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“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Students press the administration for better mental health resources and policy change

“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

On March 17, another student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

We’ve lost at least three members of our student community to suicide this school year. Their stories are not mine to tell.

On March 18, I was one of five students allowed into U of T’s Business Board meeting. Students deserve to know what happened in that room. This is a story I can tell.

Like most students, I learned of the tragedy through Facebook on the night that it happened. I stayed awake refreshing my home page. By the next morning, students had created an event page called “Protest UofT’s Inaction.” Word spread quickly. Hundreds of us planned to unite in peaceful protest outside of President Meric Gertler’s office on King’s College Circle from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. When I arrived at Simcoe Hall, students were protesting outside, while Campus Police officers blocked access to the inside. Hearing that a meeting was taking place on Simcoe Hall’s second floor, four of us went to the back door of Convocation Hall to try the elevators. The elevator wouldn’t budge without a key.

I felt the sting of an obvious metaphor as I kept pressing the button. Only a select few have access to the top.

We gave up on the Simcoe sit-in and made our way to the Medical Sciences Building, where we heard the Business Board meeting would be moved. We got as close as we could to the office before Campus Police blocked off the next door. Students sat in the hall, maintaining a clear path to the door and any exit route. We’re not in the camp of blocking the way. Eventually, someone came from the meeting to offer three students a seat in the meeting. The spots filled up immediately. I ran up to Lucinda Qu, a student activist who was about to go in.

“You have to talk about the mandatory leave,” I urged.

“I will, I promise,” she said. I sat back down. A few minutes later, the same person who let three of us in came back out. There was room for two more students. This time, I was one of them.

The two of us joined the three other students sitting at the back of the room. During the meeting’s first few minutes, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr acknowledged the recent tragedy and addressed mental health on campus. She mentioned new support systems for students in crisis at this time, and underscored last year’s investments in new counsellors and additional aid.

When the provost finished, my fellow students and I were poised to continue this discussion, but the board secretary changed the topic. “The main focus of our meeting today is student fees and budget,” he said. The students’ concern over U of T’s mental health crisis was not ‘the main focus,’ at least not here. Someone gave us copies of the 2019-2020 budget report. I opened the booklet to the centre spread and saw bold white letters on a glossy blue background: “Priority Investments.” A metaphor put into words. As Governing Council members discussed budgetary planning and tuition changes, I realized that our demands for better mental health services were not a priority investment. I looked at the other student who had walked in with me.

“Wait — what exactly are we here for?” they asked me. This student held a framed picture of their friend who had died by suicide. Five students were physically present in the meeting, but when I looked at the picture, I realized that we were six. Perhaps, in some form or other, we were even more.

“I have no idea,” I said. I had no idea why — or how — a regular budgetary meeting was happening as though students weren’t protesting outside, as though a student hadn’t died the day before.

On the back of the budget report, I scribbled notes on why the university’s mandatory leave of absence policy fails to comply with the criteria outlined by Ontario Human Rights Commission. The other students compiled a statement about U of T’s mental health crisis on a public Google Doc, where students from the outside chimed in with online suggestions. There weren’t just five of us in the room. There were dozens.

After 45 minutes of budget talks, the board secretary addressed the elephant in the room: the students. He gave us a few minutes to speak. Lucinda read a statement on behalf of the students who could not make it into the room.

“To the thousands of us that will spend years of our lives here,” she said, “and to the handful of us who will end our lives here, this is disheartening.” My heart sank and a lump rose in my throat. Lucinda read sections of the collaborative document where students had listed inadequate responses: “It is UNACCEPTABLE to have waiting lists for access to mental health services. It is UNACCEPTABLE to have understaffed and unresponsive counseling services.”

In the Google Doc, students capitalized “UNACCEPTABLE,” flagging the need for emphasis. Lucinda’s voice carried this collective inflection. I think my voice would have cracked. “Time and time again,” Lucinda said, “we have participated [in] fruitless discussions with people who are supposed to be our allies.” The board secretary interrupted her. “I’m going to ask you to sum up,” he said. Crucial discussions become fruitless when cut short. Despite the impossible task of condensing a crisis in one minute, Lucinda pressed the administration to work with us “in a public, honest, and materially significant capacity.”

The secretary thanked her for “that thoughtful and well-articulated presentation.” President Meric Gertler expressed his shared concerns and thanked everyone who contributed to the statement. “We recognize that institutions like this university can and should do more to address these issues,” he said.

The president stated that the university has “invested in good faith — not bad faith — in many service improvements across all three of our campuses, and the investments are quite substantial. Clearly, there is the need to do more.” He continued, “I just want to signal here an openness, and indeed an enthusiasm, to work with students in good faith and in a very open way to solicit your advice and your ideas on how to do better.”

Regehr spoke next. She said that the administration will continue to invest in mental health, while acknowledging that many of those current investments fall short. “With respect to consultation,” she added, “we will absolutely continue to meet with our students. Professor [Sandy] Welsh and I meet regularly with our student leaders, and that is an issue that is on the table and we commit to continuing to do that.” In response to calls for systemic change at U of T, Regehr explained that the university has a “new expert panel on the undergraduate educational experience.”

When the provost finished, the board secretary thanked us again for this moving speech before moving on. I put my hand up. “I’m sorry, we can’t take questions at this time,” the secretary said.

I didn’t have any questions. I had a statement.

“We need to address the mandatory leave of absence policy,” I said. “A student died this weekend, and we can afford to spend a few extra minutes listening to students. I don’t know when I’m going to have another opportunity to share why U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is unacceptable.” I stumbled over every word. I was already standing and ready to read when the board secretary granted me permission.

“I think you should be allowed to read it, but I’d ask that you keep your comments to one minute,” he said. “It’s an additional request and we’d like to move on with our regular budget meeting, so please keep your comments brief.” I spoke for four minutes and 58 seconds. Here is part of what I said:

U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is incompatible with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The policy claims to “provide reasonable accommodation to the point of undue hardship” as per the OHRC. On January 29, OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane wrote, “the Policy may result in discrimination” and “falls short of meeting the duty to accommodate under the Code.” By approving the policy after making minor edits, the university sends the following message to students: although the OHRC flags potential human rights violations, the policy still stands, and its administrators stand behind the policy. By stressing the OHRC’s “duty to accommodate,” the policy preemptively defends itself from critique within a human rights framework. If a student is in crisis, the policy claims, “it may not be consistent with the duty to accommodate to merely let the student confront significant negative academic consequences.” By touting a mandated leave of absence as an accommodation, the university misunderstands the OHRC’s policies. This policy fits what the OHRC calls “denial of access,” whereby post-secondary institutions “exclude students with disabilities” and denies them “equal opportunity in their education.” The OHRC also claims “education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.” Allowing mentally ill/Mad-identified students barrier-free access to education does not constitute undue hardship; it grants them the equal opportunity that post-secondary institutions must provide. According to specific criteria listed in the OHRC, undue hardship entails accommodations that are too onerous in terms of cost and health and safety.

The policy capitalizes on the “health and safety” criterion of undue hardship by conflating mentally ill people at risk to themselves with those who pose a risk to others, a narrative which perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes. The policy conflates “a risk of harm to self or others” in the threshold for a mandated leave. This scenario maintains that Mad people are dangerous. Most Mad/mentally ill people, however, are not violent but subject to violence. If a student poses a risk to others, however, the university should mandate removal from studies as per the student code of conduct. There are, however, documented incidents where abusers and assailants have been allowed to remain in class and on campus. The OHRC cautions against “ignorance and misunderstanding about people with psychosocial disabilities,” and the policy reveals such ignorance. Students may appeal their mandated leave “no later than 10 business days after the decision.” This 10-day deadline ignores the complexities of mental health. Someone admitted to a psychiatric hospital, as I have been several times, might not be able to contact the university and organize their defence. Students must also apply “at least 30 days prior to the term in which the student wishes to enrol.” A student forced to leave at the beginning or middle of a term can only return in the following term. If a student does not meet the 30-day deadline, the university may “terminate” their registration. The student must organize around their crisis to ensure their post-secondary education is neither suspended nor terminated. A student’s return would involve “periodic review,” “verification,” “monitoring,” and “indication that the student may be subject to ongoing conditions.” This kind of surveillance will exacerbate symptoms of paranoia and anxiety that many people with mental illness experience. The policy stigmatizes students with mental health issues. This stigma, the OHRC claims, may “lead institutions to develop policies, procedures and decision-making practices that exclude or marginalize people with mental health disabilities.”

I urge you to revise a policy that is clearly not working and clearly not for us. I suggest a policy designed to mandate the leave of abusers and assailants on campus who pose actual threats to other students, and a separate policy designed to support students in crisis who may pose a risk to themselves. Accommodate us without removing our autonomy. As the policy stands, students are afraid to seek help for fear of being placed on a mandated leave.

Posted by Lucinda Qu on Monday, March 18, 2019

My voice shook more than my hands. At this point, I went off script to maintain eye contact with individual members until they nodded.

“We see this policy, we see it in print, we see it in writing, and we are afraid. The consequences of this fear, the consequences of being silenced, [are] life-threatening.” I needed the governors to understand this fear. Last semester, University College’s mental wellness commissioner, Kiana Habibagahi, and I met with Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh to discuss the mandatory leave policy. Welsh said that the policy would be implemented in very few cases. To a person in crisis, this condition means nothing. The fear of being the rare exception keeps students from seeking help.

I thanked the board members for their time and sank in my seat. I cried. My fellow students gave me back-pats and a glass of water. The rim of the cup missed my mouth and most of the water spilled down my shirt, which was already damp from nervous sweat. I was a sopping puffy-eyed mess in a room full of people on Ontario’s Sunshine List.

The provost spoke: “I’ll just respond very briefly. I really want to thank the student for bringing this to our attention.” I tried to listen. I dissociated instead.

“When we brought the policy through last year,” the provost said, “we did undertake that we would be reporting back to governance about use of the policy and we will be doing that, as we promised.” I’m not interested in pulling back governance, or in the policy’s rare application. As long as the policy stands, so does the possibility of it being used against us.

The board secretary thanked the provost before shifting gears. “So unless there’s any other business to be raised by the board, the meeting will now move on —” One of the board members steered the discussion back to the policy, describing it as having “a certain chilling effect.” I sat up in my seat. The unexpected ally continued: “It is a strong concern and I have to admit, having thought about this policy in the months since we passed it, I have more concerns than when we approved it.” This shift from platitudes to critique hinted at progress. I felt, for the first time, that one person in the administration was on our side. He thanked us as we left the room. I’d like to thank him back.

At the end of the hall, two Campus Police officers were waiting to usher us out. An officer placed his hand on our backs to move us through the door one by one, dividing us with a firm push and a loud “Next!” It was as though we were criminals. “Next!” I waited in line behind my four fellow students. “Next!” I have PTSD from a history of sexual assault. Too many strangers have put their hands on my body. “Next!” The officer pressed his hand against my lower back.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Fine,” he said, with a have-it-your-way indignation. I was delirious from a sleepless night and a nightmarish day. And now I was triggered.

When I felt the officer’s hand on my back, Lucinda’s statement came back to me: “It is unacceptable.” It is unacceptable that campus police use intimidation strategies. It is unacceptable that campus police do not consider students who may have a history of trauma, students who come from marginalized communities that are susceptible to police brutality, students who have the right not to be touched. It is unacceptable that I have to include a tangent on the police in this article.

Yet poor mental health care and police intervention inevitably ally. I call on the administration to address the systemic connection between campus police responses and issues surrounding student mental health. In a recent meeting that a group of students and I held with Janine Robb, the Executive Director of the Health & Wellness Centre, I learnt that two years ago, campus police could handcuff students during a mental health crisis. Today, careless campus police actions are symptoms of this sanist legacy.

And to the officer who touched students that day: keep your hands off us.

I finally joined the students who were peacefully protesting in the hall. I knew they’d be waiting for us. Lucinda and I gave brief statements. Microphones and TV cameras loomed. Still, the daunting media apparatus intimidated me less than the board meeting whose members wanted us to keep our statements brief. No one was watching the clock here. I sat back down among the protesters, most of whom I didn’t know. I just knew that I cared about these people deeply and felt their care just as intensely. I cannot overstate the richness of our communal support.

Toward the end of the evening, a group of students lingered in our space of protest. On his way out, Gertler addressed us. He thanked Lucinda and me for our moving speeches. We thanked him for the opportunity to speak. He then expressed a strong desire to engage in further discussions with students.

Students are not interested in being heard without being listened to. It will be the administrators’ privilege to listen to those of us who are still here to speak. When deference doesn’t get us change, we need to make demands. I’m demanding that the administration consult with us and implement substantive policy changes as per our pleas.

“I’ll be honest,” I said to Gertler. “Students feel like the administration is working against us, not for or with us.” Prepositions matter. Consultations matter. These forms of language and communication often go wrong. He assured that he would consult with students.

President Gertler, I will take you up on your offer for further discussions, for meaningful and regular consultations. My friends and I look forward to working with you and your colleagues.

As we continue this work, our responsibility to one another requires respect for those who are grieving, for those who need privacy, and for those whose stories are not ours to tell. Amid the anger, the protests, and the collective demand for change, we cannot forget the mourning.

We cannot forget the seemingly small gestures that just might sustain someone who is struggling. After the protests, the board meeting, the media coverage, the organizing, and the grief of that long Monday, I met up with one of my closest friends. He brought me to his place so that I could do laundry and take a shower. It had been a while since I had done either of those things. The next day, another dear friend gave me Tylenol for a crushing headache and let me lie in her lap for a moment. My friends’ simple acts of care were more necessary than I can explain. I’d argue that helping someone meet their basic needs is more important than reading a statement at a board meeting.

I’d like to end with a note on language. People do not ‘commit’ suicide; they die by suicide as a result of a broken, ableist, and sanist system that does not support those who struggle. Prepositions matter.

On June 24, 2018, a student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre.

On June 27, 2018, Governing Council approved the university-mandated leave of absence policy.

We warned the administration that the policy would dissuade students from seeking help, that the risk of student suicide could rise.

We hoped we wouldn’t be right.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Press on

A letter from Jack O. Denton, Editor-in-Chief 2018–2019

Press on

This January, The Varsity was faced with news of an existential threat. As the provincial government announced that it was going to strip student groups like ours of privileged status as a mandatory student fee, we had little choice but to do what we do best: report the news, boldly.

That day, the work of Varsity reporters and editors embodied the very spirit of what was at risk. Our reporters publicly pushed a provincial cabinet minister for answers. Our editors made news appearances to speak on the effect that the policy would have on the student press in the province. Each journalist played a part as if in a well-oiled machine, thrumming to fulfil our mandate of furthering discourse on issues that matter to students.

This year, The Varsity as an organization has been the largest in recent history. Emboldened by funds from a levy increase, we followed through with our campaign commitments by hiring editors dedicated to covering issues at UTM and UTSC, as well as broadening the scope of our coverage to include our new graduate membership. Even a cursory scan of our pages will reveal the substantial progress we’ve made in covering these communities. Volume 139 was, broadly, characterized by expansion. This year we launched a Business section, renovated our office space to accommodate a podcast studio, which became home to Bazaar and (Un)Spoken, and created The Squirrel, a student life blog. We also rejoined the Canadian University Press, a national cooperative of student newspapers, after a long absence.

As for output, we crossed the one million pageview mark in early February and have clocked  more than 1.4 million pageviews since May 1, 2018 from around 1,100 articles published on thevarsity.ca.

Much has been done, and there’s still much to do, but those stories are for future editors and future letters.

Producing a newspaper is a team sport, and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the company of a most talented group. By March 31, 484 people contributed to The Varsity, of which 141 are staff. I am grateful to each and every one of them, but particularly thankful to a few. Reut Cohen acted as my rock and foil this year, and she is responsible for all of the good decisions and none of the bad ones. Kaitlyn Simpson led an expansive online team to launch a new platform and improve existing ones, always with a view to the future. Pearl Cao oversaw a stunning brand redesign of our print newspaper with creative force and reset our standards by finishing production earlier than ever on Sundays. The News team, led by Josie Kao and Ilya Bañares, was a point of pride for us, responding to protests, crises, and tragedies stalwartly and with inexorable curiosity — seeing them work reminded me of why I fell in love with journalism. Thanks are also owed to my predecessors. Jacob Lorinc taught me that even though the work we do here is the rough draft of history, it should still be strong and stylish copy. Alex McKeen reminded me that, ultimately, it’s people who are at the heart of this newspaper.

While The Varsity is ending its 139th volume on a high note, it’s impossible to ignore the threats facing this organization. Premier Doug Ford’s Student Choice Initiative will give U of T students the option of whether or not to not pay The Varsity’s fee, which has historically been mandatory. The logic is that incidental fees that fund groups like The Varsity do not provide a universal service to the student body, and as such should be optional. I vehemently disagree. From holding student unions and the university accountable to providing a platform for students’ stories that would otherwise go uncovered, this newspaper has a real, meaningful, and intrinsic value on campus. Moreover, this attempt to corporatize student associations puts traditional media organizations like The Varsity — which have been mostly isolated from the economic pitfalls of print media by our reliable student fee funding — up against a wall.

The student press isn’t just under pressure from this provincial mandate. This year, there have been concerning developments among local student societies with respect to granting media access to union meetings. Despite troubling incidents this year within the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, as we progress into Volume 140 of The Varsity, I am hopeful of where our relationship with these two unions stand. Student unions represent thousands of people and control millions of dollars; as such, they should be subject to extreme scrutiny and access to their decision-making meetings should be sine qua non.

Nevertheless, with my successor Josie Kao steering the ship, The Varsity will thrive. Josie brings years of refined news judgment to the role alongside a deep and meaningful passion for making The Varsity open and accessible to readers and staff alike. It’s unclear what exactly the future holds for The Varsity, but I am certain this organization is in the hands of a group of people who will elevate the standards of work here to new heights. The fruits of their labour will bear more than any words of mine ever could.

In the introduction to the first issue of the first volume of The Varsity, published October 7, 1880, our editors made an impassioned case for the importance of a vigorous student press. These were their opening words:

“Whatever element of ambition or audacity lies latent in our programme, it is wholly bound up in the desire that the University of Toronto shall possess the best university paper in America and an unrivalled index of the progress of educational systems.”

And so, in pursuit of the best university newspaper, meaningful journalistic progress in an age and environment where it is under threat, and, above all, stories that tell the truth, boldly:

Press on.

— Jack O. Denton

Editor-in-Chief, Volume CXXXIX

UTSU Board of Directors suspends bylaw to hold earlier by-elections

Director criticizes lack of consultation with representatives running for re-election

UTSU Board of Directors suspends bylaw to hold earlier by-elections

In order to hold an earlier by-election after its general election failed to attract enough candidates to fill all executive and board seats, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors voted to suspend a bylaw to shorten its elections nomination period in an emergency online meeting on March 24.

The board approved the schedule of the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) for the union’s spring by-election. The nomination period will open on April 1 and close on April 5, campaigning will be from April 8–12, and voting will take place from April 13–15.

The union’s elections this year have seen the fewest candidates in recent history, with only seven of 28 directors winning seats on the board and three of seven executive positions being filled.

To run by-elections on the ERC’s schedule, the board voted to suspend Bylaw VI.5.b.i. According to the bylaw, the union must give notice of a by-election at least 14 days before the start of its nomination period. The union suspended the bylaw in order to give a seven-day notice ahead of the new nomination period.

Innis College Director and Vice-President External-elect Lucas Granger wrote to The Varsity criticizing the process of the emergency meeting. “I find it sad that the meeting couldn’t have waited until the end of the election period as to include more of the board of directors.”

Board members running in the union’s elections were required to take a leave of absence. This means that the six current directors who ran in the election could not attend this emergency meeting, as it was during the voting period.

“Many of us were on leaves of absence… I believe we could have added valuable input on the situation,” Granger wrote.

In response to Granger’s comments, outgoing UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm wrote to The Varsity that a delay of the emergency meeting “even by a day would have had unreasonably negative consequences,” by reducing the timeframe for prospective candidates and voters to plan for the by-election.

Biswurm further wrote that, despite the meeting excluding directors running in the winter election, “the meeting’s online session did not significantly impact attendance. Even with multiple directors on leave, attendance numbers for Sunday evening’s board meeting were on par with levels observed at other emergency meetings of the board.”

The Breakdown: U of T’s policy on reporting suicides

Policy is nebulous, with official responses differing case-to-case

The Breakdown: U of T’s policy on reporting suicides

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

In what is being described as a mental health crisis at U of T, students have protested the administration’s handling of suicides on campus and its perceived lack of support and mental health services. The Varsity looked into how U of T tracks information about student deaths on campus and the university’s policy on acknowledging suicides.

Campus Police at UTSG reported three attempted suicides or deaths in 2017 and one in 2016, only accounting for on-campus incidents. The 2018 report has not yet been released.

For U of T, the decision to notify staff and students is determined by the Office of the Vice-Provost Students and the affected faculty, according to Elizabeth Church, U of T spokesperson.

In an email to The Varsity, Church wrote that the university does not confirm the identity of deceased students without the permission of the student’s family. She also confirmed that U of T “may acknowledge” the death and identity of a student if released by Toronto Police or other official channels.

The 2017 Student Health and Well-Being at the University of Toronto report, which surveyed 4,752 students, revealed that at least 12 per cent of respondents, or 570 students, have either contemplated or attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

Besides national surveys and Campus Police reports, the university does not publish any other information on suicides on campus.

A Toronto Star report from 2017 found that most universities release statements on student deaths, but rarely release the student’s name and almost never acknowledge the cause of death. The Public Health Agency of Canada told the Star that statistics collected by institutions on suicide are necessary to fully inform prevention efforts and policies.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

TCU Parliamentary Assistant talks delay in report’s release, working with student groups

Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

In light of the provincial government releasing the results of an Ontario-wide sexual violence survey on March 19, The Varsity sat down with David Piccini, current MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), to discuss the implications of the results and the delay in their release.

Student Voices on Sexual Violence was a survey commissioned by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD), the Ministry of TCU under the current Progressive Conservative government.

“It’s, as far as I’m aware, the most comprehensive and in-depth look that’s gone to campuses and colleges around Ontario,” Piccini said.

It was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in all provincially-funded postsecondary institutions from February to April 2018. Across Ontario, over 160,000 students responded.

The results showed that at U of T, 61.7 per cent of respondents reported that they did not understand how to access supports, including how to report sexual violence. In addition, 22.9 per cent reported being dissatisfied with U of T’s response to sexual violence, 22.1 per cent reported that they had been stalked, 17.2 per cent reported a non-consensual sexual experience, and 58.7 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment.

“The results were deeply saddening,” Piccini said. “One experience of assault or harassment on campus is really one too many.”

Piccini emphasized that the ministry took immediate action, mentioning the four initiatives released by TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton alongside the release of the report.

Fullerton announced that the government would double the Women’s Campus Safety Grant, and require publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, deliver annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus, and create task forces to address sexual violence on campuses.

When asked about the potential release of further results from the survey, Piccini told The Varsity that the ministry has “referred [the report] to the Privacy Commissioner,” echoing Fullerton’s statements at the press conference when the report was released.

Fullerton had said that Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish will be consulted “on the release of additional survey results.”

When asked about why there was a delay in the release of the report, Piccini confirmed that it was a delay on the part of CCI Research, the company that developed and distributed the survey.

Piccini told The Varsity that the TCU received the survey results on March 17, two days prior to the public release on March 19. He also confirmed that postsecondary institutions received the report prior to its public release.

This is a marked shift from the release plan of the previous Liberal government, as this timeline leaves a window of no more than a day between when the report was released to postsecondary institutions and when it was released to the public.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Mitzie Hunter, previous Minister of AESD and current MPP of Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be shared with postsecondary institutions in summer 2018. Hunter added that some of the data would be made public and has since criticized the Ford government for “hiding” the results.

However, Piccini contradicted this point. “The previous government had no plans to release this to the public,” he said.

When asked about Hunter’s statement that the AESD had planned to publicly release the data, Piccini said, “I can’t speculate on what she was planning or what she wasn’t planning when we were given this report.”

In terms of implementing the four initiatives, Piccini said that he expects “an ongoing dialogue.”

“The realities are different from one campus to the next. The geographic realities, the size, the various different marginalized groups on campus all present unique challenges that I think must be addressed uniquely to that institution.”

He emphasized his commitment to work further with student groups across campuses to discuss and develop better strategies to continue the conversation about the issue of sexual violence on campus.

“There is not a group I will not meet with,” he said.

When asked if there are any more initiatives on the horizon from the ministry surrounding this issue, Piccini did not give any specific examples, but he cited the ministry’s commitment to viewing this issue holistically, involving mental health in the discussion, and continuing “this ongoing dialogue, and ongoing discussions we’re having with universities.”

“[It’s] important to engage students,” he said. “The solutions to this are going to involve all of us, our entire community.”

Scarborough student union Winter General Meeting cancelled due to failure to meet quorum

UTSC conservative group views cancellation as “cover up to not allow democratic engagements”

Scarborough student union Winter General Meeting cancelled due to failure to meet quorum

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) Winter General Meeting (WGM) was cancelled on March 28 due to a failure to meet quorum.

A student from UTSC’s Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) pointed out that less than a dozen students attended the WGM, which was held in a classroom-tier lecture hall.

None of the 17 SCSU directors were present at the WGM. 

Many students who attended the WGM were associated with the OPCCA.

OPCCA President Sarkis Kidanian said to The Varsity, “I’ve never seen personally in my five years that quorum doesn’t take place without the attendance of the executives.”

Kidanian noted that none of the executives at the meeting arrived with proxies. He further added that, from his experience as the SCSU’s Director of Political Science in 2015, the union’s executives have always been encouraged to gather 25 proxies for the general meetings to achieve quorum.

The WGM only had four main motions, which were all from Kidanian.

The first motion called for the SCSU to publicly apologize to the OPCCA for presenting “distance and anti-sentiments” toward OPCCA and UTSC conservatives, and to give the OPCCA the “same rights and privileges” as the other groups on campus, as perceived by the OPCCA.

The second motion called on the SCSU to annually recognize the Armenian Genocide and mark April as the Genocide Awareness, Condemnation, and Prevention Month at UTSC.

The third motion was to condemn the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s rejection of the Ontario government’s free speech mandate.

The last motion was to strike a Multi-Partisan Policy Analyzing and Developing Committee to develop “stronger relationships between the Student Union and the external counterparts across partisan lines.”

Kidanian speculated that the failure of the meeting to achieve quorum was a deliberate attempt by the SCSU to block the presentation of his first, third, and fourth motions.

“It would look bad on the student union,” he said. “It’s better [for the SCSU] to state that the WGM didn’t take place because of quorum, rather than have these motions [revealed].”

OPCCA members asked why the WGM was not promoted on social media more to remind students about it, especially during the days leading up to the WGM.

The SCSU’s latest post about the WGM on Facebook was on March 6, roughly three weeks before the meeting.

At the WGM, Vice-President Equity and President-elect Chemi Lhamo agreed that the WGM could have been promoted better.

However, she said that if the SCSU did not want the meeting to happen, there were other ways to cancel it instead of attempting to make it fail to meet quorum. She said that the WGM had a fully-prepared meeting package, all executives attended, and the union also booked a room for this meeting.

Lhamo said that past SCSU meetings that failed to take place were because the union was unable to book a room.

According to the OPCCA’s official statement to the SCSU released on March 29, the association views the cancellation of the meeting due to its failure to meet quorum as a “direct attack to cover up and not allow democratic engagements within the University to commence.”

The statement also called for the “immediate resignation” of the current SCSU executives and directors.

The Varsity has reached out to SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis, Lhamo, and SCSU Internal Coordinator Mel Dashdorj for comment.

Computer Science department plans to increase program admissions by 10 per cent

Plans revealed at Computer Science Student Union mental health town hall

Computer Science department plans to increase program admissions by 10 per cent

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

Following a student death by suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology earlier this month, the Computer Science Student Union and the Department of Computer Science held a town hall on March 27 to address mental health issues within the department, as well as the competitive program of study (POSt) requirements that many in the computer science community believe to be a contributing factor to poor mental health among students. It was announced at the town hall that the department is planning to increase space in the program by 10 per cent for the coming school year, with a new system for admitting students into the program expected to be ready for the 2020–2021 academic year.

The Chair and the Associate Chair of the Undergraduate Studies section of the department — Ravin Balakrishnan and Michelle Craig — were on the panel to address concerns from the students.

Melanie Woodin, the incoming Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science; Deborah Robinson, Faculty Registrar and Director of Undergraduate Academic Services; and Caroline Rabbatt, Director of Critical Incidents, Safety and Health Awareness were also in attendance.

Changes to POSt

Balakrishnan announced that the department is planning to increase space in the program and move to a new admissions process. The new system, similar to the admission process for Rotman Commerce, would admit half of the program’s students directly from high school — requiring them to apply with a supplemental application and maintain certain grades in required courses — with the other half made up of out-of-stream students.

Another change to the POSt system for the coming academic year, Craig explained, is that in-stream and out-of-stream students will not be differentiated for program admissions.

“Students are in the same courses, taking the same midterms, the same final exams, and we’ll use the grades in those courses without regard for the student stream,” Craig said. “I think that that’s fair to all students.”

In response to a question about the ratio of direct-from-high school students and non-stream students, Craig said that the decision was made in order to avoid advantaging students who have advanced computer science programs available during their secondary education. She added that while the plan is still required to go through the faculty’s governance process, the whole panel is hopeful that the new system will pass.

When asked about how the department could ensure mental health of students in a competitive program like computer science, Balakrishnan said that the department will be expanding staff and hopes that the new POSt system will also benefit students.

However, Balakrishnan also said that he could not pretend that computer science would be a less competitive or difficult program but does want to make the program “more palatable” for students.

Discussion also came up about the possibility of separating the department from the faculty, to which Balakrishnan responded by saying that “all options are on the table.”

Woodin also commented on the issue, saying that the faculty acknowledges that computer science is a rapidly changing field of study but did encourage computer science students who do not make POSt to pursue a minor.

Responding to another question about how to create a more welcoming environment in the program, Balakrishnan said that in the short term, open spaces that come out of Bahen Centre renovations could be used by computer science students, and in the long term, he proposed having a building dedicated to computer science.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

Low voter turnout, uncontested positions mark elections period

A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

An average voter turnout of 8.7 per cent and uncontested positions across the board marked this year’s college student association elections — almost every candidate for president, or its equivalent, ran unopposed. The campaign period for the St. Michael’s College Student Union is still ongoing.

Woodsworth College Students Association

The Woodsworth College Students’ Association elections saw 305 votes cast for a voter turnout of around five per cent. Simran Sawhney won the presidential vote against Ali Aghaeinia and Shreyashi Saha. Sawhney previously served as the association’s Vice-President External and International Students Director.

The positions of Vice-President Social Affairs, Vice-President External Affairs, Vice-President Public Relations, Vice-President Athletic Affairs, Vice-President Financial Affairs, Mature Students’ Director, Associate Director of Social Affairs, Associate Director of Public Relations, Associate Director of Athletic Affairs, Off-Campus Students’ Director, Mental Health Director, Equity Director, and International Students’ Director all went uncontested.

Miloni Mehta and Andrea Chiapetta will be the Woodsworth Directors on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors for the upcoming academic year.

Andrew Gallant won against Victoria Barclay as Vice-President Internal Affairs. Danté Benjamin-Jackson and Katie Bolissian will serve as the Upper-Year Students’ Directors.

Trinity College Meeting

Emily Chu will serve as the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) Chair for the 2019–2020 academic year having run uncontested and receiving 91 per cent of the vote, with the rest of students voting to reopen nominations.

Secretary and Deputy Chair of the TCM will be Sterling Mancuso, who gained 46 per cent and 34 per cent of the vote respectively.

Anjali Gandhi ran uncontested for Treasurer, receiving 90 per cent of preferred votes. The TCM Auditor will be Nicholas Adolphe, who received 107 votes, beating out Mary Ngo’s 88.

Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) elections saw 436 votes cast for a voter turnout of 13.2 per cent.

Alexa Ballis went uncontested for President, gaining 370 votes, or 85 per cent, 37 no votes, and 29 spoiled ballots.

The position of Vice-President External Affairs also went uncontested, with Vibhuti Kacholia securing 393 votes. Katie Marsland won in a landslide victory for Vice-President Internal gaining 276 votes, or 63 per cent, over Aurore Dumesnil’s 132.

Cameron Davies won the position of Vice-President Student Organizations with 232 votes, or 53 per cent, over Sayeh Yousefi. Vivian Li was elected Arts and Culture Commissioner with 239 votes, or 55 per cent, over Ashleigh Middleton. 

Positions for Academic Commissioner, Commuter Commissioner, Equity Commissioner, and Sustainability Commissioner all went uncontested, but each candidate received over 80 per cent of votes.

Thomas Siddall will serve as the Victoria College Director on the UTSU.

New College Student Council

The New College Student Council (NCSC) election saw 241 votes cast, making the voter turnout 4.8 per cent.

Manuela Zapata ran uncontested for President, receiving 189 yes votes and 32 no votes. Reinald De Leon was also uncontested for Vice-President Administration, and was able to secure 212 votes at 88 per cent.

The two positions for Athletics Commissioner were won by Diana Subron with 205 votes and Jennifer Lin with 116 votes.

The only contested position was Social Commissioner, which had six candidates for four positions, making it one of the most contested elections among all the college associations. Nicole Ng, Hannah Turcotte, Sarim Irfan, and Fion Yung won the positions over Genevieve Gottschalk and Yi Chloe Guo. 

University College Literary and Athletic Society

The University College Literary and Athletic Society elections saw a voter turnout of 8.5 per cent with 384 votes cast.

Danielle Stella won the presidency with 315 votes, while Thomas Pender won the vice-presidency for next year with 326 votes. Both positions were uncontested. Many of the other positions were contested.

The vote for Spirit & Communications Commissioner was split between five candidates, with Joshua Bienstock inching out opponents with 30 per cent of ballots cast in his favour. Sustainability Commissioner was split between three candidates, with Sophia Fan coming out on top with 149 votes, or 39 per cent.

Maureen Huang just won the two-person race for University & Academic Affairs Commissioner against Varun Lodaya, securing 182 votes. There was also a fairly high number of spoiled ballots in this election, with an average of 41 spoiled ballots for each position.

Innis College Student Society

The Innis College Student Society election saw the second-highest voter turnout at 12 per cent, with 237 ballots cast.

The positions for President, Executive Vice President, Vice-President Internal, and Vice-President Finance all went uncontested to Nancy Zhao, Paul Kaita, Winston Chan, and Janielle Palmer, respectively.

Of the seven candidates for the two Social Director positions, Breanna Lima Martinez was elected with 91 votes, alongside Tony (Shengye) Niu with 84 votes.

Editor’s Note (April 4, 2:35 pm): This article has been updated with information on VUSAC’s VP Student Organizations and Arts and Culture Commissioner elections.

Editor’s Note (May 17, 4:54 pm): This article has been updated to correct that NCSC has two positions for Athletics Commissioner and four positions for Social Commissioner.