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U-Commute survey data details student transit use ahead of U-Pass referendum

Nearly 10,000 students from UTSG responded to the survey

U-Commute survey data details student transit use ahead of U-Pass referendum

U-Commute, an organization comprised of student representatives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and student unions from Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College ran a survey of their members from August 28 to September 28, 2017. The survey garnered over 16,000 responses, nearly 10,000 of which were from UTSG students.

A total of 9,946 full-time undergraduates at UTSG completed the U-Commute survey. Not all respondents answered every question, however. For example, 9,265 students answered to how they usually get to campus and 9,153 answered to which transit systems they used.

Students will be voting on a referendum to implement a U-Pass fee of between $282.50 and $322.50 per semester during this month’s UTSU spring elections.

UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher told The Varsity that she was happy with the survey’s response rate.

“Almost half of the surveys (roughly 7000) were distributed to students via paper copy. Surveys would be handed to all students entering a class, regardless of commute type, to ensure that responses weren’t only being imputed [to] commuter students. They were all collected shortly after distribution,” Boucher said.

She admitted that, although in theory the online responses may have seen a self-selection bias, she was confident in the overall results and how they assisted the UTSU in its lobbying efforts.

Where students live

Of the respondents, 58.11 per cent said that they live in the metro area, either in the west end, east end, north end, or downtown, with 46.71 per cent downtown. Additionally, 41.89 per cent indicated that they live within the city’s post-amalgamation boroughs, such as Etobicoke and Scarborough, or the GTA, such as Ajax, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan.

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The survey data also details the distance students must travel in order to reach campus. 43.96 per cent said that they live 11 or more kilometres away from UTSG, while 16.41 per cent live within one kilometre.

Transit use

Students use a variety of methods to get to campus. Principally, those include either walking or public transit. 74.32 per cent of respondents said that they use transit in some way during their commute, and 54.1 per cent said that they walked, either solely or in conjunction with transit or other methods.

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Of the commuters, 98.25 per cent said that they use the TTC for any type of travel, not necessarily in order to get to campus. Additionally, 36.74 per cent use GO Transit in some fashion.  35.6 per cent use the TTC and GO together in some way.

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Only 458 respondents answered to why they didn’t use transit, with 43.67 per cent responding that it was too expensive and 40.39 per cent saying that they live close enough not to require transit to commute to campus.

Boucher said that fare evasion data helped lead the TTC to consider a U-Pass, as they had not previously had any observable data concerning fare evasion. Of 9,262 responses, 3.57 per cent said that they don’t pay for the TTC on a daily basis; 6.68 per cent did so weekly, 10.49 per cent said they did monthly, 8.8 per cent did so around once a semester, and 9.6 per cent said they evaded paying their fare once a year.

The other 60.84 per cent said that they always pay for the TTC.

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Lifting heavy, living large

Ezana Debalkew talks weight throw, U SPORTS, and goals for the future

Lifting heavy, living large

He takes stairs two at time. At 6’3″, the Varsity Blues senior weight thrower moves with surprising grace. In one fluid movement, he folds himself into a couch that suddenly seems comically small. He keeps his Varsity Blues toque on.

Ezana Debalkew is a fourth-year computer science student at  UTSC and a star weight thrower on the U of T Varsity Blues track team. He sits down with me to talk about his sport, school, and how he stays motivated.

Like all great stories, his begins with puberty. In middle school, Debalkew was always bigger than the other kids — so much so that coaches took notice. “They were like, ‘Come, throw these things far,’ and then I ended up being okay at it,” he shares, laughing. As it turns out, he started to enjoy it.

He stuck with weight throw, eventually parsing down his considerable athletic involvement to focus solely on throwing. While he was still in high school, he began his commuting saga, trekking down from Markham to train in U of T’s JV track program. Ezana now competes in shot put and weight throw, the main indoor events for throwing, and outdoors he performs in discus and hammer throw.

He is quick to emphasize how much enjoys the sport. “It’s fun!” says Debalkew. “The team is great, the meets are always fun…watching everyone compete”

Even though weight throw is an individual sport, Ezana stresses his connection to the track team as a whole. This year he focused on increasing integration between athletes who perform different track events — getting sprinters to hang out with pole vaulters and long distance runners  with long jumpers.

It’s clear that Debalkew is well-suited to his mediator role. He settles into conversation easily, making everyone he interacts with feel comfortable, and he is kindly self-deprecating. It’s easy to imagine him walking around during a chaotic track practice, carrying his little bag, greeting his teammates enthusiastically, a sturdy eye of calm in the swirling storm of a track oval.

Debalkew doesn’t take himself too seriously, but his dedication to his sport and teammates runs beneath his lightheartedness. Once he begins explaining his schedule, it becomes even more obvious. “It’s a really big commitment,” he says. “You have to commute [to UTSG] for training, commute back, you also have to do like your lifts outside of commuting and training.” And that’s just the athletic component of his life — Ezana also has to worry about school, seeing friends, and performing the everyday mundanities that seem to eat up so much time — laundry, anyone?. How does he do it? Ezana smiles sheepishly when I ask. “I don’t know, I like to see things through. I have goals in mind, like I want to be at a certain place and I’m not there yet so I want to be able to reach that place and achieve the goals that I have,” he explains. “It’s one thing to accomplish something on your own and stuff, but also when you’re accomplishing stuff with like a great group of guys, it’s even that much better because you’re all sharing this one moment.”

Last year, he tells me, he hit a personal best at a meet. It meant a lot to him to “share that moment with the entire team.” Debalkew also mentions that he hopes to win his event at the (Ontario University Athletics) Championship. A few weeks after we talk, the OUAs arrive, and he finishes first in weight throw with an impressive 17.51m throw. At the U SPORTS championship two weeks later, Debalkew finishes third.

He’s nervous but excited for his future competitions. “I love feeling nervous,” says Debalkew, “it gives you that energy you need to go that extra bit.” Besides his participating in his own events, Ezana also loves watching his teammates compete. “The atmosphere [at meets] is great, it’s just a bunch of kids, a bunch of athletes — that’s the best thing with track too, you can watch pole vault and jumps, throws, a lot of different action.”

Debalkew’s athletic mentality is important in other areas of his life too. “There’s always injuries, there’s always roadblocks, so you have to be able to kinda get over those roadblocks,” he explains. Even though he’s never been seriously injured, Debalkew’s faced plateaus, poor performances, and other disappointments. Just like with school, Ezana says you “kinda see like a couple of steps ahead and see where you wanna be” and focus on that. Putting one step in front of the other, from the track oval, to the subway, to UTSC, and back again. “Not everything always goes your way,” he says. “You need to be able to handle it.”

Debalkew stresses the importance of time management. “You really have to look out a week in advance. Your time is almost like weeks now, instead of days,” he explains. “Try to get stuff early, stay on top of it, get some stuff done on the subway, if you can, like me. It’s just time management.” It also helps to have good friends in your program or classes to rely on. “If you have good people in your classes it helps a lot if you miss anything for a competition or whatnot — it makes a huge difference.”

After university, he isn’t sure what role weight throw will play in his life. “There’s not much money in athletics to begin with, so unless you’re at like the elite level and getting sponsored and stuff you’re not gonna be able to make a living,” explains Debalkew. He’d like to keep at it, but more as a hobby than anything else.  

He adds that it’ll probably be time to “practice his [Computer Science] degree,” and maybe train at night. After having worked a computer science co-op job last summer while training at night,  Debalkew is used to juggling multiple responsibilities. He won’t rule out coaching, either. “You get to see the progression of someone and you feel like you can help someone progress from where they are to where they can be.”

Op-ed: Low student participation in recent referenda is cause for concern

Increasing fees with low voter turnout undermines democracy

Op-ed: Low student participation in recent referenda is cause for concern

Every year, the university collects nearly $40 million from students to distribute to student societies. As a student at U of T, your membership in these societies is determined for you, as is the laundry list of compulsory fees you’ll be paying to them. In exchange for annual funding from students, the university requires that student societies act in an open, accessible, and democratic manner.

Democracy requires participation, but just how much participation is required for a decision to be democratic? This is a question that student societies rarely ask themselves, even when they are faced with evidence of debilitatingly low engagement. It is also a question that the student body should take more seriously.

In October 2016, Fusion Radio, the community radio station at UTSC, held a referendum to increase their membership fee from $4.85 to $12.85 — an increase of nearly 200 per cent. Neither their bylaws nor the relevant university policies outlined a minimum number of students that had to vote for the referendum to be valid. When the polls closed, only 59 students had cast a ballot. With the expressed support of less than than 1 per cent of members, Fusion increased the fee that all 13,000 students would be required to pay. In an interview with the campus newspaper, the president of the radio station said they “did not consider it a bad turnout.”

More recently, The Varsity’s fee increase referenda received negligible support from students. The referendum to increase the membership fee by $0.80 a session for full-time undergraduate students saw a total of 656 votes, a turnout of roughly one per cent of eligible voters. A larger question was presented to full-time graduate students, who were set to decide whether or not to become members of The Varsity. A ‘yes’ vote on this referendum would bind all full-time graduate students to membership in The Varsity and the fee that comes with it. That fee is now a total of $0.80 per session after the referendum passed by a narrow margin; it received 127 total votes, a turnout of roughly 0.77 per cent.

With the support of 534 full-time undergraduates — including myself — The Varsity is set to increase its fee for all 65,000 members. More worryingly, with the support of less than 1 per cent of those affected, all full-time graduate students at U of T will become members of The Varsity.  

This should worry you. The decisions that we make today will affect those who follow us, and it’s important that those decisions are made fairly. Students pay an extraordinary amount in fees to student societies every year and deserve a say in how those fees are created and changed. Holding a referendum allows student societies to request a mandate from their members to take action. Without a reasonable turnout, the results of a referendum give no such mandate.

While student groups are autonomous from the university, they should meet basic standards of governance if they expect to collect fees from students. Although the university sets out minimum requirements that protect the rights of individual students, student societies are mostly left to their own devices when creating specific governing documents, including the rules that govern referenda.

Student societies, especially those that receive little to no engagement from students, should be particularly diligent in governing themselves justly. These groups should put in place rules that not only encourage member engagement in referenda, but require it. At the minimum, every student society should set turnout requirements for referenda.

Student societies that choose not to hold themselves to a higher standard have cause for concern. Following the Fusion referendum, members of both the UTSC Council and the University Affairs Board questioned the results of the vote. If concerned enough, these groups have the ability to block a fee increase from reaching students. I have no doubt that The Varsity’s request will see similar criticisms. Eventually something will break, and when it does, you’ll want your house to be in order.

Earlier this year, the University of Toronto Students’ Union and eleven other student societies came together to request that the Policy on Open, Accessible, and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations be amended to introduce specific language that protects the democratic rights of students. We’re pushing the university to make online voting mandatory in all student society elections and referenda and to implement a minimum quorum for any fee increase that is not already authorized.

If student societies at U of T want to be taken seriously, they need to start behaving seriously. We’re talking about students’ money. This isn’t child’s play.


Daman Singh is a fourth-year student at University College studying Political Science and Philosophy. He is the Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

Story Nations

Documenting and digitizing Anishinaabe resistance from 120 years ago

Story Nations

In the summer of 1898, Frederick Du Vernet, an Anglican missionary from Toronto, left the city to travel west. Travelling by train, steamer, and canoe, Du Vernet journeyed to the grassy banks of the Rainy River. The long and slow moving river forms a part of the border between what is now northwestern Ontario and Minnesota.

Along the Canadian side of the river, Du Vernet met and spoke to the Anishinaabe — the region’s Indigenous residents — and recorded the encounters in his diary.

In doing so, Du Vernet documented a period of intense colonial expansion, as Canadians settled on Anishinaabe territory and illicitly claimed it as their own. Yet Du Vernet also recorded moments of Anishinaabe agency and resolve against the colonial order. Taken together, his diary unwittingly tells the stories of these people and their land on Manidoo Ziibi — the Rainy River.

The project

Du Vernet’s diary was stored for decades in a Toronto church archive. Today, it’s the focus of a collaborative project in digital storytelling called Story Nations. Students and faculty from the University of Toronto are working in close consultation with the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre of the Rainy River First Nations to develop an edition of the diary that’s annotated, online, and available in text and audio format. Many members of the team have visited the Rainy River several times and continue to receive tremendous guidance and insight from Rainy River elders and community members.

I became involved with Story Nations just over a year ago, through U of T’s digital humanities Step Forward program. At the time, I knew little about Canadian history and much less about the Rainy River. To introduce me to the topic, the program director, religion professor Pamela Klassen, and its manager and web designer, doctoral student Annie Heckman, handed me a transcription of the diary with one or two supplementary readings and asked for my thoughts.

Thrust into the foreign time and place of the diary, what immediately stood out to me were the human characters that inhabited its pages. Du Vernet jotted down the stories of Anishinaabe weighing, on a daily and individual basis, the hodgepodge of Christianity and colonialism with their own traditions and faith. Many Anishinaabe protested Du Vernet’s presence as a Christian zealot on Anishinaabe land. Taken individually, these protests often amounted to seemingly little more than a woman refusing to be photographed by Du Vernet or even the slamming of a door. But stringing these moments together generates a larger mosaic of Anishinaabe opposition to the colonial order.

Those involved in the Story Nations research project visited the present Rainy River. Photo Courtesy of Keith Garrett.

Multiple spiritual worlds

The actions of other Rainy River natives defied strict categorization. Some Anishinaabe moved fluidly between Christian and Indigenous spiritual worlds. Out of frustration, Du Vernet wrote at one point that they were “facing both ways.”

Du Vernet described such a case when writing about Kitty, a young Anishinaabe woman from the Manitoban mission of Jack Head. Kitty had been baptized but later returned to Anishinaabe spiritual practices. She became fatally ill and one night prayed with Mary Johnston, the wife of a Christian missionary. “Oh God come and take me,” she prayed. She passed away the morning after. Johnston insisted on giving Kitty a Christian burial.

Du Vernet himself became a part of the spiritual interaction he observed. Returning from a walk along the river bank, Du Vernet heard “the sound of incantation” and followed it into a tent, where an Anishinaabe ceremony was taking place. Du Vernet noticed his presence was not welcome, but he nonetheless remained transfixed by the unfolding ceremony. Even though he thought “it was all such a fraud,” Du Vernet could not help but stand with an “uncovered head and a feeling of reverence.” He was both deeply moved and viscerally repulsed by the Anishinaabe spiritual world.

Collecting and telling stories, episode by episode

I found the little stories Du Vernet recorded to be the most graspable aspect of the diary. Looking at it all together, I saw the diary not as one long narrative, but as a collection of vignettes told to Du Vernet by the people around him. I proposed organizing the digital edition around this concept. Professor Klassen approved my idea, and together we grouped the diary into 20 ‘episodes.’

Each episode works like the chapter of a book, having a title and its own self-contained narrative. The episodes vary thematically, with some, like “Photographs After the Storm,” meditative and pastoral, and with others, like “The Story of Kitty,” tragic and solemn. The episodes tend to follow the rhythm of the Rainy River itself — calm in one moment, stormy and climatic in the next.

The episodic format renders the diary more digestible to the lay reader, but it is also appropriate culturally: stories figure prominently into Anishinaabe life. Elders pass down knowledge and history through oral storytelling. As the late Anishinaabe elder Basil Johnston wrote, “It is in story, fable, legend, and myth that fundamental understandings, insights, and attitudes toward life and human conduct, character, and quality in their diverse forms are embodied and passed on.”

While Du Vernet’s diary is a decidedly colonial artifact, using Anishinaabe storytelling conventions helped ‘Indigenize’ the document and its presentation. In line with this, each episode is accompanied by an oral reading. Also, Du Vernet’s stories are presented alongside videoed stories told by today’s Rainy River Anishinaabe.


Du Vernet documented examples of Indigenous Resistance in his diary. Photo Courtesy of Keith Garrett.

Continuing Story Nations

After my initial work on Story Nations, I continued to work on the project during the summer through the University of Toronto Excellence Award, and I now work on it as a research assistant. My tasks have centred around annotating the diary. Du Vernet references a slew of historical people, places, and terms that are unfamiliar to the modern reader. My job was to research these ambiguities and provide a short annotation or sometimes a longer article explaining them.

My regional and historical knowledge developed as I wrote these annotations. My work was much like exploring an unfamiliar region. The annotations served as familiar points of geography, like a raised ridge or a strange rock, and it was my job to map out everything around them.

Many of these annotations contextualize Du Vernet’s language. Sometimes, an annotation would explain what treaty money was or where the Lake of the Woods is located. Other annotations, however, contextualize Du Vernet’s language. Throughout the diary, he used derogatory terms to describe the Anishinaabe people and their ceremonies. The annotations work to explain the forces of colonialism, racism, and Christian supremacy that underlie these words and indeed much of Canada’s history.

Decolonizing ourselves

At this stage of the project, the biggest challenge is ‘decolonizing’ how I write — a concept Professor Klassen introduced me to. By this, she meant expunging artifacts of colonial thinking that linger in historical accounts. So, for example, at the start of this article, I wrote that the Rainy River is in “what is now northwestern Ontario.” A year ago, I would have been satisfied with just Ontario, but ‘Ontario’ is merely a small segment in the human history of the land. For much longer, it has been the land of Indigenous peoples and continues to be so today.

As I continue to decolonize my writing, I realize it is not out of a duty to apply, as some might think, ‘politically correct’ terminology. Rather, it is about writing history from an objective and accurate standpoint.

Still, much of the scholarship I use to research the Rainy River area, unknowingly or not, relies on colonial conventions that sanitize the real history. For instance, in researching the Cree community of York Factory — in what is now northern Manitoba along the shores of Hudson’s Bay — many histories of the site ended when it was ‘closed’ in 1957 and its people ‘relocated.’ No further explanations were offered. As I later learned, this version of the story, with a few austere sentences, left out the far uglier reality: the government forcibly moved Cree families from their homes and onto much poorer land. Some Cree today occasionally visit the old site of York Factory and their childhood.

A similar fate awaited the Anishinaabe of the Rainy River. In 1913 and 1914, just over a decade after Du Vernet’s visit, the government illegally amalgamated the seven Anishinaabe reserves along the river into one, forcing many of the people Du Vernet met to leave their homes and heritage.

Today, the Rainy River First Nations are in a long-term process to regain their land. In 2005, they agreed to a $71 million land settlement with the Canadian government that identified land for future reserve creation. Following a court order in February 2017, the governments of Ontario and Canada, together with the Rainy River First Nations, announced the creation of some 6,000 hectares of new reserve land.

As the Rainy River Anishinaabe continue to fight for a relationship of reciprocity and respect with the Canadian government, stories remain as vital as ever — for both remembering the past and for creating a better future. Du Vernet’s diary, while steeped in flaws, is nonetheless a part of those stories.

Blood soils the road ahead

The deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine reflect the Canadian criminal justice system’s general disregard for Indigenous lives

Blood soils the road ahead

From 1876–1898, negotiations between the Crown and the Cree, Assiniboine, and other band societies led to the formation of Treaty 6, establishing the conditions under which land in what is now central Saskatchewan and Alberta was to be shared between Indigenous people and settlers. The treaty was formed with much apprehension by Indigenous leaders; Indigenous communities were already struggling to cope with the famine and disease brought about by settler intrusion, and resulting petty crimes only heightened existing tensions. In 1885, the Crown hanged eight Cree men in Battleford, which is in current-day Saskatchewan, in the largest mass execution in Canadian history.

In response to what had happened, then-Prime Minister John A. Macdonald stated, “The executions of the Indians ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.”

On August 9, 2016, 22-year old Colten Boushie and his friends left the Red Pheasant reserve and wound up in the yard of a local, white farmer named Gerald Stanley. The events immediately leading up to Boushie’s death remain relatively hazy according to court and police records. Stanley said the youth came onto his property to steal, while Boushie’s friends and family maintain they were merely seeking help for a flat tire. Though Boushie’s friends say that Stanley took deliberate aim toward Boushie with his handgun, Stanley maintains he fired accidentally, a statement viewed with deep suspicion by community members. Boushie died from a gunshot to the head.

When the jury in the Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench declared Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, several people in the courtroom reportedly yelled, “Murderer!”

Beginning in 1869, the Red River Resistance marked the struggle of the Métis people to assert their sovereignty against negotiations between Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company, fearing their rights would disappear if Rupert’s Land were to be transferred to Canada’s control.

In 2014, 145 years after the Red River Resistance, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was found in the Red River, her 72-pound frame weighed down with rocks. Like many young Indigenous women who are violently victimized, Fontaine had gone missing prior to her death. Even despite a six-month undercover investigation, Fontaine’s alleged murderer, Raymond Cormier, was acquitted on account of insufficient evidence. The cause of her death remains undetermined.

The cases of Boushie and Fontaine have sparked massive uproar from Indigenous communities across Canada, who argue that the justice system continues to fail to protect Indigenous people from violence. The suppression of Indigenous people, lands, and sovereignty has a long colonial history, and their continued marginalization is often used as a thinly veiled excuse to justify their lesser treatment under the law.

The racial and gendered dynamics underlying Boushie and Fontaine’s deaths cannot be understated. In the Red Pheasant community where Boushie lived, racial tensions have been at a boiling point for decades. Boushie’s murder has been compared to the case of Rodney King, an African-American man brutally beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991, and Marie Baptiste, a member of Boushie’s family, has called her community “the Mississippi of the north.” Tensions between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous farmers underlie interactions in the community, rooted both in racial resentment and in a belief that Indigenous people are responsible for thefts.

Conversely, Fontaine’s death was part of the driving force behind the national inquiry started in December 2015. The inquiry was established following outrage against continued government and police inaction in response to what Indigenous women’s groups believe to be over 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls since the 1980s. Indigenous women continue to face high rates of violence.

Indigenous communities across Canada have expressed strong feelings that the police treat them unfairly. Stereotypes that paint Indigenous people as thieves, vandals, and criminals creep into every part of the justice process and contribute to their disproportionate victimization.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been criticized by Boushie’s family and independent investigators for acting negligently throughout the investigation into his death, prompting the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to initiate a new investigation into whether the officers’ conduct was reasonable and whether race had played a role.

Along with failing to test for gun residue and failing to send a key analyst to the scene of the shooting, the RCMP failed to protect the crime scene, leaving the car uncovered and the door wide open overnight. By the time forensics experts arrived, over 40 millimetres of rain had drenched the vehicle, virtually erasing the significant bloodstains that had soaked the seat where Boushie had been sitting. The evidence was destroyed.

Negligence on the part of the authorities also failed to protect Fontaine, despite several encounters with her in the hours leading up to her death. The morning of her death, Winnipeg police pulled over a truck and found Cormier and Fontaine inside and let them drive away, even though Fontaine had been reported missing at the time. This came two days after Fontaine had reported a stolen truck Cormier had in his possession. Hours after police let her go, Fontaine was spotted sleeping on the ground by a social worker from the Southeast Child and Family Services, who took her to a hotel. The social worker was aware of Fontaine’s intentions to meet friends at a place where children are known to be exploited and drugs are sold, but she left her alone nonetheless.

Some have questioned the uproar in response to the verdicts in Boushie and Fontaine’s cases, pointing out that the Crown could not prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Admittedly, one should not be able to obtain a conviction on the basis of circumstantial evidence — yet law enforcement’s disregard for Indigenous people can be acknowledged independent of whether or not one feels the acquittals were warranted.

This is not to mention that negligence at early stages of the investigatory process can certainly shape the evidentiary record and the story that is told to a jury. One wonders what might have gone differently in the Boushie case had the RCMP bothered to shield the bloodstained vehicle from rain.

Backlash toward the victims in these cases has persisted and continues to perpetuate colonial stereotypes and power dynamics. While the deaths of Boushie and Fontaine sparked anger and sorrow within the Indigenous community, they also triggered a flood of racist comments on social media.

And, unsurprisingly considering the persistence of these stereotypes, such insensitivity reflects the authorities’ own conduct. Boushie’s family, for instance, noted the RCMP’s callousness when delivering the news of Boushie’s death. The police encircled the family’s trailer, some with guns drawn, and entered the home without permission. Ms. Baptiste, devastated at the loss of her son, was pulled to her feet by an officer who told her to “get [herself] together,” smelled her breath, and asked her if she had been drinking, despite no evidence thereof. The officer’s attitude is arguably indicative of the low opinion that many police officers and members of society continue to hold of Indigenous people in Canada.

Boushie and Fontaine’s deaths show us that Canada continues to drag the colonial chains of systemic violence forward into the twenty-first century. Much of the violence that Indigenous women like Fontaine continue to experience is linked to experiences of coerced sterilization, loss of Indigenous status upon marriage to a settler, and the toxic legacy of the residential school system sponsored by the state and Christian churches throughout the twentieth century.

Given Treaty 6, historical disputes between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Indigenous peoples over Rupert’s Land, and countless attempts by Indigenous communities to maintain their sovereignty throughout the progression of the Canadian colonial project, there is also deep and disturbing irony in excusing — as Stanley’s wife, Leesa, allegedly tried to do — Boushie’s death by claiming he was trespassing. Land like that which the Stanleys now consider their property would not be under their ownership had the Crown not forcibly dispossessed and displaced Indigenous people from their traditional territories centuries ago. Boushie’s blood was spilled over land intended to be shared but never ceded.

We live in a time where ‘reconciliation’ is lauded as the miracle solution to hundreds of years of oppression. We continue forward in a desperate attempt to restore Indigenous people and settlers to the position of relative equality they occupied at the first point of contact. While the path is noble, let’s not kid ourselves about how far we have yet to walk. Centuries later, the White Man still governs.


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the weapon used in the Boushie case was a shotgun. The piece has now been updated to specify that the weapon was in fact a handgun. 

“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

Honouring Our Students Pow Wow returns after successful first year

“Unapologetically Indigenous”: ISSU holds second annual Pow Wow on campus

U of T’s Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) hosted its second annual “Honouring Our Students Pow Wow” at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 11. Spectators, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, gathered in the gymnasium to watch drummers and dancers, purchase art and merchandise from vendors, and participate in the overall atmosphere.

Highlights of the event included performances from Aztec dancers and Métis jiggers, as well as the Grand Entry, which featured dancers and flag bearers from various stakeholder communities involved in the powwow.

The powwow benefitted from the help of approximately 40 volunteers. Volunteer Coordinator and ISSU Membership Intake/Outreach Coordinator Olivia Miller told The Varsity that some volunteers had to drop out at the last minute due to extenuating circumstances, though other volunteers recruited friends to lend a hand. “It’s been this really great unifying effort,” said Miller.

Additionally, the ISSU received funding from colleges and departments across campus that contributed to the $24,550 powwow budget. ISSU Finance Coordinator Joshua Bowman said that New College contributed a significant amount. Among the major costs associated with the powwow were honoraria for dancers, drummers, and featured groups such as the Métis jiggers and Aztec dancers, which Bowman described as a way of paying respect to the gift those groups gave to the powwow.

Bowman praised colleges and departments who helped support the powwow. “A lot of us are all students in those colleges, so it was really just about supporting their own Indigenous students.” He added that many of the finances associated with the venue were covered in good faith.

Support for the powwow from across the university was a reflection of the community, added Bowman. “There is a larger amount of non-Indigenous students than Indigenous students, but at the end of the day what we like to remind people is that we’re all treaty people.”

Bowman described the Two Row Wampum, which represents one row for Indigenous people and one for non-Indigenous people. In between the two rows is a covenant chain, which Bowman said begins to rust over time. “So when we come together at events like this we’re polishing the covenant chain,” said Bowman.

The ISSU’s Membership Support Coordinator, Ziigwen Mixemong, was featured as the powwow’s Head Female Dancer and credited the ISSU for giving her a space to be “unapologetically Indigenous.”

“The powwow has just been a way that I’ve been able to use my gifts and my knowledge and bring that forth, and everyone else is able to bring their gifts and their knowledge and plurality of wisdoms that has helped develop this event,” Mixemong told The Varsity.

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“It’s amazing that we’re having our second powwow in only our third year. It’s come so far so fast, we’ve moved to a bigger and better venue and we are expecting so many people,” she added.

“It’s kind of like our version of a big party,” said Mixemong, explaining that powwows are traditionally a gathering of nations, referring to it as an “intercultural interaction.”

Canada’s federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, was in attendance, though she did not come as a dignitary as she did the previous year. Mixemong explained that politicians and dignitaries were welcome to attend the powwow, though the focus of the powwow was a celebration of Indigenous people and culture.

“We live in what I like to call a post-reconciliation world where people are trying to use the term ‘reconciliation’ to Indigenize their efforts without actually making sure that it’s Indigenous thought that’s going into that collective process of making an event,” said Mixemong.

Last year, the ISSU hosted the first powwow at U of T in over 20 years at the Athletic Centre. “When I enrolled in university, I never thought this would be a possibility,” said Bowman. “But now this is our second annual one and I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.”

For a brief time during the powwow, up to seven police cruisers were parked outside the Goldring Centre. Police were responding to a call of “a possible imminent threat to an individual who has a matter before the courts right now,” said Toronto Police Sergeant Aiello. “The individual was a victim and she saw the individual that is before the courts right now on allegations. She feared for her safety, and because of his instabilities we feared for the safety of the individuals here at the powwow.”

Police searched the building and dispersed after realizing the individual was not present. The victim was transported home to safety.

Radio show host, student appointees allege mishandling of sexual harassment complaint at CIUT 89.5 FM

Breach of privacy, outdated policy, lengthy investigation among core criticisms

Radio show host, student appointees allege mishandling of sexual harassment complaint at CIUT 89.5 FM

Jamaias DaCosta, the host of two shows on campus radio station CIUT 89.5 FM, is alleging that the station mishandled a sexual harassment complaint she made against another host. Anne Boucher and Stuart Norton, two former University of Toronto Students’ Union student appointees on the station’s Board of Directors who resigned last week, are joining her in criticism of the station’s grievance process.

They point to an unresolved sexual harassment complaint filed by DaCosta in November 2017 as a symptom of what they see as a problematic grievance process currently in place at the station. DaCosta is the host of the CIUT shows The Vibe Collective and Indigenous Waves. She was suspended from the station on February 16 for criticizing it on air and commenting on the media coverage of the death of Colten Boushie and the trial of his killer, Gerald Stanley.

The sexual harassment complaint

DaCosta’s complaint was made against another CIUT host who has since been suspended from the station. DaCosta alleges that the accused behaved inappropriately toward her, including touching her, coming into the studio drunk, and calling her names like ‘sugar.’

According to DaCosta, CIUT President Steve Fruitman breached her confidentiality when an email he sent to her and the accused explicitly named her as the complainant. The email was sent as an update on the investigation, and it stated, “Thank you both for being patient while we wound our way through the complexity of dealing with the allegation forwarded to the management of the radio station by volunteer Jamaias DaCosta against [the accused], another volunteer with CIUT-FM.”

“I felt very compromised,” said DaCosta. “I felt very unsafe.”

Boucher said DaCosta’s confidentiality was further breached when she was named as the complainant in the agenda for the January Board of Directors meeting. “To think that confidential matters can be outlined in an agenda, an agenda that should be made accessible to the membership, shows both disregard for her privacy and shows that visibility & engagement are not things they’re used to,” wrote Boucher.

Boucher claims that sharing DaCosta’s identity with the accused and circulating her identity and that of the accused to the Board of Directors breached a clause in the CIUT sexual harassment policy titled “Confidentiality.” The clause states that CIUT “will not disclose any information about a complaint except as necessary to investigate the complaint or to take disciplinary action, or as required by law.”

When asked about this allegation, Fruitman said, “There’s been no breach from our side. No members have seen our agendas. No members have seen our minutes.”

Boucher is also dissatisfied with the amount of time it has taken to process the issue. “These are things that, when they happen, you’re dealing with them immediately,” said Boucher. “This happened in November and I can say that it’s still going on.”

Another sexual harassment clause, titled “Time Limits,” states that management “has a responsibility to make sure harassment ends as soon as they become aware of it. Complaints will be resolved as quickly as possible, ideally within one month of being made.” The complaint was lodged four months ago.

Fruitman said that the clause “doesn’t mean you have to stop all investigations after a month because it’s a month now, you can’t go on. That’s just something in the policy that you try to uphold, but it’s not a breach.” Fruitman also said that the station acted immediately to begin addressing the situation. “As soon as we got the complaint, we went to… the [Hart House] Warden and asked him what we should do, and he said to suspend [the accused] in a non-punitive suspension.”

“I think it’s still punitive because the guy can’t do the show, but [it’s] officially non-punitive pending the outcome of an investigation,” continued Fruitman. He declined to confirm whether the investigation was still ongoing, but then noted that “the fact that it’s been taking a long time” has been the “main complaint” so far. The accused confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.

Boucher also criticized the policy, which is two and a half pages long, for being “really out of date.” She said that “it’s sad, but it’s so funny at the same time that this is what their policy is.”

Fruitman acknowledged that the policy needs “improvement,” but says that most of CIUT’s policies “are good for almost forever.”

“They’re just basic rules we’ve always had, since 1988.”

DaCosta’s suspension from the station

DaCosta said that she decided to speak out about her complaint case after she was suspended from volunteer and on-air privileges on the station on February 16. She was suspended after criticizing the station on-air, following a warning from CIUT management regarding her comments on what she called ‘skewed’ media coverage of the death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man in Saskatchewan, and the acquittal of his killer, Gerald Stanley.

In a warning email that station manager Ken Stowar sent to DaCosta, he said that the station took issue with a comment she made on air during a conversation addressing the deaths of Boushie and an Indigenous girl named Tina Fontaine. On air, DaCosta had said, “It’s been horrific watching the Canadian media vilify these young ones and scrutinize them while really creating these sympathetic narratives for their killers, especially for the killer of Boushie.”

Stowar’s email noted, “The comment was such that CIUT-FM could be held criminally responsible for interfering with the rights of an individual for a fair trial.” Stowar said that the station would continue to investigate the potential impact of DaCosta’s commentary, especially if a formal complaint were lodged against CIUT. Stowar warned her that her commentary could be actionable under the Criminal Code of Canada.

According to her suspension email, however, DaCosta was suspended “due to disparaging comments made on air and online… about CIUT and its board of directors.”

DaCosta said that Stowar “didn’t mention anything about [her] commentary [on CIUT] in the warning,” only the Boushie and Fontaine comments.

Though she says the specific offending comments were not made clear to her, DaCosta criticized CIUT on the same show as the one containing her comments on Boushie and Fontaine. “A lot of people think [that] CIUT is great and [that] CIUT is fantastic for so many reasons, but CIUT needs a lot of work when it comes to sharing safe space for community. And I just need to take a second to put CIUT on blast,” she had said on air. “If it’s not a safe space for those people in the community, then it’s not doing its job as a community radio station.”

DaCosta made these comments about the station in response to an unknown person putting a picture of U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson that said “you can fix yourself,” on her desktop.

DaCosta said that she has not received any further information from CIUT regarding her situation.

“I’m being censored as an Indigenous person at the station,” she said. “There is no basis for… Ken Stowar’s suspension of me.” Stowar did not respond to The Varsity’s questions about the rationale for DaCosta’s suspension.

Norton said that it is important for DaCosta to receive due process for her suspension. “Regardless of the situations of alleged misconduct according to CIUT, I think she is entitled to a process of investigation that is accountable and transparent,” he said. “If there [are] grounds that can be found for discipline or follow-up, again you can only know that through investigation and checking all your bases.”

Fruitman declined to comment on DaCosta’s suspension, but he said that “the grievance process is probably a really important thing for us.”

“I don’t think there’s much in the way of process in the current one other than to complain to the board and see what happens,” said Fruitman. “Is our process good? Well, I think it could be a lot better.”

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

Popular shortcut from Vic, St. Mike’s to remain fenced off until October

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

The north end of Queen’s Park will be closed from March to October as part of a revitalization project tackling the aging infrastructure and damaged green space in the park.

The Queen’s Park North Improvements plan comes after years of increased usage of the historic downtown park by the booming population of nearby residents and tourists alike. The current infrastructure of the park lacks reliable paths and consistent benches.

Queen’s Park North makes up the section of the park north of Wellesley Street. The north end of this section — from the central King Edward VII Plaza to the top of the circle — will be closed for the first phase of the revitalization until October. The south side of Queen’s Park North will be closed off from March 2019 to August 2019. The construction notice states that “a pedestrian access path will be provided,” but it is unclear whether that path will lead through or around the closed-off area.

The project began in 2014 with extensive community and stakeholder consultations. The city’s plan for upgrading the park’s usability is to create better infrastructure for moving through the space, adding seating, and improving access points to the park, particularly at the Hoskin Avenue entrance, which is also a vital connection to campus.

A permanent walkway encircling the park will be built, replacing the well-trodden dirt path currently there and making the park more accessible for jogging. Some of the existing dilapidated paths will be demolished in favour of a more structured system of main walkways in and through the park.

One major addition coming with the project is a new Queen’s Park Promenade, connecting the Highlanders Monument of Canada Plaza at the northernmost end of the park with the King Edward VII Plaza in the centre with a wide walkway lined with benches.

Another objective of the project is the revitalization of its trees and lawns. The large trees of the park are a unique quality in the middle of the city, and the city will be planting more trees to ensure that the “urban canopy” is protected. Ninety large canopy and 70 understorey deciduous trees will be added to the park, alongside new grass turf and spring flowering bulbs along some walkways.

“When walking through the park, I often notice how empty the physical space is. With few benches, statues, and trees, the park itself is not visually appealing,” said U of T student Karel Peters. “I think that green space, especially in large cities, is very important. It’s nice to know that parks are still valued. Hopefully the improvements will create a more inviting atmosphere.”