The best high school debaters in Canada came to U of T last week to fine-tune their skills before the 2010 World Schools Debating Championship in Doha, Qatar, which will take place from Feb. 8-18.

Team Canada consists of the country’s top nine debaters: Sarah Levy, Andrew Morrison, Sophie Bird, Vinayak Mishra, Iqbal Kassam, Jonathan Carson, Keenan MacNeil, and Veenu Goswami. Head coach Tracey Lee has been teaching and coaching debate for over 16 years.

The team flexed their rhetorical muscles in a show debate at St. Hilda’s College, Thursday, debating the resolution that doctors should report evidence of marital abuse to the police.

The pro side argued doctors’ moral obligation to provide the best possible treatment meant they should report any sign of spousal abuse, as such measures would reduce abuse. “The law should be a sword for the victim rather than a shield for the oppressor,” said one debater.

The opposition responded that the measure would destroy the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality and drive people away from seeing their doctors: “Trust is required for truth, and truth is required for treatment.” They added that individuals should have the right to make their own decisions.

Afterwards, some of the team members talked about how they got their start in debating.

“My brother hated debating, so naturally I had to do it,” Mishra said with a smile. Bird was sent to debate camp in grade seven, where she overcame her fear of public speaking. “For me, debating started in Grade 8 as a school club I wanted to be a part of,” said Morrison.

“My first position was to fill in for a teacher on maternity leave, and she coached the debate team,” Lee said.

MacNeil recalled the lighter side of debating: in-jokes like quoting “challenge accepted” in the manner of a character from How I Met Your Mother or the practice where over-eaters were said to have “dangerously high masses.”

As for the business of winning, teamwork and cohesiveness factor in. “Everyone has a specific role to fill,” said Goswami. “All of them are equally important.”

“It’s more like volleyball than basketball. In basketball you can have one person win you the game,” said MacNeil. “In volleyball, if one person drops the ball, the whole team loses.”

How to win an argument

1. Prepare your case: You should be able to argue both the affirmative and opposing side of the case, so you’ll be ready to argue for your side and prepare counter-arguments.

2. Develop a compelling thesis: This should be a summation of your main argument and should get right to the point.

3. Watch the clock: Debaters get penalized for going over their time limit. Keeping your argument to the bare essentials will ensure you don’t wander from your main point.

4. Ask your opponent questions: In most debates, the other side is allowed to ask questions, called points of information. Team Canada says teams are expected to take at least two questions. Good questions show that you are engaged and can reveal weaknesses in the opposing side’s argument.

5. Know your audience: According to Team Canada, judges from Australia and New Zealand enjoy good time splits while judges from Ireland and England look for good style. Although all judging is subjective, knowing some of their prejudices and tailoring your argument accordingly can make or break a case.