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.

In good faith

Exploring interfaith dialogue on campus and the importance of forgiveness

In good faith

Although U of T is an academic institution, spirituality plays an important role in the lives of many of its students. Accordingly, attempting to accommodate the spiritual and religious needs of students is an important value at the university. U of T hosts a number of faith communities including Aboriginal spiritual groups, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and more. With such a variety of backgrounds coming to the institution, meeting the needs of every spiritual background becomes a challenge.

This concern is relatively novel; the university has a strong history of Christian presence on campus, exemplified by its historically Christian colleges. In the late 90s, a group of students, with the support of the Students’ Administrative Council — the precursor to the University of Toronto Students’ Union — approached Simcoe Hall, contending that Christian students were privileged on campus, while students of other faiths were not given similar access to freedom of religion.

Multi-Faith Centre director Richard Chambers

Multi-Faith Centre director Richard Chambers. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

The university was hesitant to respond to these criticisms, due to the trend of increasing secularization in society and at the school. Following ten years of contemplation and discussion, the Multi-Faith Centre (MFC) was established as the solution to this issue. The building of the centre was contested by the Secular Alliance as compromising the secular nature of the university.

Richard Chambers, director of the MFC, points out that the philosophy of the centre accounted for Canada’s emphasis on the tenet of multiculturalism: “Canadian society is a secular society, in the sense that religion is not given any privilege in society… In English-speaking Canada though, there is an understanding about the freedom of religious expression in civil society… The university realized [that] it should actually be educating students to be able to go out and navigate that religious diversity in society, and in fact, there’s a great ready-made classroom in the experience of U of T.”


Multi-Faith Space
Muffin Madness is a popular event hosted at the Multi-Faith Centre. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

Muffin Madness is a popular event hosted at the Multi-Faith Centre. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

The MFC was opened in 2006 on this basis, and has since served as a hub for interfaith dialogue and faith-based activities on campus, coupled with new multi-faith space in other campus buildings. Multi-faith space refers to flexible, bookable spaces designed to both accommodate various faiths and to encourage dialogue between students of different backgrounds.

Sonya Krause, former co-chair of Faiths Act — a student group dedicated to preventing deaths from malaria through interfaith action — describes how her group used multi-faith space: “Faiths Act used the MFC for meeting and event space and… the administration for help in planning events and dealing with the larger U of T administration. We also attended Muffin Madness at the MFC to recruit and to network with other faith-based clubs to collaborate on events.”

Fareedah Abdulqadir of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) concurs that her favourite weekly activity is the popular “Muffin Madness,” a casual weekly interfaith drop-in, but adds that her group also uses the space for prayer, meetings, and social events.

While groups use multi-faith space for their own operations, interfaith dialogue, such as “Muffin Madness,” also takes place there. Along with social activities, interfaith activities are often related to social justice.

“Interfaith dialogue at the University of Toronto doesn’t all look like one might imagine in terms of a formal dialogue, with three people sitting around a table talking about what prayer looks like,” Chambers describes. “A lot of our programming is around social justice and community service work, because we find that there is a cohort of students interested in … theological questions, but more students are interested in making a difference for good in the world, and they’re motivated … by their beliefs.”


In multi-faith space, interfaith dialogue in the form of a social justice project is often paired with a discussion of faith-based motivations for participating. “Muslim students will reference the Qur’an; Jewish students may reference the Torah; Christian students may reference the Bible; secular students may talk about their own values … but we find that interfaith dialogue at the university often revolves around really hands-on projects about making a difference in the world. At the end of the day, it’s about mutual respect and understanding,”  says Chambers.


Campus Chaplains

Campus chaplains are tasked with fostering interfaith dialogue on campus as well as serving the spiritual needs of students. They meet monthly to discuss spiritual issues and events on campus.

Ecumenical chaplain Reverend Ralph Wushke comments, “As a chaplain, my role is in one sense religious and spiritual care and supporting spiritual lives of students, and at the same time I see it as building inter-religious harmony and respect… I believe firmly that when people of different faiths come together and share experiences that are based on their faith, each partner comes into a deeper understanding of their own faith.”


In contrast to some students’ concerns that participating in interfaith dialogue is a threat to their own faith commitments, the campus chaplains contend that students often find these dialogues enriching and that participating in them serves to reinforce their own beliefs.

Jewish chaplain Rabbi Aaron Katchen sees equipping students for interfaith dialogue as a critical point in the process: “By conversation, we better understand each other. We also better understand ourselves … but it also has to come from a place of knowledge. I try and work with the students … to help them better understand what does their tradition and history have to say, so first of all when they show up at the table, they have something to say. That’s not just people speaking at them … it’s helping build up a relationship of meaning.”


“A good, sincere conversation”
A student enjoying the Multi-Faith Centre. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

A student enjoying the Multi-Faith Centre. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

Many students who have participated in interfaith dialogue on campus contend that the practice builds strong bonds among people of different faiths and strengthens their own self-understanding.

Gianni Castiglione, president of the U of T Secular Alliance (UTSA), recalls: “The UTSA has participated in multiple productive interfaith dialogues, yet the one that sticks out in my own mind was a debate/seminar we helped host on human nature. There were three speakers — one Catholic, a Sikh, and a clinical psychologist who was the UTSA’s representative… There were several occasions in which the views shared both content and outlook… During these moments, there was a palpable realization in the audience and among the speakers that these geographically and culturally separate worldviews had arrived at similar conclusions, carrying with it very interesting and deep implications.”

Jacob Liao of the Light House Christian Community worked on the Common Ground Project, a Canadian civic engagement initiative of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) with support from Citizen and Immigration Canada: “…because we have worked together for the past year, there was just an overflow of heartfelt sharing and deep respect for one another’s beliefs and traditions. The best dialogue is not that of a panel of distinguished guest speakers… but the genuine expression of the self through one’s life and one’s giving.”

Some other examples of programming include group gardening at the Ecology and Spirituality Garden at New College, participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up, the Tzedakah-Sadaqah Project of bringing Jewish and Muslim students together to work at a soup kitchen, and Religious Diversity Dialogue Certificate Training.


Qu(e)erying Religion, a program for queer students of faith, has included presentations by interfaith queer couples, spiritual leaders of different religions discussing and reclaiming relevant scripture with queer students, and social outings such as Hart House Theatre productions.

Abdulqadir describes: “Interfaith dialogue to me is any attempt to engage sincerely with a person or group of another faith with the explicit understanding that the purpose of the interaction is to engage our different sacred traditions. This doesn’t have to be in a formal program or with recognized institutions. It could just be a good, sincere conversation with a fellow student.”


The Role of Forgiveness

This year, Hart House — in combination with the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARDCO), Hillel of Toronto, Ask Big Questions, and the Multi-Faith Centre — is presenting a series entitled Wounds into Wisdom — The Practice of Forgiveness: In Pursuit of Reconciliation and Justice.

Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, anti-racism and cultural diversity officer, notes that the program is not entirely focused on interfaith dialogue, but also on individual and structural forgiveness: “There is a broad diversity of faith and ethical clubs on campus and interfaith dialogue can provide a space for the clubs to participate in open dialogue and engage with their multiple identities, across differences on complex issues and themes that are, at times, conflicting. The Wounds into Wisdom program is not specifically designed as an interfaith dialogue, however, we anticipate that it will appeal to faith and ethical communities, together with the broadly diverse constituencies that make up the
U of T community.”


Forgiveness nonetheless plays an important role in interfaith dialogue, such as when sensitive political issues arise in conversation. In Canada, the example of residential schools is pertinent; although sending Aboriginal children to residential schools was government policy, the schools themselves were Christian. These schools are now associated with a legacy of abuse and trauma. Addressing these deep divides and bringing victims and perpetrators, as well as their later generations,  together is a difficult challenge in interfaith dialogue.

The Forgiveness series brings historical injustices such as this, as well as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Canadians to the forefront. Carnegie-Douglas describes: “In planning this year’s program, we interpreted forgiveness to include the related concepts of restorative justice, apology, redress, and reparation to incorporate stories that range from the interpersonal to historical injustices.” The F-Word photography project is particularly engaging in addressing these tensions, as it contains anecdotal examples of interfaith dialogue and forgiveness in extreme circumstances.

Carnegie-Douglas acknowledges the difficulty of engaging in these dialogues: “Conversations on race, faith, and cultural diversity (areas of focus for the ARCDO) are often met with silence and resistance. Enabling spaces for open dialogue helps to break down the silence, promote understanding, and build community.”

Chambers brings up the example of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a point of contention between Jewish and Muslim students. He uses the strategy of acknowledging the obvious differences in the room while trying to direct the focus onto collective activity, such as charitable projects. The Multi-Faith Centre offers conflict resolution for when such dialogue becomes hostile, but Chambers notes that he has only had to intervene a handful of times. Admitting the different perspectives of students of different faiths serves to create an atmosphere of respect in interfaith dialogue that allows for a productive conversation to ensue. Students of different backgrounds need to be able to bring their unique viewpoints into the dialogue without fear of backlash.


Rev. Wushke notes that forgiveness can be a source of common ground for students of different faiths, since it is incorporated into the doctrine of many spiritual groups.

Rabbi Katchen, who is involved with the Forgiveness project through Hillel, comments: “…Forgiveness is really about a human experience… Each of us come to it in very different ways… One of the goals of the Forgiveness project is not about saying that forgiveness is always the answer, that forgiveness is always the stated goal, or that we all forgive in the same way… but rather, it’s something we all struggle through as part of interacting as
humans — and that’s all interfaith dialogue is. It’s about humans coming together, and we’re including our religious self in that conversation, as opposed to leaving it at the door.”

U of T has a number of faith-based clubs and student organizations. We talked to students involved with some of them about why interfaith dialogue matters.

Suresh Sriskandarajah and Sri Lanka’s history of violence

Domestic threat pales in comparison to Sri Lankan government's conduct

Suresh Sriskandarajah and Sri Lanka’s history of violence

On September 27, it was announced that prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York, are seeking a 15-year sentence for Suresh Sriskandarajah, who is currently being charged with providing aid to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — a recognized terrorist organization both in the United States and in Canada. Mr. Sriskandarajah, a Sri Lankan Canadian citizen and former student at the University of Waterloo, was extradited to the United States in 2012 after being apprehended by the RCMP in 2006.



The prosecutors recommended a stiff punishment because they believe: “A significant term of incarceration will reflect the seriousness of the offence” of providing aid to the LTTE. Those familiar with the Sri Lankan civil war, a bloody, 26-year long event, will understand why aiding the LTTE, a rebel group with an appalling human rights record, is illegal in the United States and Canada.

Followers of the conflict may also be eager to know what “significant term of incarceration,” if any, will be recommended for the American and Canadian officials responsible for providing millions of dollars in funding to the Sri Lankan government over the past decade. As the prosecutors will know (at least, if they have read the Congressional Research Service’s briefing), the majority of atrocities perpetrated in the final stages of the war were committed by citizens of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest urban centre, with help from millions in aid money from countries like the United States and Canada.

The listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization here in Canada and in other Western countries is a complicated matter. The government of Sri Lanka — which is not listed as a terrorist group — has committed far more heinous crimes than anything the LTTE have been accused of. During the civil war, the government exhibited a wanton disregard for human life — illustrated through summary executions, hostage-taking, and the deliberate shelling of civilians. Furthermore, the origins of the  war — rarely discussed in Western commentary — lie in the decades-long process of the systematic ethnic cleansing of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population by the Sinhalese majority government. Although their methods were unconscionable, the Tigers were politically in the right — fighting for the Tamil people’s right to national self-determination.

By prosecuting people like Sriskandarajah for aiding the Tigers, while ourselves supporting Colombo, Canada and the United States have not only engaged in staggering hypocrisy but have also sided with a racist government against an oppressed minority. Our support for the Sri Lankan government became truly criminal after authorities killed roughly 40,000 civilians between 2008 and 2009 — herding them into smaller and smaller “no-fire zones,” which were then shelled. This horrific conclusion to the war, which also dashed any real hope of Tamil independence, would likely have been impossible had Colombo not been receiving generous international assistance while the Tigers had their funding disrupted by our police forces.

This critical support from the West resulted in the wildly successful effort by Colombo to re-brand the civil war as another front in the “war on terror” — a prudent move, given the West’s willingness to oppose global terrorism. Once this was achieved, support from the West flowed in, while police forces like the RCMP cracked down on the Tigers’ support networks. With its main opposition and target defunded and on the ropes, Colombo was clear to continue towards the path of extermination. In the hysteria surrounding our efforts to stamp out domestic terror threats, nobody noticed that we were funding greater atrocities.

As Sriskandarajah’s trial moves forward, and as the RCMP track down any remaining LTTE affiliates to either charge or extradite, we should remember that we have tacitly supported far greater crimes perpetrated on a mass scale by the Sri Lankan government than anything Mr. Sriskandarajah and others have been accused of allegedly contributing to. Yes, the Tamil Tigers are guilty of hideous crimes, and Canada should do all that it can to root out terrorist sympathizers at home who contribute to these groups. However, until Canada reexamines its history of foreign relations with Sri Lanka, the charges against Sriskandarajah will remain a shameful mockery of justice.


Simon Capobianco is a third-year student in math and philosophy.

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour’s comments draw criticism from administration, students’ union

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour has come under fire in the past few days following an interview with Hazlitt, in which he indicated his preference for teaching the works of heterosexual male authors. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has criticized both Gilmour and the U of T administration’s response to the ongoing controversy. Gilmour is a sessional instructor at U of T.

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women,” said Gilmour in the Hazlitt interview.

In an email to The Varsity, Yollen Bollo-Kamara, the union’s vice-president, equity, stated: “David Gilmour’s comments were absolutely offensive and unconscionable. The University should take immediate action to ensure that concerns of hundreds of members of the university community are adequately addressed. We all have the right to a safe, inclusive learning environment.”

Scott Prudham, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, joined a number of university figures in distancing themselves from Gilmour’s statements: “These comments fail in the most fundamental way to respect and reflect the great cultural and intellectual diversity of this institution, this community, and the Faculty Association itself. While Mr. Gilmour may well choose the books he wants to teach based on his expertise as a teacher and a writer, one would hope he would choose his words more carefully in both capacities, not least out of respect for his colleagues and his students.”

Angela Esterhammer, an English professor and principal of Victoria College, praised Gilmour’s professional pedigree, describing him as a part-time instructor who “brings his professional accomplishments as a Governor General’s Award-winning novelist and film critic to his teaching role.” Esterhammer outlined the fact that Gilmour has since apologized to students and staff, and that many people, including the Victoria College administration, have stated that they do not share Gilmour’s views.

Esterhammer concluded by defending the course offerings at U of T, which she described as “without parallel” for their range and diversity: ”David Gilmour’s seminar ‘Love, Sex, and Death in Short Fiction’ is an optional course that students may take at Victoria College. It is one among hundreds of course offerings in literature at the University of Toronto and its Colleges, which include survey courses as well as small, focused seminars. These course offerings are incredibly diverse as to culture, gender, form, period, content, and approach.”

Thursday morning, roughly 50 students attended a rally at Victoria to show their support.

Andrea Day and Miram Novick, two U of T graduate students who organized the rally, called on attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”

U of T issued a statement Thursday outlining their stance on Gilmour’s statements: “One might hope that, in a university environment, teachers would encourage respectful airing of differences of opinion, and that, by airing their own views in a respectful way, they would encourage students to examine critically their own beliefs as well as those of their teachers and classmates.”

The statement outlined the fact that Gilmour has repeatedly apologized for his statements, and that the university had heard from students, faculty, and staff who were “dismayed” by his statements. “The University and Victoria College will also ensure that students in his class are under no misapprehensions that Mr. Gilmour’s literary preferences may be translated into assumptions about their innate abilities,” it read.

This statement also drew harsh criticism from the students’ union. “We are very disappointed in the statement released by the University this evening,” said Bollo-Kamara, “It is frustrating that the University does not acknowledge the impact that Mr. Gilmour’s words may have on the large part of our population who are women, Chinese, or do not identify as heterosexual.”


With files from Kate McCullough.

Students rally against David Gilmour at Vic

Support shown for women writers, queer writers, and writers of colour

Students rally against David Gilmour at Vic

David Gilmour’s comments in an interview with Hazlitt last Wednesday met with controversy and disapproval from some students. On Friday, the conflict escalated with a student-organized rally in front of the Northrop Frye statue at Victoria College. The location was chosen strategically. Gilmour teaches at Victoria College and was a student of Frye, who is said to be one of the most influential Canadian literary critics and theorists of the twentieth century. The rally, entitled “Serious Heterosexual Guys for Serious Literary Scholarship,” was organized largely over Facebook by two U of T graduate students, Andrea Day and Miriam Novick. The rally gained significant media attention. In the Facebook event for the rally, Day and Novick called the attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”

The rally consisted of the organizers, as well as members and students of the English department, reading out passages from novels by female, queer, and minority authors, all of whom Gilmour stated he was “not interested in teaching.” Anthony Oliveira, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that he was “glad to be a part of an event where authors that Gilmour does not think are worth studying are being heard.” The protesters chanted “Gilmour, read more” throughout the rally, and encouraged the crowd of about 50 people to use social media to post about the protest. Major media outlets including CBC, City TV, and GlobalTV attended the event.



Day, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that she and Novick decided to organize the rally largely for pedagogical reasons. “We were very frustrated with the idea that someone’s personal biases can direct not only what they teach but also their students’ experiences in a survey course. Late twentieth century short fiction is incredibly diverse, with plenty of people of colour, women, queer, and trans people. The idea that only white straight men have something to say in that avenue is very upsetting,” she said. Day added that she was impressed that the university called for collegiality, and that neither she nor Novick are asking for his job. She stressed that the controversy is not a result of a difference of opinions, but the blanket statements Gilmour has made. Other speakers at the rally were not as kind to Gilmour. Sundhya Walther, who is also a PhD student in the English department and spoke at the rally, thought that “Victoria College should seriously reconsider his employment, because Gilmour’s teaching philosophy is not something that can be solved by cosmetic gestures.” Krystyn Olmedo, a second-year classics student, compared Gilmour’s comments to something from “ancient times.”  Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the UTSU’s vice-president, equity, was present at the rally and expressed concern at the limited response from the university. “Gilmour’s comments essentially exclude a large portion of the university’s community,” she said.

Since the publication of Gilmour’s comments on Wednesday, he has issued an apology.

A tinge of Fringe

We help you navigate Toronto’s largest theatre festival

A tinge of Fringe

The annual Fringe Festival is back with a plethora of cutting-edge dramas, hilarious comedies, and unabashed kookiness (we have yet to see The Princess of Porn: The Musical, but would venture to guess that it falls into that last category). Tickets to the plays are relatively inexpensive (around $10), but there are over 100 shows to choose from and not all of them are worth your hard-earned dollar. Here’s the scoop on some of what Fringe has to offer this year:


Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel — George Ignatieff Theatre

In this snappy send-up of murder mysteries, two friends crash their car on a creepy, isolated road and are forced to seek shelter in a creepy, isolated motel. The ever-bickering and thoroughly clueless duo soon discovers that a series of murders have been committed there and, not surprisingly, that it’s the sociopathic motel manager who’s responsible. (The culprit is revealed within the first five minutes of the show, so no, that wasn’t a spoiler). With few props and a whole lot of enthusiasm, comedy duo Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone perform all of the roles in the play and take plenty of jabs at the clichéd tropes that define the mystery and horror genres (“I don’t have a very good feeling about this,” Peter says at one point. “For one thing, listen to the ambient music playing.”) The actors frequently veer from parody to sketch comedy, using the play as a platform to showcase a variety of oddball characters. While these insertions into the overarching plot occasionally seem extraneous, for the most part, Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel is well crafted, clever and undeniably funny. —BK



A Funeral for Clowns — The Annex Theatre

Let anyone with a fear of clowns be warned: these red-nosed, large-footed, supposedly-hilarious-but-actually-kind-of-disturbing performers are about as creepy as they get in A Funeral for Clowns. The play takes place in a funeral parlour, where a dysfunctional group of clowns has gathered to mourn the passing of a family member. As they argue and grieve, the family is joined by a professional mourner, a mime, the deceased’s clown colleagues, and the spirit of the dead clown himself. It’s all rather bizarre, but the actors handle the material admirably as they transition from the over-exaggerated mannerisms of clowns to the subdued grief of the characters behind the costumes. In theory, A Funeral for Clowns could have been an innovative reflection on the absurdity of mourning and the sadness that so often hides behind our smiles. The dialogue, however, isn’t particularly inspired, and at times, it’s downright painful (“I think if I had a fish,” says the dead clown during a monologue. “I would have named him Sad.”)  All in all, the play’s contrived attempts at profundity undermine an otherwise promising premise. —BK


Golem — Tarragon Theater Mainspace

Golem, a play by the Sick With Baby theatre company, attempts to both explore and defeat the inner demons of its protagonist, Casey Cohen. Heavily focused on what it means to be Jewish, the entire play takes place in Casey’s mind. He has an ongoing inner dialogue with Solomon, a fellow Jew and undeniably obnoxious individual who Casey accidentally killed, and his rather bland Muslim best friend, Ali. Although the play has an intriguing beginning, the rest of the script is circuitous and repetitive, constantly rehashing the same issues with a blatancy that leaves no room for subtext. Coupled with some mediocre acting, the only engaging feature of this play is its frequent witticisms. When the show came to an end, I was left wanting to hear more about the trials of Casey’s gay best friend (who only gets one monologue), and less about the trials of a non-practicing Jew. Overall, Golem is a good start for this student group, but it needs reshaping in order to reach its full potential. —IP



Absolute Alice — The Factory Theatre Mainspace.

Absolute Alice presents a contemporary adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s children’s story, Alice in Wonderland. Set in the Toronto underground, the script of this modern interpretation is drawn entirely from Carroll’s novel, producing an interesting intersection between 19th century diction and the play’s rough, contemporary setting. With explosive acting that complements the play’s larger than life characters, the cast kept the audience on their toes with surprises, quirks and plenty of laughs. Accompanied by a beautiful set and dazzling costumes, the production lives up to the many other successful interpretations of Alice’s story, putting its own strange twist on the classic. For fans of Carroll’s original work, the cast’s zany interpretations are delightful, and for newcomers to Wonderland, the whimsical set and innovative acting are more than enough to make this play a hit. —IP


Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies — Randolph Theatre

As one of the only shows at the Fringe that combines dance and theatre, Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies is a unique production that aims to subvert both the taboo of sex in Indian culture and the stereotypes often associated with Bollywood. Although this is an admirable goal, the play often skims over key issues instead of digging into their roots. The story follows the wannabe Bollywood romance of Trish and Raj, along with the tumultuous relationship that follows their one night stand. This proves a rather thin plot line, and the numerous dances interspersed throughout the show seemed to be the focus of the production. Dancers of diverse ethnicities perform Bollywood, contemporary and Indian classical dance numbers, but even this aspect of the show falls short; most of the cast seemed to have a contemporary dance background and the Indian classical numbers suffer as a result. Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies seems geared towards a South Asian audience with an understanding of Hindi and Bollywood, but the play’s genuinely funny moments might not be entirely accessible to a more diverse crowd. —IP

UBC to award posthumous and honorary degrees to Japanese-Canadian students

University makes historic decision to acknowledge, apologize for dark chapter in its history

The University of British Columbia has decided to award posthumous and honorary degrees to the Japanese-Canadian students who the university denied in 1941, the first Canadian university to make such a decision.

The decision was prompted in part by a letter from retired Vancouver teacher Mary Kitagawa. Kitagawa wrote to UBC in 2008 to suggest the school grant honorary degrees to students affected by the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

Unlike post-secondary institutions in the United States who objected to or actively resisted the internment of Japanese-American students, UBC’s administration voted to strip Japanese-Canadian enrolled in the Canadian Officers Training Corps of their commissions. Few faculty members spoke out at the time. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney officially apologized in the House of Commons for the mistreatment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

The university will award the degrees to a handful of surviving former students and internees, and to the descendants of deceased former students.

—With files from the Globe and Mail.

Aisha Raja tells her story

How one student combats the stereotype of an “‘exotic Muslim woman.’”

Aisha Raja tells her story

“I don’t only want to be seen as the Muslim girl who wears the hijab,” says third-year student, Aisha Raja. “There’s more to my identity than just that.”

Troubled by other students’ negative perceptions of Muslim women, Raja’s studies in ethics, society, and law have encouraged her participation in dialogues aimed to counteract these stereotypes.


Lounging in her chair at Trinity’s Buttery Café, she reminisces about incidents that have impacted her experience at U of T.

In her first year, after leaving her close-knit suburban community, she found herself among the many strangers populating U of T’s large lecture halls — an intimidating experience shared by many St. George students.

To take part in U of T’s vibrant community and to meet new people, she became involved in the Muslim Students’ Association.

“Its hard to connect with everyone on campus,” Raja points out. “But through the MSA, I met different groups and it gave me the resources to get involved in other campus organizations and cultural and religious groups.”

Her dedication led her to become MSA’s vice president of social advancement. In this position, Raja organizes social justice initiatives which present positive images of Muslim students at U of T, such as the MSA-run orphan sponsorship program.

Despite her successes, unfortunately, she says that some members of U of T’s community are still determined to associate her with the stereotype of an “‘exotic Muslim woman.’”

“I feel like when I am doing other things, people focus on ‘It’s a Muslim girl doing this,’ not a Canadian,” she says. “People don’t assume I’m Canadian; they ask where I’m from and will genuinely believe I’m from somewhere else, like Saudi Arabia.”

Raja’s experiences facing stereotypes extends to encounters with students who believe that Muslim women are denied the right to education.

As she expressed her outrage against these misconceptions, her voice grew louder.

“Obviously there are the general stereotypes that Muslim women are very restricted in what they are allowed to do. But education is a value that is emphasized in Islam,” Raja stresses.

She believes that the media influences students’ perceptions through images of burqa-clad women instead of female Muslim leaders.

However, Raja says that the media is not the only perpetrator of these stereotypes. She mentions that there are some professors at U of T who reinforce images of oppressed Muslim women to students, contributing to the misconceptions.

To illustrate her point, Raja talks about professors who display images of women in burqas to represent gender inequality. She argues that it is wrong to assume that a person’s religion determines their social position.

“You can’t just assume that practices in Afghanistan are what are attributed to all Muslims,” says Raja adamantly.

Nonetheless, she admits that these stereotypes impact her contributions to class discussions. Occasionally, she censors her statements because she doesn’t want her comments to be accredited to her religious beliefs.

“Sometimes I’m the only person wearing a hijab in class — I have to be careful what I say because it will be attributed to the ‘Muslim girl in the class’ and not necessarily as Aisha Raja’s opinion,” she explains.

Although she commends the university for accommodating Muslim students with prayer spaces and other resources, Raja believes that there’s still work to be done so that students and faculty recognize that a person’s faith is not the sole determinant of his or her identity.