Would you buy an essay?

The Varsity investigates essay-writing companies

Would you buy an essay?

The University of Toronto’s St. George campus is teeming with posters advertising custom essay-writing services to students. The university’s official recommended punishment for submitting purchased work is expulsion. Posing as a first-year student behind on their work, The Varsity spoke to Custom Essay and Essay Experts and purchased a three-page paper from Essay Experts in order to learn more about the process.

Essay Experts charged $124 for a 750-word paper. Custom Essay offers similar rates. Both companies claim that their papers are written by qualified professionals, and said that all of their work is original and will not be flagged as plagiarism by websites like turnitin.com.

Marcel Vilanez, a representative of Essay Experts, said that the company’s papers are not meant to be submitted as is. “You are not supposed to submit the essay directly to your professor. That would go against the university code. This is why we give you time with the paper, so you can write your own. It is as if we are another student in the class, perhaps a very good student, and you want to see their answer, what they would write,” he said. The company website claims that it is completely legal to purchase work as long as it is properly attributed, and outlines the proper way to cite Essay Experts’ work in an original paper.

In contrast, Nick — a representative of Custom Essay — said that he would not recommend that a student purchase work from the company and cite parts of it in an original paper. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You are asking for trouble. You would probably get thrown out of university. We are not credible enough to quote,” he said. The company even offers a $25 service to run its papers through turnitin.com, to reassure students who are worried about getting caught. Turnitin saves copies of all the papers it receives, so it is not clear how this service would make the paper less likely to be flagged at a later date.

Custom Essay’s website is registered under an organization called Domains by Proxy, a company that offers domain privacy services to companies who wish to anonymize the personal information of their domain owners.

The purchased paper was written according to the requirements of an actual assignment for PHL275 — Introduction to Ethics. The paper answered the question: “Is psychological egoism true? If it were true, what implications would this have for our understanding of morality?” It received an approximate grade of C+ or B- from the instructor of PHL275, professor Thomas Hurka. “It covers the territory but it is not written in a mature way. It only reports on other people’s opinions and tends to rely on quotations to make its points, which is in a way more of a high school than university way of writing,” said Hurka.

Both Vilanez and Nick were contacted on the record and informed of The Varsity’s investigation. Both claimed that they provide work for reference only, and would never counsel a student to hand in the essays they purchase. During The Varsity’s original interaction with Nick, he stated: “Once we give [the essay] to you, what you do with it is your business. We can’t tell you anything, basically. We do the research for you and then it’s your property.”


University does not have a clear policy on citing purchased work

The university does not have a clear policy on whether or not citing a purchased work would constitute an academic offence. The Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters states that it is an offence to “obtain unauthorized assistance in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work.” It also states that the recommended sanction for submitting purchased work is expulsion, with a minimum sanction of suspension, and zero as the final grade where the offence occurred.

Though Essay Experts claims to have served “literally thousands of students” nationwide, and maintains that its services should be properly cited, Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing at U of T, stated that the University Tribunal is not aware of any case where a student has cited a purchased work. “Whether in any particular assignment such an action would amount to an academic offence would depend on the particular circumstances of that case; however, it is difficult to see how such a purchase and citation could add any academic merit to the student’s work,” he said. “Students should be very reluctant to expose themselves to the risk of a prosecution arising from the purchase and use of custom essays.”


Instructors disagree on whether citing purchased work is acceptable

Some educators say that citing purchased work makes it too easy to stretch into the territory of academic offence. Jacques Bertrand, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, commented that he would absolutely not accept work that cited purchased essays, adding that he considers such services deeply problematic. Kimberly Clark, a teaching assistant in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies program, echoes the sentiment. She says that upon seeing an essay company cited in a paper, she would request a meeting with the student, and ask them to produce the source. “Of course,” she says, “in producing the source, the student will then open the door to a number of potentially damaging consequences for their academic record.”

Jessica Soedirgo, a TA in the Department of Political Science, says that she would not accept a paper that cited an essay writing service. “These services, they’re notorious essay mills. Citing them is just, it’s problematic. That’s terrible,” she said, adding that she thinks most students who purchase work would hide this fact, rather than cite it in an original paper.

The contrast between citing purchased work and submitting it in whole is important for Hurka. He compares the essays provided by the service to any other external work incorporated into a final paper. He said that if a student borrowed a paper from a past student in a class, used it for guidance, and cited it appropriately, it would not constitute plagiarism. He said that he does not see a significant difference between this and citing a purchased work. As long as the bulk of the work is done by the student themselves and the source is cited properly, it does not constitute plagiarism, he says.

“It’s hard to believe that they would pay for an essay in order to cite it,” said Clifford Orwin, a professor of political science, adding: “Why would you turn to what an essay mill tells you about Machiavelli with the intention to cite it, when you could turn to what legitimate scholars say about Machiavelli?”

Cyclists beware: trends in bicycle thefts around campus

The annual numbers of bike thefts on campus are on the rise. In 2009, 58 bikes were reported missing or stolen on campus. This number has increased by 87 per cent, with 107 cases of stolen bicycles reported in 2012.

This hasn’t always been the case; over the past decade, Campus Police has initiated successful efforts to minimize the problem, including a Bicycle Anti Theft Program in 2005. This program allowed interested cyclists to place identification numbers on their bikes, aiding in the recovery process of stolen bikes and lowering their resale value. The measures seem to have been initially successful, as the number of annual cases decreased steadily from 2005 to 2009.

Since 2009 however, the numbers have risen again. Campus Police explain this increase in criminal activity as a result of the “larger pool of targets” as the number of cyclists on campus continues to rise. This upward trend affects a large population of the university’s daily commuters, as cycling remains one of the fastest, cheapest, and most environmentally friendly modes of transportation to and from campus.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of communications at U of T, speaking on behalf of Campus Police, said that bike thefts usually occur in places on campus where bicycle racks are concentrated. However, such thefts are not proprotionally distributed among all places where there are bike racks; activity reports available on the campus police website show the highest concentration of thefts outside Robarts library and the nearby Rotman Management Centre. Other areas of reported thefts this year include college residences, with multiple thefts reported at New, University, Innis, and Trinity colleges.

Kurts says that there are no locations campus which could be considered safer than others. Kurts says that there are clear steps which can be taken to prevent bike theft; he recommends that cyclists register their bikes in the Toronto Police bike registry, lock bikes with two high-end U-locks, and ensure no quick release parts are left behind.

Kurts says that apprehended individuals usually work alone, but are occasionally are caught working in pairs — while one person acts as a spotter, the other commits the theft. He adds that bicycle theft is an unskilled task, and requires only brute force and minimal tools. Once a bike is stolen, the chance of recovery is minimal. Most stolen bicycles are sold by the thief to a willing merchant, who then resells it at a retail or second-hand shop.

Campus police have implemented measures to combat the issue of bike theft on campus. These measures include Orientation Week events and community presentations in which theft prevention measures are highlighted. Additionally, plain clothes operations are used; these operations involve undercover officers patrolling campus in an effort to catch thefts as they occur. Last year, plain clothes operations led to the apprehension of four would-be bike thieves.  Kurts warns that repercussions of stealing a bike on campus could include prosecution under the criminal code for theft, fines, or possible time in custody upon conviction. To date, 73 bicycles have been reported stolen on campus.

Panel of visiting experts engages students in discussion on drone warfare

APSS and Victoria College host the Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs

Panel of visiting experts engages students in discussion on drone warfare

The Association of Political Science Students (APSS) held the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs on Wednesday, October 2, with this year’s panel focused on drone warfare. The event was held in conjunction with U of T’s Department of Political Science and Victoria College, and took place at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Janice Stein, professor of Conflict Management in the Department of Political Science at U of T, moderated an open discussion on the topic of ethical warfare.

The two key speakers, Neta C. Crawford and Avery Plaw, are political science professors at Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, respectively. Both have published books on international relations, focusing on terrorism and moral responsibility within warfare. The event featured a semi-structured debate in which Crawford and Plaw were asked for their opinions and expertise surrounding the United States’ employment of drones, which are unmanned aerial vehicles used to target potential terrorist threats in foreign countries.

After two hours of discussion, followed by a question and answer session, students had the opportunity to further engage with each other and the speakers during a reception in the lobby of the theatre. “Even though I’m not a political science student, I still have a deep interest in politics,” said Nicole D’Alessandro, a life sciences student. “As much as students think they watch the news or are informed, it’s important to get the opinions of professionals in the field.”

Many students who attended the forum were not enrolled as political science students. “As much as we don’t like to relate ourselves to the United States, whatever happens there affects [Canada]. Canadians feel the repercussions of their actions in some way or another. It’s not just the economy — it’s also our national security. That’s why having these discussions is important,” said Malik Chabou, a fourth-year economics student. The event was free and open to all U of T students.

David Palmer: The man behind Boundless

The Varsity interviews the man in charge of U of T's $2 billion fundraising campaign — the largest in Canada

David Palmer: The man behind Boundless

Construction has become a fact of life at this university.

There are, of course, some negative aspects to this constant. The roar of backhoes and bulldozers interspersed around campus can become irritating at times. Worksites, vast tracts of dirt and concrete, and spiderwebs of half-assembled steel girders rising slowly toward the sky are admittedly unsightly. In some cases, there may be reason to question whether what is being built is more valuable than what was destroyed to make way for it, as was the case for the Back Campus project.

Vice-President of Advancement David Palmer poses with the Boundless handbook in front of Simcoe Hall. SARAH TAGUIAM/FILE PHOTO

Vice-President of Advancement David Palmer poses with the Boundless handbook in front of Simcoe Hall. SARAH TAGUIAM/FILE PHOTO

But, at its core, construction is growth, and growth is survival. Every building erected, every faculty member employed, every research initiative seen through is a sign that the University of Toronto is alive, thriving, and well-financed. U of T is currently engaged in a fundraising initiative, titled the Boundless campaign. Launched in 2011, the project seeks to raise $2 billion in donations. As of September 27, it has collected $1.35 billion of this sum. Before the university’s most recent campaign, 15 years ago, U of T typically raised below $20 million per year in donations. For Boundless, the school seeks to collect at least $200 million per year, a figure it has well exceeded thus far. This is made possible, in part, by the work of the University Advancement Division, and of David Palmer, vice-president, advancement.

“Last year, for instance, we raised $226 million,” says Palmer, “Of course that money lands in a lot of different places around the university. Every single department, college, faculty, and campus participates in the campaign. They all benefit, and in fact, the fundraising that was done has gone into all of these divisions.”

The vice-president is soft-spoken and businesslike, possibly a practised affect, but at any rate one that is likely useful for persuading generous volunteers like Peter Munk, Judy and Blake Goldring, and Joseph Rotman to contribute to the university. “We do very little advertising or direct solicitation,” he explains. “By far the majority of money we raise, probably well in excess of 90 per cent, is by face-to-face meetings with individuals and corporations that have an interest in supporting us.”

Boundless has, of course, explored many different avenues of fundraising: alumni receive mailers and telephone calls encouraging them to give, flags advertising U of T’s Boundless are ubiquitous on campus, and the administration has hosted impressive galas in several strategically important locales, such as Silicon Valley and Hong Kong, to raise awareness of the university’s projects.

“We really needed to be out there with a very strong statement of the nature of this university, its importance to society, its importance to this community, and what it is we’re going to do, what we’re going to stand for, and why it matters. And that’s the key phrase: why it matters,” emphasizes Palmer, the subtlest hint of conviction entering his quiet speech. “I’ve had direct conversations with alumni that have said, ‘You know, I knew you were going to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. But now that I’ve been exposed to this, I’m really impressed with what you’re doing in this area and that area, and I’m going to give some thought to my gift to the campaign, and instead of giving “x”, I might give “x times 2” or “x times 3.”’”

The vice-president lists some of these possible areas of interest: “We raise money for some of the most exciting academic projects that you’ve ever come across, whether those projects are coming out of medicine, or engineering, or they’re coming out of English, history, or they’re coming out of UTM, UTSC, these are the projects that drive philanthropy,” he says. “The quality of our ideas, the quality of our people, those are the things that drive people to come to the table and be generous toward the university.” Palmer’s vocabulary in describing these grand endeavours is fairly mercenary, likely because money is important to all of them.

This reality has proven quite challenging to the administration at times. Government grants to the university have effectively been frozen for two decades now. U of T’s tuition is one of the lowest in the world for an institution of its calibre. As he discusses these obstacles, Palmer shares a rueful smile with Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president, university relations, who has been silently taking notes on the meeting. Perhaps most damagingly, the university’s entire endowment (as well as its Pension Master Trust fund) is managed and invested by the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM). While its returns have been between reasonable and impressive most years, in 2008, as a result of the worldwide financial crisis, UTAM lost $600 million of the university’s $2.1 billion endowment. The Advancement Division’s work, including the Boundless campaign, has gone some distance to alleviate this; U of T’s endowment sat at $1.896 billion at the end of 2012.

These gains have come with remarkable efficiency. Palmer describes how Boundless has spent on average $0.15 for every $1.00 it has raised, an almost sevenfold return, which is far better than Revenue Canada’s recommended rate of $0.35 per $1.00 raised.

The effects of this yield reverberate throughout the university and, ultimately, allow it to be a school. “I think raising money for faculty has huge direct benefits for students,” says Palmer. “When you look at all of our top faculty, our Canada Research chairs, our endowed chairs, our major award winners, over 90 per cent of them teach undergraduates. There are not many universities, in Canada or elsewhere, that can come anywhere close to that statistic.”

“We have new buildings like the Rotman School, like the law school, like the Goldring Centre; those are three examples of capital projects where there’s very significant support for students built into them, and we’ve been very successful at raising funds for those capital projects, because either they’re tied to the need for expansion or to very poor facilities that have been existing for some time and been degrading over time.”

This is the surest sign of Palmer’s success: the University of Toronto is building.

With files from Anthony Marchese

The Question: The Charter of Quebec Values

What is the virtue of a secular state?

The Question: The Charter of Quebec Values
MaroisPresentsValuesCharter-media photo

Quebec premier Marois presents the Charter of Quebec Values to the media. MEDIA PHOTO

The intolerant undertones of the Charter of Quebec Values

Thomas Jefferson said: “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights.”  In Jefferson’s mind, the secular state is inherently inclusive. However, the Quebec government has proposed a new and insidious version of secularity that embraces the very bigotry that the secular state is supposed to reject.

As it is currently framed, secularity in Canada is deeply tied to multiculturalism. A cultural mosaic can only exist in a state that refuses to privilege one religion over another.

However, secularity and multiculturalism are both illusory ideals; we conceive of Canada as a secular and multicultural nation, but the reality does not match the advertisement.

Canada values ethnic diversity, but our stores still cater to Christmas rather than Ramadan. We ban the church from the courtroom, but the Ten Commandments are fundamentally ingrained in Canadian law. In short, we call ourselves a secular nation, but our languages, laws, and government institutions are derived from a tradition that is Western, white, and undeniably Christian.

The purpose of Canadian multiculturalism is not to create a state in which a host of different cultures live and thrive together equally. Rather, the multicultural state simply recognizes that no culture is inherently inferior to another. As far as it can, the multicultural framework is one that tries to allow other cultures to preserve their traditions in a Western nation.

So if Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois are going to preach from the pulpit about their vision of an idyllic God-is-dead Canadian state, we need to call their bluff. They don’t seek a secular state — Canada is far too Christian for that, and Quebec far too Catholic.

Some will counter that the proposal equally bans employees from wearing Christian symbols. However, the legislation conveniently allows “small religious symbols” to be worn. Whereas many religions mandate that their adherents bear some kind of obvious symbol, Christianity has no such requirement.

The charter purports to treat all religions equally, but actually privileges normative Christianity over other belief systems. The legislation appears egalitarian, but is actually discriminatory. As Anatole France said: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor to sleep under bridges…”  Under the “majestic equality” of the charter, Christians and Muslims alike are prohibited from wearing a hijab.

The secularity proposed by Quebec must be recognized as fundamentally intolerant.If passed into law, it will discriminate against Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs — but not Christians.

Should we foster diversity, or should we reject it? Do we join the rest of the world, so preoccupied with cultural rifts? Or do we envision a new kind of nation — an innovative Canada — that focuses not on cultural difference, but on shared humanity? The Canada I know and love is a space in which any individual, government employee or not, can celebrate their culture with pride. Let’s keep it that way.

Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.



The Parti Québécois’ proposed Charter of Quebec Values does more harm than good

The Parti Quebecois’ recently proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which seeks to eliminate religious symbols in public sector jobs, requires us both to analyze the motivation behind the proposed ban as well as to consider the potential philosophical outcomes if the charter is passed. The party’s motivation seems clear enough; it is attempting to remove the presence of religion in authoritative roles within the state in order to reduce any conflict that could arise due to religious affiliation. However, this contradicts the multicultural value of religious freedom and sets a political tone opposite the one established by the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In Quebec’s history, the Quiet Revolution — a subversion of Catholicism’s traditional domination of provincial politics — represents an ideological precursor to this newest attempt to secularize the state. This proposed ban may be an indirect result of the Quiet Revolution’s success, but it lacks the defined source of conflict that ultimately drove the revolution.

Because Quebec never signed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it has a separate, although similar, charter of values. The Quebec Charter states in section 1.1 that every person has a right to exercise their fundamental rights, regardless of origin or social position, and this includes the freedom of religion expression. Therefore, any mandate requiring public employees to compromise their religious rights violates not only the letter of the law, but also the more abstract philosophical motivation behind creating a charter of values.

It is important to note that small, inconspicuous tokens are still acceptable under the proposed charter. This results in an outright differentiation between Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim symbols and those of Christianity. Since a vast majority of Quebec’s population is Catholic, it seems as though the individuals proposing this ban are looking to carve out special status for the province’s Catholic community. When a political regime enacts these types of regulations, it is invariably perceived to be making a statement about the public perception of these groups. By banning certain religious expression and thereby stigmatizing specific faiths or cultures, the state fosters an “us vs. them” mentality.

Regulating any type of individual expression is bound to stir up controversy. Although the intentions of the charter may be good, the proposed ban, unfortunately, can only be damaging. It holds religion to be something negative or offensive, and definitely as something to keep to yourself. It is an absolutist political philosophy that goes against Canada’s established social values. Not only does it offend the country’s sensitivity towards religious tolerance, it also highlights an underlying suspicion of how certain faiths and cultures are perceived. To some extent, it also reveals an intolerant mood in Quebec that ought to be rooted out quickly, before the province suffers the kind of public outrage that inevitably results when a democratic government moves to limit individual freedoms.

Olivia Forsyth-Sells is studying English and philosophy.



Banning hijabs, turbans, kippahs, and crosses breeds further intolerance

It is imperative that The Charter of Quebec Values, recently proposed by Pauline Marois’ provincial government, not be carried through. The charter aims to preserve the province’s religious neutrality by eliminating possible sources of conflict like religious symbols. However, does the charter serve its purpose of protecting multicultural values by removing visible differences in dress, or does it infringe upon individual rights unnecessarily? Doctors, teachers, and daycare workers should all be allowed to exercise their right to religious expression. Rather than taking an administrative shortcut by requiring all government employees to represent the neutrality of the state, Quebec should commit itself to the hard work of overcoming societal prejudice. The proposed ban is crude and ineffective — it does not protect or celebrate Canada’s multicultural character but instead sends the message that one might face discrimination if they wear a hijab, therefore they should not be allowed to wear one at all.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair have all denounced the proposed charter. Mulcair noted that: “what we have today is an attempt to impose state-mandated discrimination against minorities in the Quebec civil service.” Adding that, “to be told that a woman working in a daycare centre, because she’s wearing a head scarf, will lose her job is to us intolerable.” Amnesty International has similar concerns saying the Quebec values charter would “limit fundamental rights.”

Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, a retired Supreme Court judge, is one of the individuals expected to back the charter. In an interview with Radio-Canada, she stated: “some rights are more fundamental than others and, in Canada, the right to equality trumps religion.”

An argument could be made that the proposed restrictions on displaying religious tokens should apply to law enforcement and the judiciary exclusively rather than all civil servants. For the reason that these roles represent the coercive power of the state rather than everyday government services, defenders of the law should make an extra effort to appear neutral.

Upholding equality does not translate into everyone looking the same, but into being treated the same. A fundamental part of this, especially in such a multicultural country, is allowing and celebrating the expression of different cultures, ethnicities, and religious groups. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically enshrines equality before and under the law, ensuring that every citizen, regardless of religion, culture, or creed can enjoy the fair administration of justice. While Quebec’s special status within Canada gives it much maneuvering room to alter or supersede existing laws, the courts may still declare the charter unconstitutional.

Everyday civilians, however, should be able to celebrate their personal heritage and their Québécois heritage (or Canadian heritage) simultaneously, without the former excluding the latter. Therefore, being a devout Muslim does not eclipse being a proud Canadian, wearing a kippah shouldn’t ban you from public service, and wearing a turban should not be grounds for condemnation.

Sonia Liang is a second-year student studying English and political science.

Comprehensive approach needed to ensure safe learning environment

Recent allegations of sex crimes call admin policy into question

Comprehensive approach needed to ensure safe learning environment

In the wake of two unconnected instances of alleged sexual misconduct against faculty members at the University of Toronto it has become prudent to re-examine the university’s current stance on the unique relationship between students and faculty, and its approach to these kinds of accusations.

Ten days ago, the Toronto Star reported that James Andrew Payne, an instructor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, has been accused of a second count of sexual assault against a young woman. Payne is currently on trial for another sexual assault charge, relating to events which allegedly took place in 2011. Disturbingly, the university first learned of the charges against Payne this August, after a concerned friend of the alleged victim came forward to ask why he was still teaching while under investigation.

Adding to the weight of this most recent scandal is the story of professor Benjamin Levin who was arrested in July on charges of making and possessing child pornography. Levin, an eminent education scholar — who was recently a member of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s transition team — has been released on bail.

In handling these two controversies, the university is in the unenviable position of trying to balance several important principles. On one hand, the university must respect the rights of its employees and treat them as innocent until they are proven guilty. Yet on the other, the university has a responsibility to its students to guarantee that their educational experience will take place in a safe environment.

While the university employs many people and these events can be characterized as anomalies among a predominantly respectful group of people, they cannot be ignored. Nor should the university ignore that, in their relations with students, faculty occupy a position of trust and authority.

The university’s current policy on sexual harassment is narrow and outdated. This policy has not been updated since 1997, and is only useful if the alleged misconduct took place on campus or while the student was engaged in a university activity. This policy does not do enough to protect students in the modern university setting.

The inadequacy of this policy is evident from recent events. After the charges against Payne became public, the university announced that, by mutual agreement, he would no longer be teaching. Similarly, in the case of Levin, the university announced some time after the affair became public that Levin had “ceased all university activities.” The university’s approach to these cases shows that, in practice, it deems it inappropriate for faculty charged with serious, sexual misconduct to continue teaching. So the university’s policies should acknowledge that charges of this kind compromise a safe learning environment.

It is also unacceptable that the university first heard of the outstanding charges against Payne months after the charge was made. Again, the policy does not recognize that events outside the course of university business and beyond the boundaries of campus can still affect students and staff in their on-campus roles. While some may argue that there is little the university can do once a criminal investigation has begun, or that relations with the faculty union complicate these matters, they cannot deny that the university has tried to abdicate its responsibility to protect students, and has used piecemeal solutions when faced with public pressure.

In an effort to protect students, the university should take a clearer stance on these events and keep the community informed when they occur. The current policy demands absolute confidentiality in the publication of the identities of either the complainant or respondent should a complaint of harassment proceed to a formal hearing, unless there is a risk of serious bodily harm to others. This is manifestly the case in Payne’s situation; he was accused of committing sexual assault in a private residence off campus. Because the incident took place off campus however, there was no disclosure. A new, more comprehensive strategy should be considered given that this policy has failed to fulfill its mandate twice in such a short period of time.

Students are constantly reminded to be responsible and respectful in their interactions with their peers. Many programs and resources are available to students on how to avoid, prevent, report, and seek help with issues of sexual harassment and misconduct. Orientation leaders are required to complete anti-sexual assault training. Incoming students are asked to attend seminars on sexual assault. What training are faculty and staff required to complete? What information is available to the community about appropriate and inappropriate interactions between faculty and students? What reporting and monitoring measures are in place to ensure a safe environment? Policies and programs related to these questions should be re-examined in light of their recent failure. Greater transparency on these matters is also required, so that when misconduct occurs members of the university community know what do and what to expect. The ongoing conversation on respectful and responsible interactions on campus must be expanded to include staff and faculty.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about The Varsity’s editorial policy, please email comment@thevarsity.ca.

U of T Libraries 101

The definitive guide to the St. George campus library system

Looking for a place to study during midterm season? Here’s the definitive guide to the St. George campus library system:

Robarts Library | “The Beast”

It’s 24 hours before an exam, or an essay is due at midnight and it’s half an hour before the deadline; at the height of desperation, students shut themselves in Robarts Library. Many call this concrete monstrosity home — especially during night hours, when tired souls take to the first three floors for serious napping. Robarts is U of T’s largest library, and is fondly known as Fort Book, because of its imposing concrete stature and seemingly endless collection of books. Although you’ll meet some intense researchers and crazed insomniacs at Robarts, it also serves as a social hub for students across all three campuses, housing the largest number of books in the university and a cafeteria with a Starbucks line that is almost always out the door.

Theme Song: “The Final Countdown” by Europe

Snack of choice: 12” Meatball Sub from the cafeteria


Gerstein Science Library | “The Hopeful Pre-Med”

Gerstein is home to U of T’s life science students. Here, you’ll find first-years commiserating over Biology textbooks and Chemistry labs, as medical students pass by with their matching backpacks (yep, that’s a thing). Unlike the gloomy interiors of Robarts, Gerstein boasts plenty of windows to make even the most dreary of study days just a tad brighter.

Theme Song: “The Scientist” by Coldplay

Snack of choice: Pizza (brain food) from the downstairs café


E.J. Pratt | “The Hipster”

Home to Victoria College students, expect to see the artsy folk on campus getting their work done in Pratt library. Pratt offers optimal private space, with long mini-cubicles for individual students lining one side and a bar of window seats facing the scenic Victoria College residences on the other. The bottom floor contains some overflow stacks, as well as couch seating and vending machines for social interaction after hours of solitary study.

Theme song: You’ve probably never heard of it

Snack of choice: Sushi from Wymilwood Café in the Goldring Centre


Graham Library | “The Next Rhodes Scholar”

The Grahman Library takes up the centre wing of the beautiful Munk School building. Its popular reading rooms play host to lounging students who spend large portions of their days in the soft, welcoming Morris chairs — especially during colder months. Meanwhile serious studiers situate themselves in the surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs in front of the spacious individually-lit desks. Many windows boast beatiful views of Trinity College or of the gardens on Devonshire Place.

Theme song: “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Snack of choice: Lunch from The Buttery

Trinity Western seeks to block enrollment of gay law students

Religious institutions enjoy special privilege over individual rights

Trinity Western seeks to block enrollment of gay law students

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is considering whether to accredit the law school at Trinity Western University (TWU). TWU is a Christian school famous for a 2001 Supreme Court case in which the court controversially ruled that the British Columbia College of Teachers was wrong to reject the university’s application for certification of its teachers’ college. The university is once again facing opposition due to its Community Covenant — which forbids students from engaging in, among other things, homosexual intimacy. Leading the charge is prominent civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby, who argues that since the new law school will be inaccessible to gays and lesbians, accrediting TWU would  impose a “queer quota” — arbitrarily limiting the number of gay Canadian lawyers.

Disturbingly, Ruby’s defense of equal rights has come under attack in the mainstream media. The National Post’s Jonathan Kay has accused Ruby of a “narrow-minded crusade” against TWU. He cites the 2001 ruling and denounces Ruby for trying “to get around this clear precedent with a new argument based on the claim that, if TWU’s law school is accredited, the legal industry as a whole would then effectively be imposing a “queer quota” on gay lawyers — despite the fact that Canada has almost two dozen other law schools, and that TWU’s 60 first-year law-school slots would comprise less than two per cent of the country’s incoming law-school cohort.”

Similarly, in the Vancouver Sun, Calgary lawyer John Carpay defends TWU’s code of conduct by suggesting that, in addition to homosexuality, it also bans adultery and premarital sex. “Nobody is required to abide by these rules, unless a person voluntarily submits to them,” he argues. “Any student, whether gay or straight, who does not wish to abide by TWU’s code of conduct is free to attend another university.”

It should be deeply distressing to Canadians that such confused commentary is informing public opinion on a topic as important as equal rights. As will be clear to any unbiased observer, Carpay’s argument misses the point; no one is arguing that TWU forces its code of conduct on the general public, or that homosexuality is the only thing proscribed by its covenant, or even that gays and lesbians will have no choice but to attend TWU. What is being objected to is that in order to attend TWU, gay and lesbian students will be forced to hide an integral part of their identities — which is an outrage in and of itself. If a proponent of an anti-semitic university were to protest that “nobody is required to take off his kippa, or tuck in his star of David necklace, or refrain from observing High Holidays unless he voluntarily chooses to attend our school,” or that “any student, whether Jew or Gentile, who does not wish to abide by our (anti-semitic) code of conduct is free to attend another university,” we would regard these arguments as below contempt.

Kay conveys a misunderstanding of equal rights; if there is a single space in a Canadian law school, medical school, barber’s college, or restaurant which is not available to all people, regardless of identity, it is a national disgrace — it does not matter how many other spaces in other institutions are available to these people. If a “whites only” law school were to open in Canada, would anyone care that we have “almost two-dozen other law schools” or that the first-year slots at this “whites only” school would “comprise less than two per cent of the country’s incoming law-school cohort?” Hardly. So why, when the institution seeking to discriminate is religiously-oriented, do such specious arguments appear in the mainstream press?

The Post’s Chris Selley outlines this argument in a recent column: “The mainstream reaction, if we discovered some hitherto unknown whites-only university in the B.C. interior,” he writes, “would be to shut the place down — not its law school, not its engineering faculty, the whole place.” Since there is “no moral difference between anti-gay discrimination and anti-black discrimination” he continues, “the only legal difference is that a religious freedom defense is far more likely in the first case than in the second.” Selley does, however, state that private universities should have the right to admit whomever they want.

If TWU was a secular institution ,there would be no debate about whether to accredit its law school. So the current issue clearly boils down to whether religious institutions should have special privileges to violate individual rights. Many people seem to think that they do, yet it is unclear how to justify this position. Canadian law is  inconsistent in this respect; for example, Rastafarians — for whom smoking marijuana is a spiritual act — have been flatly refused any exemption from Canada’s laws against doing so.

Marijuana is basically harmless, and any harm that it does cause is only to the person who smokes it. Accommodating Rastafarians in this respect would not violate anyone’s rights, yet the courts have decided that Rastafarians’ freedom of religious expression is not important enough to merit an exemption to an illiberal law. Christians, on the other hand, have been granted the right to discriminate against gays — refusing to sanctify marriages or rent our Christian facilities for such purposes. Gay citizens’ rights to equality have therefore been subordinated to others’ religious freedoms by the Supreme Court of Canada.

This radical disparity likely has less to do with any principle than with the ability of Canada’s numerous, well-funded Christian groups to lobby and agitate for their interests. This is a luxury which Rastafarians, a tiny minority, do not enjoy. Furthermore, organizations that claim that preventing them from discriminating against gays would restrict their freedom of religion tend to be conspicuously selective in this regard. As Kay admonishes, Christians “are under absolutely no obligation” to “‘read in’ pro-gay interpretations that serve to invalidate the plain meaning of Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13.” They are, however, apparently free to ignore Leviticus 15:19, which commands them to ostracize menstruating women.

Out of this bewildering mass of injunctions, institutions like TWU blithely disregard the majority, seize upon the one that infringes  upon LGBTQ rights, and insist that they must be allowed to follow it regardless of its effect on the rights of others — since they cannot freely practice their religion otherwise.

This is not a rights-based argument, it is threadbare sophistry. The fact that such reasoning is considered, and accepted, in Canadian law is evidence of the pervasive pro-religion, anti-gay bias that mars both our legal system, and our society in general.


Simon Capobianco is a third-year student in math and philosophy at the University of Toronto