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Give up the fight

In a split-second, the hockey world saw tragedy. Twenty-one-year old Don Sanderson hit his head on the ice while playing for the Whitby Dunlops during a fight in a Major Hockey League game. After weeks in a coma, Sanderson succumbed to his injuries and died on Jan. 2. With this tragedy in mind, the NHL needs to debate the place of fighting in the league, at least for the sake of the Sanderson family.

The argument needs to be brought to the forefront. Precautions should be made in order to prevent this from happening in the NHL, or in any league ever again.

In the Major Hockey League, fighting is penalized with an automatic game suspension, yet it was Sanderson’s fourth fight in 11 games. Even in a league that does not permit violence, there seems to be no real attempt at reduction as it continues to happen, with players having multiple offenses from the rules set in place.

When fighting is debated, some suggest that the instigator rule should be removed. Yet, this empty rule is barely enforced. Finding the last time the instigator was enforced is like finding a hundred people who admit to liking the Atlanta Thrashers. The NHL rule book states that unless a player is deemed to be the clear aggressor in the fight, a game misconduct is only given if the instigator is called within the final five minutes of the game, or a player starts a fight for the second time. Allowing two acts of instigation shows that the rule is bogus, and that the league is inept at curbing fights.

It’s argued that fighting is an act done by two willing participants, who both know the risks involved. But the NHL is a business and an employer, and they owe it to their players to ensure their safety. They can educate the players about helmet safety all they want. They can change the rules deciding whether helmets remain on, or off, during fights. But ultimately, a tighter chin strap will not prevent a tragedy from happening again.

Don Sanderson’s death was an event guided by the changing hockey culture. We now see players who exclusively train to fight. They play for two minutes, sit in the box for five, and then are benched for the remainder of the game. The size and stature of these players have increasingly grown to accommodate the new perception of the hockey goon. Past goons actually played substantial minutes, put up decent numbers, and their ability to fight didn’t take away from their skill. Today’s goon is someone like George Parros who has a total of 19 points in five seasons, while having 490 penalty minutes.

Yet people protect fighting because they see it as a way for the players to police themselves. These same fans see the death of Don Sanderson as a tragic accident, but a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. The accident has shed light on the dark side of fighting which should no longer be perceived as a sacred act that separates the game from other professional sports. Although people defend fighting to their grave, they demand no-touch icings and stop signs on youth players’ backs to help prevent serious injuries. While it’s true that driving, smoking, drinking, or eating fast food could kill us but isn’t outlawed, fighting in hockey is an act that that can be prevented. Hockey should be praised for skill, finesse, and strength that isn’t associated with a right hook.

The swift removal of violence from hockey is too harsh at this point. But it is time to seriously question its role within the game. The “sacred act” of fighting needs to be brought down to earth. Out of all the great hockey statistics, the game will forever be etched with one dark stat: one dead from a meaningless hockey fight, which is one too many.

Economic disaster crowds grad schools

Grad school applications are pouring in as the economic downturn prods many to continue their education instead of entering an uncertain job market. With entry-level job postings down as much as 25 per cent, U of T has received 12,631 grad school applications so far this year, a nine per cent increase from last year according to grad student dean Susan Pfeiffer. Applications to Queen’s MBA program have doubled since last year, and undergrad applications are also at record levels.

Gregg Blachford, McGill University’s director of career planning services, remains encouraging. “There are still jobs and […] opportunities out there, especially for university graduates,” he told the Globe and Mail. Many experts agree that the downturn will likely only delay career advancement, before evening out when the situation improves.

Are profs overstaying their welcome?

Although the university has publicly attempted to assauge concerned professors, George Luste, the president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association has expressed his concerns over what he calls the “inconvenient truths” of the school’s pension plan, in his Information Report.

“Thinking about your pension plans probably ranks right up there with thinking about your next visit to the dentist for a root canal,” Luste comments in the latest edition of the UTFA newsletter. “For the year ending June 30, 2008, our pensions plan investments lost about $177 million […] At present, as U of T pension plan members, we have virtually no say in the governance of our pension plan.”

In a time of economic turmoil, professors are reconsidering when they should retire. Until recently, the “ultimate nerd-dream” came to an abrupt end with a mandatory retirement that forced scholars to bow out of university service at age 65. The University of Toronto abolished this clause in June 2006 in response to Ontario legislation as well as changing attitudes towards ageism.

The trend has been evident across Canada. Most major universities have eliminated mandatory retirement—to mixed results. There is a small contingency of professors taking early retirement, but one-third of professors in Canada currently take their retirements at a later age.

If faculty maintain their status in their current universities, do they inevitably stunt the progress and dynamic thinking that defines academia? One professor of economics at the University of British Columbia finds the problem to be moot, instead citing a change in demographics that works to the short-term advantage of long-standing faculty members. In his opinion, there is an ongoing surge of available professors, as the echo boom have yet to complete their education.

In his fifties, the professor plans to retire at 65 to pursue his interests in writing and continued analysis.

Mark Kingwell’s comments about taking time off over the winter break seem to sum up the mindset of most professors. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you guys,” he jokingly commented to his Introduction to Philosophy class, “I’ll probably wander the streets from 12 to 1 p.m. every week, like a crazed man, begging people to listen to me talk about philosophy.”

Camping for a cause

Exam month isn’t the only time you’ll find students sleeping at Robarts.

Seven Canadian university chapters of DREAM (Discover the Reality of Educating All Minds) are taking part in Live-in for Literacy 2009. From January 16 to 26, two students live in their campus’ main library, sleeping in tents and seeking donations.

Today until 1 p.m., you can see a tent behind the first-floor Robarts Library escalators containing Rebecca Nugent, a fourth-year English student and Christopher Somma, a third-year undergraduate in architectural design.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” Nugent told The Varsity on day five. “Although I expected to study more. Oh, and I just got food poisoning.”

The students are permitted a five-minute break each hour, which can be banked to shower at friends’ houses. For hygiene, the adjacent washrooms are used.

The pair, who has access to a fridge, laptop and microwave, has relied on pre-packaged and take-out food brought in from friends.

The organizatin hopes to raise $40,000 among all 14 participants in order to build nine school libraries in India.

“Other than sleeping with the lights off, I’m looking forward to knowing we’ve made a difference,” said Somma.

This is the fourth year since Live-in for Literacy started at Queen’s University, and the first for U of T. The two hope to raise $5,000 through cash, cheque, and corporate donations.

Although most have been curious and respectful, not all have welcomed the duo.

“The other day someone thought we were funding some sort of terrorist organisation or fake charity,” said Nugent. “Another jumped our barrier and said ‘You smell like sex.’”

A 24-hour webcam is viewable at

Of peace and underpants

“Our objective should be to give capacity to civil society groups, especially women’s organizations,” Dr. Razmik Panossian, director of policy, programs, and planning at Rights and Democracy in Montreal and instructor at the London School of Economics told students gathered at Hart House last Thursday.

Panties for Peace, a women’s advocacy group pushing for reform in Burma, is one such organization. Women’s movements are often at the forefront of combating dictatorships, a speaker at Hart House told students yesterday. The Panties for Peace campaign taunts the Burmese leadership on its superstitious belief that contact with a woman’s underpants will rob a man of his power. The group asks women around the world to mail their panties to Burmese embassies to protest the regime’s gross violations of human rights, especially offences committed against Burma’s women.

Razmik outlined a strategy of non-violent resistance in ending dictatorships. He emphasized the crucial role of citizen groups in finding points of oppression in the systems and pushing through them.

For anyone who has grappled with the question of what Canada can do to help end the tyranny of dictators like Robert Mugabe and the Burmese junta, the Hart House talk on Thursday evening offered a place to entertain the question.

In collaboration with the Canadian International Council, the Hart House debate club hosted a panel of three experts, each bringing a different perspective to human rights issues.

In contrast to Dr. Panossian’s citizen-group approach, Dr. Rhoda Howard-Hassman, Canada’s Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfred Laurier University and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Governance and Innovation, advocated increased scope for military intervention in combating dictatorships in the Zimbabwe.

The first problem, according to Howard–Hassman, is that “We don’t have a name for what is going on in Zimbabwe—there is no ethnic cleaning through violence to speak of. International law and international practice have not caught up with the many ways that a government can systematically cause its people to die and suffer.”

The Genocide Convention of 1984 refers to national, ethnic, religious or racial groups, but does not consider what some scholars are calling politicide and genocide by attrition. Even if the Genocide Convention was amended to include politicide and state-induced famine, the international community is not required to intervene militarily to enforce its mandate. This is the second obstacle to ending the crisis in Zimbabwe, she argued.

The final panelist, Judy Jackson, an award-winning social justice documentary filmmaker, spoke emotionally of her experience as a journalist in Chile during the rule of Augusto Pinochet. She described the psychological importance for victims to see their oppressors put to justice, and of her incredulity at how little is being done for the people of Zimbabwe.

“It is extremely important that whenever a person stands up to speak of an experience of personal suffering, that it is acknowledged and validated by those listening,” said Howard-Hassman. “It takes tremendous courage for a person who has suffered extreme persecution to speak to strangers about it. Often when they speak and no one says anything they go home. They think that nobody cares about them or understands them. That they made fools of themselves.”

UTSC student group focuses on relief but can’t choose sides

A Scarborough Campus Student Union-sponsored Gaza Coalition at UTSC plans on selling 300 keffiyehs to fundraise for victims of the recent conflict between Hamas and the Israeli government.

The coalition was created on Jan. 9 after the SCSU formed the Taskforce on the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza. The union passed a motion condemning the Israeli Defense Forces’ “attacks on academic institutions and […] innocent civilians.” SCSU president Zuhair Syed has issued an official statement.

During their second public meeting on Thursday, led by Syed, students from groups like the Women’s Centre, Muslim Students’ Association, and UTSC’s NDP club discussed further plans for raising awareness, contacting local politicians, and contributing to humanitarian aid with the Red Cross.

So far more than 350 people have joined Facebook group UTSC Gaza Coalition for Justice and Peace. While most of the two dozen student groups declaring support have political, ethnic, or religious affiliations, there is also representation from sports, photography, and humanitarian clubs from the campus.

At a “fax-off” event last week organized by the coalition’s awareness committee, students added personal messages and signatures to a typed letter to be faxed to the Ontario government. However, the content of the letter was changed when concern expressed over the words “war crimes” and “assaults” was used to describe the Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza. Some objected that the words made the coalition appear partisan.

At another event with the UTSC branch of the Canadian Red Cross, the coalition’s fundraising committee raised $300 through “A Buck to Save Gaza.” The campaign aims to raise $10,000 for the charity Islamic Relief.

With such a large goal, several times throughout the Jan. 22 meeting members had to remind the group that its sole purpose was to focus on the victims of the conflict. However, many expressed support for Hamas and a desire to include politics as part of their outreach efforts.

“Can we tell students Israel is an illegal state and that what they did was illegal?” asked a student in attendance.

The group also plans on selling keffiyehs and keffiyeh-style ribbons this week as part of their fundraising efforts. The scarf has recently become ubiquitous as a fashion accessory, but in the two decades prior was seen a symbol of support and solidarity with Palestine against Israel.
The UTSC Gaza Coalition is set to meet again on Jan. 30 at 2 to 4 p.m. The location has yet to be announced.

With files from Dylan Robertson

Search continues for Osgoode subway shooter

A young man was shot in the abdomen and leg last Thursday after three bullets were fired inside Osgoode Subway Station during the mid-morning rush.

Within minutes, police from the city’s Emergency Task Force and 52 division arrived at the station’s entrance at University and Queen Street. Police closed a section of the north-south line for four hours to search for the weapon used and to question witnesses.

No weapon has been found.

According to reports, the victim was shot following an argument that erupted as a group of young men exited a southbound train.

Detective David Barwell, who has been following the case, told The Varsity the victim had seen the shooter before, but does not know his identity.

“We know the guy was targeted,” said Barwell. “My hunch is that it is gang-related.”

The 19-year-old victim was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital and released the same day after undergoing surgery for non-life-threatening injuries.

Late Thursday, police released a security-camera photo of the suspect. He is described as being in his early- to mid-20s, a light-skinned black man, and about six feet tall with a medium build.

“Lots of people saw the incident and they certainly cooperated enough to say that the picture released is definitely the guy who pulled the trigger,” said Barwell.

There are about 10,000 security cameras throughout the city’s transit system, but most don’t cover subway platforms.

The TTC is boosting its security by mounting more cameras inside stations. Beginning this fall, subway cars, buses, and streetcars will also be equipped with video surveillance.

Is extra security worth the added cost?

“I would pay more to use public transportation if that meant stations would be safer,” says Regina Cho, a U of T student and TTC rider.

Barwell cautioned against overreacting to the isolated shooting, saying the city and the TTC are safe.

“This was an incident between two individuals that could have happened anywhere. Toronto is a very safe city and our subway system is very safe. We have transit security and they are able to deal with any problems that arise.”

No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting. Additional video footage of the suspect walking in Downsview station was released on Friday. Police have received several tips pointing to one individual’s involvement, but according to Detective Barwell, “we can’t call him a person of interest yet, just someone we are going to have to look at.”

Police are urging anyone with information about Thursday’s shooting to call 416-808-5200 or Crime Stoppers 416-222-TIPS (8477).

Goodbye neo-cons, and good riddance

To many, the image of George Bush leaving Washington in a helicopter following the inauguration was a welcome sight. The last eight years of American politics have been some of the worst on record: two poorly planned and disastrously executed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic crisis, a surge in radical Islam, and a deeply rooted mistrust of the United States and its policies worldwide. The transition that took place on January 20 marks not only a fundamental shift in American politics, but the end of the political monoculture driving the dangerous and destructive policies of the last eight years.

The self-described “neo-conservatives” have enjoyed a vital role in the formulation and implementation of American policy since Reagan. In the post 9-11 era, they have monopolized US politics and the broader American political establishment. Yet prominent neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger were nowhere to be seen at Obama’s inauguration. The politically questionable Colin Powell was barely visible, hiding in the back row. Witnessing former vice-president Dick Cheney (who, ironically, injured his back while packing up the VP residence) being pushed around in a wheelchair, we’re met with a literal depiction of the state of American neo-conservatism at the dawn of the new administration: frail and unpopular.

But as many have noted, the Obama campaign’s success would have been unthinkable eight years ago. When one compares the current political climate in Washington to that of March 2003, at the peak of the “War on Terror,” the nation’s sharp turn becomes apparent.

Just five days before the inauguration, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband strongly rebuked the outgoing administration and its policies. Miliband suggested that the War on Terror had been a “mistake,” and had “only served to unite disparate groups against the West.” He later added that the right response to the threat would have been to champion law, not subvert it, a reference to the secretive detention facilities and military courts that have been the subject of criticism for their legal and moral dubiousness. Miliband’s words are surprising considering the role that the Labour government played in the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Until Tony Blair’s resignation in 2007, Great Britain had been the staunchest ally of the Bush Administration, and one of the leading participants in the implementation of neo-conservative policy worldwide. Miliband’s statements seemed to reject the reasoning behind Bush-era foreign policy, which reached its apex with the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech during the State of the Union Address in 2002.

The notion that terrorism is a unified, ideologically motivated movement bent on destroying the West was one of the central tenets of the neo-conservative worldview. This way of thinking led to the Iraq War, brought the US close to war with Iran, and established the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Above all, this worldview has encouraged unilateralism over diplomacy, disdain for international bodies like the UN and the World Court, and a readiness to use military force over negotiation.

The new administration brings hope for a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy. Less than 24 hours after entering office, President Obama signed an executive order announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility within 100 days. If Obama delivers on his campaign promises, he will withdraw American forces from Iraq within 16 months and hold multilateral negotiations without preconditions with countries like Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. In other words, he will bring an end to the divisive politics that have plagued Washington for the past eight years.