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UTMSU election campaign starts today

Key issues could include space issues, health and dental plans

UTMSU election campaign starts today

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are beginning today, a year after One UTM, an uncontested slate of executive candidates led by then Vice-President Campus Life Felipe Nagata, swept the positions.

Vice-President External Atif Abdullah is running for president and heading the Students United slate. Independents are also running for executive spots, however The Varsity was unable to verify any of them, except for Luke Victor Warren, who is running for Vice-President Internal.

The campaign will run until March 21 at 6:00 pm. Voting will take place in person from March 19–21.

Key issues

Several key issues will dominate the campaign, including the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The SCI, which was announced by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton on January 17, gives students the choice to opt out of certain, non-essential incidental fees.

The UTMSU has publicly criticized the announcement as a “travesty for accessible education, student organizing and autonomy,” adding that the union “will not stand for this and will continue to fight for you to ensure that this government’s unilateral decision-making does not go unchecked.”

Another key issue is the newly-ratified separation of the UTMSU from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The two groups have worked closely with each other since they entered into an Associate Membership Agreement in 2008, but discussions started roughly a year ago to formally split.

Representatives of both unions have endorsed the separation. At the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting on November 29, Abdullah said that the UTMSU “understands the needs and the wants of the students at UTM better than a student union that is situated downtown.”

Tyler Biswurm, Vice-President Operations of the UTSU, read a statement from UTSU President Anne Boucher that echoed the sentiment. “It is in the best interests of UTM students to be fully represented by a students’ union that is on-site and is therefore in a better place to understand the needs of the students on the Mississauga campus,” read Biswurm.

A main concern of the ratification will be how the UTMSU will take over administration for a health and dental plan, which was previously under the UTSU’s purview.

Another key issue for UTM students involves the lack of space on campus, which was highlighted this year after the campus over-enrolled students, causing a strain on resources.

Recently, UTM Principal and U of T Vice-President Ulrich Krull suggested that the campus may continue over-enrolling international students to offset the potential loss of funding that will come from the provincial government’s plan to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent.

U of T still awaiting final guidelines on Student Choice Initiative

University Affairs Board passes fee increases for Student Life, KPE, Hart House

U of T still awaiting final guidelines on Student Choice Initiative

In anticipation of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh gave some of the first comments on the university’s progress on the issue at the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting for March. The UAB also passed fee increases for Campus Life incidental fees, which include those for Student Life, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), and Hart House.

As the Senior Assessor, Welsh reported that the university is currently waiting on the provincial government to provide more details on the SCI before any determination of essential and non-essential fees can be made.

The SCI is the provincial government’s plan to implement opt-out options for “non-essential” student fees, which could see many student clubs and services lose a significant portion of their funding.

Welsh brought up the current loose guidelines given for determining which fees are essential, showing a slide from a presentation made by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU). The full presentation was obtained by The Varsity in early February and includes enforcement and rollout guidelines for the SCI.

The slide, titled “The Ancillary Fee Classification Framework,” listed athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walksafe programs, student buildings and centres, and student transit passes as essential. Health and dental plans will also remain essential fees, while those with outside coverage can continue to opt out, which is in line with the current system for U of T.

Susan Froom, the UAB member representing part-time students, urged the university and Welsh to categorize as many fees as possible as essential.

Froom also raised concerns about how the SCI could impact Student Life, which provides services that could be categorized as non-essential, such as the Multi-Faith Centre, the Family Care Office, and the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office. Welsh replied that the university and her office do not have enough information about the classification process to provide further information, and are awaiting the final details from the provincial government.

Welsh also did not rule out the university centralizing or otherwise subsidizing impacted student societies when asked by another member of the UAB.

In a statement to The Varsity, TCU Ministry Issues Coordinator Ciara Byrne wrote that Minister Merrilee Fullerton had heard concerns from “many post-secondary students” about mandatory fees and that guidelines for the SCI would be released to institutions “shortly.”

The UAB also approved a 4.8 per cent increase for Student Life fees charged to full-time UTSG students, who will pay $164.24, an increase of $7.52 from this year. All fee increases must continue to move through the governance process and be passed by Governing Council before taking effect.

Senior Director of Student Experience David Newman also reported on Student Life, whose accessibility and Health & Wellness services would be considered essential. Newman explained that the administration would try to decrease reliance on student fees for Student Life programs and services, as additional staff had been hired this year.

The UAB also passed a $4.82, or 2.55 per cent, increase for KPE co-curricular programs, services, and facilities. Full-time students would pay $193.82 for services like U of T Sports & Rec, the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, Athletic Centre, Varsity Centre, and the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic.

Pending approval by Governing Council, students could see a fee increase for Hart House of $8.56, a 9.57 per cent increase totalling to $97.96.

John Monahan, Warden of Hart House, reported to the board that Hart House was preparing for its centennial celebration and would use the funds for continuing renovations in the Arbor Room, replacing the pool skylight, and increasing security.

Norman Finkelstein speaks on rights of Palestinians in Gaza Strip

Controversial scholar draws sold-out crowd at UTM

Norman Finkelstein speaks on rights of Palestinians in Gaza Strip

Controversial Israel-Palestine scholar Norman Finkelstein spoke at UTM on March 5 about the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in the Gaza Strip. He spoke specifically on the question of whether Israeli soldiers have a right to self-defence when enforcing the “Gaza ghetto” — he argued that they do not under international law.

“I look forward to hearing from those of you in the room who disagree with me on minor or major points,” he began, squinting out into the packed room.

After completing his doctorate at Princeton University and authoring 12 books, Finkelstein is relatively well-known but has not taught in a North American university for over a decade due to the controversy around his scholarship.

His work focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, centring his analysis from the Palestinian perspective. He is a polarizing figure — throughout his career, he has been accused of antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and being a self-hating Jew.

Both of Finkelstein’s parents were Holocaust survivors. He has alleged the existence of a ‘Holocaust industry’ that exists to exploit the legacy of the Holocaust for Israeli and financial interests. A frequent target of pro-Israel outlets and writers, Finkelstein has been pushed to the margins of academia.

Finkelstein has spoken extensively about the Gaza conflict, and he began his talk by saying, “In the spirit of solidarity with those who are in the midst of resisting, overwhelmingly non-violently, I think it is the most important thing to focus on.”

He then provided a brief overview of the nearly year-long protests held by Gazans near the blockade wall — the barrier separating the Gaza Strip from Israel proper — and the Israeli response.

Background on the resistance in Gaza

On March 30, 2018, tens of thousands of Gazans began to assemble along the barrier between Gaza and Israel. Organizers frequently reiterated the peaceful nature of their protest, though some demonstrators did take violent action, such as throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. In response, the Israeli army deployed tanks and snipers.

According to Amnesty International, various human rights groups and on-the-ground videos have clearly shown that these snipers “shot unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists and medical staff approximately 150-400m from the fence, where they did not pose any threat.”

The central issue behind the protests is a demand for Gazans’ right of return. Of Gaza’s nearly two million residents, over 70 per cent are refugees or descended from refugees of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Palestinians refer to this war as the ‘Nakba,’ or the catastrophe, and it displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War and withdrew from the area in 2005. Since 2007, Gaza has been largely governed by Hamas, which Public Safety Canada describes as “a radical Islamist-nationalist terrorist organization.” Much of the international community views Gaza as still being under de facto military occupation by Israel, but Israel denies this.

The unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world. Despite not having any skyscrapers, it is one of the most densely-packed urban areas on Earth. The water is increasingly contaminated. Some predict that a cholera or typhus epidemic will soon break out. And the population of Gaza is overwhelmingly young — nearly half of all Gazans are under 18.

According to the United Nations, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020 due to deteriorating living conditions.

Finkelstein on the Gaza conflict

While Israel and most mainstream media outlets call the barrier between Israel and Gaza a “border fence” or “border wall,” Finkelstein rejects this vocabulary.

In an interview with The Intercept last May, he argued that it simply isn’t accurate to call the barrier a border fence, as that presumes two sovereign states on either side. “Is it calling things by their proper names to say that the Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a border fence? No,” he said. “Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a concentration camp fence. They’re trying to breach a ghetto fence. They’re trying to breach a prison gate.”

Finkelstein’s talk hinged on one central question: “Do the Israeli guards of the Gaza ghetto, do they have a right to self-defence?”

He paused and looked out into the audience, almost as if expecting a response. Finkelstein looked down at his notes, then back up. Again, he asked: “Do the guards of the Gaza ghetto, do they have a right to self-defence?”

He argued that they do not. Finkelstein claimed that, according to international law, no state has the right to use force in a struggle against a group claiming self-determination. As such, Israel does not have the right to use force of any kind against Gazans on the border — even if protesters were to use violence en masse. In fact, Finkelstein told listeners, Gazans have the right to use force in their struggle for self-determination, but the overwhelming majority choose not to. 

To move forward, solidarity with protesting Gazans is key, said Finkelstein, especially as the March of Return protests approach their first anniversary.

Despite the decades of oppression and increasingly tenuous living conditions, Finkelstein still has hope for the people of Gaza.

Public discourse around Israel is changing, he said, albeit slowly. For one thing, North American Jewry — especially young Jews — feel increasingly distant from Israel. In addition, discussions of disproportionate Israeli influence on US policy are finally being had.

For all his cynicism, Finklestein retains a measure of faith in human responses. “The fact of the matter is,” he said, “if you live in a relatively democratic society, enough of the truth manages to make it into the mainstream, such that Israel’s record being so ugly, the cause has become indefensible.

Students tackle barriers to addressing mental health issues at national summit

Organization aims to give students resources to address problems at schools

Students tackle barriers to addressing mental health issues at national summit

More than 250 students from every Canadian province and territory attended the National Jack Summit in downtown Toronto from March 1–3 to discuss mental health supports for students. The National Jack Summit is a Canada-wide conference hosted by the charity, which funds support and training for students to combat mental health challenges in their communities.

The goals of the summit included educating students on developing techniques to help those facing mental health challenges, learning how resources and barriers to addressing mental health issues differ across the country, and creating very specific plans of action to bring back to their communities.

Federal Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor delivered a welcome address for the event. She discussed her personal experiences when her brother received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in the 1980s, her over two decades of experience as a social worker, and her work to expand services for mental health treatment as the federal health minister.

She thanked students representing the charity for their advocacy work and dedication, and expressed excitement for their future plans in supporting others facing mental health issues.

Loss of son in first year of university led to founding of charity

Eric Windeler, a co-founder of, spoke with The Varsity about the motivation behind the charity. He said that he and his wife founded the charity after the loss of their son, Jack Windeler, during his first year at Queen’s University in March 2010.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t know, but he was struggling with his mental health… we lost Jack by suicide. We only found out from the call from… a police officer.”

The family realized that if they could lose a child to mental health challenges, “it can happen to anybody.” After running a two-year pilot project with Kids Help Phone, they learned that “young people were kind of being left out of this conversation” on mental health.

Since then, has become a national charity with 32 staff and almost 3,000 youth volunteers. Representatives of the charity train volunteers on “how to be responsible advocates” for good mental health.

Volunteers are then empowered to identify barriers to addressing mental health issues in their communities, and design initiatives to break down these barriers to “good mental health and good mental health conversations.” This often involves providing educational sessions, connecting students to support services, and advocating on behalf of students.

University of Toronto represented at summit

Amy Wang, a network representative for Toronto and UTSC student, discussed how she became involved with and the unique challenges that students at UTSC face.

She spoke about how she struggled with mental health during her first and second years of university. She had a lot of family issues and academic struggles, but she “knew that it wasn’t just [her] feeling this way,” and wanted to make a difference on campus.

These experiences pushed her toward mental health advocacy and “I wanted to let other people know that it’s okay to struggle, as long as you do get the help that you need,” she said. “I want to be able to make people feel that they’re all able to achieve what they set out [to do].”

To Wang, barriers to mental health that are specific to UTSC relate to “transparency with academic policies, mental health policies, and even just navigating the academic landscape as something that’s needed.” She recalled the difficulty of transitioning from high school to university and “would love to see more programs or supports in place” to help students overcome these barriers.

On the advocacy front, another issue specific to U of T students resulted from the university-mandated leave of absence policy passed last year, said Wang. The policy can mandate students to halt their studies if their mental health “poses a dangerous, physical risk to themselves or others.”

While Wang noted that “the intention behind it is to protect students,” she feels that “the policy still needs a lot of work to essentially communicate that we’re working with the students and not against them.”

To Wang, advocacy to revise the policy to provide clearer guidance to students placed on leave would provide better support to students at U of T.

Thomas Rosica steps down from St. Michael’s College post amid extensive plagiarism allegations

Resignation of prominent priest from board of directors comes as evidence surfaces of plagiarism since 2008

Thomas Rosica steps down from St. Michael’s College post amid extensive plagiarism allegations

A prominent priest in Toronto’s Catholic community has stepped down from the University of St. Michael’s College’s (USMC) board of directors after extensive plagiarism allegations surfaced against him on February 15.

Thomas Rosica, CEO of Catholic media channel Salt + Light Television and a well-known spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church, resigned from his board position after it was revealed that several columns and essays published under his name in news outlets such as the Toronto Sun, National Post, Windsor Star, and The Globe and Mail included copy plagiarized from other sources.

Many of the plagiarized sources can be traced back to other Catholic and secular journalists writing for publications such as The New York Times and America Magazine. The earliest of the articles dates back to 2008, when Rosica published a column for the Toronto Sun about Catholic martyrdom, which includes two unattributed paragraphs from the work of Associated Press reporter Brian Murphy. 

“I sincerely regret the situation that has arisen and the allegations of plagiarism. I can assure you these errors were never done intentionally,” said Rosica in a statement to The Varsity.

“Nevertheless such actions are wrong. I have recognized the errors and publicly acknowledged them. I am truly sorry for what has transpired. It is best that I step down from the governing board so that my mistakes do not detract from the mission of the University.”

The governing body at USMC, run by the Catholic community of priests known as the Congregation of St. Basil (CSB), have taken the situation seriously. USMC has not been involved beyond the acceptance of Rosica’s resignation.

Collegium chair Don McLeod tweeted on February 25, “Fr. [Father] Thomas Rosica, CSB made significant contributions while serving the St. Michael’s community as a member of its Collegium. Over the weekend, I received and have respectfully accepted his resignation from the Collegium.”

Martyn Jones, a spokesperson for USMC, issued a statement to Catholic and self-described “#1 pro-life news website” LifeSiteNews on February 19 in response to the greater university’s comment on the matter.

“We are troubled to hear of the allegations against Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. The University of St. Michael’s College holds its students and its academic community to the highest standards of accountability and academic integrity, and as a federated university in the University of Toronto, we follow the U of T’s Office of Student Academic Integrity and its Code of Behavior on Academic Matters.”

Rosica has also played a significant role in other Canadian universities, having served as President and Vice-Chancellor of Assumption University in Windsor. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia in May and an honorary degree from Regis College at U of T in November. Rosica also served as a media adviser for the Vatican in 2014 and played a significant role as a spokesperson during the St. Michael’s College School hazing incidents.

David Mulroney, former President of USMC from 2015–2018, tweeted on February 18, “Failure to investigate suggests that major Catholic universities in Canada value ideological compatibility over academic rigor.”

While it is unclear whether Rosica’s awards and degrees will be revoked, the Jesuits of Canada has withdrawn its bestowal of the Magis Award, given to an outstanding member of the Catholic community.

“Plagiarism is a grave offense against intellectual honesty and the community of scholarship. At the same time, many of us know Fr. Tom personally, and celebrate his genuine service to the Church in Canada and around the world,” reads a statement from the Jesuits of Canada.

“It is with great sorrow then that we have written to Father Rosica and withdrawn our invitation to him to receive the Magis Award on April 24, in the context of the Annual Provincial’s Dinner.”

Rosica continues to serve as CEO of Salt + Light Television. The Vatican has not released a statement on the matter.

“I carried on”: former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin speaks at U of T

Only female Chief Justice discusses lack of female leadership, childhood admiration of Queen Elizabeth II

“I carried on”: former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin speaks at U of T

You can tell that the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin did not leave her lawyer days behind her on the Supreme Court bench.

On February 28 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, the former Chief Justice and only woman to hold that role delivered her speech to a full house about the barriers that weigh women down on the career ladder to leadership.

The event was hosted by the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy as part of the Women and Leadership series of the David Peterson Public Leadership Program. David and Shelley Peterson and former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci were in the crowd.

Speaking from both her 17 years of experience as Chief Justice and the numerous statistical reports and studies she cited, McLachlin outlined her argument in a logical manner.

First, she established the central question that her argument addressed.

[A New York Times Magazine] article… says that from the 1970s to the 1990s, women made serious progress in the workplace, achieving higher positions,” McLachlin said. “And then — there are numerous studies showing this — the progress stalled… So why, and what can we do about it?”

She then went on to highlight a popular counter-argument that women have an innate lack of drive or ability. She rebutted this claim with examples, including a study conducted by Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter that concluded that a lack of ambition or competency in women was not a self-imposed barrier to leadership.

Finally, she brought attention to and provided solutions for the five fundamental barriers she would be examining that night: absence of role models, overt discrimination, subconscious bias, marriage and parenting, and pay inequity.

When she addressed the lack of role models, McLachlin recounted her childhood fascination with Queen Elizabeth II.

“As a little girl, I made my parents buy the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star every week, which offered extensive coverage of the royal wedding and coronation. And I would spend my weekend cutting out the photos and pasting them in my scrapbooks,” she said. “In hindsight, I came to the view that perhaps, I was craving some sort of role model… I think the fact that I was so mesmerized by this person, this young woman, attests to a deep longing that was inside me.”

McLachlin also saw a need to reject discrimination in its overt and subconscious forms, which mires the careers of women.

McLachlin herself experienced discrimination throughout her career. In 1968, when she was 23 years old, she was a married, Gold-Medal-winning law graduate from the University of Alberta seeking apprenticeship at a firm. When she interviewed at the first firm on her list, the interviewer asked her out of curiosity why she would want to work. After all, she was married.

Nevertheless, McLachlin concluded that the barriers could be and must be removed.

“Every time a woman is appointed or promoted to an important position, a powerful message is sent: women can do this,” she said. “I will never forget the mothers and fathers bringing their little girls and sometimes their little boys forward to me… how proudly they would say, looking directly into the eyes of their little daughter, ‘This is our Chief Justice.’”

When asked by The Varsity if she ever felt like she didn’t have the luxury to fail as a pioneer in her position, McLachlin said, “One fails at many small things… And I think that’s an important facet of leadership too. You have to be strong, you have to [get] through.”

“Many times during my career I really felt inadequate and discouraged, but I never allowed myself to think that failure was an option. And I carried on.”

Blues women’s volleyball win Quigley Cup

Alina Dormann and Anna Feore lead Toronto to OUA championship

Blues women’s volleyball win Quigley Cup

Alina Dormann and Anna Feore did it again. For the third time in the past five seasons, the Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team hoisted the Quigley Cup, winning the 2018–2019 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship 3–0 in straight sets over the defending U SPORTS national champions, the Ryerson Rams.

Despite the dominant play by Dormann and Feore, the championship win was a true team effort. The Blues entered the match victorious in eight straight contests, a streak dating back to January 27.

Ryerson opened the first set with an 11–6 advantage over Toronto, as the Blues committed four attack errors. Blues second-year setter Hayley Goodwin assisted on five of Toronto’s six straight kills to close the gap to 14–12. Goodwin finished the match with 39 assists, while Dormann led all players with 17 kills, and Feore tallied 10 kills and 3 blocks.

Feore launched a kill that levelled the score at 15–15 and her block on the Rams’ following play saw the Blues take the lead. Ryerson was unable to reclaim the lead, and Toronto pulled away to win the set 25–20.

Toronto jumped out to an early 7–3 lead in the second set before their momentum was stopped by a Rams timeout. Nevertheless, a barrage of kills from Feore and Dormann, and two service aces from Demetra Maragos propelled the Blues to a 12–5 lead before Ryerson called their second timeout of the set.

Ryerson bounced back to level the score 15–15 after Dormann made consecutive attack errors and Rams third-year outside hitter Cailin Wark earned a kill. The Blues regained after Wark committed a service error.

The Rams pulled to within one point at 21–20 following back-to-back kills by Theanna Vernon and Sara Piana, but the Blues earned three consecutive points and Dormann finished off the set with a kill for a 25–21 set victory.

The third and final set was a back-and-forth affair as the Rams played tight, uninterested in being swept in straight sets. But Toronto broke away from Ryerson midway through the set, earning three consecutive points with a service ace from Maragos bookended by two kills from Anna Feore, forcing Ryerson to take a timeout.

The Blues’ lead ballooned to 20–15, but the Rams fought back, pulling to within a single point at 21–20.

Ultimately, Toronto proved to be too much for Ryerson as Brett Hagarty was unable to return Dormann’s serve, earning the Blues the OUA Championship and bragging rights over rival Rams.

Next up, the Blues will contend for the U SPORTS national championship this weekend in Edmonton, Alberta. The Blues last won the national championship in 2016, capping an undefeated season and closing out Feore’s rookie one.

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

Guelph Gryphons earn 4–2 victory to win OUA Championship

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

In their first McCaw Cup Final in a decade, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team fell short of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) title in a 4–2 loss against the Guelph Gryphons. Guelph hosted the final, after posting an OUA-best 16–4–2 record in the regular season.

Kassie Roache opened scoring for the Blues, receiving a well-timed pass from Kiyono Cox and wiring a slap shot into the top corner to give the Blues a 1–0 lead. The Gryphons didn’t answer back until there were five minutes left in the opening period; Mallory Young tipped a pass to Claire Merrick, who shot past Blues netminder Erica Fryer to level the score at 1–1.

Fryer was busy early and often in the first period as the Gryphons forced her to make seven saves. The rookie was well poised between the pipes, making 14 saves by the end of the second period and allowing just one goal from the highest-scoring offense in the OUA.

But the Gryphons outmatched the Blues in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away in a contest that had been otherwise level from the opening face-off.

Katie Mikkelsen’s power-play goal 31 seconds in saw Toronto’s one-goal lead evaporate. Kristen Jay put the Gryphons ahead 3–2, with Merrick scoring a late goal to end any hopes of a Blues comeback.

After a strong 60 minutes, the Gryphons lifted the McCaw Cup for the third time in the past four years.

Despite the loss, the Blues season continues next week as they head to Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island for the chance to capture a national title at the USPORTS National Championships.