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CRO rejects Team Unite’s platform

Slate unable to launch website, put up posters

CRO rejects Team Unite’s platform

The 2014 UTSU election is off to a rocky start. Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Alex Flor has blocked Team Unite from putting up posters, or posting its website — citing concerns over one part of their platform.

“There were initially some concerns that the CRO had that were brought to our attention,” said Vip Vigneswaran, campaign manager for Unite. “Namely, the issue was that our platform states that students annually pay $345.48 to the union.”

According to Vigneswaran, the CRO called this statement a misrepresentation, and rejected the platform as a result. Unite was therefore only allowed to publish its social media profile pictures and cover photos. It is not allowed to publish its website, or any other materials advertising its platform. Vigneswaran explained the conflict: “She says that it’s false that students pay $345 to the union annually. She says that only $17 per semester are paid to the union.”

The difference between the two sums, he said, is that much of the $345 goes to the health and dental insurance plans funded by the UTSU. Ye Huang, Unite’s candidate for president, said this makes the platform true. “We give UTSU $345.48 to deploy. So they collect this amount of money from us, and then they use it,” said Huang. He said that this number is the result of simply adding the four line items on the Repository Of Student Information’s (ROSI) invoice that reference the UTSU.

According to ROSI members of the UTSU pay $124.34 for dental insurance, $14.90 for the student commons, $68.24 for a fee labeled “UTSU”, and $138 for health insurance.

The four line items total $345.48 annually.

The CRO stated that if Unite were to publish this statement, it would receive demerit points, said Huang. As of press time, approximately 10 hours after campaigning began, Flor had requested that Unite make further revisions to its platform, which it has submitted. Unite are still not permitted to publish it. Vigneswaran says that this request came after multiple attempts to reach the CRO. “We brought it to the attention of the DROs [Deputy Returning Officer]; the DROs are the only representatives of the CRO on campus right now,” said Vigneswaran, “but they don’t have the power or the authority to approve campaign materials.”

In the interim, Flor made a statement to The Varsity: “At this point, almost all candidates have had inaccuracies in their submitted campaign materials, and prior to gaining approval to use the materials for campaigning, these inaccuracies need to be resolved,” she said. “In regards to the statement made by Unite that students pay $345.49 [sic] to UTSU, I have requested a change due to the fact that the statement as phrased on the campaign material is misleading.”

“I think next time when they recruit a CRO,” said Huang, “they should recruit someone who is available for the whole day, every day during the campaign and voting period, rather than hiring someone with a second job.”

The CRO is responsible for administering the election. She is responsible for scrutinizing vote counting, approving campaign materials and expenses, and assigning demerit points for conduct during the campaign.

Through the eyes of the artist at the Artist Project

Two hundred and fifty artists showcased in weekend-long exhibition

Through the eyes of the artist at the Artist Project

I have had both the pleasure and the dismay of growing up as the daughter of an artist.  While others learned the rules of basketball or how to play the piano, my mother taught me to notice the aesthetic differences between acrylic and oil paint. At the time, I was disappointed — surely, none of the paint fumes helped. But as an adult, I can’t help but be grateful, as my upbringing has provided me the opportunity to see the world as mediated through the eyes of artists. One such experience was The Artist Project held at the Exhibition Place’s Better Living Centre last weekend, February 20–23.

Concluding its seventh year, The Artist Project was a four-day event that featured the artwork of over 250 artists from Canada and abroad. Exhibiting everything from large-scale installations to hand drawn sketches, the show is as much about buying art as it is about enjoying it. Tickets ran from $10-$15 allowing visitors to see a variety of artists for  about less than the price of a regular movie ticket.

This is not the craft show that your grandmother drags you to, nor is it the often disappointing and always cold Nuit Blanche.  The Artist Project strikes the perfect balance of folk and whimsical on one hand, and contemporary and experimental on the other.  While there are a few too many overzealous photographers with images of the Toronto skyline or puddles on Queen Street, most of the art is original and thought provoking.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the work of John Loerchner and Laura Mendes of the Labspace Studio, responsible for the entrance installation.  Entitled I’m Only Human, the piece uses 100 golden letter-shaped balloons to spell out the phrases “I would do anything to change the past, I will forever be sorry” and “I sincerely sincerely sincerely apologize, I know I let you down.” At first glance, the phrases appear to be nothing more than often said and sightly sad apologizes.  Though it may have been obvious to some, it took reading the artists’ explanation of the piece for me to realize that these were quotes taken directly from recent press coverage on Mayor Rob Ford. Read in context, the meaning of these words change.  “The large-scale installation explored our human connection through the universal lens of remorse and through the language of loaded language of regret,” reads the accompanying explanation of the piece.

Less political but equally as creative is the work of Tonya Corkey.  Her collection, titled See You in the Future examines the processes of human memory by combining discarded materials.  Corkey’s collection uses lint (yes, the type that collects in your dryer) to recreate portraits from old and forgotten photographs: “These materials reflect the idea of decaying memory,” says the artist.  The striking portraits, ranging from goofy to serious, are made more interesting when you think about the materials used to create them.

Contested UTSU election begins

Two full slates, one independent to vie for executive positions

Contested UTSU election begins

The campaign period for the 2014 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections has officially begun as of 9:00 am this morning. It will feature an incumbent slate facing off against the first opposition slate in two years. The incumbent slate is running under the name “the U of T Voice,” and includes two members of the current UTSU executive, as well as three new candidates.  The opposition slate is titled “Team Unite” and is headed by presidential candidate Ye Huang.

Yolen Bollo–Kamara is the presidential candidate for the U of T Voice. This year she served as the UTSU  vice-president equity, and last year she was appointed to the role of VP-campus life. She has held executive positions at Amnesty International U of T, and the Black Students’ Association. Last year, Bollo-Kamara promised to host a mental health awareness campaign and create an accessibility fund for U of T clubs.

She stressed that her slate wants to focus on different issues than the current executive. Bollo-Kamara emphasized lobbying U of T to implement a fall reading week, and engaging students with the upcoming municipal and provincial elections as main platform points for her slate. “This team, we’ve called ourselves ‘The Voice,’ and we have all been involved in different capacities across campus, and we have a team that essentially represents the entire campus,” said Bollo-Kamara. Last year’s elections saw only one slate, and record low voter turnout.

Ye Huang and his Team Unite are running on the goal of uniting U of T’s students, which they believe are in “a crisis of dissolving.” “We want to bring people together, both students and the different societies and clubs,” said Huang. When asked what experience he had to bring to the position of president, Huang cited membership in several clubs across campus, including the Chinese Student and Scholars Association and the Chinese Debate association. He is also the president of the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity at U of T.

Other candidates that make up the Team Unite slate include Anna Yin for VP-internal, Pierre Harfouche for VP-university affairs, Baliqis Olaitan Hashiru for VP-equity, and Nicky Bhatty for VP-external. Huang says the slate formed after he reached out to Yin, a friend of his who he knew wanted to change the transparency of the UTSU financial operations, and who he felt was qualified because of her background as a commerce student. From there, other members of the slate, such as Hashiru, heard about the slate from friends and made the connection.

Luis Moreno is running as an independent candidate for the role of VP-external. Moreno attended the Scarborough campus for two years and held the position of social science director during his time there. He has since moved to the St. George Campus, and feels his experience working on at the Scarborough campus in addition to his volunteer experience working for political campaigns outside of the university will qualify him for the position. Unwilling to specify which parties he worked for, Moreno cited working as both a general and social media volunteer as experience that would serve him well in the position.

When Team Unite and Moreno were asked if they felt not being as well known on campus as the members of the incumbent slate would hurt them, their outlook was positive. “As much as it is worrisome in some ways, it can also be an advantage,” explained Yin. “People won’t associate us with the issues the current executives have been dealing with. Ultimately if people believe in us, they’ll vote for us. They’ll vote based on the different slates platforms, not who they are.”

Cameron Wathey is running for his current position as VP-internal. Last year, Wathey ran on the promises of policy town halls, a new and improved UTSU website, and a better homecoming — all of which he feels he has achieved in his time with the UTSU. Going forward he hopes to improve OHIP for international students, put a cap on international student fees and improve relations between the UTSU and both its board of directors and the various college student societies.

Other members on the team include Najiba Ali Sardar, for VP-equity, Grayce Slobodian for VP-external, and ZiJian Yang for VP-university affairs. Sardar is a third year student who has spent her time at U of T involved with the South Asian Aliance, and a working as both a frosh leader and a first-year mentor at Woodsworth college. Sardar stressed the slates commitment to a fresh look at ideas: instead of pursuing the pedestrianizing of St. George, they will instead be pushing for a crosswalk between Hart House and Queens Park. If elected Sardar would focus on feminism on campus and labour rights, specifically where they pertain to unpaid internships.

Slobodian is a second year student who acted as VP-campus life at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) this year. She wants to prioritize affordable transit and campus polling stations for municipal and provincial elections. Yang is a fourth-year student currently serving as the Woodsworth director on the UTSU board of directors. In the past he has also served as the events executive for the Chinese undergraduate association. He hopes to review the academic appeal process and continue to advocate for a policy that allows students to drop credits without penalty.

The election comes near the end of a turbulent year, with key questions about the membership and structure of the UTSU still hotly debated across campus. As the Student Societies Summit winds down, both Engineering and Trinity College students want to leave the union. The UTMSU’s drammatic exit from the summit on February 10 adds another dimension to the election. The entire St. George Roundtable, with the exception of Woodsworth college — although Woodsworth president Rhys Smith personally supports it — signed a letter stating that groups who have been asked to leave the union should be allowed to. It also stated that a system similar to the one that has been established between the UTSU and the UTMSU — where student fees paid to the UTSU are largely remitted to the UTMSU, although Mississauga students retain the right to vote in UTSU elections — should be available to any division that requests it.

This Thursday, March 6 at 6:00 pm in Bahen 1130 an All Candidates Debate will be held for both slates to discuss their platforms.

Decertification referendum finally approaches

GSU schedules vote to leave Candian Federation of Students

Decertification referendum finally approaches

Student union politics, long marred by in-fighting and litigation, has faced few issues more contentious than decertification.

Members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) began in earnest a campaign to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) this September, after submitting petitions to the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) and CFS, requesting a referendum of the GSU’s general membership. After months of deliberation, the referendum is tentatively scheduled for later this month.

According to CFS bylaws, referendum petitions require an audit process in order to confirm signature validity and the GSU membership of signatories.

The CFS offered to internally verify student membership through a one-way searchable list. U of T’s administration rebuffed this suggestion, citing student privacy concerns stemming from their interpretation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). U of T then suggested that a third party auditor verify the list for the federation.

Finding an auditing firm that satisfied the GSU, U of T administration, and the CFS/CFS-O was challenging, according to GSU external commissioner Brad Evoy.

Following a four month back-and-forth, the parties selected Deloitte Canada, a firm that provides financial advisory services.

One referendum will decide the GSU’s membership in both the CFS-O and the CFS. While the results of the Deloitte audit are still pending, the CFS and CFS-O have scheduled preliminary dates and campaign periods for the referendum this March. Voting is scheduled to take place in the last week of March.

Evoy is confident that the Deloitte audit will confirm the petition’s validity and that the referendum will proceed unimpeded. Should the GSU vote to separate, Evoy believes the parting of ways “will be on amicable terms.”


Stalled attempts

However, a smooth exit is not always easy from the CFS. For example, the decertification initiative of Dawson College, a CEGEP in downtown Montreal, is currently stalled. The CFS has “refused” to set a date for their proposed referendum, according to Dawson Student Union (DSU) chairperson Sarah Drouin.

CFS internal coordinator Brent Farrington disagreed with this characterization. He claims the CFS is waiting on the DSU: “We are now in the process of petition verification and are waiting for Dawson to provide the exam period and holiday timetables necessary to set a referendum date.”

Reflecting on the challenges faced by the DSU, former GSU external commissioner Ashleigh Ingle is adamant that the will of students is being quashed.

“The CFS is beyond being disconnected from their members; they are afraid of them. It is my opinion that the CFS would hemorrhage members if they just allowed students to hold [decertification] votes,” she noted. “They make it as expensive, as irritating and as litigious as possible. Their hope is that, buttressed by our dues, they can make themselves a force … that students won’t be bothered to fight.”

Alastair Woods, CFS-O chairperson, believes that Ingle’s comments belie the reality of the situation.

“Just this week, students at Collège Boréal in Sudbury voted 98.75 per cent in favour of joining the CFS in a referendum that saw a 33 per cent voter turnout. Ingle is entitled to her opinion, but that opinion is not shared by students across the province who have worked together to achieve tangible victories such as changes to flat fees and tuition fee billing alongside stronger protections for unpaid interns and co-op students,” he said.

Other causes of stalled decertification attempts stem from legal action.

The Concordia Student Union (CSU), the Concordia Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), and the McGill Post-Graduate Student’s Society (PGSS) have been involved in lawsuits to decertify from as early as 2010.

For former GSA president Robert Sonin, the origins of the litigation are clear: “the CFS’s continued refusal to recognize the referendum results of its constituent members.”

“Following our 2010 referendum, the GSA membership voted 75 per cent in favour of leaving the CFS and, as a result, the GSA no longer regards itself as a member of the CFS. Despite this, the CFS has refused to acknowledge the [2010] referendum and so the matter was taken to court.”

Farrington acknowledges that the GSA petition was verified by the CFS and that referendum dates were set, but contends that under the CFS bylaws, the GSA referendum could not be considered valid — as the Association failed to remit outstanding membership dues to the CFS in advance of the vote. Using this regulatory framework, the CFS claims the GSA referendum was inappropriately held and believes that their decertification is illegitimate.

The CSU organized a referendum similar to that held by the GSA. The results were, once again, both overwhelmingly in favour of decertification and ultimately rejected by the CFS.

The students’ unions and the CFS differ in their interpretations of both cases. On the one hand, the GSA and the CSU see themselves as no longer being CFS members and have accordingly stopped paying membership fees. The CFS, who sees the decertification results as illegitimate, still expects payment of membership fees and has thus countersued the two student unions for outstanding membership fees.

Ultimately, the two legal cases involving the GSA and the CSU were combined under the same legal counsel in January 2013.

The PGSS at McGill has faced similar legal proceedings with the CFS following an April 2010 referendum that saw 86 per cent of voters in favour of decertification. While the reasons for CFS refusal to accept decertification in this are different, litigation remains the ultimate result.


Proud supporters

Not all CFS constituent unions are dissatisfied with the federation’s leadership.

Gayle McFadden is the vice president of campaigns and advocacy at the York Federation of Student (YFS).

“The YFS is a proud local of the Canadian Federation of Students. In fact, I ran and won the most recent YFS elections on a platform of working together with students across the province and across the country through the CFS” said McFadden.

Ryerson Student Union (RSU) director of communications and outreach Gilary Massa, similarly spoke positively of the federation.

“We believe that working together with students across the province and across the country through the CFS is important and necessary.”

She continued, “the RSU has not made any attempt to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students. Nor do we have an interest in doing so. We are active members of the organization, and believe that students at Ryerson benefit greatly from our affiliation with the CFS.”



At least two student unions have successfully decertified from the CFS. The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) settled out-of-court in December 2011. This settlement followed a three-year legal battle after which the SFSS paid an undisclosed settlement.

The University of Victoria Students Society (UVSS)  decertified from the CFS subsequent to a successful referendum in 2011. The Canadian Federation of Students’ British Columbia Chapter (CFS-BC) did not recognize these results as constituting a decertification of the UVSS from CFS-BC, however.

In response, the UVSS scheduled a March 2012 referendum on decertification from the CFS-BC. The CFS-BC rescinded the UVSS’ membership before this referendum could proceed, citing outstanding membership fees of approximately $160,000.

As of press-time, none of these funds had been remitted to the CFS-BC. The UVSS denies that fees are outstanding. Reached by phone, the CFS-BC claimed that, from their perspective, the funds remain outstanding, though they are not in a position to say whether they will litigate in the future.

Toronto350 campaign neglects to consider U of T’s current dependence on fossil fuels

Divestment is not the right way to start a conversation about U of T’s relationship with climate change

Toronto350 campaign neglects to consider U of T’s current dependence on fossil fuels

The U of T Asset Management Corporation currently holds $9.8 million worth of shares in Royal Dutch Shell and $7.8 million worth in British Petroleum. Toronto350, an environmental activist organization, is calling on U of T to divest from the oil industry. I disagree.

The issue of divestment revolves around a few competing obligations for the university. We want to be a world leader in combatting climate change. At the same time, our university has a moral and legally binding fiduciary duty towards U of T staff and donors to maximize returns on investment made with their pension funds and donations. Furthermore, U of T is an academic institution and it should not be taking political stances. Toronto350 addresses these two concerns in its excellent brief, with copious amounts of supporting evidence. Nevertheless, I find their arguments unconvincing.

Anticipating future regulation of carbon emissions, Toronto350 argues that divestment from the oil industry is financially beneficial to the fund. I am unconvinced of this position; as developing countries across the world increase their demands for fossil fuels, impending regulation of the industry seems unlikely. I will concede the debate on financial viability. Even though divestment doesn’t help, given the abundance of available options, it is unlikely to hurt the fund either. More importantly, exceptions to fiduciary duty can and have been made before.

No matter the financial consequences, divestment is morally and legally justified if companies cause social injuries. In 2007, U of T divested from the tobacco industry on these grounds. Toronto350 is claiming the same ground this time. However, the case is not nearly as strong for the oil industry. In the US, tobacco companies were successfully sued for indemnities in the mid 1990s and they were forced to put health warnings on their packages as early as the 1960s. Despite all this, the first campaign to have the university divest from tobacco actually failed in 1991, because the responsible committee didn’t believe the definition of social injury had been met.

In contrast, it may well be true that climate change is causing recent severe weather events. No one has proven in court that they were harmed as a result or that oil companies should be held responsible for climate change. Therefore, a case for social injuries cannot be made. Indeed, a similar divestment campaign was rejected last year at McGill for this exact reason.

One might wonder whether pedantically sticking to the definition of social injuries is meaningful. It probably isn’t. Definitions and procedures can always be changed. However, in this case, this definition is protecting us from straying too far away from our core missions as an academic institution. Indeed, this definition delineates the level of activism we are willing to engage in; it tells activist organizations that an academic institution will not take any political stance unless there is overwhelming consensus on the issue.

That consensus is simply not there. As an institution, U of T is not taking the strong stance necessary for divestment. When divestment succeeded in 2007, tobacco products had already been banned indoors. In contrast, while we pride ourselves on keeping our carbon footprint per student well below the average of large institutions, fossil fuel is still vital to the functioning of our university. As students, while we are all conscious of the negative effects of global warming, few are outright condemning the use of traditional energy. Indeed, it would simply be hypocritical of us to condemn oil companies while using their products on a daily basis.

Divestment is an act of sanction that should follow a stance our university has already taken. It cannot lead the debate and precede that stance. I do not wish to defend the oil industry or argue against climate change. However, in working towards a greener world, we should not neglect our other principles and missions. Divestment from oil is not wrong. However, it should take place only after we agree to take a much stronger stand on climate change than we currently do.


Li Pan is a second-year student at Trinity College studying mathematics and economics.

Library Series: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

A bibliophile's paradise on campus

Library Series: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

For book lovers, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is nothing short of paradise. With stunning architecture and precious books of every shape and length, using the resources at Fisher can seem like a real treat. The best part of all? Everybody gets to handle the books.

“Our attitude here is that we’re a library not a museum, so we want people to use our items,” John Shoesmith, Fisher’s outreach librarian, says proudly. “The only things you really see behind glass are what you see in the exhibitions here… we always tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid of the books!’”

And what an array of books there is, with approximately 700,000 volumes, the open stacks themselves can only feature about one-seventh of the collection itself, with the rest stored away safely below the library. Fisher’s collection strengths include: history of science and medicine, theology, philosophy, European literature, history of books and printing, Darwin, and Canadiana, just to name a few. They also have manuscript and archival material from writers such as Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen, as well as Frederick Banting’s notes on  topics such as his discovery of insulin and Nobel Prize.

“When people think rare books, they always think it must just be really old books, but in fact rarity takes all forms, and so we want things that are being produced today that have a real rare value,” says Shoesmith. This includes Canadian small and fine presses, featuring publishers like Barbarian Press, who skip the computer in favour of a 500-year-old hand-printing process, first begun by Gutenberg.

Recently, Fisher has acquired two highly publicized collections: the General James Wolfe letters and Allen Ginsberg’s photo collection. “The Wolfe letters were a long time in the making, but it was held up in Britain because there was concern that we were taking something that was culturally important to the United Kingdom out of the country,” explains Shoesmith. “But we made a case for the fact that Wolfe really had such a strong role to play in Canadian history that the letters would find a good and proper home here.” Once catalogued, these 270  letters will join the rest of Fisher’s Wolfe collection, which includes the annotated copy of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in A Country Churchyard, that Wolfe was carrying with him to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. (A little trivia factoid: Wolfe’s copy of Gray’s Elegy was purchased as U of T’s ten millionth book in 1987).

The Ginsberg  photographs were a donation from the Rossi Family Foundation in Montréal and includes 7,000 photographs.

Some of the larger format pictures were sent to the University of Toronto Art Centre, but the bulk of the collection remains at Fisher. “They essentially chronicle Ginsberg’s early years during the early Beat period; so William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, all those major figures are captured by Ginsberg’s camera, up until the 1990s,” Shoesmith adds enthusiastically. “Ginsberg lived such an incredible life, not just as a poet but as a major cultural figure, so we’re really lucky to have those!”

In today’s online world where so much emphasis is placed on digital accessibility, Fisher has a rather unique viewpoint on digitization. “Digitizing is not preservation; it’s another means of accessing the work and is certainly not a replacement for the actual object itself,” details Shoesmith. “When we digitize things, the real hope for us is that it intrigues people enough to come in and look at the actual item themselves, and I think that does happen. I mean, you could download off the Internet archive the first edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but there’s something special about holding the original 1813 copy in your hands.”

While Fisher can initially seem intimidating to undergrad students, Shoesmith and the rest of the staff are putting a lot of effort into making it seem as friendly as possible. “We have our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — we’re trying to do all the social media stuff too,” laughs Shoesmith. To use the collections, all you need is to get a Fisher reader card at the front desk and send in a request for the book you want.

Fisher is always open for anyone to use, even the public, and with such a wealth of collections, it’s easy to find a reason to spend an afternoon poring over old books in this beautiful library.

Men’s swimming wins nationals for second straight season

Blues men’s swimming team wins both OUA and CIS championships, women’s wins OUA championship, and comes fourth in CIS championship

Men’s swimming wins nationals for second straight season

For the second consecutive year, the Varsity Blues men’s swimming team won the Canadian Intercollegiate Sport (CIS) title, this time in their home pool. The women’s team placed fourth in the CIS, and both teams took the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) titles at the beginning of February.

Coach Byron MacDonald stated in an interview with The Varsity at the beginning of the season that he hoped to lead this year’s men’s team to another title, and while recognizing that the women’s team would not be able to compete at the same level nationally as the men, he hoped that they would swim strongly and challenge their opponents. MacDonald was awarded once again with the CIS men’s coach of the year award.

The women’s team swam undefeated until the CIS championship, where they placed fourth. The championship was dominated by the UBC Thunderbirds who won their third-straight CIS title, finishing the tournament with 802.5 points; the runner-up was the University de Montreal Carabins who finished with a score of 405. In the OUAs, the women came out on top of the Western Mustangs 823–692, winning their first title in six years.

Standing out for the women’s team this year was Vanessa Treasure, who captured the title of OUA MVP. Treasure won five gold medals at the OUA championships, including a record-breaking 200m breast stroke performance at 2:28:99.

While the men’s team swam to their second straight CIS title, they did not swim an undefeated season like the women’s team. The men placed first in all of their Canadian meets, but placed second in their stint at the University of Nevada, losing to Nevada by a 92-point differential. The Blues dominated in the CIS championships, however, totalling 690 points, beating the silver medal Thunderbirds who finished with 609.5 points.

The men’s swimming team has won 18 national titles. PHOTO COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES

Zach Chetrat led the team once again, winning one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in the CIS championship. He also dominated in the OUA championships with three gold medals and one silver in his four competitions, including the 200m fly, of which he broke the 10-year-standing OUA record in his rookie season. He captured his fifth straight OUA all-star and CIS all-Canadian titles.

While the team will see key players leaving the team next year, such as Zack Chetrat, Frank Despond, and Zach Summerhayes, the Blues should not be worried about their team’s future. At the OUAs, rookie swimmers accounted for 40 per cent of the team’s medals. Women’s team swimmer Cino Ling made the top eight finals in all four of her events, while national team member Paige Schultz re-joined the team. On the men’s side, the team added six strong swimmers who will be sure to continue to work to bring a third CIS championship win to U of T in the 2014–2015 season.

U of T must divest from fossil fuels, student groups say

Formal presentation to U of T president on March 6 will ask the university to divest

U of T must divest from fossil fuels, student groups say

Pressure is mounting for U of T to divest from its holdings in fossil fuel companies. A local activism group called Toronto350, as well as many other prominent student groups, are calling on the university to pull all its direct stock holdings from fossil fuel companies. Activists say that the fossil fuel companies’ harmful environmental and social impacts give the university an ethical obligation to divest.

“The university is meant to make the future better for students. While we’re burning fossil fuels, we’re changing the climate, and guaranteeing a worse future for those students. Every student will be affected by climate change,” said Stuart Basden, president of Toronto350.

U of T’s two largest single-company holdings, listed by The University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) in March 2012, are $9.8 million in Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and $7.8 million in BP PLC. Also listed was a $5.8 million investment in Rio Tinto PLC, a mining company with large fossil fuel reserves. UTAM does not list all investment quantities.

U of T president Meric Gertler declined to comment on whether he thinks investing in fossil fuel companies is ethical, or on how he plans to address the concerns of student groups: “It would not be appropriate for me as president to express a view or position on the specific issues pertaining to the fossil fuels divestment debate until the process outlined in the university’s policy has been allowed to run its course,” he said.

In an extensive brief called “The Fossil Fuel Industry and the Case for Divestment,” Toronto350 argues that a massive redirection of investment from fossil fuel energy sources will help curtail the serious environmental effects of global warming. U of T’s divestment, they argue, would play an important role in leading this move.

The brief details the scientific evidence for the role of fossil fuel energy sources in climate change. Toronto350 contends that the fossil fuel companies’ business plans are out of touch with the disastrous environmental consequences of their activities. The brief also argues that divestment is in line with U of T’s divestment policy and Statement of Institutional Purpose, which includes “a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.”

“If future generations are to have equal opportunities, they cannot inherit a planet that has been impoverished by uncontrollable climate change,” reads the brief.

Further, Toronto350 argues that divestment would be a financially feasible, and possibly beneficial, move for U of T. They argue that much of the value of fossil fuel companies is illusory, since the increasing severity of climate change will negatively affect their value. Toronto350 argues that attractive alternatives to U of T’s holdings in fossil fuel companies exist, including the renewable energy sector.

Toronto350 was founded in June 2012. Since then, its divestment campaign has garnered the support of many prominent student groups, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), the University of Toronto Environmental Action (UTEA), the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, Trinity College Meeting (TCM), and the Muslim Students’ Association. Thirty-eight faculty members have also endorsed the brief. Other prominent supporters include environmental activist and academic David Suzuki, former Toronto mayor David Miller, and American Indian environmental activist Winona Laduke.

“The UTSU believes that our university should operate based on ethical guidelines. As a university, we have a lot of pull as far as the priorities of our government. The fossil fuel divestment debate is similar to when students successfully mobilized to get the university to divest from companies operating in apartheid South Africa,” said Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU.

On March 6, Dimitri Lascaris — a U of T law alumnus who was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers in Canada in 2012 — will formally present the divestment brief to U of T president Meric Gertler, on behalf of Toronto350. Toronto350 will ask U of T to declare its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies, and immediately stop making new investments in the industry. They will ask the university to divest from Royal Dutch Shell within one year of receiving the brief, and divest all its direct stock holdings from 200 other companies with large fossil fuel reserves within five years of receiving the brief.

Toronto350 likens the ethical and legal basis of their proposed divestment plan to U of T’s past decisions to divest from tobacco companies and companies operating in apartheid South Africa. They argued that in these situations, although there was no official legislation prohibiting the activities of these companies, U of T took a stance based on the companies’ socially injurious activities. “Although no Canadian legislation currently exists limiting the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, which directly causes climate change, U of T should act in response to the strengthening consensus among governments, scientific organizations, and financial institutions,” reads the brief.

The UTEA has collaborated with Toronto350 on the divestment campaign throughout the year. “Denying climate change is like arguing for a flat earth right now. The scientific community is in agreement on this issue,” said Ben Donato-Woodger, head of the UTEA. “Young people are losing out tremendously because of the actions of those in power right now, and it is a structural, systematic injustice against young people to have people who won’t be paying the price make decisions that will harm the next generation,” he said. “Failing to divest would be a clear act of not caring about their students.”

Sarah Levy, vice-president of the Trinity College Environmental Society, noted that the motion to endorse divestment from fossil fuels passed by a narrow margin in the TCM. Levy said that those who voted against the motion felt that a student government should not endorse a political issue. “I believe that climate change is not an inherently political issue. It’s often politicized, but what people need to recognize is that it’s a fact, it’s something that’s going on in our environment. Similarly to when we divested from tobacco companies 30 years ago, it concerns something that poses a direct threat to people,” she said.

Toronto350 is part of a larger organization, called, founded in 2008. now has a global network of environmental activism groups in more than 188 countries. “All of our work leverages people power to dismantle the influence and infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry, and to develop people-centric solutions to the climate crisis,” reads a statement on their website. Nine colleges and universities in the United States have committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications & marketing, said that the president will be in a position to appoint an ad hoc committee upon receiving the divestment brief and accompanying attestations. “The committee may seek additional information and advice from the UTAM and others before arriving at any list of  recommendations in response to the brief,” he said.

Correction Tuesday March 4 2014: Thirty-eight faculty members have endorsed Toronto350’s brief, not 13 member as was previously stated. 

Clarification Monday March 10 2014: Toronto350 originally claimed to have been endorsed by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. This is not the case, this article has been updated to reflect this fact.