Getting to Know the Film Industry with Producer Samantha Herman

U of T graduate Samantha Herman speaks on her newest feature-length film Let's Rap

Getting to Know the Film Industry with Producer Samantha Herman

Students For Life group sues UTMSU over club status

Pro-life group alleges UTMSU violated its own policies

Students For Life group sues UTMSU over club status

UTM Students For Life (UTM SFL) has commenced legal proceedings against the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) on the grounds that the union did not renew the club’s status for the 2015–2016 year.

According to the legal Affidavit of Diane Zettel, one of three applicant parties and president of UTM SFL, the UTMSU did not recognize the club because of its stance on abortion.

“Students For Life, which has been recognized by UTMSU in the past, was not recognized for the upcoming school year due to their stance on abortion, in terms of being pro-life and using their platform to tell women what they should do in those situations,” said Russ Adade, UTMSU vice-president, campus life, in a report to the UTMSU Board of Directors dated August 24, 2015. Adade’s report is referenced and included in its entirety as an accompanying document to Zettel’s affidavit.

Adade allegedly told UTM SFL that its constitution conflicted with the UTMSU’s mission statement on the basis that “[UTM SFL is] telling folks, especially women, what to do with their bodies” and that “you folks can’t put them down for making a decision that doesn’t fit with your mandate.”

The Notice of Application claims that the UTMSU did not provide UTM SFL with adequate reasons to understand and address their concerns.

Zettel said that there was no change in UTM SFL’s stance on abortion from the previous year. “Our mandate has always been to: a) Inform and educate the public on life issues such as abortion, stem cell research, and euthanasia; b) Train and equip pro-life leaders within UTM SFL membership [and] c) Direct the public to various pro-life resources, such as crisis pregnancy and post abortion centers,” Zettel said in an email interview.

The Notice of Application claims that the UTMSU attempted to change the basis for its decision not to renew UTM SFL’s club status, that the UTMSU interfered with an election for UTM SFL, and that the union ignored the club’s communications.

None of the claims in the Notice of Application have been proven in court.

The claims

The Notice of Application claims that “no UTMSU rule, policy or by-law grants UTMSU authority to withhold club recognition based on clubs’ political or moral orientation, or the shared beliefs or viewpoints of club members.”

The UTMSU’s Policy Manual states that “[the] objectives and activities of groups seeking recognition should be seen as attempting to contribute to the educational, recreational, social, or cultural values of the University of Toronto at Mississauga community.”

The Notice of Application further claims that there were in-camera discussions about UTM SFL at Clubs Committee meetings on August 17, 2015 and August 19, 2015, the latter of which allegedly included an in-camera vote on UTM SFL’s club recognition, a motion which was defeated. The notice also alleges that UTM SFL was not notified of or given an opportunity to present at the meetings.

Adade told UTM SFL that they could appeal the Clubs Committee’s decision to the UTMSU’s Board of Directors. The Notice of Application claims that the Board of Directors designated the Clubs Committee to hear UTM SFL’s appeal of the decision, despite the fact that the Clubs Committee itself had made the decision.

In early November, Adade allegedly told UTM SFL that the reasons for which the Clubs Committee declined UTM SFL’s application were due to violations and discrepancies in relation to parts of the Clubs Handbook and the UTMSU Operational Policy, with which clubs must comply, in UTM SFL’s submitted constitution.

UTM SFL maintains that it agreed to amend its constitution, hold an election for another executive member, and then approve the amendments with the new member. The club accused Adade of chicanery in orchestrating a vote against the election of a fourth executive to UTM SFL and of allowing five non-members to vote in said election.

“It seems clear that UTMSU is discriminating against the club because they don’t agree with the club’s point of view,” said Blaise Alleyne, education coordinator for U of T Students For Life, another pro-life campus group that operates of UTSG. “[The] UTMSU seems willing to compromise free expression, respect for its own rules, and basic notions of fairness in order to block a club they simply disagree with.”

John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF), a non-profit legal organization set up “to defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education,” said that it was his legal opinion that the UTMSU contradicted its own mandate and policies.

Demands of the application

The JCCF is providing legal representation for UTM SFL and filed the Notice of Application on January 15, 2016.

In the Notice of Application, UTM SFL has asked for “an order that would prohibit UTMSU from limiting access to the services, research, information, materials and other resources of UTMSU on account of students’ and student groups’ personal or political beliefs,” as well as an order directing the UTMSU to give UTM SFL club status.

The Notice of Application also states that, in place of the latter demand, an order could be given for the UTMSU to reconsider UTM SFL’s application for club recognition “in accordance with natural justice, in good faith, and in accordance with any further directions from [the court].”

“We are asking that our club be recognized just like any other club,” said Zettel, expressing extreme disappointment in the UTMSU’s decision. “The UTMSU’s actions have denied our free expression and association on campus by banning us from forming a club […] Free speech and debate, even on controversial issues, should not be stifled at a university simply because people have different positions on it. Censoring those they disagree with is not acceptable in our country; instead we need to engage in respectful, open dialogue, giving all sides of an issue equal opportunity to express their beliefs. We aren’t looking for special treatment, just the same treatment as any other club.”

UTM SFL has not demanded any financial sum — other than legal costs, which are confidential — as part of the suit.

Pro-life campus groups

“A student union shouldn’t be picking sides in a debate. It has a duty to serve all students,” said Alleyne.

According to Zettel, the majority of UTM SFL’s activities involve engaging students in conversation about abortion. She said that the club does not hold protests against abortion using graphic signage.

U of T Students For Life was recently criticized for its use of graphic images while staging demonstrations on campus. Alleyne said that the two groups consider each other friends, but are not formally affiliated.

“I think UTMSU could learn a lot from Students for Choice, the newly formed unofficial student group on the St. George campus,” said Alleyne. Students for Choice obviously disagrees with UTSFL, they’ve been exercising their own free speech as pro-choice students instead of trying to silence pro-life students,” he added, noting that the two groups have had respectful conversations about the issue.

“We can oppose each other without discriminating against each other,” he said. Representatives from Students For Choice declined to comment.

Moving forward

Carpay said that he has not seen any signs that the UTMSU will offer to settle and that any possible hearing could be between four and 10 months away. “Typically you can’t just get a hearing in a week or two. It typically takes a few months,” he said.

As of press time, the UTMSU had not responded to several requests for comment.

ASSU pens letter in support of homeless youth

Students in need of shelters, city services

ASSU pens letter in support of homeless youth

In response to controversy over the Yonge Street Mission’s (YSM) recent decision to relocate its Evergreen Centre for Street Youth to 365–367 Spadina Avenue, the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) executive has written a letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory supporting the move.

Several community organizations, most notably the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA), have protested the move out of concern that the centre will bring loiterers to the area. Those who are against the relocation also claim that the centre and its programs are unnecessary in Chinatown because they, as BIA member Tonny Louie told the Toronto Star, “don’t need any more grit.”   

Locals against the relocation have taken to plastering their businesses with posters that read “No YSM here!” They also claim not to have been consulted prior to the YSM’s purchase of the Spadina property, a charge denied by YSM President and CEO Angie Draskovic. Draskovic told CBC’s Metro Morning that the centre has had discussions with over 150 stakeholders about the move. Those against the move have submitted a petition to Tory’s office.

Given ASSU’s history of social justice advocacy, the executive decided to write a letter in support of the YSM. “As students at the University of Toronto, our community and home is not just the campus, but our community at large,” said ASSU president Abudullah Shihipar. “It is in this spirit that after seeing the uproar surrounding the relocation of the Yonge Street Mission that the ASSU executive decided to write a letter.”

The letter refutes the notion that a centre dedicated to assisting marginalized youth in the area is unnecessary. The letter highlights the fact that many university students in the neighbourhood live on a shoestring budget and are dependent on shelters and food banks. 

The ASSU also expressed concern that municipal budget cuts have resulted in the recent closures of shelters such as Second Base Youth Shelter and Hope Shelter. According to the union, these budget cuts are part of a disturbing trend that will deny services to those experiencing homelessness and those living in poverty. The letter ends with an exhortation to halt the cuts and will be delivered to the Mayor’s office next Thursday.

“Students can help out by writing to their elected representatives, writing articles, raising awareness and participating in protests,” said Shihipar, adding, “Public pressure is key to ensuring that our elected representatives pursue anti-homeless and anti-poverty strategies.”

Plans for YSM relocation remain on track for Street Youth in fall 2017.

Ontario students call for freeze on tuition

Provincewide, groups lobby for new tuition framework, increased accessibility

Ontario students call for freeze on tuition

As tuition fees in Ontario continue to rise above the national average, student groups across the province are calling for post-secondary education a funding reform.

On January 11, the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (OUSA) launched a week-long campaign with its eight affiliated universities called TimeOut Tuition.

The OUSA proposed that the next tuition framework set by the provincial government should increase their investments in universities and reallocate the $340 million currently used for tuition, textbook, and education tax credits. Under the current funding model, which is set to expire in 2017, there are tuition increases of three to five per cent.

“What we wanted to see was a redistribution of these funds to more effective means of financial assistance both through forms of a tuition freeze[…] and also through an expansion of things like OSAP and the Ontario Tuition Grant,” said OUSA president Spencer Nestico-Semianiw.

The OUSA is also concerned that Ontario has since become a publicly-assisted, rather than publicly-funded education system, despite Ontario having increased its operating grants by $2.2 billion since 2002–2003. Grants to colleges and universities are also projected to increase by $46 million in 2015-2016.

“The descriptors of ‘publicly-assisted’ and ‘publicly-funded’ are interchangeable. The Ontario government provides public funding to all public universities and colleges,” said Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for the ministry.

The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-O), of which the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is a member, ran a campaign called The Hikes Stop Here in 2013. That campaign also called on the government to rescind the current tuition framework.

“It is really encouraging to see other students in the province joining this call for more affordable education and we’re excited that folks are calling for a freeze in tuition fees. We hope to continue to further that call,” said Rajean Hoilett, CFS-O chairperson.

According to recent polling by the CFS and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, 90 per cent of Ontarians believe that tuition fees should be reduced or frozen. Polling also revealed that over 60 per cent of students are forced to cut back on food costs, and almost half of full-time students work during the school year.

Hoilett said that the CFS will continue to call for affordable and accessible education with an upcoming Fight the Fees campaign, which is intended to pressure the government to replace student loans with grants, reduce tuition fees, and centre access to education among marginalized populations.

“Our government looks forward to working closely with student leaders and our post-secondary institutions to develop a renewed tuition framework that continues to limit tuition fees and keeps post-secondary education accessible for all students,” said Blazina.

UTSU condemns RSU staff changes

Restructuring includes laying off two employees, hiring new general manager

UTSU condemns RSU staff changes

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has distanced itself from the neighbouring Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) following a restructuring of the RSU’s staff on December 1.

The controversial move involved laying off long-term executive director of communications and outreach (EDCO) Gilary Massa and her replacement, Dina Skvirsky, while she was on parental leave, in order to create a new position for a general manager.

The UTSU released a statement on January 14 in which they condemned the RSU’s treatment of Massa and Skvirsky, as well as their decision to hire Natasha Campagna to fill the general manager’s role.

“It is important for students’ unions to demonstrate a commitment to open and equitable hiring as part of our commitment to fighting oppression and promoting equity. It is the UTSU’s position that the RSU has acted in violation of the core values of equitability and hiring in restructuring their organization,” read a portion of the statement.

Andrea Bartlett, RSU president, explained that the “organization faced serious operational challenges,” which prompted the restructuring. Bartlett pointed to issues such as inadequate human resources training, lack of a formal system to track overtime, and an absence of an objective person to negotiate collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1281, the union representing RSU staff.

“These issues costs [sic] the RSU thousands of dollars of student money each year,” she remarked.

According to Bartlett, an independent third-party conducted a staffing review, the results of which recommended changes such as hiring a non-unionized general manager and eliminating the position of EDCO.

“Reviewers found the position to be redundant as many of its functions were being done by other employees and work was simply being passed through the EDCO,” she stated.

The UTSU criticized these actions for perpetuating structural oppression, referring to the firing of Massa, who is “black, visibly Muslim and a new parent.”

“In a labour market demarcated by race and gender, the firing of these two women effects their further marginalization, especially in the absence of equitable and open hiring practices,” read the statement.

The statement further condemns the RSU’s hiring of “a political ally and close friend to fill their new general manager position.” While the statement acknowledged the temptation to hire people with whom organizations have existing relationships, the UTSU said that it is more often in the interests of students to hire people who can bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.

Bartlett said that the restructuring happened without regard to specifics and that it was about the position, not the employees who held them. “Fired/Terminated and Laid Off have two completely different meanings,” she argued. “It is also extremely important to understand that these two items are separate from one another; the elimination of a role, and the hiring of a non-unionized general manager. Unfortunately, the statement of the UTSU Executive demonstrates a lack of understanding of this fact.”

“I don’t think there’s a misunderstanding [on] the UTSU’s part,” said Ben Coleman, UTSU president. “The point we’re trying to make is that when you view things as positions and not as humans… and you don’t think about who those humans are and what their experiences might be and you don’t view it in the context of your hiring practices and whether those are equitable the end result of all of those actions, if you don’t think about them critically altogether is that you will start building your organization in an institutionally racist way.”

When asked about future collaborations with the RSU, Coleman responded that the UTSU would not want to collaborate on projects that are a “branding exercise” or that serve to elevate the executives.

“[Our] goal in this is to call them in and hopefully they can understand what our position is and maybe think about the ways they can change how [they’re] managing the organization, and manage it in a more equitable way.”

From Russia with love

Stalin’s daughter’s letters settle at Fisher Library

From Russia with love

U of T’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has just acquired a collection of letters written by Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva. The library received the letters by way of an auction, with the help of Rosemary Sullivan, U of T professor emeritus. The collection will soon join the library’s display of Sullivan’s research, all documented in her book, Stalin’s Daughter.

Sullivan was awarded the Hillary Weston’s Writers’ Trust Prize in 2015 in recognition of her work. She first encountered Alliluyeva’s letters when she contacted Mary Burkett, the letters’ original recipient. “Mary invited me to visit her at her manor house in Cockermouth in the Lake District,” said Sullivan. “It was there that she was presented with the box of letters. There were several hundred letters, some of them delightfully decorated with graphic doodles that Svetlana used to explain her points, some with photographs. I was able to go through them and read the parts of the letters I wanted to quote into my tape recorder for later transcription.”

Jane M. Renfrew, a well-known archaeologist and friend of Burkett, informed Sullivan that the letters were to be auctioned. “Jane told me that her considerable estate was coming up for auction at Mitchell’s Auction House in early September and one of the

The collection of letters at Thomas Fisher Library. Kassandra Neranjan/THE VARSITY

The collection of letters at Thomas Fisher Library. Kassandra Neranjan/THE VARSITY

items was Svetlana’s letters to Mary. Jane said we had to do something before the letters were snatched up by some Russian oligarch.” 

Sullivan then contacted Anne Dondertman, associate librarian for special collections at Thomas Fisher, to see if they would be interested in housing the collection. Following a successful meeting, Sullivan arranged to bid for the letters by telephone, a process that she described as tense and exciting as she competed against an unidentified rival bidder.

“As the letters are a fairly recent acquisition, they are being processed right now,” According to Dondertman, the letters will be available for in-library use only. Members of the public will also be able to access the materials. “These letters will be available just like any of the other archival collections we have here,” she said.

Both Dondertman and Sullivan said that the letters are a valued addition to the library’s archives. “They have a wide interest as an example of somebody’s individual story meshing so much with the big stories of the 20 century.”

“It wouldn’t be easy to be Stalin’s daughter — her mother committed suicide, loss of members of her family because they disappeared or were executed and she was still trying to live a meaningful life… it’s a sad story in the end, but also an inspiring one, so having her in her handwriting and her in her intimate letters… they give us a window into what she was going through, and how she thought about things.”

Campaign for Community program under review

Faculty must approve independent study initiative

Campaign for Community program under review

The Faculty of Arts & Science has concluded its review of the Campaign for Community’s eligibility to offer course credits as part of its programming.

The initiative allowed students to undertake an independent study project with the program for course credit, under the supervision of a sociology professor. However concerns pertaining to the program’s pedagogy arose and a review process was initiated.

“[The Campaign For Community] started doing basically social activities that sort of looked like a club,” said Alex Verman, Arts & Science Students’ Union executive and participant in the independent research endeavour. “These things started last year and they’re a bit of an anomaly. We saw mostly something that looked like a club but was being taught as a class, and students could get credit for it but they weren’t really learning much.”

An independent study credit usually involves a student proposing a topic to a professor with whom the student works to develop the idea. This was not the case for the Campaign for Community’s independent study program, due to the number of students involved. Instead, one professor supervised multiple independent studies that were centered on similar concepts.

“Having had that experience I brought up in my first meeting with the faculty registrar that it would be good if we get a syllabus or list of expectations for independent study classes, and the registrar was confused because it was an independent study class, you shouldn’t even need that because it’s just the professor and the student. What was revealed is that [Campaign for Community] was operating as an independent study and therefore it doesn’t need to be looked at in any depth,” said Verman.

Verman said that they do not believe the organizers acted maliciously, but that students’ education is being compromised. “I’m not assigning malicious intent; I know people involved. They’re really nice people with really good intentions but what is actually happening is you have students paying real, literal money that they work hard for or their family works hard for and is probably really difficult to come by and then not getting what they signed up for, or a class really at all,” they said.

ASSU raised the issue to the dean of Arts & Science and the faculty registrar, who agreed to look into it. According to Verman, a week after the issue was first raised, it became “immediately apparent that it doesn’t satisfy the conditions to be taught as a class.”

The review of Campaign for Community’s for-credit programming consisted of a meeting between the campaign’s founder, David Fishbayn, and Penelope Lockwood, who is the acting associate dean, undergraduate, for the Faculty of Arts & Science. In the meeting, it was established that if the Campaign for Community intends to continue its for-credit programming, it must first be subject to a faculty-level review process.

“When I was a student, people in my social circles really wanted to do something about the nature of community at U of T. We wanted to improve community and in order to do that, we had to create a group that would actually do stuff, so it wasn’t really about essay writing, it was about doing,” said Fishbayn.

Fishbayn did an independent study himself, addressing the problem of community building at U of T through a for-credit option to keep students motivated in an independent study format.

“At the time we just sort of did this independent study thing where we had a large number of forms being processed by one professor, and at the time it just sort of seemed like a way to sort of generate a creative solution to some problems on campus.”

With the Faculty of Arts & Science citing issues of pedagogy as part of the reason for their review, Fishbayn said that the review was fair. He stated that concerns surrounding multiple independent studies conducted by a single professor stemmed from the fact that the studies were not listed as a traditional course, which caused confusion.

Going forward, Fishbayn says that Campaign for Community plans to run the program on a volunteer basis, and if a for-credit option should become possible, then the Faculty of Arts & Science will review it, which would take a year.

“We’ve already moved on and nobody’s really too focused on it, we’re just focusing on our programs and events and things are going very well,” said Fishbayn. “[The] credits still count but moving forward we just need to change some things.”

UTM principal returns to campus following sabbatical

Deep Saini reflects on six-month leave

UTM principal returns to campus following sabbatical

Deep Saini has returned to his position as vice president and principal of UTM following a six-month long sabbatical.

Saini, who took a leave of absence in July 2015, was installed as vice president and principal in August 2010. Prior to that, he was the director general of the Plant Biology Research Institute at the Université de Montréal and the dean of the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment.

Saini spoke with The Varsity and outlined his accomplishments during his time off, as well as his plans for the campus going forward.

“What I took away was that I missed UTM very much when I was away,” said Saini.

Saini said that he spent most of his time returning to his research endeavors as a biologist.

“Because I have been now working as an administrator for the past 10 years non stop… research had to take a back seat,” he explained.

Saini, who is a plant biologist, used his leave to conduct research on the evolution of blood in changing urban environments, in addition to examining it as a model for evolution in a broader sense. Saini said he found the time to work on some of his unfinished manuscripts.

“I was able to get one of them significantly advanced,” said Saini. “We’re submitting it in the spring sometime. We’ve made progress on a couple of others.”

Saini also used his time away to develop a vision for the future of UTM. One of the challenges that he identified is acquiring funding for new buildings, staff, and faculty.

“We’re growing very rapidly,” said Saini. “[Right] now our enrolment — including our onsite graduate students here — it exceeds 14,000.”

Saini said that accommodating the growing number of students is proving to be a challenge. He iterated that he wanted to lower student-to-faculty ratio, which is higher at UTM than it is at other U of T campuses.

“That means we need to hire more faculty. When you hire more faculty, you [acquire] more support staff.”

In addition to more faculty and staff, Saini told The Varsity that he also wants to see more space on campus.

“In the last five years, including now, we have invested approximately $350 million on buildings on this campus, either completed or in progress,” he explained. These include the construction of Deerfield Hall, which was completed in September 2014, as well as the second phase of the new North Building, which is expected to be completed in early summer 2018.

Despite this, Saini said that there are still more developments needed. “Some of them are in the plans,” he said. “Some of them are stuff that we can see with the funding over the horizon. But others, we’d need to figure out where the funding would come from.”

Correction (Wednesday, January 27, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Saini is a blood biologist. In fact, Saini is a plant biologist.