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Blue Jays make the playoffs

Jays set for a winner takes all wildcard game against the Orioles

Blue Jays make the playoffs

The Blue Jays clinched a playoff berth and home field advantage for the Wild Card game following tonight’s win over the Boston Red Sox.

Aaron Sanchez pitched a stellar game in Boston, giving up only a single hit to one of the most potent offenses in baseball. With the win, the Jays advance to the playoffs for the second season in a row.

On Tuesday October 4, the Jays will take on the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff to determine which of the two teams will face the Texas Rangers in the Division Series. If the Jays win, it will produce a rematch of last years heated Division Series that saw the benches cleared, one of the ugliest fielded innings in baseball history, and of course the epic Bautista bat flip.

But overcoming the Orioles will not be easy, and with only one game to play, it really comes down to which team will be better on the night. The Orioles beat the Jays in a three-game series last week, two games to one, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate how the two teams will perform when they field their best respective lineups on Tuesday.

The Jays have earned a place in the playoffs this year — but only just. Their pitching has been excellent, but they will need more run production from the offense if they want to keep their place in the playoffs.

A meeting of the minds

Creative Minds sought to discuss art’s role in social justice

A meeting of the minds

On September 20, the Art Gallery of Ontario presented Creative Minds, a new semi-annual series held in collaboration with several institutions — such as Massey Hall, Banff Centre, and CBC Arts — that is aimed at initiating thought-provoking conversation about the arts.

The first event of the series, “Art and Social Justice,” featured four artists in conversation about the relationship between art and social justice. It covered issues of resistance and reconciliation, confidence and criticism in existing social movements, and receiving blowback as artists. André Alexis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Deepa Mehta, and Rebecca Belmore were featured artists of the event.

“Art and Social Justice” began with a deep and soulful performance by Measha Brueggergosman, a world-renowned soprano.

As the evening went on, the artists provided their opinions on the definition of social justice; it seemed to be challenging for those who have long been involved with social justice advocacy.

As they spoke, Alexis introduced the notion of one citizenship for all and how society must live up to its promises; Sainte-Marie made a striking statement in saying that growing up, she was told she couldn’t identify as Indian because there weren’t anymore Indians. She noted that social justice is the idea that nobody should be told such a thing, and that no group should overpower another.

Alexis brought forward two other interesting notions. The first was that he was very aware of the social problem of ‘blackness’ and was expected to express his experience of it in his writing. He made it clear that he, a black man, does not seek to focus on blackness because there are other things he could talk about. He asked: how come white people don’t have to talk about the social circumstances of ‘whiteness’?

The other notion was the concept of an endpoint for the need of the Civil Rights movement. He asked the audience to think about the question: when would black people feel like the world is safe for them? He suggested that social justice requires that all people feel safe.

When asked whether the artists felt obligated to produce art, Mehta expressed that at times, she takes action when a story moves her — when she hears a story and is outraged. Other times, she feels obligated to uncover the truth of something.

The artists ended the discussion by emphasizing the importance of the future generation. Belmore talked about a video of a girl dressed in traditional aboriginal dress, dancing in a government building in an act of defiance; she explained how the girl sometimes experiences anxiety, but she does it anyway.

Belmore noted that we need more of that kind of attitude: the fear is a given, but the desire to defy and resist must be greater.

Word on the Street in review

The festival hosted over 200 editors, writers, publishers

Word on the Street in review

This year’s Word on the Street festival paid tribute to Canadian authors, literary organizations, publishers, and magazines. On a beautiful Sunday at Harbourfront Centre, the weather was perfect for literary enthusiasts, who attended the event with more than 50 publishers, 60 independent authors, and 30 magazines on site. A total of eight nifty booksellers were also in attendance.

Free to the public, many tents were full of books and journals, while the festival featured several performance pieces and talks. TVO Kids offered three pirate shows for young viewers, and acclaimed Canadian author André Alexis introduced his latest crime novel The Hidden Keys. Publishers and stores like BMV had a chance to sell some of their books and expand their readership by chatting with curious visitors.

Lauren McKeon, editor of Canadian periodical THIS Magazine, was enthusiastic about sharing her experience at the festival. “We’ve been doing Word on the Street for years and years now,” she said. “And we love it because it gives us a chance to meet our readers and to get feedback, and [to] hopefully introduce the magazine to new readers as well.”

Although THIS Magazine has been around for 50 years, McKeon pointed out that more readers are discovering it every year, and events like Word on the Street certainly contribute to its exposure.

Biblioasis, one of Canada’s prominent publishers based in Windsor, Ontario, also sought to expand its readership and introduce festival attendees to its works of fiction and poetry. One example is the CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries, a journal dedicated to artistic and literary criticism since 1968 that typically solicits its content from Canadian writers and, more specifically, journalists, while occasionally considering unsolicited submissions.

Apart from its range of literary press and collections of fiction, Word on the Street offered educational opportunities for those who wish to pursue a career in publishing or creative writing. Representatives from Humber College offered pamphlets promoting intensive writing courses, where students are able to learn from authors like Dianne Warren, Ashley Little, and Joseph Kertes. For readers interested in international experiences and foreign literature, The Japan Foundation of Toronto invited audiences to free movie nights, lectures, and Japanese lessons.

With over 200 editors, writers and publishers, Word on the Street’s success was due in part to the sense of community the festival fosters. Dozens of volunteers helped prepare the festival and ensure that literary enthusiasts were able to gain the most out of their experience — a celebration of reading, communication, and literacy.

Much ado about mushrooms

Event explores the case for legalizing psychedelic drugs

Much ado about mushrooms

Students across North America are playing a key role in the burgeoning psychedelic awareness movement. The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) chapter at U of T, which is part of the 920 Coalition movement promoting the role of psychedelics in culture and medicine, hosted an event at UTSG called “Mycelium: Mapping the Mind with Mushrooms.”

The goal of the event was to create a safe environment where individuals could discuss their own psychedelic experiences and benefit from the cross-disciplinary wisdom of anthropologist Marc Blainey, psychotherapist and writer Anderson Todd, and U of T professor Dr. John Vervaeke.

Students were drawn to the event for various reasons. Some students were interested in or affected by mental health issues like anxiety and depression, afflictions which research has suggested could be treated with therapeutic doses of psilocybin. It has been shown that the plant activates the same regions of the brain as anti-depressants.

Others view using ‘mushrooms’ as a potential way to explore their creative and artistic potential. Mushrooms have been used to access visionary states for the production of artwork since the time of the Aztecs and the Mayans, who left behind sacramental mushroom sculptures. Of course, others indulge purely for recreation and self-exploration.

The event is a step toward opening a dialogue on the subject of drug use within academia. However, psychoactive mushrooms remain a scheduled drug in Canada. Changing the public’s perception depends on countering the perceived dangers of their use. As more people learn of the recently recorded health benefits, the 920 Coalition expects its numbers will grow.

Daniel Greig, CSSDP’s director at U of T, offered his take on the mushroom phenomenon.

The Varsity — What prompted you to organize this event?

Daniel Greig — My investment and interest [is] in researching psychedelic compounds. We have a profound tool for both self and scientific inquiry at our disposal, and it is nothing short of an injustice to prevent researchers and conscientious adults from making use of them. I started hosting 920 events last year. There were about 50 people overall and this year the event blossomed to around 200 people.

TV — While there are stories of healing trips, there are also numerous stories of bad trips. How should this be prevented?

DG — ‘Bad trip’ does not mean ‘bad for you.’ Stanislav Grof’s work with LSD in the 1950s and 60s implies that bad trips are necessary for effective healing. Specifically, he focuses on the regularity with which his patients would eventually vividly hallucinate the experience of their biological birth… a horrifying experience, but one that would ultimately end up resolving the psychological complexes that were causing their suffering.

TV — What are the main legal challenges that advocates, such as yourself, face?

DG — Being taken seriously — there is much stigma towards people who use drugs, and this is extended to the those that advocate for reforming policies to prevent the harms that are caused by a black market, such as an increased chance of consuming dangerous adulterants like fentanyl.

Mixing media

Collaboration is redefining artistry in Toronto

Mixing media

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he old adage says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to excel at any one thing. The implication is that success comes from picking a path early in life and sticking to it.

Yet, within Toronto’s widening artistic landscape, that’s far from the case. Today, fewer artists are subscribing to a single discipline and instead are opting to experiment with multiple art forms to create some of Canada’s most original works.

Alex Jansen, owner and Creative Producer of multimedia production company Pop Sandbox in Toronto, understands this. Jansen and co. created 2016’s Loud on Planet X, a rhythm-shooter video game that features the music and likenesses of Shad, Lights, July Talk, and more.

At first glance, Loud is an affectionate ‘northern’ twist on games like Guitar Hero and Plants vs. Zombies, but upon closer inspection, the indie hybrid is emblematic of a culture shift within Toronto’s artistic community where collaboration and bridging media are quite literally redefining artistry.

SCREENSHOT VIA LOUD ON PLANET X PS4

SCREENSHOT VIA LOUD ON PLANET X PS4

“I always loved comics, film, video games, music as a kid, but you had to choose one to hone in on. Now I don’t think you do,” said Jansen. Before Loud, Pop Sandbox made their name with the award winning, first-of-its-kind documentary graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait. The book blended journalistic and documentary storytelling with a comic book visual style to tell the story of prolific bike thief Igor Kenk in a previously unexplored format.

A graduate of Queen’s University, Jansen began his career in film production before growing frustrated with the logistics of distributing features. Jansen retained the production, distribution, and marketing skills he’d picked up in the industry but decided whatever came next wouldn’t be constrained by a single medium.

The freedom to tear down artistic silos became part of Pop Sandbox’s mission statement: “The whole idea with Pop Sandbox was the ‘sandbox’ being a creative environment where you can take people from different disciplines and churn out different projects but not being tied to any one medium.”

On university campuses, students are breaking away from unilinear methods of storytelling. Sina Dolati, U of T student and and co-founder of The Labyrinth Pictures, experimented with gamifying filmmaking in the interactive short 3 Minutes.

The short film plays out like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, asking its online viewer to select one of several story paths for the protagonist to take and creating a network of different viewing experiences based on the person watching.

That Toronto, of all places, is host to this new wave of media mixing is not without reason. The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR) traditionally provides funding for the recording and distribution of Canadian music that they deem commercially viable, but recently it has allocated funds for new forms of content distribution. FACTOR’s digital marketing initiative seeks unconventional platforms to spread Canadian music to broader audiences, providing grants to projects like Loud on Planet X, in order to incubate and incentivize artists experimenting with new formats.

The provincial government has also helped shape the creative cluster around Toronto. In 2009, the government of Ontario offered French video game company Ubisoft $263 million dollars over 10 years to establish a development studio in the province that would create 800 new jobs.

Ubisoft chose Toronto, in part, because of the talent pool of artists from disciplines outside of gaming already present in the city. With games constantly pushing the technical bar forward to tell bigger, more ambitious stories, companies like Ubisoft increasingly rely on talent and knowledge spillover from industries like film, music, and dance.

Alex Jensen. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX JENSEN

Alex Jensen. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX JENSEN

With all of these initiatives, Jansen’s explanation of the unfiltered creativity around him is simple. “You have these creative talents that are interested in breaking out of just their silo, and then you also have funding models that are supporting that. And then you have this community in Toronto where you just have two of the most incredible communities that are also super collaborative — it’s this perfect storm for coming up with some really interesting things.”

Powerful art does not need to fit a single medium’s standard. Today’s creators know this and flood to places like Toronto, where experimentation with form is celebrated by like-minded innovators, as well as financial backers.

Innovation is tough to define and harder to find, but one thing is certain: it doesn’t come from following the rules. When rule breakers are seen as ground breakers, and collaborators become innovators, our Canadian art can flourish in new ways.

Disclosure: The Varsity‘s Video Editor, Shaq Hosein, is a co-founder of The Labyrinth Pictures.

Dirty politics

How oppressive environmental policies are robbing Indigenous communities of their rights

Dirty politics

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n September, representatives from almost 300 Indigenous nations gathered in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline was intended to pass by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, which raised alarming concerns about potential contamination of their land and water. The protests against the project were not limited to what happened on site — solidarity was evident across the continent, including in the form of a demonstration in Toronto.

U of T is situated on land that has been used by humans for over 15,000 years. The land is the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River.

As students of U of T — an institution that has inarguably benefited not only from Indigenous land, but from the power dynamics that govern relations between settlers and Indigenous communities — we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves with respect to the injustices faced by Indigenous peoples across the continent and the globe.

Since first contact, Indigenous-state relations in Canada has mostly revolved around the environment, land, and water. For Canada, natural resources have been an economic commodity — yet for Indigenous peoples, they are tools of resistance and self-determination. Land and water use practices are so intertwined with everyday Indigenous life that the government’s regulation of the environment without consultation of the communities who utilize it is inherently oppressive.

In this way, environmental conflicts over Indigenous land and resources are more than a public health crisis. They exemplify the ongoing effects of past and present colonial oppression and the denial of Indigenous identity by the Canadian government.

Canada has a long history of environmental injustices towards Indigenous peoples, and we need not dig too deep to unearth its ugly truths.

The Oka, Ipperwash, and Burnt Church crises were violent conflicts in the 1990s that emerged from land and resource disputes. In the 1999 Burnt Church crisis, under pressure from non-Aboriginal fisheries, the federal government spent almost $15 million to enforce the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) resource management regime, which used violence to prevent the Mi’kmaq people from exercising their Supreme Court-affirmed treaty right to fish in the Miramichi Bay. Though the Burnt Church First Nation intended on managing their own fisheries, the DFO essentially denied them their right to self-government.

More recently, production of oil in the Athabasca oil sands has devastatingly impacted the surrounding nations, polluting their air and water supplies. It is common knowledge that fossil fuels are accelerating climate change. What many people fail to see is that oil and gas extraction directly and disproportionately impact the health and livelihood of Indigenous peoples, as reservations are often located near the sites of extraction.

Studies have shown increasing cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area reserves. This rise in serious health issues is likely connected to the pollution and waste produced by the oil production processes as it flows downstream into Lake Athabasca, contaminating the main source of water and fish for many First Nations in the area.

The Crown has a fiduciary duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples when the risk of infringement of treaty rights may result from any project. However, in reality, consultation is a mere formality and First Nations are given little to no input on resource extraction and land development projects that directly affect them. 

The province of Alberta has come under much deserved criticism regarding the oil sands: first, for the lack of consultations when development of the sands began, and then, for favouring continued extraction of oil over the public health and social interests of local residents.

What is also clear is that U of T is far from blameless in such affairs — the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation, the university-owned financial investment company, invests in fossil fuel companies such as Suncor Energy Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd., which both currently operate in the Athabasca oil sands and wreak havoc in Indigenous communities. U of T President Meric Gertler chose to reject the presidential committee’s recommendations to divest from fossil fuels in March this year, not only demonstrating a lack of respect and insight in regards to the environment, but also disregarding how its protection affects the well-being of Indigenous groups.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau committed to rebuilding nation-to-nation relationships with the First Nations in Canada by treating them as equal partners. But, as the approval of the Site C dam occurred despite the lack of proper consultation with Indigenous groups, this commitment already seems to be falling short. To meaningfully reconcile with the more than 600 First Nations that exist in Canada, the government must not just purport to engage with them — it is necessary to give Indigenous communities the power to make their own decisions about development on their own land.

Moving forward, the Canadian government must put the rights of First Nations above economic and political interests when crafting environmental policy. There are isolated instances of co-management and self-governance throughout the country, such as in Clayoquot Sound, BC, where land development projects must be approved by a council, as well as the majority of the general Indigenous population.

Though these types of management regimes are a step in the right direction, a more cohesive plan, one that harmonizes resource management and respect for Indigenous governance on a larger scale, needs to be put in place. Proper co-management solutions must combine scientific knowledge with traditional practices, which will develop systems of management that are both sustainable and just.

While such policy changes are in the works at the federal level, it is imperative that the university administration take seriously the recommendations that have been made to divest from fossil fuels, for doing so is a matter of much more than just symbolic importance.

Finally, as students in Toronto, we have a responsibility to learn about the land we live on and continue to use for our educational pursuits. Perhaps that means taking an Indigenous Studies course, pounding on the administration’s door and demanding divestment, or promoting and supporting Indigenous ventures within the community.

Fundamentally, it means acknowledging our place within settler-colonial power dynamics in Canada and the noxious ways in which we all benefit from them.

Translating competency into sustained interest

A student’s opinion on STEM education

Translating competency into sustained interest

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cience, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are ubiquitous. We use STEM to solve everyday problems and to make informed decisions, but more importantly, we rely on groundbreaking STEM-based discoveries and advancements to provide new knowledge and opportunities that lead to improvements in our standards of living and quality of life.

In a knowledge-oriented world, the government of Canada recognizes that scientific and technological innovations drive modern economies. To compete, Canada will need STEM-literate graduates.

So how are we faring as a nation? When it comes to scientific competency, Canada is doing quite well.

Canada took part in the most recent iteration of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), along with 65 other nations. PISA measures student performance in mathematics, reading, and science literacy. Roughly 21, 000 15-year-old Canadians from 900 schools across 10 provinces participated.

Following this program, the Council of Ministers of Education Canada published a report titled Measuring up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study that showed Canada scoring well above international averages for mathematics, reading, and science literacy.

The only other nations to top Canada across the board were China, Singapore, Korea, and Japan. Canadian students are clearly competent, but there are some areas where Canada can improve.

In a 2012 report titled Spotlight on Science Learning – A benchmark of Canadian talent, the charitable organizations Let’s Talk Science and Amgen showed that interest in continuing STEM education into senior years of high school and beyond was weak amongst Canadian students.

With many school boards across Canada implementing compulsory science and technology courses until only grade 10, a significant proportion of youth choose to drop STEM education altogether after this level. In Ontario, only 37 per cent, 34 per cent, and 24 per cent of grade 11 students opt to take biology, chemistry and physics, respectively. These numbers drop further in grade 12, with 16 per cent, 17 per cent ,and 10 per cent of students enroling, respectively.

In 2010, Ipsos Reid, commissioned by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, released a report titled Canadian Youth Science Monitor: Prepared for the Canada Foundation for Innovation. They found an inverse relationship between STEM interest and age, with 78 per cent of ages 12–13 being very or somewhat interested in science, compared to 67 per cent of ages 14–16 and 58 per cent of ages 17–18.

Although Canadian youth are STEM competent, we are clearly not doing a good enough job in keeping our youth interested or helping them understand the importance and relevance of STEM education. Simply put we are in need of a culture shift.

We must revitalize our youth’s interest in STEM with compelling programming, draw attention to the relevancy of STEM education, and shift the STEM narrative from ‘complicated and difficult’ to ‘interesting and inspiring.’ To achieve this we must engage stakeholders to reform current STEM curricula across Canada and build better connections between prospective career opportunities and STEM learning demands. On top of support from municipal, provincial, and federal governments, private entities should be called upon to drive the implementation of these effective STEM teaching and learning programs.

To complement traditional educational programs, non-profit STEM learning and outreach organizations will need to continue to step up and offer engaging programs outside of formal education systems.

Moreover, parents must use their influence to discuss with their children the importance of STEM education. At the end of the day, a pro-STEM agenda doesn’t mean every child should pursue sciences and don a white coat. It does, however, encourage the development of skills and attitudes around problem-solving and critical thinking.

The innovators of tomorrow will rely heavily on STEM. It is up to educators, parents, non-profits, and the various governing bodies to promote a lasting interest in STEM and nurture the development of STEM competencies. Pushing the needle forward with respect to meaningful exposure to STEM will ultimately open more doors for our youth and our nation as a whole.

Science Around Town

Telling Stories in Virtual Reality 

Hosted by Isaac Olowolafe Jr. of the Digital Media Experience Lab, this seminar features Matt Whelan, filmmaker and founder of GoodTh.inc, who will be discussing storytelling via virtual reality.

Date: Monday, October 3

Time: 5:00–6:00 pm

Location: Ryerson Student Learning Centre, 341 Yonge Street

Admission: Free with registration

Forensic Pathology – Past, Present, Future

Hosted by Dr. Michael Pollanen, founding Program Director of U of T Forensic Pathology residency, the talk features Dr. Christopher Milroy, registered forensic pathologist from the University of Ottawa, who will be discussing the emerging field of forensic pathology.

Date: Monday, October 3

Time: 4:00–5:00 pm

Location: George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place

WISE & Cheese Networking 

U of T Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) presents a great opportunity for students to directly interact with 20 representatives from various sectors, including: consulting, technology, software, investment, construction, and industry products. Students are encouraged to bring their resumes.

Date: Tuesday, October 4

Time: 7:00–9:00 pm

Location: Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle

RM:  Debates Room

Admission: $10 deposit reimbursed upon attendance

Medtech Sector — Specific Business Modelling & Strategies 

Sunnybrook Research Institute presents a lecture featuring Dr. Harold Wodlinger, consultant to the medical device industry. The lecture will focus on various business models for medical-technology start ups, the pros and cons of each model, and how to use various strategies to implement them early in their development.

Date: Thursday, October 6

Time: 5:00–6:00 pm

Location: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Avenue

Admission: Free with registration