Getting the word out on AIDS ed

Chances are, when you were in the seventh grade, you didn’t study the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Thanks to two UTSC students, Suleiman Furmli and Mojib Sameem, that’s about to change for thousands of students across Toronto. A third student, Homira Osman, also presented the handbook to the TDSB.

The AIDS epidemic will be added to the Toronto District School Board curriculum via a new teacher’s handbook called the Abana tool. Abana was developed by Julie Rémy, a photographer on mission in Rwanda for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), who helped collect photographs, stories, and artwork from AIDS-affected children. The meetings were held in secret, since these kids are often excluded from the community if others find out about their illness.

Furmli, a volunteer for MSF, wanted to get the word out. With the help of Sameem, they decided the best way to teach Canadian children about these issues was to go straight to the source: their school curriculum. After contacting the chair of the TDSB, which represents over 102 high schools and 451 elementary schools across Toronto, the two presented the Abana tool to the Board of Trustees at a meeting in spring 2008. The project was approved soon after.

However, the timeline for implementing the program remains unclear. While the Abana tool is to be adopted for curricular programming in physical and health education, and social and world studies, the TDSB has not provided details on when teachers will receive the handbook, and whether it will be a mandatory component. The designated TDSB representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Both Furmli and Sameem expressed hope that the inclusion of the AIDS epidemic in Africa in the TDSB curriculum will encourage students to become more socially aware and promote activism. The two have no plans yet to address other school boards with the Abana tool proposal, said Furmli, but Sameem added that it is definitely an option. “For sure it is something we’d like to do,” Furmli said.

Chemicals That Changed The World: Thalidomide

Few chemicals have a reputation as dark as thalidomide. Developed as a sedative in 1954 by researchers at Chemie Gruenenthal, thalidomide is a synthetic derivative of the naturally occurring amino acid glutamate, structurally similar to other sedatives. Once in the body it acts on the central nervous system through an unknown mechanism to promote sleep and prevent nausea.

Unlike the barbiturate sedatives commonly prescribed in the 50s, thalidomide has virtually no hangover effect and does not lead to dependence, features that made it a popular prescription for pregnant women experiencing morning sickness and insomnia. As such, it was initially touted as a wonder drug that could ease the discomforts of early pregnancy. However, soon after its emergence on the market, epidemics of birth abnormalities were documented worldwide. The most striking symptom of the thalidomide-affected babies was the malformation of their arms and legs, which were short, misshapen, and often absent. Other effects included defects of the ears, eyes, face, and heart. Many affected children died within their first year.

For years, drug manufacturer Chemie Gruenenthal denied claims that thalidomide had any connection to the rise in birth abnormalities, despite mounting evidence. Eventually they were sued for compensation and finally made responsible for the marketing of an improperly tested drug. It was removed from shelves and banned from use.

Thalidomide’s most far-reaching effect has been the changes to drug development it has spurred. The thalidomide tragedy led to a review of the American Food and Drug Administration’s role in drug approval, granting them new power over the regulation of drug safety and the restructuring of regulatory strategies. This new regulatory framework allowed thalidomide to be reviewed and evaluated for its beneficial effects to the immune system.

Today, thalidomide is used as a treatment for multiple myeloma and some complications of leprosy. It is currently being evaluated for use as an anti-HIV therapeutic. Stringent rules are now in place for men or women who are prescribed thalidomide: patients must agree to abstain from sex or use two effective forms of birth control to prevent any unplanned pregnancies. While the use of thalidomide will always be controlled, it shows promise for safe and effective use that may one day outshine its past.

U of T shows Pride

For those new, questioning, or just plain interested in the gay community, U of T offers a litany of events across all three campuses to help ease the introduction.

This year’s week-long Queer Orientation starts off today at UTM with a “Big Ol’ Gay Lunch” at the Blind Duck from 12 to 2 p.m. At the St. George Campus, Gays and Lesbians International will be hosting an event in room 417 at 21 Sussex Ave starting at 5:30 p.m. A meet-and-greet will also take place today at the Cumberland and Baldwin Room of the International Student Centre at 6:30 p.m.

If regular meet-ups aren’t your thing, there are a variety of other events later this week. On Wednesday, Hart House’s East Common room will be host to Queer Salsa, UTM will have “Laser Queer” in their Student Centre, and “Shirley’s Dirty Bingo” will be at UTSC’s Rez Centre.

There will also be events catering to specific genders or sexual orientations. Friday’s BBQ/BBQ celebrates those bisexual, bi-curious or queer, and there are two “Night Out” events, for male- and female-identified students respectively, on Saturday night.

Finally, the whole shebang will end on Sunday with the “This Ain’t Highschool Dance Party” at Goodhandy’s. A combination of dance and drag performance, the event is open to anyone attending university in Toronto, but it’s 19+ only.

For more information and listings of all the events, check out their official Facebook page.

Two out of three ain’t bad

Coming into Saturday’s 37th annual Red and Blue Bowl, the forecast didn’t look good for the Varsity Blues football team. It had been 13 years since they defeated their cross-town rival, the York Lions, and laid claim to the Argo Cup. And while the sky remained grey throughout the game, the Varsity Centre field was nothing but blue as Toronto reclaimed the Cup with a 58-7 win against the Lions.

“It feels so good to finally play four quarters of football like this and beat York,” said Blues receiver Mark Stinson. “We finally have this one blowout and that’s what we needed. We needed this for our confidence and for the program.”

Stinson, who shared the Player of the Game honour with Blues quarterback David Hamilton, began the blowout by scoring two touchdowns on Toronto’s first two possessions, including a 79-yard reception.

“Oh, it’s all Dave [Hamilton],” Stinson humbly stated. “I didn’t do anything. He just put [the ball] where it had to be and he did a great job.”

Hamilton shone by throwing four touchdowns and completing 22 of 32 passes for 465 yards.

Head coach Greg DeLaval commended his two star players: “[Hamilton and Stinson] have been here a long time and they impressed today. We needed our senior players to step up and they did the job for sure. And they gave the young guys an opportunity to play today.”

One of those “young guys” was Blues rookie Andrew Lomasney—the kicker who scored the winning field goal in Toronto’s season opener. Lomasney continued to impress on Saturday, scoring three field goals, including a 35-yarder, against the Lions. Yet Lomasney was unaffected by all the attention he has received, and focused more on his team’s future success: “I’m just happy we’re at 2-1 right now and hopefully we can get in the playoffs this year.”

With a 2-1 record, it’s conceivable that the Blues will make the OUA playoffs. If they continue to dominate the field as they did against York, wins against slumping Guelph (1-2) and McMaster (0-3) are possibilities and may be enough for playoff qualification.

While Coach DeLaval is excited about his team’s prospects, he also recognizes the need to improve. “Our philosophy still remains the same,” he explains. “We’re not talking about wins and losses, we’re just talking about getting better […] in every aspect of the game.”

Coach DeLaval is likely looking to the Sept 20 home game against Queen’s. As good as Toronto was against York, they’ll have to improve to contend against the undefeated Gaels. While the Blues passing game on Saturday was exceptional with 499 yards, their rushing game was not up to standards. “We didn’t run the ball very well and we turned the ball over a whole bunch of times,” said Coach DeLaval. “[When] we play Queen’s next week, if we [don’t improve our rushing game], the score will not be the same, we will not win that game.”

Hamilton also acknowledges Queen’s on-field prowess. However, he remains positive about the Blues’ chances against the Gaels. “Coming with momentum from this [win against York] will definitely help us out,” Hamilton said.

And you could definitely feel the momentum as the team, coaches, and fans poured onto the field after the 58-7 win. The celebrations commenced with the Blues hoisting the Argo Cup towards an increasingly graying sky. In that moment, the rain began to fall, soaking the Cup and the team, washing away years of heartbreak and embarrassment, and beginning Toronto’s new reign as Red and Blue Bowl champions.

Despite Parliament, Harper sends resisters home

Shouts of “Harper out! Resisters in!” and “Stop the war!” rang out Saturday along Yonge Street Saturday, as a march in support of Iraq War resisters made its way to the U.S. consulate. The War Resisters Support Campaign has been working working towards amnesty for the approximately 200 war resisters in Canada. The march began near Lake Devo on the Ryerson University campus, with support from student groups, labour unions, and various fringe groups. The event was one of at least 19 taking place all over Canada in support of the resisters on that day.

A June 3 motion in the House of Commons showed that the majority of MPs support giving the resisters a path to Canadian citizenship. However, the Conservative government began deporting resisters, beginning with Robin Long in July. Long faces 15 months in a military prison for refusing to fight in Iraq and being absent without leave from the U.S. military.

Jeremy Hinzman, attending the rally with his wife and two children, could face Long’s fate. His deportation date is Sept. 23, pending a hearing the day before. Hinzman is asking for a stay of removal, as granted to fellow resister Corey Glass in July. However, the legal battle would not end with a stay. Hinzman and Glass, among others, will still need leave from the federal government to appeal their cases. Despite the consequences of a possible deportation, Hinzman is resolute. “Whatever happens happens, we did everything we could do to be able to stay here,” he said. “I’d rather go to jail than kill innocent people.”

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley has said the system in place is fair, and resisters should continue to navigate the courts if they want to stay. “We have a system in Canada that’s fair […] with numerous opportunities for appeal,” said Finley. “Once […] the courts have ruled, we expect people to obey the rules.” Activists insist that Finley could bring justice to the resisters, and plan to rally in front of her office in Simcoe on Sept. 21.

Mohammed Ali Aumeer, who performed his poetry and rap at the rally, is a student activist and vice-president programming & outreach of CFS Local 150 at Ryerson. Ali is interested in building inter-campus coalitions to address issues such as student fees, racism, and war. He sees student action as paramount. ”Students have the power to change a lot, change the world, change the environment around them and the best way is to get involved,” said Ali. “I think students are at the forefront of these battles.”

Everybody’s feeling the Blues

Mario Sturino – Former Blues quarterback, 1993 Vanier Cup champion

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Mario Sturino: Yeah, well obviously online with the Internet now, you can follow them on a daily basis. I came to every home game last year. I wasn’t able to come to the first game because of [having a new child], but I’ve been following them for the last three or four years.

TV: How did you react when you found out that they won their first game in seven years?

MS: I was a little upset I wasn’t there. I was very happy for them and I really wanted to be there. It’s good that the streak finally came to an end, especially for fifth-year guys who’ve put in four years and a bit, and finally got the victory they deserved. They stuck with it and worked hard, and it was nice to see.

TV: What do you think the Blues are doing right this year?

MS: I think they have a number of fifth-year guys returning, and that was important for them. I think once you get a taste of victory, once you have that first win, that can really change your attitude. They had a good game against Windsor last week, and now a great game against York, so I think that first taste of victory for these guys was huge.

Glenn McCausland – 1993 Vanier Cup MVP

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Glenn McCausland: I had season tickets last year and I was on the coaching staff in 2001 when they won the game before two weeks ago, so I still follow them, definitely.

TV: Did you see them win on Sept. 1?

GM: I didn’t see them win, but I was watching the headline sports and I saw that they won the game, and [that] they pulled it off in the fourth quarter.

TV: How did you react when you found out?

GM: I was really happy for them because I know that they’d been working hard to try and win that game. They probably deserved to win a few games prior to that.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

GM: I think that probably just the commitment to get that win and try to build U of T from the ground up, and get them back up to a level that they’re accustomed to. The alumni are definitely supporting them harder than ever, so hopefully it all works out.

Bob Laycoe – Blues head coach from 1988-2001 and 1992 OUA Coach of the Year

The Varsity: Do you still follow the Blues?

Bob Laycoe: Oh sure. [I’m] living out in Vancouver now—a little further away—but with the Internet, you can keep track of a surprising amount of information about the OUA.

TV: Where were you when you found out that the Blues had won their first game in seven years?

BL: I saw it on the Internet. I was surfing the Internet for college scores and I found [out about the win] at that time.

TV: How did you react when you found out they had won?

BL: I was happy for the players—it was good for them.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

BL: I think they’re all trying their best. The coaches and players have a great attitude and things are starting to go their way.

David Naylor – U of T President

The Varsity: How does having a winning football team affect U of T?

David Naylor: First off, you look at the stands, you see a lot of students out here having a good time and feeling great about how the team’s doing—I think that’s a very positive thing for school spirit. The other thing I have to say is a lot of these fans have been here during the lean years. A lot of the players on the field were here for a number of very tough years, so I really want to take my hat off to all the friends of football—the students, the faculty, the staff, and especially, the players to be there when things weren’t quite as positive as they are right now. That’s a group I feel real gratitude to.

TV: What are the Blues doing right this year?

DN: I think a number of things have changed. First, we’ve got a lot of terrific young players. Secondly, changes in the terms of the whole playing field arrangement, settling into a new field, getting comfortable with better facilities, that’s been a positive thing because there’s been so much uncertainty about the facilities. Thirdly, we’ve had great coaches through the years, but sometimes a change is good even if you’ve got a great coach. Changing over gives people a fresh start even if you had a terrific coach before. I think all of these things have come together in a positive way and it’s nice to see. In fact, I find myself looking at the score and the sense of putting yourself in York’s shoes, and having watched it from our side for a few years, [I] sort of wince a little bit and feel some empathy.

Officer Attacks Fanshawe Student Without Cause

Allegations of police brutality rocked the London, Ontario community when an 18-year-old student at Fanshawe College was arrested and sustained a fractured orbital under his left eye.

The incident was also captured on tape by a local television station. A Channel had a crew out that night to report on the chaotic events of frosh week. The unedited film shows a handcuffed student being asked a question by a plainclothes police officer. Although the situation appeared to be in control and the student was responding to the question without struggling, the officer kneed the student in the face.

Under provincial law, the London Police Service was forced to notify Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit about the injuries suffered by the student.

More than 600 people at Fanshawe College have been arrested in the first 10 days of the academic year.

Democracy starts at home

Whenever democratic processes and principles make a splash, it’s worth discussing how and why. Democracy means that instead of acting out of self-interest, people come together and work in unison. On Sunday, September 7, with the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1998 prepared to strike on Monday morning, the University of Toronto sent a contract proposal in the eleventh hour. The delay was the result of the union’s demands for improved working conditions and fair salaries; the deal resulted from the union’s willingness to use their collective power, if necessary, to have those demands met. Their victory—which came without the need to resort to a strike—is a victory for democracy on campus, and a lesson to all citizens.

The details of the new USW contract were laid out to union members last Wednesday, and endorsed by union leadership as a good deal. The deal included an improved policy against harassment, added benefits, and regular wage increases to match inflation rates. Avoiding the strike meant a happy ending for all concerned. Yet this did not come easily.

During contract talks with the University, ongoing since June, the Steelworkers’ mantra was “the University works because we do.” More than a catchy slogan, this phrase was a reminder that an institution is nothing without the people that make it function. The 3,500 USW members affected by recent bargaining are comprised of a variety of administrative and technical personnel, all of whom are relied upon. The union’s message of solidarity had clearly been effective: when contract talks reached an impasse earlier this month, 2,100 union members showed up to vote 87 per cent in favour of a strike. Had these individuals not shown up for work last Monday, the University would have been a vastly different place. There wouldn’t have been technicians available to keep ROSI and UTORmail working in the face of an onslaught of traffic. Administrative personnel wouldn’t have managed OSAP distribution, bursary distribution or the general concerns of new students on campus. In the words of Local 1998 president Allison Dubarry, the campus on the first day of school would have been “absolute chaos.”

The Steelworkers were not alone, as other campus unions were ready to lend their resources and support. “We’ve been working with Steel and other locals on coordinated bargaining since February, and it’s obviously paying off. The University knows when they face one of us, they face all of us,” says Robert Ramsey, Chair of CUPE 3902.

By raising their voices in solidarity with other campus unions, the members of USW gave force to their demands. Acting together, these workers illustrated the serious consequences that would result if the University failed to address them fairly.

Whether a national government or a local university, it’s important to realize that we, as a collective, create the institutions that we live under. Acting individually and competitively, as we are often compelled to do, we see institutions as larger than ourselves. Acting together, we become the institution. It is our duty to participate, to assure that our university remains, above all, ours.

The university’s eleventh-hour contract offer shows that they had the money and the resources to provide USW with a fair deal all along. However, the university was not willing to provide this offer unless they could be sure that the workers were resolved to accept nothing less. This instance exemplifies the crucial balance between power and citizenry. Power is, by definition, active and organized; citizens must work together if they are to have their interests accounted for by those in power. Merely hoping for the best has never been good enough, and it never will be.

Maciek Lipinski-Harten is the CUPE 3902 Life Sciences Steward on the St. George Campus.