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Op-ed: The SCSU’s refusal to ratify my election was illegal

The VP Operations-elect calls on the union to reverse its decision and apologize

Op-ed: The SCSU’s refusal to ratify my election was illegal

As students, we are supposed to be able to trust our elected student unions to advocate for student issues, rights, and interests when no one else will. But in the case of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), it is unfortunate that it has failed to fulfil the role it was elected to do.

Just like their predecessors, the Board of Directors this year has shown that the laws only apply where it sees fit. Having already dealt with an attempt by the SCSU to have me removed from last year’s election, I can attest firsthand that the SCSU attempts to intimidate students from challenging them. In this year’s election, I was elected by UTSC students to serve as Vice-President Operations. But on February 26, the board chose to illegally refuse to ratify my election.

The basis for the refusal was my presence in a group chat in which I supposedly condoned another individual’s transphobic comments, even though my only comments were “Good God” followed by “I hope this chat is never leaked.” One individual publicly described me as a “good racist”  on social media.

The blatant attempts to skew what was said and defame my character were aggravating enough. But when another board member admitted to me in a private message that they were aware of the context behind the statement and understood that I was not to blame for someone else’s transphobic comments, and yet still chose not to communicate this context to the board in my defence — that is what has convinced me that this ratification process was one conducted with malice.

Ultimately, the board’s decision was made with incorrect interpretations of SCSU bylaws. There is no way that our student union is so ignorant that it is not aware of the laws, especially when it is its job to understand them. Its decision was made on the basis that candidates cannot be deemed elected until they have been ratified by the board. However, as per the Elections Procedure Code itself, there are only two circumstances in which the board can refuse ratification.

The first is if the board refuses to accept the entire report by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), on the grounds that the election was deemed to be conducted illegally, for instance, through vote manipulation, tampering, or demerits. The second is if a recommendation to refuse ratification is made by the Elections Appeals Committee, which may only make a judgment based on the violations ruled on by the CRO.

Having approved the CRO’s report, the board has formally provided its consent that its findings were legitimate, and that there was no tampering within the election, eliminating its grounds for the first circumstance. The CRO found no evidence of violations by me, as per his report, and since there were no appeals, the Elections Appeals Committee could not advise the board to refuse my ratification, eliminating the grounds for the second circumstance.

What this means is that the board either does not know its own bylaws or is willingly breaking them. But it does not end there. In addition to breaking its own bylaws, the board has incidentally broken provincial law too. As a corporation, it must follow the Ontario Corporations Act (OCA).

Consider Section 127.1(2), which states that directors and officers of corporations subject to the OCA, like the SCSU, must act in accordance with the bylaws of their corporation and the OCA. As per the Elections Procedure Code, officers are elected by a plurality of votes and the voting members — the students — are the ones who cast the ballot. This does not grant the SCSU the authority to dismiss the results of the ballot without recommendation from the Elections Appeals Committee. The SCSU’s lack of due process for intervening within a democratic election is a clear violation of the law.

Also consider Section 127.1(1), which confirms that the SCSU board must act in good faith. Failure to ratify the democratically elected VP Operations on illegitimate grounds, refusal to allow candidates to make their case to the board, defamation of candidates, and disregard for its own bylaws does not demonstrate the diligence, prudence, and care that is required from our representatives on the board.

In sum, the SCSU has broken multiple laws — both its own and those of the province. I am offering the SCSU the opportunity to own up to its own mistake. Ratify me as is legally obligated and, on behalf of the students, admit that you messed up and do the unthinkable: apologize.

Indeed, all SCSU board members at the ratification should publicly apologize for trying to subvert the law behind false pretenses, for defaming me and my colleagues, and apologize to the students for continuing the SCSU tradition of breaking the little trust we have toward our union.

Rayyan Alibux is a third-year Political Science and Business Economics student at UTSC. He was elected SCSU Vice-President Operations but his election was not ratified by the Board of Directors.

Police searching for missing girl near UTSG

Last seen near Spadina Avenue, Bloor Street West, police are concerned for her safety

Police searching for missing girl near UTSG

Toronto police are asking for the public’s help to locate a missing girl.

Maya Samana-Carter, 17, was last seen on Friday, March 1 at approximately 1:00 pm, in the Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West area. 

She is described as five foot five, 130 pounds, with long brown-red hair. 

Toronto Police are concerned for her safety. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1400, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at www.222tips.com, online on our Facebook Leave a Tip page, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). 

Researchers win $3 million grant to develop prenatal test

The Wheeler Lab’s test is a safer alternative to current testing methods

Researchers win $3 million grant to develop prenatal test

For families expecting a child, prenatal testing can help parents identify genetic abnormalities in the fetus before the mother enters labour.

But the current “gold standard” prenatal tests, said PhD student Julian Lamanna of the Wheeler Lab, are burdened with a “small but significant risk to both the mother and the baby.”

Amniocentesis, one of the two tests, is associated with miscarriage in about 0.1 to 0.3 per cent of cases, while the other, chorionic villus sampling, risks miscarriage in about 0.2 per cent of cases.

These serious risks of prenatal screening may be avoided in the future, if the research of the Wheeler Lab succeeds in developing its alternative testing procedure.

On February 4, the lab earned a $3 million grant to continue its development of an alternative non-invasive prenatal test from Genome Canada, a non-profit funding agency supported by the federal government.

How does the Wheeler Lab’s prenatal test work?

The test is similar to a “pap smear” used to screen for cervical cancer, explains Lamanna. In a pap smear, a practitioner scrapes away cells from a woman’s cervix, a part of the uterus that widens during childbirth for the passage of a baby, to test for cervical cancer.

In the Wheeler test, a practitioner would similarly use a “soft, bristly brush” to swab the cervix of a pregnant mother. The collected sample would be a “mixture of cervical mucus, as well as a small percentage of cells from the fetus, as well as a large number of cells from the mother.”

The challenge of analyzing the sample is a “needle-in-a-haystack” problem, explains Lamanna. Visualizing a “sticky mixture of mucus that’s very difficult to work with,” clinicians may have to isolate a single cell from the fetus from the one to two thousand sourced from the mother.

“So we need to use a method to differentiate between the two cell types, and then try to use a method to collect only that cell from the fetus,” said Lamanna. “But I think we have a good method of doing so.”

The method to isolate the fetal cells in the sample uses various antibodies – or molecular tags that act as biomarkers – to highlight their cells of interest. The researchers then use a platform that applies a laser to lyse — or break down — these individual fetal cells in the diverse cell population.

The researchers then collect the contents of these lysed fetal cells, amplify the genetic material available for testing, and analyze the material for abnormalities with a “downstream genetic test” currently used in hospitals.

Next steps with the Genome Canada grant

The instrumentation to lyse the cells and collect their contents is unique to the Wheeler lab, and results from phase one funding for the prenatal test project. The phase-two funding from the Genome Canada grant will enable the researchers to scale up the number of samples it can use for analysis, to further compare its method to current methods.

The grant will also enable the team to develop its platform to become more user-friendly for clinicians, which could enable it to be used in hospitals in Toronto, and even throughout Canada.

Doing so will also help keep the costs of the test low, and could even be comparable to the price of current prenatal tests.

The Wheeler Lab’s main goal is to develop “user-friendly instruments that can leave the research lab,” said Lamanna.

Team effort led to project’s success

Lamanna attributed the project’s success to his motivated colleagues, from a wide range of fields.

As Lamanna worked on the biological side to isolate cells in samples, other lab members worked with “different chemicals and assays… to answer a lot of different biological problems.”

Some team members worked on designing the hardware and instrumentation to isolate the cells and isolate their contents, while others worked on the software.

On the clinical side, the Wheeler lab also collaborated with Dr. Elena Kolomietz and Dr. David Chitayat from Mount Sinai Hospital, who collected cell samples for analysis.

“There’s a big team of people that work on this project,” said Lamanna. “I think everyone who works on is super enthusiastic about the potential for the potential positivity of this test, not only in Toronto, but in Canada, and in the rest of the world.”

 

Endless forms most beautiful

The ROM celebrates Darwin Day with a lecture on whale evolution

Endless forms most beautiful

Every year on February 12, the world celebrates Darwin Day in honour of the part-geologist, part-naturalist Charles Darwin, who is largely responsible for our understanding of evolution and the origins of life on Earth.

This year, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) celebrated Darwin Day with a lecture on whale evolution, given by Nick Pyenson, the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Pyenson covered some 50 million years of whale evolution and biology. A common thread throughout the lecture was Pyenson’s enthusiasm.

“Whales are the world’s most awesome creature. And I don’t mean that in the ‘cool, dude’ way, but in the really profound way. There is something really spectacular about all aspects of whale life, and we want to know more,” said Pyenson as he opened his talk.

As “awesome” as whales are, I was initially skeptical about the relevance of the lecture, as I could not immediately connect whales to Darwin. After all, this was a Darwin Day lecture, and the nineteenth century naturalist is typically associated with creatures like finches and barnacles.

Evidently ready for skeptics such as myself, Pyenson explained early in his talk that because whales have such a peculiar and unique evolutionary history, “studying the evolution of whales actually tells you a lot about how evolution works in general.”  

For those unfamiliar with whale evolution, it truly is a spectacular story: the ancestor of all modern whales was a land mammal. Some tens of millions of years ago, a land mammal, and a peculiar-looking one at that — Pyenson showed an illustration of Pakicetus, the ancestor to whales, which looks like a furry crocodile with dog legs — began to adapt to life at sea, despite spending hundreds of millions of years before that adapting to life on land.

Although we know for certain that modern whales evolved from land mammals — their closest terrestrial relative is the hippopotamus — we still don’t know why they went back in the water. Darwin once called the origin of species “that mystery of mysteries.”

Thinking about whale evolution, it is easy to see where Darwin was coming from. Pyenson said that our best guess is that whale ancestors either saw an opportunity to capitalize on unexploited resources in the water or were outcompeted from the terrestrial realm through competition. Either way, these hypotheses are general at best.

To understand the whale evolution story, Pyenson reminds us that it helps to think like Darwin. Darwin was first and foremost a geologist. Having this background allowed Darwin to apply the concept of deep time — the 4.5 billion year time frame within which Earth has existed— to his theories on evolution.

Tying this back to whales, Pyenson remarked “you only get whales from terrestrial ancestors if you have a lot of time.” Serendipity, which is exactly what Pyenson experienced in his quest to understand the origin of whales.

In 2010, during an expansion of the Pan-American Highway in the Atacama region of Chile, construction workers came across a fossil bone bed. The discovery turned out to be the densest site of fossilized whale remains ever discovered.

Aptly dubbed Cerro Ballena — Spanish for ‘whale hill’ — the discovery contained the near-complete remains of 10 different types of marine vertebrates. This included the remains of Odobenocetops, an extinct whale ancestor with walrus-like tusks that had previously only been found in Peru.

Pyenson explains that an accumulation like this was likely the result of a mass die-off.  Full community die-offs like this one are important in paleontology because you can infer much more about how an animal lived by looking at its community rather than just an individual skeleton.

The Chilean whale story is exciting in itself, but since it was Darwin Day, it was worth noting the coincidental connection between Chile and Darwin. In 1835, during his infamous HMS Beagle voyage, Darwin experienced an earthquake that leveled Concepción, Chile.

Surveying the aftermath, Darwin noticed that marine shells from the coast had been uplifted. Travelling inland toward the Andes, Darwin again noticed uplifted marine shells, but this time much older and much higher in elevation. These observations made Darwin think about how small gradual changes over long geologic time can add up to much larger changes.

In other words, Darwin realized that shells from the bottom of the ocean can eventually make their way to mountaintops through millions of years of incremental uplift. These geological observations helped Darwin shape his theory of natural selection, which follows the same principle that small gradual changes over long periods of time can have a great impact.

By the end of Pyenson’s talk you could see why whales evolution was chosen to celebrate Darwin Day. The story of whale evolution research embodies many principles that Darwin held, namely curiosity, open-mindedness, and of course, serendipity.

Pyenson remarks in his book, Spying on Whales, on whale evolution that every biological specimen contains a story, “some mundane, others that could rewrite textbooks.” 

This made me think of Darwin as he travelled on the HMS Beagle: when he observed those shell fossils in the Andes and those finches with funny beaks in the Galapagos, did he think that those specimens would rewrite textbooks? Likely not — hindsight is 20/20, especially in science.

This is why we celebrate scientists like Darwin, to remember that sometimes it is not our educational background or experience that leads to great scientific discoveries, but instead our curiosity and open mind.

U of T Engineering Science student investigating the use of nanomedicine in cancer research

Netra Rajesh is a student with a vision

U of T Engineering Science student investigating the use of nanomedicine in cancer research

Netra Rajesh is an undergraduate Engineering Science student specializing in Biomedical Systems Engineering. She is currently on her Professional Experience Year (PEY) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where her research lies at the crossroads of nanomedicine, medical engineering, and oncology.

At 14, Rajesh designed an experiment and attempted to conduct the research in a lab, though she was unable to due to her age. Instead, she built a laboratory environment in her basement.

Rajesh is particularly interested in cancer research. In an email to The Varsity she wrote, “We are in desperate need for promising treatments and targets.”

Rajesh has pursued various internships focused on cancer research. At age 16, she got her first lab placement at the Sunnybrook Research Institute where she researched genetic therapies.

Rajesh had the chance to network and learn about different opportunities in other institutions during the internship.

Rajesh has participated in Engineering Science Summer Research Programs, first doing research on cancer radiotherapy at the National University of Singapore in the summer following her first year. There, she collaborated with oncologists and radiotherapists in order to “test a patient’s response to radiation using microplates and microfluidic platforms.”

Last summer, she participated in an exchange at the California Institute of Technology where she “was able to assist in designing, building and testing a novel bioreactor device for cancer vaccine production.”

Rajesh is currently working on designing nanoparticle vehicles with the goal of cancer therapeutics delivery.

Other areas of research she is interested in include engineering the immune system using nanomedicine to harness the body’s defence system, and clinical research.

One of the biggest challenges Rajesh identified for girls and women interested or pursuing an education in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics was “finding real-world opportunities for hands-on learning.”

Earlier this year, Rajesh was one of the speakers at TEDxMississauga, where she spoke about the importance of acquiring experience working with companies, and the importance of mentors and role models in academic or industrial labs as they encouraged her to “pursue challenges.”

While academic courses teach the foundational knowledge, placements in labs provide the opportunity to apply acquired knowledge. Furthermore, students can explore their areas of interest  and network with professionals.

“I believe that pursuing real-world, hands-on learning in STEAM enables multidisciplinary thinking ultimately preparing us to solve problems that we don’t even know exist!”