguez, Edward Wong, and Shannon Ashman are volunteers at the Ontario Public Interest Research Group—Toronto
Poetry In Motion
Toronto-based writer, hip-hop artist, and spoken-word poet Motion graced the stage at Trane Studio last week to launch her new book of poetry 40dayz.Motion describes her unique style of spoken-word as an interactive mode of expression that combines preaching, storytelling, public speaking, and the vocalization of poetry. She fused her poetry with elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul, and Caribbean music, creating a unique and captivating performance.Motion’s undeniable stage presence and ability to connect with a crowd was evident as she rapped, sang, and recited a selection of her poems from 40dayz. A perfect complement was her full backing band, comprised of bass, drums, trumpet, and DJ L’oqenz, a staple throughout the set.“I want to keep incorporating new instruments,” said Motion, in a recent interview with The Varsity. “I love wind instruments and string instruments. Also, I want to keep building production—and I can’t forget DJ L’oqenz, because DJs are musicians too. So I’m open to a whole bunch of different ways to do music, from live to digital, to manipulating sounds, to sampling.”In addition to her band, Motion was backed by three female vocalists, each of whom was selected to contribute to the tone of her work. Motion has performed with her musicians and singers for years, and she went to high school with most of them. “Almost everyone who performed with me that night I’ve known in some artistic capacity for a while. [Bluesy singer] Michelle Francis and I had a band in high school, so it was great to bring those people together. It was like a family affair, and I was very happy for the support and the opportunity to collaborate and bring this vision to reality.”A graduate of U of T in English and African Studies, Motion was exposed to an array of music from an early age. “My mother was always saying I could dance before I could walk. I’ve always loved music, I’ve always loved dancing. I loved expressing myself to an audience—singing, making up songs, writing.”With parents from Antigua and Barbados, her exposure to Caribbean music, soul, reggae and jazz was unlimited—it included such artists as Bob Marley, Roberta Flack, Sparrow, Isaac Hayes, and Parliament Funkadelic. These eclectic influences and her resulting musical vision are apparent in her arrangements. “Sometimes I [write the arrangements myself], but I also have input: I work with people to build instrumentation, but I’m definitely expanding myself into the production side. I surround myself with DJs and producers who give me input into production aspects…because I love music and I have a good sense of what I want to hear underneath my lyrics.”Whereas her first book, Motion in Poetry, was comprised of poems written throughout her life, the material in 40dayz came together over the course of a year.“It was almost 10 years of writing that I had to choose from for Motion in Poetry. It’s very lyrical, it has a lot of attitude, but it also has peaks and valleys where it moves from reflection to straight-up affirmation to exploring the whole concept of relationships and romance. [The first book] was sort of like my introduction as an emerging woman, and I think that with 40dayz it was [my] focus on a particular theme that opened my eyes to new things, to new stages of my own artistry and my own life.”As she began to craft 40dayz, Motion was influenced by her experience at the University of Guelph’s Fine Arts program, where she had the chance to work with esteemed poets Dionne Brand, Judith Thomson, Tom Kane, and David Young. Motion credits Brand in particular for exposing her to contemporary poets with whom she was unfamiliar.“I started thinking about how 40 days is often associated with trials and tribulations, going through your challenges and being able to go through that fire and emerge scathed but stronger. I think that’s just reflective of life. It was a way of documenting a season that I’ve been through.”In addition to this theme of resilience, Motion has focused on different kinds of poetry. Not all of her poems are free verse—there’s some haiku as well. She found herself compelled to place restrictions on her creativity, limiting herself to a certain number of lines or specific structure, to make the words as potent as possible. “I really admire Langston Hughes, the poet from the Harlem Renaissance. I was fascinated by the way he could use four lines and just blow you away, how he could say so much with so little. That was something I had in my mind [while writing this book].”One poem in particular which stood out at the book launch was “Connecting The T-dots.” This work won the CBC National Poetry Face-Off, where a poet is chosen to represent each of Canada’s major cities, and listeners vote to pick the winner.“The theme that year was ‘love in your city’ and when I heard that theme I thought, ‘Wow, there’s so many ways I can approach this,’ because when we hear the word ‘love’ we always think of walking hand in hand, flowers, kissing and candy…but I wanted to explore love from the urban cities that I’ve seen, its good and bad aspects.”“Connecting The T-dots,” alongside Motion’s other works presented at the book launch, was performed with controlled passion. Motion is currently planning a summer tour across Canada and possibly the United States, where she plans to continue drawing in the listener through a musical and poetic journey of emotional peaks and valleys, leaving them on the edge of their seats.
The best of the worst
As a campus-based response to the recent Oscar ceremonies, the eighth-annual University of Toronto Film Festival is holding the famed Shitty Film Contest on March 13. The competition between the student-made short films in the running for the coveted “Shitty” promises to be intense, as all are remarkably strong contenders. The best of the worst is Rocky 2009, a parody trailer of the classic Sylvester Stallone franchise. It features the puppet Rabbi Rockowitz “shvitzing” across the desert, training for his showdown against “that shiksa” Sister Maria Guido. With the way it builds anticipation for a puppet showdown, Rocky 2009 is the only film that manages to elicit a few genuine, not in any way bemused, laughs.The humour of Something Wicket this Way Comes and Lampreydator is largely derived from their complete absurdity and amusingly poor quality. Something Wicket This Way Comes depicts a wrathful video game Wicket seeking vengeance on an unappreciative gamer, although the film never actually troubles itself with showing the Ewok advancing upon his victim. Instead, it cuts from an image of the digital Ewok to a rather frightened looking guy looking over his shoulder, presumably signifying the imminent attack. In Lampreydator, a blood-sucking fish, which bears more resemblance to a sock monkey than any aquatic animal, threatens to devour the planet and can only be stopped by a group of scientists and (naturally) fishermen.The black and white Mother(bird), whose entire plot consists of two pears stewing in a pot, is extremely funny, although admittedly only after reading the press release, which describes it as a “non-narrative film that focuses on the power of the mind and memory under the influence of fruit.”For the most part, the films manage to save themselves from becoming totally insufferable by being completely aware of their own lacklustre quality, although one does become painfully conscious of time passing during the 60-second Suggested Opening for $20,000 Pyramid, which literally involves lights on a pyramid getting increasingly brighter.At any rate, there’s something decidedly refreshing about watching films so utterly devoid of any pretension and so willing to laugh at themselves. They’re shitty, but at least they know it.The U of T Film Festival runs March 9-14 at Innis Town Hall, and features a wide variety of student-made films. Tickets are $5 for students. For screening information, visit uoftfilmfest.ca.
A.C. Newman’s guilty pleasures
While his creative output hints at it, many don’t realize that A.C. Newman has one of the most active senses of humour in pop music.Three years ago, touring with Belle and Sebastian, Newman drew big laughs (and later, a little ire from a local morning shock jock) when he commented that playing for Edge 102 fans at a promotional gig earlier that day was like playing “to the most energetic group of people that hate music imaginable.”On a recent compilation for Starbucks, Newman recorded a plaintiff rendition of the A-Ha classic “Take On Me,” telling organizers it was the only love song he had any interest in covering.And while there’s something funny about the nonsense lyrics Newman has penned to approach topics like loneliness and romance on the last four New Pornographers records, nothing has prepared listeners for what’s coming next.“I’m thinking about the voice of the next New Pornos record, and I was thinking about making him kind of an obnoxious name-dropping grad student,” Newman says over the phone from his Brooklyn apartment. The Vancouver-born rocker is apparently frustrated with what people perceive as his overly literate tone. “I don’t know how it will fly with people. Actually, I think it will fly completely over their heads.”Though Newman isn’t planning to read Proust as research for the outing, he’s bought the Sparknotes version, and is preparing an ironic, referential collage for the upcoming record. Whether or not he’s serious remains to be seen, though he believes the idea of mocking smart people would be a lot of fun. “I like to include references but, while there are books I really like, they haven’t changed my life.”While A.C. Newman may not take the perception of his literacy seriously, his fans certainly have. His brainy, if skewed, songwriting has made consistent college radio hits of his four records with super group The New Pornographers, and one solo record, 2004’s The Slow Wonder.Returning to a solo venture after five years wasn’t hard for Newman, since, in his mind, there isn’t much of a difference.“It’s always a cliché to put out a solo album that’s a quiet album with strings, like [Sting] or whatever. I can see why people do that to reinvent themselves, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I just wanted to put out something that was more rocking than the last New Pornographer record.”His latest solo outing, Get Guilty, continues in his distinct, often contradictory songwriting voice: the lyrics are steeped in mournful alienation, but still surrounded by rye humour, power-pop riffs, and bright production. The lead single, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve,” opens the record with an upbeat graduation march tinged with lyrical regret, as Newman mourns, “There are maybe ten or twelve/Things that I can teach you/After that, well I think you’re on your own.” Newman uses crunchy guitar and gang harmony throughout the album, all the while evoking feelings of being drowned, being dumped, and falling behind. It’s confusing stuff for those unfamiliar with his work.As with Newman’s first solo record, there’s richness in the details—his songs make fleeting reference to J.P. Melville’s Le Samourai, and Donald Barthelme’s short fiction, among dozens of others.Newman admits, “I just write things down, and hear it later, and by then it’s completely void of context. Then I use it. I’m actually not all that complicated in how I approach these things. [References] just make me seem more sophisticated, I guess.”By his own admission, much of the content of his lyrics is accidental. On “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer,” Newman actually combined the plots of two movies, something he admits he did unintentionally.“I was watching Le Samourai (a French reworking of old Japanese films) and at the same time watching Tokyo Drifter (a bloody, cartoonish gangster picture). [Tokyo Drifter] ends with a big shootout in a club that’s very clearly a movie set, and it’s all very choreographed in a West Side Story kind of way, and just clearly not real. It’s like a dance piece. I just put the movies together in that line. I just thought it was so funny.”While he’s enjoying his time on the road alone, Newman remains dedicated to The New Pornographers. In fact, he’s consistently working on demos for their next full-length.“I could have made this one into an NP record, but it was just too soon to put out another one.”Also, the logistical nightmares that accompany the project continue to pile up. While five years ago it was conceivable to get all of the group’s members in one place, the rising prominence of his bandmates Neko Case, Dan Bejar (Destroyer), and Kathryn Calder (Immaculate Machine) have put bigger plans for the group on hold. At the time of our interview, Newman was trying to find a mere ten days in Case’s schedule this fall so they could finish recording.“We were all busy at the beginning, too. It’s almost easier for me in a way now since everybody’s on board. It’s kind of a career now, as crazy as that sounds.”Crazy, no. But maybe a little funny.A.C. Newman plays Lee’s Palace March 11th.
Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is a play that explores the nature of order and chaos in the universe, the importance of academic pursuit, and the certainty of history and knowledge. Directed by Jeremy Hutton, Arcadia follows the quest of three academics to reveal the truth behind the mysterious events at English country house Sidley Park between 1809 and 1812.The structure of the play follows two separate but parallel plotlines, slowly unravelling the three mysteries that drive the play: Bernard Nightingale’s search for the cause behind the death of amateur poet Ezra Chater, Hannah Jarvis’ quest to uncover the identity of the Sidley hermit, and Valentine Coverly’s study of a mathematical iterative algorithm that was first discovered by his brilliant ancestor, Thomasina Coverly. As these complex investigations progress, the mysteries of Sidley Park are revealed during a visit by the famous poet Lord Byron.The first Hart House Theatre production with a cast made up exclusively of U of T students, the performances were nothing short of professional. Tyrone Savage’s charismatic and charming portrayal of tutor/poet Septimus Hodge made the play especially enjoyable to watch. Other memorable performances included Clara Pasieka’s innocent yet precocious Thomasina Coverly, Bil Antoniou’s pompous Bernard Nightingale, Anne Wiesen’s proud and slightly irritating Hannah Jarvis, and Evan O’Donnell’s socially awkward Augustus Coverly. The costumes were gorgeous, and the set well-crafted, as haunting piano music set the tone for a moving ending.The complex subject matter and intellectual yet humorous dialogue of Stoppard’s script promised an intriguing show. The scholarly language lent the play substance, but was well balanced by the comedic dialogue, which kept the proceedings light. However, the actors’ fast-paced delivery and the rushed explanation of theoretical concepts left the audience’s minds spinning. Small bits of dialogue and important plot points were often lost, and too much time was spent trying to connect the dots. Complex details were mostly forgotten, but the laughs and emotions were effectively and skilfully delivered.The end of the play’s first half focused too much on academic theory and debate, which caused the plotline to drag a little. But the charming and spirited dialogue came together much more comprehensively in the second half, with the witty banter between Wiesen’s Hannah Jarvis and Antoniou’s Bernard Nightingale. In the end, efforts put into the development of complex theories and plotlines throughout the play were nearly lost due to their anti-climactic outcomes.The two timelines switch back and forth, presenting answers before questions, creating chaos throughout the progression of the play. But the timelines merge in a masterfully crafted ending, demonstrating that order can form amid chaos. The characters’ lives and pursuits make clear to the viewer that though times may change and science may progress, certain truths always remain constant. Culminating in a tender and beautiful scene performed passionately by Savage and Pasieka, Stoppard’s emotional ending reminds us of the finality of time, and the driving force behind all order and chaos—love and death.Rating: VVVvArcadia runs until March 14th at Hart House Theatre. Tickets are $12 for U of T students.
Food researchers for a week
The University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences recently hosted two Aboriginal high school students, as part of the “Verna Kirkness Be a Food Researcher for a Week” program. Lindsay Bristow of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Shyanne Kinnowatner of Baker Lake, Nunavut visited Toronto for the first time from February 23 to 27, in an all-expenses-paid internship program organized by the Advanced Foods and Materials Network. Ten other Aboriginal students were also provided the opportunity to attend similar week-long internships at other participating Canadian universities.The U of T branch of the program took place under the leadership of Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy, an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Leah Cahill and Karen Eny—two PhD students working in Dr. El-Sohemy’s lab—organized daily activities for Lindsay and Shyanne that introduced them to nutritional research and lab techniques.For Lindsay, the internship program was an opportunity to further explore her post-secondary options. She plans to attend university in her home province of Manitoba next year, but is undecided about her career plan. After experiencing what it’s like to be a food researcher, Lindsay is “actually thinking about [becoming a food scientist] now. It’s pretty interesting stuff and I didn’t really know any of it existed before.” Lindsay enjoyed the variety of tasks the internship provided, with a new activity planned for each day. As for how the U of T campus compares to Winnipeg, Lindsay says that “Winnipeg’s a lot smaller, and we don’t have streetcars or subways and our downtown isn’t as safe—here there’s so much to see.”Shyanne describes the town of Baker Lake as a community with a population of around 1,500 to 2,000 people. She feels that “Toronto has changed my life,” giving her a chance to explore what happens across Canada, and see the differences between the provinces and territories. Her favorite part of the week was performing DNA isolation, a technique commonly used in research labs. She enjoyed seeing how research equipment is used, something she had only read about in textbooks. Shyanne also enjoyed visiting Kensington and the St. Lawrence Market, where she had the chance to try various novel foods including sushi, kiwis, and pomegranates. She plans to share these new experiences with the youth in her community.As part of the activities organized by Cahill and Eny, the students spent time in Dr. El-Sohemy’s lab, which specializes in nutrigenomics research, the branch of nutritional science that deals with the interaction between diet and genes. They had the opportunity to practice lab techniques, such as DNA isolation and genotyping. In order to show Lindsay and Shyanne additional aspects of food and nutrition research, Cahill and Eny arranged a visit to Dr. Richard Bazinet’s neuroscience lab, where the students took a tour of the animal facility and practiced lipid extraction. They also visited the Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital, and Dr. David Jenkin’s Glycemic Index lab. In addition to touring the U of T campus, the students had the opportunity to see the food production and development labs at George Brown College.For Cahill and Eny, the internship program provided the opportunity to show students that research can be interesting and a potential career opportunity. Cahill wanted to teach the interns that “science is fun, and easy. There’s this preconception that scientists are mean, boring, and old. A lot of people, especially girls, don’t think of it as a career option. But lots of scientists are young women. [Shyanne and Lindsay] did a lot of the activities that we [regularly] do.”Eny took part in a similar program when she was in high school. It ended up being the major reason she went into a career in research. For these more experienced students, spending time with the interns is an exciting mentoring opportunity and a chance to pass on their own knowledge to potential future food scientists. According to Cahill, “nutritional science is growing, and lots of people don’t know about the field, which is going to need more researchers in the future.”
Students caught green-handed
Two students were caught committing hundreds of acts of vandalism last Thursday to promote the upcoming EnviroFest, which kicks off Thursday, March 12.Campus police spotted Leo Josephy, head coordinator of the event, and Lindsay Fischer using green paint to make handprints on campus property, including Robarts Library, the Galbraith Building, Hart House, and Sidney Smith.“It was meant to be a viral marketing campaign,” said Josephy. “We thought, for one, it would be more effective to just have handprints instead of taping up posters.”Campus police received complaints and responded. To assuage building administrators’ worries that the paint was permanent, Josephy had to show that it washed off easily using soap and water. He said the paint was non-toxic.“We were not trying to be sneaky,” said Fischer. “It was the middle of the day. We sat and mixed paint in one spot for like half an hour. People were coming by and talking to us.”Both students have turned themselves in, and said rain would wash off the paint.Campus police acquiesced and said they would contact each student’s college dean to decide on repercussions. Josephy and Fischer could get a note on their transcripts.“I think that was excessive,” said Josephy. “But I think that was because they got the [complaint] that it was non-washable.”Although they were not asked to, Fischer and Josephy did wash off some of the handprints later. The rain on Saturday also removed a lot of paint.“We didn’t want anybody to have to clean it up,” said Fischer.“We thought people were actually really going to like to see this different form of advertising on campus because so much of it is so typical. It’s a university campus. It should be open to creativity.”EnviroFest takes place March 12 to March 21. A Youtube video of the handprint guerrillas can be found with the search words “U of T Envirofest.”