Certain carbon nanotubes may induce cancer-related lesions

Carbon nanotubes, described as “the wonder material of the 21st century” are found in a wide range of products. However, a recent publication in the journal Nature Nanotechnology suggests that certain forms of carbon nanotubes, if inhaled in large quantities, could be as much of a health hazard as asbestos.

Asbestos fibres have been shown to induce lesions within the lining of the lungs which eventually become mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer. Specifically, the long, thin fibers of asbestos enter the lungs and penetrate deep within the tissue lining. This characteristic pattern makes it impossible for the body’s immune system to naturally clear the airway of this obstruction. Though the production and usage of asbestos has been severely reduced over the last 25 years, during the 1940s and 50s it was linked to one of the worst and most costly occupational health disasters in American history. Unlike asbestos, the potential hazards of carbon nanotubes are not fully understood.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Kenneth Donaldson of the University of Edinburgh, investigated whether certain lengths of carbon nanotubes could provoke a pathological response known to be a sign of mesothelioma. Four groups of mice were used for the study. Each group was injected in the abdomen with a different substance, either short nanotubes, long nanotubes, asbestos or small carbon clumps. Of the four divisions, the researchers found that only the long carbon nanotube and asbestos treatments induced lesions.

Professor Shana O. Kelley, who holds an appointment from the Faculty of Medicine, Biochemistry and Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, currently employs nanotechnology as part of her research and was not involved in the study. Dr. Kelley points to the fact that since this study injected “relatively large quantities of carbon nanotubes—this scenario bears little resemblance to any kind of environmental exposure that the average person could experience, it’s not reasonable to extrapolate the findings of this study to predict that carbon nanotubes currently pose any type of public health risk.” In particular, Dr. Kelley explains that “the comparison to asbestos, which is an inhalation hazard at much lower levels, is somewhat questionable. For example, most of the nanoscale biomedical sensors that are being developed [which use] carbon nanotubes as a platform will not be affected. [Alternatively], large-scale industrial applications may need to be pursued with adequate protection for workers handling the materials.”

Structurally, carbon nanotubes are atom-thick sheets of graphite formed into concentric cylinders. They can be found in lengths ranging from a few nanometers to upwards of one hundred thousand nanometers. However, their most miraculous characteristic is a dainty structure that allows them to be as light as a feather, while maintaining strength comparable to steel.

In recent years, a substantial amount of research has been aimed at developing carbon nanotubes for use in new drugs, disease identification models, and advanced electronics. Currently, nanotubes can be found in such commonplace items as tennis racquets and baseball bats. Yet since their discovery, scientists have feared that the small needle-shaped nanotubes might cause diseases similar to those brought about by asbestos fibers.

Given these current findings, this study may act as a wake-up call for the ways in which large-scale production and handling of these materials have been undertaken. In terms of the research community, Dr. Kelley says that there is a hope that granting agencies as a whole “will continue to devote much of their research funding [towards] new applications of nanotechnology, while still supporting studies that evaluate the safety of new materials.”

‘Fight Fees 14’ under unusual double investigation

The 14 student activists facing criminal charges stemming from a March 20 sit-in at Simcoe Hall received only partial disclosure at the hearing on June 3 where they were to receive information about the specific charges and the evidence the prosecution intends to pursue.

At a public information meeting held last month by the Committee for Just Education, accused student Ryan Hayes asserted his belief that some of the accusations against him and the others amount to slander.

“Charges [are] being laid through the public eye, which don’t show up in the criminal proceedings,” he said. “Which makes you wonder if there’s any basis for them whatsoever.”

The University of Toronto and Toronto police have accused the students of preventing senior administrators and staff from leaving their offices in Simcoe Hall during a student occupation of the building to demand an immediate meeting with U of T president David Naylor. The 14 and their supporters say the charges are trumped-up and should be dropped.

In a statement released shortly after the sit-in, Naylor said that “Police were shoved, hit, and otherwise assaulted,” that staff members were “pushed and shoved,” and that any of the protestors “who are not U of T students will be subject to trespass orders.”

Yet Michael Leitold, one of the lawyers for the defence, confirmed this week that no one has been charged with assault or the other alleged offenses. Instead, the 14 have been charged with forcible confinement, an offense in the Criminal Code which falls under the heading of “Kidnapping, Trafficking in Persons, Hostage Taking and Abduction.” It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Other charges include that of “forcible detainer” (wrongfully holding property not one’s own), and mischief in relation to property, carrying maximum sentences of two and five years, respectively.

U of T administrators have refused to comment on the investigation and court proceedings, maintaining that the matter is in police hands. The list of complainants in the case includes individual administrators, though neither the police nor the defendants’ legal counsel are willing to disclose the administrators’ names. Police were unwilling to comment on details of their investigation. The 14 accused have claimed the university played an active role in the investigation, citing the fact that police initially contacted them through their official university email addresses.

The accused are Farrah Miranda and Liisa Schofield, campus organizers for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group; Michal Hay, former VP university affairs at UTSU; Hayes, who is president of ASSU; Edward Wong, an ASSU executive; APUS staffers Oriel Varga and Chris Ramsaroop; recent U of T graduate Noaman Ali; Farshad Azadian and Semra Eylul Sevi, members of the activist group Always Question; and students Luis Granados, Golta Shahidi, and Gabi Rodriguez. The accused also include one minor who cannot be named, and who has been additionally charged with uttering a death threat. The minor is undergoing a separate legal process at youth court.

Leitold has complained that prosecutors are taking longer than normal to disclose information about the cases being processed. “There’s an intake process and that can usually take between 30 to 60 days. We’re well past that now. In our view, disclosure should be promptly made available to the defence,” he said.

Thirteen students have been accused of breaking U of T’s Code of Student Conduct. The group, which includes most of the students facing criminal charges, all received letters informing them they were being investigated under the CSC.

The investigation process is kept confidential and could result in serious academic penalties.

“It’s my understanding that a letter that you’re being investigated [under the CSC] is a threat of expulsion,” said Sevi, acting as a spokesperson for herself and her co-accused. Sevi is among the students facing both criminal charges and a CSC inquiry.

A university-appointed investigator from the law firm Heenan Blaikie contacted each of the co-accused, asking to interview them individually. The students have not agreed to meet with the investigator. Sevi said she and the others were concerned that the CSC investigation would be questionably linked to court proceedings.

“We won’t deal with [the CSC investigation] because anything we say could be used in court,” she said. She also insisted that the CSC investigation be stopped, as the matter is currently in court.

The Code of Student Conduct states that if an alleged offense is already the subject of a criminal or civil proceedings, the university will not redundantly use the CSC process. According to the policy, the university can launch the secondary investigation if criminal proceedings “have not been taken or would not adequately protect the University’s interests and responsibilities.”

“It is a clear example of an attempt at the intimidation of student activists and the silencing of dissent,” said Wong, who is also the focus of ongoing court and CSC investigations.

“Since criminal charges, however unjustifiable, have already been laid against those facing CSC investigations, the CSC investigations should be dropped,” he said.

Euro Cup mania strikes Toronto

Croatia – Streetsville, Mississauga

At the corner of Eglinton and Mississauga Road, a wood crafted sign reads: “Welcome to Streetsville, the Village in the City of Mississauga.” This sign reflects the small-town charm of the neighbourhood that lies beyond it. But more importantly, it symbolizes the friendly nature of Streetsville’s dynamic Croatian community.

During the first week of the Euro Cup, Streetville’s Croatians were out in full force, welcoming locals and visitors alike to cheer on their home team. Many gathered to watch the games at the Croatian National Sports Club on Queen Street. Led by Nedo, affectionately known as “the best manager of Toronto Croatia and our favourite uncle,” the gang shared drinks and stories of Croatia’s success.

“We are very powerful in sports… There’s always somebody from such a small nation that comes up and performs for its country and for its people… Croatia is a small nation, but a nation of major domination,” said contractor and Sports Club regular Dalibor ‘Dallas’ Milicevic. And after their country dominated Euro favourite Germany with a 2-1 win on Thursday, moving to first place in Group B and securing a spot in the quarter-finals, Streetsville became a village of major celebration.

The community’s historical buildings and corner stores were virtually unrecognizable amidst the cheering fans, waving flags, and blaring horns. “It feels so good being in Streetsville right here on Canadian soil, lifting up the three colours [of the Croatian flag]: red, white, and blue and holding the checkers,” said super-fan Justin Škrinjar as he joined in on the excitement.

Further down the road at Father Kamber Croatian Parish Park, thousands of fans watched the games outdoors amongst the foliage, their friends, and those ubiquitous Croatian flags. Milicevic insisted that the park is always a lively and community oriented place. There is only one difference between the park’s weekly Sunday picnics and its current Euro celebrations: “Soccer brings out more checkers,” a proud Milicevic stated.

Look out for more checkers and that glorious red, white, and blue when the Euro 2008 quarter-finals commence on June 19.


Greece – The Danforth

Greece entered this year’s Euro Cup with high hopes of reliving their 2004 championship-stealing glory, and the Danforth was in full blue and white regalia in the first week of the games.

Almost all of the upscale restaurants and bars along the strip sported multiple plasma TVs. Patios were the best for patriotic fans, who stood up and belted out the national anthem at the beginning of each game. The best seats were at Café Frappe at Danforth and Fenwick. It didn’t seem to matter whether customers were noshing on anything especially Greek—most patrons chose from the regular array of beers or went with an iced coffee—as long as they were in the characteristic Greek blue.

As for the games, The Simpsons’ portrayal of international soccer as being five defense players passing the ball back and forth with the other team waiting for them to make a move proved a fairly accurate description of the strategy that won Greece the cup in 2004 It did wonders in 2004; less so this year. “Shoot it!” was the main cheer from exasperated fans. Comedic relief came with replays of coach Otto Rehhagel’s wild gesticulations in response to bad plays. But it was tragedy for the Heroes of Hellas. There was some optimism that the team could bring it back after their 2-0 loss to Sweden on Saturday, but it all came crashing down with Saturday’s game against Russia leaving Greece shut out and pointless after two losses. At five minutes to go in the second game the patio set were on their feet when Charisteas seemed to have tied the game, only to be dismayed when the goal was called offside.

One of the post-game long faces was that of spectator John Katsis, who found that when Greece stopped trying to repeat their plays from 2004 they put up a better fight. He chalked up the team’s poor performance to pressure. “Last time they had nothing to prove. This time they had the title of defending champions, so I guess there was a little more stress. Unfortunately, we can’t walk around with our head held high, not going out at this stage. There’s nothing we can do now except walk around and talk about the game for the next three months.”


Portugal – College & Ossington

The Portuguese kicked off their Euro 2008 campaign in style with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Turkey. Amongst the Portuguese fans spread out along College Street, the pre-match banter emphasized the shared optimism the community holds for their team’s chances this year. This time around, they may have a solid case.

There is a sense of mission for Portugal. The wound of falling to Greece in the Euro 2004 final has not healed. Judging by their opening game, the Portuguese team seems to be as hungry for success as their fans in Toronto.

Another reason for Portugal’s optimism is Cristiano Ronaldo. For those unfamiliar with the finer details of the game known here as ‘soccer,’ he could be described as a ‘phenom’. Having matured greatly from four years ago, he is set on a course to become World Player of the Year. The fans’ confidence may be matched by a team capable of finally winning their first major tournament.
Speaking to the hordes of Portuguese fans crammed inside bars along College brought home the importance of this competition. If Portugal wins, the party would last for weeks. The fans would forfeit their jobs and scrap their schedules, choosing to go wild.
The desperation to win is further heightened by the closeness of the Italian and Portuguese communities. Having conglomerated in roughly the same neighbourhood on arriving in Canada, Portuguese and Italian-Canadians cannot escape each other’s successes and failures in major soccer tournaments. Watching the Italian street parties after World Cup 2006 only added to this local rivalry. The Portuguese are desperate to step out from under the shadow of Italy, to wave the green and red flag in their own celebration party, and to banish the memory of their own Greek tragedy four years ago.

After witnessing the insanity outside Cervejeria at College and Ossington following Portugal’s victory in the opening game, rest assured that if Portugal wins a
major trophy, the party will be well worth attending. Forca Portugal!


Poland – Roncesvalles Village

Do you want to hear a good Polish joke? Here’s one for you. It takes place on Thursday, June 12th in the predominately Polish neighborhood of Roncesvalles.

A man walks into a Polish bar called Zagloba, during the Euro Cup match in which Poland leads Austria 1-0 in the second half. This is Poland’s first ever Euro, and since they lost their opening game to Germany, this could be their first ever win. In the bar, a crowd of ten Polish-speaking fans are gathered around the television to watch the game. The man grabs a nearby chair and admires the charming bar, adorned with a collection of Polish soccer memorabilia, a 3-D poster for Zywiec beer, old fashioned gaming machines, and a handsome poster of the New York City skyline at night, replete with the World Trade Center. The hushed comments of the fans turn into mumbles and then yells, as the game reaches its denouement and Poland narrowly misses their insurance goal. At the last minute of the match, a Polish player is called for a penalty in the box, and Austria scores on a free kick. Game over. 1-1 tie. Not a happy ending for the assembled crowd.

The man leaves the bar, and as he wanders south, he discovers another, more well-lit bar called The Dizzy, where fans are spilling out the door. One patron, a Polish soccer fan named Jools Chrosicki, says that the tying Austria goal was unavoidable. Poland had many chances to score in the second half, but failed to capitalize. Another well-spirited fan, a dead ringer for Philip Seymour Hoffman, pipes up that Chrosicki is “the only Polish guy on Roncesvalles that would admit it was a good call,” causing the bar to erupt in fits of laughter.

The man suddenly remembers reading that Poland is scheduled to co-host the 2012 Euro. However, Poland would only host if the facilities could be completed in time. At this point, Warsaw has no main soccer stadium, and is nowhere near ready to host. Chrosicki speculates that Spain, or Ireland/Wales will take Poland’s place.

The man boards a streetcar and at the next stop another streetcar passenger, apropos of nothing, announces to the driver, “This is a terrible day. Poland lost, or tied or something.” This is the real joke of the day.


Italy – College Street

Hours before Italy’s 2008 Euro Cup debut, wearing the same clothes and commingling at the same bars as during the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Italian soccer fanatics descended upon College Street hoping for the same result: another major championship victory.

Draped in Italian flags and jerseys, fans joined their beloved Azzurri in singing the Italian national anthem prior to their match versus the Netherlands.

Italian super-fan Giuseppe Rauti, wearing customized Crocs, a wig bearing the Italian colours, a pair of pants made from an Italian flag and a classic Azzurri jersey—a costume also donned when he grabbed the front page of the Toronto Star after Italy’s World Cup win—exemplified the passion that has taken hold of Toronto’s soccer-hungry Italian community.

“I wait every four years and I wait every two years. This is my favourite time of year. My favourite everything,” explained Rauti.

But what a difference 45 minutes can make. After a less than stellar half by the Azzurri, plagued with questionable coaching decisions, a controversial goal in favour of the Netherlands and an unshakable performance by Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, the enthusiasm of the Italian supporters was crushed.

Conversations turned to the lack of leadership on the Italian side, brought about by the loss of captain and 2006 FIFA Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro and Italy’s inability to control an incredibly strong Dutch team.

“They’re just playing bad. All and all they’re playing bad,” said Joe Martino, 21.

As time began to wind down in the second half and raindrops began to fall, Italian fans began trickling out onto College Street in disbelief. Their flags now used as shelter against the rain, but not the pain of an embarrassing loss.

Things did not improve in their second game versus Romania. A late goal and a late save by the Italians leading to a 1-1 tie have now set up a final group match showdown versus long time rivals France.

With a rematch of the 2006 World Cup Final looming and the possibility of an early exit from the tournament,supporter Alfonso Querlia managed to express the anguish felt by Italian fans around the city:

“The support is obviously awesome, the love is there, but it’s just not happening on the field right now. That’s pretty much all there is to say.”


CIUT to shack up at Hart House

U of T’s campus radio station won’t have to go far when it decamps to its new home at Hart House. CIUT 89.5 FM’s current digs at 91 St. George Street, a Victorian house hugging the Rotman School of Management, will be demolished next year to make way for Rotman’s expansion.

The Governing Council’s planning and budget committee approved the $92 million Rotman’s project, including $204,000 to relocate CIUT, last September. At the time, station manager Brian Burchell had expressed qualms about the uncertain future of CIUT, which was to move to a building near McCaul and College, or to the planned Student Commons.

Now CIUT is set to stay at the heart of campus. Ken Stowar, CIUT’s program director, said the Hart House Board of Stewards passed the motion about six weeks ago. ““The amount of square footage is about the same,” he said of the new space. “But the structure is more advantageous to operating studios in close proximity to each other.”

An in-house memo has CIUT taking over Hart House’s unoccupied warden’s apartment on the second floor and a third of the Map Room on the first floor, said porter David Cunningham. The Map Room will host a glassed-in studio and reception, possibly with live music and a studio audience.

Stoward said that the move, tentatively scheduled for 2009, won’t affect broadcasts. “You cannot be off the air,” he said. “We will have to set up a live studio at Hart House while we’re still at 91 St. George.”

As for the Sexual Education Centre, CIUT’s housemate, it will head to the Student Commons, said Elizabeth Sisam, AVP of campus and facilities planning. The construction timeline for the Student Commons is yet to be set, according to Sisam, who said the planning report will be up for approval in the fall. Though interim housing for the SEC hasn’t been discussed, director Mike Markovich said he isn’t concerned about finding a location before the new year. “We’re certainly curious,” he said. “But we’re not worried.”


You grab one in the morning to start your day, one for those late nights studying, one before you work out, and one just for a buzz. While many people prefer to get their jolt from the more conventional coffees, teas, or sodas, energy drinks have their fair share of consumers too.

What is an energy drink? It’s usually a carbonated beverage containing a large amount of sugar and caffeine, as well as guarana (a natural caffeine source) and taurine (an amino acid first isolated in bulls). Many energy drinks feature additional ingredients or nutritional supplements such as antioxidants, herbal stimulants and brain-enhancing drugs called nootropics.

The concept originated in Thailand, where rickshaw drivers would drink a beverage loaded with taurine to boost their strength. Red Bull was inspired by the Thai beverage, introduced to the United States in 1997. While an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains about 105 – 192 mg of caffeine, a can of energy drink can contain up to 280 mg, depending on the brand. Keep in mind, a moderate caffeine dosage is considered to be 200 to 300 mg per day. When a craved boost won’t come soon enough from a black coffee, many turn to energy drinks to battle fatigue and improve concentration and performance. But do the risks outweigh the benefits?

Multiple studies have examined the effects of caffeine and energy drinks on the body. Researchers have discovered that those who regularly consume these beverages experience an increase in heart rate of eight per cent on the first day, and eleven per cent by the seventh day. Caffeinated beverages are known to increase blood pressure levels, and doctors recommend that those with a heart condition or high blood pressure steer clear. Even for the heart-healthy, high consumption can result in a range of side effects such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, palpitations and tremors. Contrary to popular belief, energy drinks are not recommended for consumption during exercise, as they are dehydrating. For the same reason, it’s potentially dangerous to mix energy drinks with alcohol.

Most of the above symptoms are associated with high caffeine intake, unspecific to energy drinks alone. However, according to sports dietetics specialist Cynthia Sass, “Most of the energy drinks contain high-tech sounding ingredients that are not controlled substances, of no value, and potentially harmful in large amounts. Energy drinks contain multiple stimulants that, when combined, can be dangerous and have a very powerful effect on the body. Most people know how much caffeine they can tolerate, but may not be familiar with the effects of some of the other ingredients.”

Given the controversies surrounding these potent beverages, scientists are only beginning to discover the true physiological effects. While a can of Red Bull may keep one alert for a much-needed 2 a.m. study session, perhaps you should stick with Chai tea.

U.S. war resister faces deportation

Corey Glass is quite comfortably settled in Canada. The Indiana-born 25-year-old lives in Toronto and works transporting remains to funeral homes. He would like to stay and live his life here, but Glass’ days in Canada are numbered. He is absent without leave from the United States army and the Canadian government has refused his request for refugee status. His deportation date is July 10.

Glass is one of an estimated 200 U.S. war resisters living in Canada according to the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign. The 199 men and one woman, who come from throughout the U.S. and represent many branches of armed forces, are united in their opposition and refusal to participate in the war in Iraq. Glass’ revelation came during a short vacation from his training in Germany. In the city of Nuremburg, he learned of the historic trials of Nazi war criminals. “It just dawned on me that I might be committing heinous war crimes just following orders, and that’s not an excuse.”

In the 60s, the Vietnam War saw an exodus of draft dodgers head north. Times have changed since then, and now fleeing soldiers must apply for refugee status. The burden of proof is whether the jail time deported resisters face constitutes “persecution” under Canadian law. So far, in the cases of Glass and other resisters, officials have ruled in the negative.

Supporters of the war resisters argue that the UN’s Handbook on Refugees protects them if the war “is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct.,” They say the war in Iraq, considered illegal by the UN and protested worldwide, more than fits the bill.

Another area of contention is that the U.S. has abolished the draft, which means all members of the armed forces are technically volunteers. As the resisters tell it, the story is a little more complicated. For some of the poorest Americans, military service is the best-paying job available. This was the case for Kim Rivera, who struggled to make ends meet, raising two children on a Wal-Mart salary. “The Army told me I wouldn’t be sent into combat, but once I got to Iraq I was under enemy fire every day,” Rivera said. Glass and others also related experiences with less-than-honest recruiters trying to fill quotas. In addition, many soldiers are being called back as part of “Stop Loss” measures, causing them to serve extra terms of duty.

There is hope on the horizon as parliament recently passed a motion that would give resisters an opportunity to apply for status as landed residents. Spearheaded by Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow, it would also halt any deportation orders. But the motion still has to be approved by Stephen Harper and his Conservative cabinet. Glass said he hoped public pressure would sway the decision: “It’s all up to Canadian citizens at this point.”

On shaky ground

A 7.9-magnitude quake ripped through the south-western province of Sichuan on May 12, killing nearly 70,000 people and injuring 375,000 others. World leaders responded immediately, offering condolences and announcing their support with food, money, shelter and rescue workers.

As relief efforts continue among afterquakes and flooding, earthquake news continues to dominate the front pages of domestic newspapers while the government-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV) network airs hourly updates from the rescue zone—the only programming permitted to interrupt coverage of the Olympic torch relay.

To Aegean Yang, an English major at the Beijing Language and Culture University, the Sichuan earthquakes represent much more to the Chinese people than just a news blurb. “We are all Chinese, all brothers and sisters, all part of one house,” says Yang. “When I watch the news, I see my family in pain and I want to do everything I can to help them.”

The Sichuan earthquake has served to further China’s already strong nationalist sentiment. After several months of heated international criticism for its stance on Tibet, Sudan and Myanmar, the Sichuan disaster has silenced critics abroad and led many Chinese to rally around their leaders.

Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao have both been roundly praised for their swift and decisive response to the crisis. The response marks a contrast from in previous situations, notably the last massive earthquake in 1976, in Tangshan, where the government’s first response was to deny or conceal information. Wen, in particular, scored a public relations coup as he was on the ground within hours of the earthquake and was shown on state media stations promising victims, “If only there is the slightest hope, we will spare no effort; if only there is one survivor in the debris, we will never give up.”

Even in non-state-sponsored forums, such as online chat rooms, there has been unusually strong support for the government. Some posters have called for investigations of shoddy school and housing structures. An estimated 10,000 students died in the quake, and grieving and increasingly angry parents want to know why so many schools collapsed. The Ministry of Education has promised a quality check on all schools, even as schools are cordoned off, blocking parents’ memorials. Criticism in forums was quickly overwhelmed by commenters eager to defend the government’s more recent efforts. In one chat room frequented by students of Peking University, the user “Top Gun” commented, “Let us not be divided at this time. When we needed them the most, our government was there. Let us just be thankful for that.”

Despite the government’s actions and popular support, a full recovery may not come for many years. The terrain remains fragile and dangerous. Close to 12,000 aftershocks have been detected in the area, according to Xinhua News. The 1.4 million people displaced by the earthquakes continue to live in temporary housing. But until the ground settles, the people of China must continue to endure their tragedy.

Dozens gather for an impromptu candlelight vigil along Sanlitun Road, a popular tourist destination in Beijing, a week after the May 12 earthquake. The message written in candles, “5.12 Wenchuan,” represents the date and the epicentre of the quakes.

Quebec uni in the rouge

The Université du Québec à Montréal holds the most debt of any school in the province after mismanaging two real estate endeavours, reveals a recent report.

Auditor-general Renaud Lachance blamed the failure of these projects, amounting to over $759 million, on former UQAM rector Roch Denis, his former associates Mauro Malservisi and Nicolas Buono, the boards of UQAM, the Université du Québec and the provincial ministry of education.

Although Lanchance called the losses “unavoidable” and did not identify UQAM members by name, his report contests that both Malservisi and Buono “showed a lack of transparency and provided often incomplete and often inaccurate information.”

Denis, who is also left unnamed, was slammed for proposing projects without obtaining financing guarantees and thorough analyses of profitability.

Both projects were funded by the UQAM’s line of credit.

UQAM also asked the government for millions towards both projects, believing both would be self-financing and obtain money from office rents, student residences and parking fees.

Poor management raised the cost of the Pierre Dansereau science complex by $122 million, while the Îlot Voyageur project expenses rose by $196 million since its proposal in March 2005.

This real estate debacle has driven UQAM’s per capita debt up from $7,397 to over $17,000, forcing the university to cut programs to meet its budget.

The June 4 report notes that the boards of UQAM are proficient in daily business matters, but their staff of professors, students and others lack the knowledge to deal with complex financial issues like construction plans.

A day after the report went public, Education Minister Michelle Courchesne told reporters that Quebec’s director of criminal and penal prosecutions is examining the report to determine if charges should be laid.

Courchesne also said a new bill will be introduced this fall to tighten governance at Quebec universities.