U of T hires two Indigenous academic advisors in response to TRC

Breaking down the university’s path toward reconciliation

U of T hires two Indigenous academic advisors in response to TRC

In an attempt to further integrate Indigenous perspectives of education and research in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations and its own TRC Steering Committee report, U of T appointed two advisors on Indigenous research and curriculum: Professor Suzanne Stewart and Professor Susan Hill.

In 2015, the TRC released its final report, which documented the history and intergenerational impact of the residential school system on Indigenous children and families. It described Canada’s assimilation policy — at the heart of which was the residential school system — as “cultural genocide.”

Education remains central to the disadvantages faced by Indigenous people. Indigenous youth face systemic barriers in accessing education, including at the postsecondary level, relative to non-Indigenous youth. In response, the TRC dedicated four out of 94 calls to action specifically to postsecondary institutions.

The new advisors

Stewart, a member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation, has been a faculty member at U of T since 2007. She is now the director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and an Academic Advisor on Indigenous Research.

Her new role will have her focusing on how researchers should go about working with Indigenous communities, in part by developing documents that provide guidance and best practices on how to conduct research respectfully within them. Stewart will also serve as a guiding hand for those who are interested in conducting collaborative research with Indigenous communities. 

Hill began her U of T career in July 2017 and holds a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Centre for Indigenous Studies. She is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — specifically the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation.

Her position as academic advisor of Indigenous curricula and education has her focusing on designing and redesigning curricula, developing collaborative teaching opportunities in Indigenous Studies, and establishing a database of Indigenous content and educational materials.

In response to these new appointments, Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s vice-president and provost, said to U of T News: “I am looking forward to working closely with Susan Hill and Suzanne Stewart to further the university’s commitment to U of T’s Calls to Action.”

“Their expertise will be invaluable in ensuring the university is moving forward on the most respectful path towards truth and reconciliation.”

In recent years, U of T has made steps to create Indigenous-focused initiatives: including the Deepening Knowledge Project at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the Indigenous Education Network founded by Indigenous students, and the TRC Implementation Committee at the Faculty of Law. In addition, a handful of master’s programs at the university have committed to integrating Indigenous education, such as the Masters in Social Work, Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency and the Masters of Public Health in Indigenous Health.

In conversation with Professor Suzanne Stewart

In an interview with The Varsity, Stewart reported having faced systematic and personal racism in Canada, including in postsecondary institutions. However, Stewart believes that due to the TRC, some positive changes in the education system are occurring — such as conversations about increasing Indigenous student support and funding.
Indigenous students still face racism, oppression, and barriers to higher education. While 63 per cent of non-Indigenous people have a post secondary diploma, that number drops to 44 per cent for Indigenous people. Stewart sees self-determination and racism as the chief issues for the Indigenous community.

Stewart suggests that the university should create “a system of special package funds” to break financial barriers for students who identify as Indigenous. In addition, she believes that people across the country “need to be more aware of Indigenous history and the privileges non-Indigenous people have in Canada.”

Reflecting on U of T and reconciliation

Another new Indigenous faculty member at U of T is Professor Heather Dorries. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Centre for Indigenous Studies, and is Anishinaabe. In an interview with The Varsity, Dorries admitted that when she was a student at McGill University, she felt that Indigenous education was not “something that the administration really ever put any energy into,” but now she is seeing positive changes in the general attitude toward it in the university setting.

Dorries firmly believes that the university can benefit greatly from Indigenous knowledge: for instance, the traditional Indigenous understanding of the environment can be valuable in the field of geography. She also acknowledged the pressures and stress constantly faced by students and suggested that Indigenous perspectives may be helpful in considering different perspectives on life and dealing with challenges.

In the future, Dorries hopes to see universities as “a place of empowerment for everyone, where we create and disseminate knowledge [and] educate ourselves in ways that help us to understand how we can support the flourishing of life.” She concludes that post secondary institutions will have to reconsider their priorities in order for reconciliation to happen.

According to Dorries, continuous student involvement is key to successful incorporation of Indigenous knowledge. If the university sees a demand for courses in Indigenous Studies, or other “events” relating to Indigenous education, the university will try to respond to that demand. In her previous position, she noticed that student action was the driving force behind the university’s initiatives towards reconciliation.

“Students shouldn’t underestimate the influence that they can have on the institution.”

In the Spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet

Non-binary, trans, disabled physics professor talks inclusivity in academia

In the Spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet

Dr. A.W. Peet knows the importance of being seen.

A tenured physics professor at U of T who focuses their research on the subatomic structure of space-time, Peet is also a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. Being transgender, non-binary, and disabled, they have firsthand knowledge of the relief that finding a community in academia through sharing one’s experiences brings. 

Peet, who experiences chronic pain, described conversations with a fellow scientist who has a similar condition as “a bit like finding an oxygen supply.” They went on to say that “it meant that I felt like I could actually exist.”

Peet’s choice to publicly disclose their status as transgender and non-binary on their website was made in the hope that younger people could understand it was possible to be a professor whilst being part of both the non-binary and disabled communities. This was also the aim behind listing their name on the lgbtphysicists.org website’s “OutList.” Peet has had a number of students from Canada, the United States, and Europe write to them asking for mentorship, something they believe was only possible because they are one of the few publicly out non-binary physicists.

“If we know there’s someone a bit older than us, or a lot older than us, who is some of the same identities as us, we can figure, ‘Maybe there’s a place for me in this discipline,’” they said.

Peet recognized that having tenure before realizing they were transgender made the question of transitioning less fraught than it tends to be for tenure-track or non-tenured professors. Even so, Peet believes that some students and colleagues think less of them following their coming out.

Blatant transphobic harassment, however, reached a peak when Peet debated their colleague Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at U of T, on CBC News in October 2016. Peterson had vocally expressed his objection to Bill C-16, which sought to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. His stance garnered significant support amongst free-speech advocates and caused controversy both nationally and on campus. Critics noted that some of Peterson’s comments were transphobic and, at times, inaccurate.

Following the debate, Peet experienced severe online harassment that significantly deteriorated their mental health. They also noted that, to this day, conservative colleagues within their department are reluctant to interact with them.

“The amount of transphobic harassment I’ve had… as a consequence of being an out trans person in the last few years is more than all of the misogyny that I’ve ever experienced as a presumed woman in physics for over 20 years,” they said.

However, Peet received positive reactions from LGBTQ+ students on campus and the community at large. They have also seen an increase in requests to speak at various conferences and panels about being part of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM fields. Overall, Peet does not regret speaking out against Jordan Peterson. “I think it was because it was the right thing to do, and I try to be on the right side of history,” they said.

Peet also expanded on their call in the CBC News debate to live kindly, saying that more value should be placed on kindness and generosity of spirit in today’s society. They added, “Universities need to be academically rigorous, but we can still be really nice, decent human beings while we’re being academically excellent.”

Currently, Peet co-chairs the physics department’s Inclusivity Committee and also serves on the inclusivity committee for the Canadian Association of Physicists. They intend to continue their advocacy work until LGBTQ+ people feel as welcome as heterosexual and cisgender people on campus. However, Peet by no means claim to be an authority on all things related to inclusivity, and stresses that they are still working to educate themself.

“With the equity and diversity and inclusivity stuff, it’s not like a switch that you’re either switched on or completely clueless. It, like many things, is not a binary. I love smashing binaries,” they said.

Student groups adjust to reduced funding in face of SCI

Multiple clubs experience financial challenges, limitations in programming

Student groups adjust to reduced funding in face of SCI

As the fall semester opt-out period came to a close on September 19, levy-funded student groups are now receiving information on their funding for the semester. The Student Choice Initiative (SCI), mandated by the Ontario government earlier this year, designates certain fees as “non-essential” and requires universities to allow students to opt out of them as they wish.

The groups that are affected by this change include student unions, student advocacy groups, and campus media, among others. Many groups expressed to The Varsity that they are still unsure of the impact the SCI will have on their organizations, and that the winter opt-out period could yield different results.

Multiple groups, like the Sexual Education Centre (SEC), also noted that their overall opt-out rate was around 25 per cent. “This means no new books for our library, fewer fun events for UofT students, fewer special products of the month, and more,” wrote Leah West, Executive Director of the SEC, in an email to The Varsity.

“We know that many people rely almost exclusively on us for free safer sex supplies and menstrual products. We worry that the current funding cuts will put these groups at risk by making these things even less accessible,” West noted of the SEC’s operations in the coming year.

“These cuts strike at the heart of our organization,” wrote Students for Barrier Free Access (SBA) Board Member Alisha Krishna in an email to The Varsity. “We cannot provide the same services as previously, especially since we were forced to implement staffing cuts. Not only does this mean we must reduce the services offered to our membership, but it is also significant because SBA has always tried to hire marginalized, disabled people who face barriers to employment, which is something we must now scale back on.”

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) has also felt the impact of the policy. “The SCI has reduced the amount of money that LGBTOUT will receive this year by a fair amount, and it will definitely affect some of the events and programming we will be able to do,” wrote LGBTOUT Executive Director Cheryl Quan in an email to The Varsity.

Many groups’ levies are distributed through the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), including LGBTOUT and SBA.

“For the majority of these groups, we are their only source of income,” wrote Arjun Kaul, UTSU Vice-President Operations, in an email to The Varsity. He also wrote on the topic of UTSU’s opt-outs: “we are fortunate to be sitting at a relatively high percent of funds deemed ‘essential.’ We will likely have to trim some services, but fortunately, we have worked out plans to keep all of our services up and running, at the very least.”

Some groups expressed that while the SCI does not pose an existential threat to their organizations, they have had difficulty with the timeline of the opt-outs and the financial uncertainty before groups were made aware of their opt-out rate.

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) President Alexa Ballis wrote, “The biggest impact that the Student Choice Initiative has had on VUSAC is that it has made the budgeting process extremely difficult,” in an email to The Varsity. She added that “financial planning over the summer was almost impossible.”

Ballis criticized the process for not giving groups updates on their numbers before the fall opt-out period was over. She further noted that, because the fees must be itemized and funds cannot be moved around, this added difficulty for the VUSAC Commissioner’s planning.

University College Literary & Athletic Society (UC Lit) President Danielle Stella was more optimistic. “Our overall opt-out percentage is lower than expected and we believe the decrease in funding will be manageable,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity. She noted that the UC Lit is changing its budgeting system to accommodate the SCI, but are still reaching out to university stakeholders to address any shortcomings in funding.

“No end in sight”: Hong Kong protests arrive at U of T

Pro-Hong Kong, pro-Beijing students clash over the region’s future

“No end in sight”:  Hong Kong protests arrive at U of T

The protest lasted for hours. Around two dozen pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students stood on opposite sides of the sidewalk in front of Sidney Smith Hall, chanting slogans and waving flags. This demonstration on September 26 was one of several that have sprung up around U of T and Toronto since June, coinciding with the beginning of civil unrest in Hong Kong.

The international nature of U of T meant that various parts of the university community, from faculty to students, have been affected by the protests. As the movement grows and shows no signs of ending, U of T is one of many universities around the world that have become a stage for these divisive clashes.

The unrest began in June, when the Hong Kong government proposed a bill that would allow the central Chinese government to extradite people from Hong Kong to mainland China. What started as peaceful protests that demanded the Hong Kong government’s full withdrawal of the bill has devolved into violent clashes between protestors and police. During the past few months, numerous injuries have been reported on both sides, as well as widespread claims of police brutality.

The city is now marked by standoffs and violence between police and protestors as the movement has grown in scope beyond the extradition bill — whose full withdrawal was announced by the Hong Kong government on September 4, and is expected to be implemented this month. The movement now includes five central demands from protestors, including the implementation of true universal suffrage.

“Responsibility to raise awareness”: Hong Kong students speak out

With its large international student population, U of T is not immune from the unrest taking place across the world.

The U of T Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group has been at the forefront of these protests since it was founded in June.

“We are doing the demonstration not just because we are protecting Hong Kong, but we are protecting the universal value of freedom, and also freedom of speech,” explained its organizer and fourth-year sexual diversity studies and equity studies student Hogan Lam.

Their efforts have been supported in part by the U of T Hong Kong Students’ Association (UTHKSA), the larger cultural club on campus. President Sandra Kan noted that while historically the UTHKSA has refrained from commenting on political events, the scale of these protests has reminded her of the association’s “responsibility to raise awareness.”

“I’m trying to strike a balance between being politically neutral and spreading some news to raise awareness, because when I start to share news it means that I’ve taken this little stance,” said Kan.

Both groups expressed gratitude toward the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), which reached out and offered support and resources.

Lam said that during the Street Fest, the clubs gathering at the beginning of the academic year, the UTSU helped mitigate conflict by placing Hong Kong groups away from the “Chinese [societies].”

“Our opinion is, if we’re not helping out other students unions, then what are we really doing as one?” said UTSU President Joshua Bowman. “Especially when we’re privileged to exist in a political climate that we have that is not really comparable.”

Pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students face off

The Hong Kong groups’ protests have been far from unchallenged, as pro-Beijing students consistently stage counter-protests in equal numbers.

“I think it’s their freedom to protest, but it’s also our freedom to stand here against their protest,” said Ziyuan Xu, a pro-Beijing Rotman Commerce student. “I think some of the Hong Kong people, they are hurting my cultural identity,” said Xu, citing what he saw as anti-government sentiment and “fake news” about police brutality. However, credible reporting of the situation in Hong Kong indicates that such claims of “fake news” are false.

In response to the claims of police violence, Rotman Commerce student and counter-protestor Rick Wang said, “I believe that’s proper law enforcement because how can you enforce a law without any kind of violence?” Wang added that this is the police’s job as a “violent machine of the state.”

“I think it’s very ironic because what [the counter-protestors] were doing,” said Jane*, a first-year political science student who was part of the awareness group’s protest. “[Protesting] wasn’t a right that was given to them in China, but then they’re exercising it here.”

A portion of the disagreement between the two sides can be attributed to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) disinformation campaign, which has falsely framed the protests as an independence movement.

“I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding that this protest is about Hong Kong independence, especially in China,” said Kan, who pointed to how the five demands make no mention of independence.

“I do think that people in Hong Kong should stop the protest because it’s making Hong Kong society become unstable,” said Xu. “But if they are protesting here I think it is their freedom and it’s also our freedom to do that.”

Why Hong Kong matters to U of T and Canada

Hong Kong has one of the largest populations of Canadians outside of Canada in the world, with around 300,000 Canadians calling the city home. As such, the ties between the two are extremely close.

Because of this, political science Professor Lynette Ong believes that Canada has a large “interest in upholding the rule of law in Hong Kong as well as Hong Kong’s status.”

In 2017, U of T reported 10,463 undergraduate students from the PRC and 333 undergraduate students from Hong Kong, out of a total of 16,069 international students. That amounted to 65.1 per cent and 2.1 per cent of international students, respectively.

In comparison, the University of British Columbia (UBC) enrolled 5,715 students from the PRC and 288 students from Hong Kong in 2018–2019, out of 15,405 total international students — though UBC has seen much larger protests.

According to U of T Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International Student Experience and political science Professor Joseph Wong, while the university does not generally take stances on international issues, it highly values students’ abilities to express their opinions.

“Having that kind of diversity of thought is something that we see as being vital to the mission of the university,” said Wong. “That being said, the safety of our students is the most important thing.”

Where will it go from here?

“No end in sight,” said Ong when asked about the future of the movement. “I think the government is trying to wait it out and drag it on.”

While Ong believes that it might quiet down, she was also sure that the people’s resolve will only strengthen “in fighting for universal suffrage and more accountability.”

Second-year political science student Hillary* says that her resolve comes from the fact that “this is my homeland.”

“This is the place that I live, I’m raised. Every single detail in Hong Kong matters to me.”

Indeed, second-year economics student Jamie* stressed that even though she is in Canada, she wanted all Hong Kongers to know that the diaspora “will always stand by them and support them.”

“Unless they give us the five demands, I don’t see that it will end anytime soon,” said Lam. “If we cannot win this, then Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore.”

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union did not send in a comment by press time. The U of T Chinese Debate Society, U of T Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association did not respond to requests for comment.

*Names have been changed due to fear of retribution

Daniel Dale speaks at UTM’s Snider Lecture

Washington reporter for CNN talks Donald Trump, the Ford brothers

Daniel Dale speaks at UTM’s Snider Lecture

Reporter Daniel Dale gave the Snider Lecture at UTM on October 3, where he discussed his reporting on Donald Trump and the Ford brothers, as well as disseminating truth in a precarious media landscape.

Dale works for CNN as part of the fact-checking team and was previously a reporter at the Toronto Star for 11 years. His efforts to fact check Trump’s every comment and tweet has gained him international attention and a sizeable Twitter following — over 619,000 strong as of October 6.

However, it was here in Toronto, while reporting on the former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and current Ontario Premier Doug Ford, that Dale first delved deeply into the practice of fact checking and outwardly pointing out false political claims.

After Rob Ford falsely accused Dale of peering over his family home’s fence, he wrote an article for the Star titled, “Rob Ford is lying about me, and it’s vile.” This prompted Dale to think that, “if I can use the word ‘lie’ in a story about me, why can’t I use it in all the other stories?”

He went on to create a “campaign lie detector where [he] would count… how many false, inaccurate, dubious claims the candidates made.” Dale noticed there was a disparity in the number of lies Rob Ford would tell in comparison to the other candidates and thought that “the disparity was important in itself… that disparity told the story.”

Soon after, Dale went to Washington, DC and “was sure that it was going to be much more normal… and of course, Donald Trump comes along in June.”

Dale found it “distressing how much Donald Trump was lying… and not only the frequency of the lying, but the triviality of the lying.” He noticed that news outlets and papers were reporting what Trump said, without identifying false claims to be as such.

In order to promote what he calls “a truth-centric model of political journalism,” Dale suggests that the media engage in a number of practices, including that no one should “quote a politician saying something false without noting that it is false,” using the term “lie” when it is the most accurate way to describe a claim, and giving less airtime to political figures that have a history of deception.

Dale often encounters people who think his work is useless and that “facts obviously don’t matter in this era,” to which he responds: “what is the job of a journalist in democracy, if not to provide accurate information to whoever wants it?”

The president still has supporters despite what Dale describes as a “full-blown truth crisis with Donald Trump.” However, in an article for the Star entitled “Donald Trump voters: We like the president’s lies.” he points out that many Trump supporters do not believe the president’s every word without question.

The Varsity caught up with Dale after his lecture to inquire if he was seeing any trends in Trump’s lying in the lead up to the 2020 US Presidential election. “Over his first two years in office, immigration was his number one subject of dishonesty,” said Dale. “Over the summer, it’s been the economy and trade, and I think that reflects concerns about… a possible recession… some sort of slow down.”

UTSU hosts environmental debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates

Chrystia Freeland, Tim Grant, Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda discuss climate, other issues

UTSU hosts environmental debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates

Content warning: mention of suicide.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union held an all-candidates debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates focused on the environment on October 3. The debate was a part of the 100 Debates on the Environment, a non-partisan initiative which aims to organize environmentally-oriented debates ahead of the federal election.

Liberal candidate and incumbent MP Chrystia Freeland, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Melissa Jean-Baptise Vajda, and Green Party candidate Tim Grant were present. Conservative candidate Helen-Claire Tingling was unable to attend due to illness.

Tensions over climate crisis

As part of the 100 Debates on the Environment initiative, the candidates were asked four questions on the environment which covered greenhouse gas emissions, water, wilderness conservation, and pollution.

All candidates agreed that party leaders should work to move beyond addressing the climate crisis as a partisan issue. They also found common ground in wilderness conservation, agreeing that Canada needs to move toward protecting a higher percentage of water and land. All agreed to protect 30 per cent of land, ocean, and fresh water by 2030. 

The Liberal Party’s environmental plan includes planting two billion trees by 2030, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and banning single-use plastics. However, the incumbent Liberal government received criticism from the other two candidates for inadequate environmental action made under Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. “We have about 10 or 11 years to reach our [environmental] targets. Right now, the Liberal government has put us 200 years behind that,” said Vajda.

“All three of the major parties support one or more pipelines across Canada,” said Grant. “We are the only party that can’t offer you a pipeline in this election.”

Responding to criticisms about the pipeline, Freeland said, “I think that decision was probably one of the most difficult for our government to make,” adding: “we recognize that we have to find a policy in which the environment and the economy can go together.”

Vajda said, “We are committed to moving away from relying on pipelines, [and] we aren’t in favor of expanding any pipelines.”

Regarding the Green Party’s environmental plan budget, Vajda said, “Their budget doesn’t even add up. Their numbers do not work.” 

The Green Party’s environmental plan includes more regulation on industrial farming, increasing funding to implement endangered species recovery, and restoring the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Education and housing

Both the Green Party and the NDP want to move toward a free postsecondary tuition framework, while the Liberal plan involves a two-year interest-free grace period for loan repayment.

In response to both a question about education and youth unemployment, Grant advocated for a  basic income, saying, “[it] is going to be a huge benefit to students across the country.”

To combat the housing crisis, the NDP wants to build 500,000 rental units across Canada and impose a 15 per cent buyers tax on non-Canadians and non-permanent residents. The Liberal Party would impose a one per cent tax on vacant properties owned by non-Canadians who do not reside in Canada.

“We are the only party that would not offer a first-time homeowner’s grant,” said Grant. “We think rental housing, social housing, co-op housing in particular is the critical need and that’s where all the federal resources should go.”

Both the NDP and Liberals are committed to a $15 minimum wage on all federally-managed jobs, and the NDP wants to move further to a $20 “liveable wage.” In addition, the NDP wants to ban unpaid internships, as “young people shouldn’t be taken advantage of.” Freeland also wants to create 60,000 more co-op jobs for students, and implement a “right to disconnect” for employees, which will allow them to ignore work-related tasks outside of their work hours.

Health care and mental health

When addressing student mental health, Freeland acknowledged, “I am very aware of the extreme pressures on your generation, on students across Canada, and on students at the U of T.” The Liberal plan will invest $66 billion over four years into mental health, primary care, and in-home supportive care.

“The New Democrats will establish a national suicide prevention action plan that will take this very seriously… it is part of our universal health care plan,” said Vajda, responding to the same question about mental health.

Grant criticized the NDP’s implementation of its pharma care plan by 2020 as being unrealistic. The Green Party’s pharma care plan “is vastly more expensive for two years,” said Grant, meaning that the Green Party would pay the provincial share for two years before shifting the responsibility back to the provincial government.

Concluding the debate, Freeland said, “I leave this conversation very optimistic about our country,” while Vajda responded, “I have a little bit more of a sense of urgency here. I am running for office because I feel we need a change right now.” In their closing remarks both Vajda and Grant criticized the Liberal government for failure to implement electoral reform since the previous election.

Climate crisis sparks tension at UTSC federal candidate’s debate

SCSU organizes debate for candidates in the federal riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park

Climate crisis sparks tension at UTSC federal candidate’s debate

Five candidates vying for the MP position for Scarborough–Rouge Park, the riding in which UTSC is located, came together on October 1 to debate before the federal election. Organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the debate was attended by a mixture of UTSC students and local community members.

The candidates included Bobby Singh from the Conservative Party, Jessica Hamilton from the Green Party, the incumbent candidate Gary Anandasangaree from the Liberal Party, Kingsley Kwok from the New Democratic Party (NDP), and Dilano Sally from the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).

The climate crisis

The Liberal, NDP, and Green Party candidates all indicated that addressing the climate crisis would be their top priority should they win the election, and furthermore that their parties would each approach the issue with a carbon tax.

Liberal candidate Anandasangaree said, “if we fail on climate change [then] nothing else really does matter.” However, he also faced criticism from both the Green and NDP candidates over the Liberal’s $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Hamilton commented: “[you] had four years to do whatever you wanted with your majority government and you still bought a pipeline.”

Anandasangaree justified the pipeline as a “necessary [evil]… in order [for] the economy [to be] able to sustain itself while we transform into a clean carbon economy.”

Conservative candidate Singh said that the “carbon tax is unfairly penalizing companies locally.” He suggested, rather, that carbon absorption would be a better option to address the climate crisis.

The PPC candidate, Sally, falsely said that “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant… [and] global warming has not increased natural disasters.” According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at least 97 per cent of publishing scientists agree that the climate crisis is caused by human activities. Carbon dioxide is a pollutant that has concentrated significantly in the atmosphere over the last century due to the burning of fossil fuels, and increased heat waves and stronger hurricanes will result from the climate crisis.

Sally also noted that he does not believe in the climate crisis and cited evidence from an article in Talouselämä, a Finnish magazine, that features World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. Sally’s remarks prompted a strong condemnation from Anandasangaree, who said “your denial is just unacceptable.”

As per the Talouselämä article that Sally referenced, Taalas released a statement on September 12 that expressed that such a reading “is a selective interpretation of my words and my longstanding views…[and] it is highly important that we rein in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Budget

The Greens, Conservatives, and the PPC all plan to balance the budget, rather than run a deficit.

NDP candidate Kwok emphasized that with regards to the budget, the NDP “are for fair taxation.” Kwok continued that as part of their New Deal for the People they “just want the super rich to pay a little more” in order to prevent cuts to government programs.

Anandasangaree noted that the Liberals “do believe in running honest deficits.” However, he justified the policy, saying they carry a positive impact because they are investing in people and infrastructure.

When faced with criticism from Singh for the government’s failure to balance the budget, Anandasangaree responded by noting that the Conservative Party has not released a full, costed platform, saying that “I’m willing to defend our record, but at the same time, I do want to see a plan [from the Conservatives] that I can also scrutinize.”

“How do you sleep at night?”: students confront admin on mental health

President Gertler, Vice-Provost Welsh address student concerns at Academic Board meeting

“How do you sleep at night?”: students confront admin on mental health

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

On October 3, Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, addressed U of T’s Academic Board and a handful of protestors in an unusually full Governing Council Chamber: “I want to assure all of you that we share your concerns.” The protestors showed up following the September 27 death of a student in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology — the third in the same building and the fourth reported non-criminal student death in the past 16 months. Students, led by the UofT Mental Health Policy Council, a newly-created advocacy group, had come to express their frustration and exhaustion with the percieved lack of mental health support from the university.

Inside the chamber

Welsh reiterated the university’s actions toward increasing mental health support, having committed $3 million in the spring. They also acknowledged the university’s role in student mental health: “We are proud of our academic culture of excellence, but we understand that we all need to be aware of how that culture may affect students, and we all need to work to foster a more supportive community to help all of our students thrive.”

Disruption from protestors as the chair attempted to move the meeting back to normal business resulted in an agreement to allow four of the protestors to ask Welsh and President Meric Gertler questions. The four included U of T Mental Health Policy Council members and students from the Black Students’ Association.

“How many deaths was it going to take for you to do something before we made a ruckus and a mess of things?” questioned Shahin Imtiaz to a silent chamber of governors. “How do you sleep at night?”

Gertler responded after the students spoke, explaining the commitments of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health as well as the $1 billion Boundless campaign endowment for financial assistance to students.

“These are indeed issues that do keep us up at night,” said Gertler. “They do indeed seize all of us.”

An issue that became clear during the meeting was an unintended side effect of the university-mandated leave of absence policy, deterring students from seeking mental health support for fear of punitive action from the university.

“There is not a straight line from your registrar’s office to my office around this policy. And we need to do better at communicating… to students that this is a policy that is there to be supportive,” said Welsh in response to student demands that the policy be repealed.

However, after their allotted time to speak was over and the administration had given its response, protestors left when governors failed a two-thirds majority vote to adopt an amendment to the agenda and continued on with the predetermined schedule.

What happens now?

Besides the implementation of safety barriers in the Bahen Centre, the administration has been hesitant to make new commitments on mental health, even while student groups are increasingly calling for better support and services. Some faculty are also speaking out, calling on fellow professors to support student protestors.

Dr. Andrea Charise, Assistant Professor in the Department of English and at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health & Society reflected on the death at the Bahen Centre in a thread on Twitter, explaining how professors are often on the forefront of assisting students dealing with mental health crises.

“In my five years’ experience as an assistant professor, I have referred countless students to health&wellness (a pretty common experience among my colleagues). But I was not prepared for the volume, range, and intensity of mental health experiences students entrusted me with,” tweeted Charise.

Jeffrey Ansloos, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, expressed similar concerns in an interview with The Varsity.

“I’m not in the role of therapists when I’m working with students. And I think for a lot of my colleagues who maybe are not psychologists or social workers or different types of health professionals, the role of what a professor is supposed to provide is unclear, and not only is it unclear, but sometimes they don’t know the resources that they need to direct students to,” said Ansloos. He further pointed out the inaccessibility and lack of mental health support on campus as problems.

“Recognizing that students may not always be able to deliver upon workloads or may need additional accommodations or considerations around accessibility. To me, that is a baseline expectation, that if a faculty member fails to deliver upon, I think is problematic. But I don’t, at the same time, think that every faculty member should be working in the role of therapists. And I don’t know that that would be appropriate either.”


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.