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U of T campus groups call for ombudsperson’s public apology

University-mandated leave of absence policy at the crux of backlash

U of T campus groups call for ombudsperson’s public apology

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Following a contentious Governing Council meeting on October 24, U of T student groups have released strong condemnations of U of T Ombudsperson Dr. Ellen Hodnett’s remarks on mental health activism. The student groups criticize Hodnett’s expressed support for the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP) as well as her comment that activists have unfairly used recent apparent suicides on campus to criticize the policy.

The comments have prompted the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the U of T Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), a newly created advocacy group, to call for Hodnett’s public apology and open discussions on her removal.

Background on the UMLAP

The issue arose when Hodnett presented her report on the UMLAP. The controversial policy, approved in June 2018, allows the university to place students on a leave of absence if they exhibit severe mental health problems that the university feels pose a potential risk of serious harm to themselves or others. The policy is only meant to be used after all other accommodations have been exhausted.

The UMLAP was passed amidst fierce opposition from students and has been the subject of continued criticism. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released an open letter in the run up to the policy’s approval, expressing its concern about how the UMLAP could “result in discrimination on the basis of mental health disability contrary to the Human Rights Code.” The policy was revised after the OHRC’s letter but students remained firmly in opposition.

This policy was specifically recommended by the Office of the Ombudsperson. In her role, Hodnett reviews university mandated leave cases.

Hodnett’s report

Hodnett addressed the Governing Council following statements on campus mental health from student representatives. She expressed how proud she was of the UMLAP, saying that it provides “extreme care, diligence, respectfulness, and compassion” to the students whose cases have been reviewed under the policy.

She maintained that the policy is evidence-based and fair, in opposition to the continuing resistance toward the policy, which she asserts is based on misinformation.

In an email to The Varsity, Hodnett specified that she sees this misinformation being widely circulated via social media. Her concern is that students will be deterred from seeking help under the UMLAP due to its widespread online criticism and encourages “everyone to actually read the Policy.”

During the Governing Council meeting, the comment that perhaps drew the most ire from students was Hodnett’s claim that recent campus deaths have been used as a “vehicle to link students’ purported fears of seeking mental health services with the mandated leave policy.”

Online statements

Immediately following the Governing Council meeting, the UTSU released a statement criticizing Hodnett’s remarks, followed closely by a statement published by the MHPC in solidarity. Both called on Hodnett to issue a public apology.

The UTSU condemned Hodnett’s comments for being “offensive” and “belittling.” It sees this as an example of the university administration not listening to its student body.

In a direct address to Hodnett, the UTSU wrote, “The fact that you told those at this meeting that you are ‘proud’ to be part of a policy that has been criticized by the Ontario Human Rights Commission and has served as an active detriment to students seeking mental health support on this campus, speaks volumes about your views on listening to us.”

The MHPC, in its statement, found Hodnett’s comments to be delegitimizing for students with mental illness and their lived experiences. They see the UMLAP as institutionalizing “U of T’s right to force a student experiencing mental illness to lose their student status, services, and housing.”

Campus groups speak out

UTSU President Joshua Bowman and other members of the UTSU said that they were so appalled by what they heard from Hodnett that they began writing their online statement during that very meeting.

In a written statement to The Varsity, Bowman went on to laud the efforts of student activists in fighting for better mental health services and found Hodnett’s remarks to be disparaging against the good work that has been put into advocating for support from the university.

“There is a mental health crisis on our campus and the fact that Dr. Hodnett stated that students grieving the loss of a classmate and community member are doing so in a politically motivated manner against UMLAP is a testament to the dispassionate nature of our university.”

Bowman’s disappointment isn’t solely reserved for Hodnett. He claimed that other meeting attendees, including some in administrative positions, were smirking and dismissive of the statements presented by student representatives at the beginning of the council meeting.

The UTSU’s official position on the UMLAP is that it is a damaging policy. In response to Hodnett’s claim that students have created a culture of fear surrounding the policy, Bowman instead posits that the fear on campus comes from the policy itself.

He claims that this fear is “perpetuated by a policy that saw little to no student consultation and ultimately makes students scared to go to Health and Wellness to seek the care they require.”

In addition to calling for an apology, Bowman wouldn’t find it unreasonable for the university to look into whether Hodnett is suited to her role as ombudsperson in light of her comments.

The MHPC took issue with Hodnett’s statements in part due to her role of ombudsperson — an independent and impartial position meant to ensure that the rights of U of T community members are protected.

“Hodnett’s annual report accuses dedicated mental health advocates on campus of spreading misinformation and intentionally exploiting recent student deaths — a partial and wildly insulting charge to level at the university’s students,” the MHPC wrote in an email to The Varsity.

For the MHPC, its top priority is “to see the UMLAP undergo a drastic rewrite or be repealed entirely.” It places high importance on ensuring that new policies are developed alongside students in order to “remove the structural and implicit barriers that prevent students from seeking help.”

University and Ombudsperson’s response

In a statement to The Varsity, Hodnett affirmed that she stands by her every word.

She wanted to remind members of the U of T community that “the Policy went through extensive consultations and was approved at every level of governance, with active involvement by students throughout, before it was implemented.”

Even though students were consulted throughout the approval process, opposition to the policy contends that this consultation was not meaningful. Indeed, students had criticized the timing and accessibility of the consultations in the lead-up to the policy’s approval one year ago.

Doubling down on the comments made during the Governing Council meeting, Hodnett claims that there is no evidence that the UMLAP is a harmful policy. In fact, she says there is evidence to the contrary — and that the UMLAP is doing “just what it was intended to do.”

According to U of T, the policy has been used eight times in the last year and the university says that in “almost all of the cases” the student affected by the policy has returned or is in the process of returning to classes.

However, it has acknowledged that considerable concern exists regarding the policy.

“We’ve heard students’ concerns that the policy could discourage individuals from using the supports available through the university and we are working to counter the perception that seeking mental health support will somehow trigger the leave process.”

It reiterated that the policy is only meant to be used when other accommodations have been found to be unsuccessful. The university claims that, “this policy is not intended to be punitive, and our experience with the policy demonstrates that.”

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.

Turkish incursion into Northern Syria against Kurdish forces sparks tension at Hart House

Students protest U of T’s invitation of Turkish ambassador

Turkish incursion into Northern Syria against Kurdish forces sparks tension at Hart House

On October 10, protestors demonstrated outside Hart House against the invitation of Turkish Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras to an event titled “Toronto-Turkey Alliance: Research and Trade Workshop.”

The protest was in opposition to Turkey’s recent military offensive into Northern Syria against the Kurdish-led forces called the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leader of the military arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The YPG controls swathes of territory in northeastern Syria and have been instrumental to the US in its fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A day prior to the event, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted, “Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria today.” An October 8 report by Genocide Watch noted, “Turkey’s aggression into neighboring states threatens the long-term security of all Kurdish, Christian, and Yezidi populations in the region. Turkey’s intention is genocide.”

Protesting the event

Along with the Turkish ambassador, other speakers at the event included U of T professors from the Departments of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Earth Sciences, as well as several professors from Turkish universities. Kurdish PhD student Sardar Saadi sent a letter to Ted Sargent, U of T’s Vice-President, International, asking him to cancel the event. “I am dismayed that my own university ignores these atrocities and plan to collaborate with the Turkish government, particularly at the time that Kurdish people are being bombed and displaced while the talk on ‘research and trade’ is taking place,” wrote Saadi.

Saadi wrote in an email to The Varsity that the protestors “managed to shut down the event,” but that Sargent continued with the event in private. “This is such a shame and as a member of this community for more than 6 years, I am ashamed of my university and incredibly furious and disappointed.”

“The event continued in a different format and in a different location because of safety concerns,” wrote Sargent in a email to The Varsity. He noted that the goal of the event was “academic collaboration and fostering connections between U of T and Turkish researchers in areas such as geophysics, archeology and nanotechnology.”

“Such discussions are in keeping with our commitment to academic freedom and free speech,” remarked Sargent.

Salam Alsaadi, a representative from the Syrian Solidarity Collective at U of T, wrote, “We strongly condemn invitations to all officials of any despotic regime in the region not only Turkish officials.”

The situation in Turkey and Syria

The Kurdish people are the world’s largest stateless ethnic group spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, making up roughly a fifth of Turkey’s population. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group, as it links the YPG to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, a political and military organization based in Turkey that pushes for Kurdish autonomy, has been in armed conflict against the Turkish forces.

Following a sharp policy shift by US President Donald Trump, US troops withdrew from YPG territory. This prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to begin an offensive in order to establish a “safe zone” across the country’s border, free of Kurdish fighters.

On October 27, the SDF announced that it would be withdrawing from the Turkey-Syria border in accordance with a deal between Turkey and Syria, negotiated by Russia, amidst an unsuccessful ceasefire.

The Toronto Turkish Consulate General did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Plan for new Spadina-Sussex residence approved by Governing Council

The residence will feature 511 beds for undergraduates, 10 townhouses for faculty

Plan for new Spadina-Sussex residence approved by Governing Council

On October 24, Governing Council approved the plan for a new residence to be built at the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue. The 23-storey residence will include a total of 511 student beds for upper- and lower-year undergraduates across all faculties.

U of T acknowledged the growing need for housing and estimated that an additional 2,300 residence beds will be needed by 2020 at UTSG alone. Rise in enrollment of international and out-of-province students has been a contributing factor in this demand for housing.

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Joshua Bowman supports the university’s investment to create more residence beds and approves of the centrality of the location. Bowman wrote in an email to The Varsity that “living in residence can be a formative experience.” He further commented, “the friends I made in my first year on residence helped me to navigate a lot of the challenges that… a university like ours can create.”

The residence will be composed of 60 per cent dorm rooms with semi-private washrooms shared between neighbours, and 40 per cent four-bedroom suites. Of the dorm rooms, 23 rooms and adjoining washrooms will be accessible, as well as 84 suite-style bedrooms and washrooms. The residence will also include live-in student dons, townhouses for faculty members, religious spaces, a fitness room, and a residence dining hall that will be open to students and faculty with a TCard.

According to research done by the UTSU, the number of accessible rooms at the Spadina-Sussex residence will be far greater than the average number of accessible rooms currently available at other UTSG residences.

The university began planning the new residence in 2014, but progress slowed in February 2017 when the Toronto City Council designated the Ten Editions bookstore, which is located at the proposed construction site, as a heritage site.

During the ensuing negotiations with the city, the building plan was adjusted to include a reduction in height and an agreement that the Ten Editions bookstore would remain standing by integrating it into the residence. However, despite the negotiations, the bookstore closed earlier this year.

Additionally, U of T has agreed to renovate the Robert Street Playing Field adjacent to the residence and make it accessible to the public.

With the new building design, an application for site plan approval was filed in December 2018 and is still pending.

U of T has released the following schedule: the approval of the site plan is expected by February 2020, the earliest demolition date is May 2020, the earliest construction date is August 2020, and the earliest completion date is April 2022.

While Bowman supports the Spadina-Sussex residence, he has also acknowledged that U of T has a dearth in affordable housing. “For many students, living in residence is simply not an option,” Bowman noted.

Information on the rental price is not yet available, yet, the plan notes that a meal plan will probably be mandatory for residents.

The development of the Spadina-Sussex residence will cost over $20 million. U of T is also in the process of designing an extension for Graduate House and a smaller housing project in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood.

U of T professor missing in India since late September

GoFundMe started for search and rescue effort

U of T professor missing in India since late September

An assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Dr. Peter Wittek, went missing almost a month ago after being caught in an avalanche during a hiking expedition.

Wittek, 37, specializes in quantum-enhanced machine learning and applications of high-performance learning algorithms in quantum physics. He also serves as the academic director of Rotman’s Creative Destruction Quantum Program, which supports startups in the realm of machine learning and quantum computing.

Wittek set out with five others to climb the 7,120 metre-high Himalayan peak Mount Trishul in the Chamoli district, India. The Indian National Disaster Response Force received a SOS distress beacon from a fellow mountaineer from Wittek’s base camp at 5,700 metres on September 29.

Inclement weather forced authorities to delay their on-ground search, but a three person helicopter search eventually began a few days later on October 3, accompanied by another team of high altitude state mountaineers from the National Disaster Response Force.

“It’s been close to a couple of weeks now, and the search efforts are still ongoing, and sometimes the visibility is poor,” said Sriram Krishnan in an interview with The Varsity. Krishnan is a longtime friend and fellow adventurer who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Wittek. “We’re also starting to be a little bit more pragmatic and thankful with the efforts that have been ongoing, but we also want to start celebrating what he’s done and who he was for all of us.”

Originally from Hungary, Wittek received his PhD in computer science from the National University of Singapore, and also has a master’s degree in mathematics. Having worked in China, Sweden, India, Japan, Spain, and Hungary, he is recognized as one of the leading researchers in quantum machine learning.

An avid mountaineer, Wittek has been climbing for over 10 years and boasts an impressive record, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Mount Kosciuszko, Lenin Peak, and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina — which is the highest mountain outside of Asia.

Following his disappearance, friends and family immediately banded together to coordinate their resources and media outreach. Wittek’s family has been working hard to appeal to the Canadian and Indian governments for support in their search. Krishnan noted that “[authorities] have been very helpful in the coordination of efforts” and that they have received help from various Canadian entrepreneurs, as well as the University of Toronto.

Family and friends have also started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #findpeterwittek to raise awareness of Wittek’s disappearance, with support from hundreds of colleagues and friends from around the world who have been touched by his indelible spirit.

A GoFundMe campaign was also started to “fund additional resources to help the search and rescue efforts” and “facilitate the travel and accommodation arrangements of his immediate family in or nearby the district of Chamoli,” according to the GoFundMe’s description.

The campaign was started on October 5 and has currently raised over $16,000 with donations coming in from all over the world.

“He has certainly met a lot of people, and everyone he’s met has certainly been enriched by his personality, his outlook and generosity, so it’s a testament to who he was as an individual,” said Krishnan, “We’re optimistic and hoping for the best.”

Liberal Party sweeps U of T ridings in re-election as minority government

Results demonstrate electoral disparities, need for parties to cooperate

Liberal Party sweeps U of T ridings in re-election as minority government

The 2019 Canadian federal election saw the Liberal Party remain in power, although it lost 27 seats compared to the 2015 elections and was reduced from a majority to a minority government.

Liberal incumbents won all three of U of T’s ridings: Chrystia Freeland for University–Rosedale, where UTSG is located; Iqra Khalid for Mississauga–Erin Mills, where UTM is located; and Gary Anadasangaree for Scarborough–Rouge Park, where UTSC is located.

For students, the Liberal Party platform promised a two-year grace period on paying off student loans, increasing the loan repayment threshold to $35,000 a year, and increasing grants by 40 per cent.

Electoral disparities

Even though the Conservative Party won fewer seats than the Liberals, it comfortably topped the popular vote at 34.4 per cent compared to the Liberals’ 33 per cent. The other big shifts occurred with the Bloc Québécois (BQ), which gained 22 seats to reach a total of 32, and the New Democratic Party, which lost 15 seats to fall to a total of 24.

The election displayed the disparity between votes and seats under the first-past-the-post voting system. While the Green Party won 6.5 per cent of the total vote, it only won three seats. Meanwhile, the BQ’s 7.7 per cent of the vote translated into 32 seats in Québec.

In 2015, the Liberals promised electoral reform to even out these disparities. The Liberals abandoned this commitment in 2017 and appear to have benefitted from that decision, as they won the election despite more Canadians voting for another party.

Leading a minority government

“I do think that the shine has come off of the Liberal brand a little bit in the last four years,” said U of T political science professor Andrew McDougall on the election outcome. “When Trudeau came in, he had sky-high expectations of doing politics differently, and he projected this sort of young, energetic leader who was going to really sort of change everything for a better progressive future. And of course, perhaps inevitably, he couldn’t live up to any of that, or even live up to a lot of that.”

Looking into the future, McDougall predicts that this government is “not going to last the full four or five years… The opposition parties are going to give the Liberals some time to govern… but they’re going to be waiting for their opportunity to bring down the government about 18 months to two years, and [hold] an election at a time that they feel is best for them.”

Unlike with their previous majority government, the Liberals will now have to gain support from the opposition parties in order to govern and pass legislation. Having rejected a coalition government with other parties, the Liberals will “have to work on an issue by issue basis with these parties on their platform. But the parties are going to have a say now in what those policies look like,” said McDougall.

A closer look at U of T’s policy on the repatriation of Indigenous human remains

Reviewing the history, policy of returning Indigenous belongings

A closer look at U of T’s policy on the repatriation of Indigenous human remains

According to a 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Television Network investigation, U of T is in possession of bone fragments belonging to 550 Indigenous people. These remains are being held in museums across the world in addition to here at U of T. Recently, the Liberal Party platform promised to work with Indigenous peoples in order to create a framework for returning stolen artifacts and ancestral remains to their communities — calling into question how U of T may operate on repatriation moving forward.

U of T itself occupies land historically belonging to the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River, territory subject to the Dish With One Spoon treaty, which was a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee to share the land.

The excavation of human remains was unregulated in Ontario until 1975. In the decades prior, numerous site excavations, including those of human burial grounds, resulted in U of T’s Department of Anthropology becoming the repository of Indigenous, as well as European settler, skeletal remains.

In 1999, the Department of Anthropology released its policy on repatriation, which underscored the need to treat human remains with respect, vowed cooperation with the involved parties in their repatriation efforts, and outlined the process by which human remains and artifacts can be returned.

This process includes a review by “a committee consisting of a minimum of two representatives from the Department of Anthropology and a representative of First Nations communities” in order to ensure the request is genuine and there are no competing claims. The committee’s report is then forwarded to the chair of the department for approval.

In November 2018, Rainy Rivers First Nation repatriated over 40 of their ancestors’ remains and 5,000 artifacts that had been taken and stored at the Royal Ontario Museum.

According to Chief Robin McGinnis, the repatriation process was lengthy because Rainy Rivers First Nations wanted to catalogue all items prior to their return. However, McGinnis told The Varsity that when the “funeral ceremonies [took place] and they get put in their final resting place… where they belonged… there’s a big sense of relief now.”

Kayleigh Speirs is the administration manager at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre and worked alongside Rainy Rivers First Nations during the repatriation process. Both Speirs and McGinnis agree that Indigenous peoples should lead repatriation decision-making and that more effort needs to be made by institutions to inform communities when they are in possession of their ancestral remains and artefacts. Speirs said this burden should not be left on the communities.

In 2013, over 1,700 Huron-Wendat Nation ancestral remains were reburied after a lawyer for the nation at the time, David Donnelly, happened upon the information that they had been stored in the basement of Sidney Smith Hall.

The Department of Anthropology then began collaborating with the Huron-Wendat Nation to analyze the ancestral remains in order to gather information about the lives of the deceased prior to their reburial.

U of T’s repatriation policy reserves the right for the department “to conduct a thorough inventory and scholarly documentation… for the purposes of scientific inquiry and heritage preservation” before the release of any objects or remains.

As far as performing research on Indigenous remains, Donnelly believes that it is only acceptable when consent is received from the descendants, as was the case with the Huron-Wendat repatriation. Otherwise, the university is working with stolen property, Donnelly said.

With regard to a national framework on repatriation promised by the Liberal government, Donnelly believes funding for Indigenous groups to access lawyers and experts is imperative. Donnelly explained “for any First Nation to engage with an academic institution or a government around a problem not of their making, if you don’t provide them funding so they can hire experts, you’re really robbing them a second time.”

In response to questions as to whether the university would review its policy in light of the Liberal Party’s promises for a national repatriation framework, a spokesperson for the university wrote in an email to The Varsity that “The University feels strongly about the responsibility to ensure repatriation is conducted in a sensitive manner in close collaboration with Indigenous groups.” The spokesperson explained that “the University periodically reviews its policies and guidelines.”

They also noted that “formal requests for repatriation may come from family members or their descendants, or from recognized Indigenous groups.”

Mental health dominates first Governing Council meeting of the year

Presidential address, ombudsperson report, Spadina-Sussex residence were discussed

Mental health dominates first Governing Council meeting of the year

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Governing Council’s first meeting of the academic year on October 24 was dominated by discussions of mental health, as student representatives were invited to speak on the topic. Representatives from the U of T Mental Health Policy Council, a newly-created advocacy group, were also in attendance at the meeting, though they were not given speaking rights.

The meeting also included the president’s address, the ombudsperson’s report, discussions on the planned Spadina-Sussex residence, and the Landmark Project.

Presidential address

The meeting began with President Meric Gertler’s address, which touched on the recent federal election and mental health. He noted that the university is working with the provincial government to outline the performance metrics that will be increasingly tied to U of T’s funding. On mental health, Gertler said, “We’ve heard from those who say that we have not done enough, and we welcome suggestions on how we can do better.” He pointed to the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, as well as the Expert Panel on Undergraduate Student Educational Experience as actions that the university has already taken.

“U of T is well known for its culture of excellence and we take tremendous pride in that,” wrote Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regher in her report on mental health. “You’ve just heard about our wonderful rankings, but our community has rightly reminded us [that] we also have to be mindful of the need to create a supportive community for one another.”

Mental health

Student representatives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) all addressed the council. They shared many of the same demands, asking for more academic forgiveness, better access to counseling, and the repeal of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP).

The UTSU’s Vice-President, Operations, Arjun Kaul, spoke on U of T’s competitive environment. “The culture of excellence that the university cultivates is what harms student mental health most,” said Kaul. He criticized the limited number of spots available for same-day counselling, and called for more funding to the Health & Wellness Centre, calling its wait times “abysmal.”

Joint speakers from the UTMSU and the UTGSU criticized the university’s fee structure, which places a financial burden on some students who take a reduced course load and recieve financial aid, and advocated for a course-by-course tuition structure.

A group of mental health protestors remained outside of Simcoe Hall for the duration of the meeting.

Report of the ombudsperson

The university’s ombudsperson, Ellen Hodnett, gave her report, speaking strongly in favour of the UMLAP.
“I was honoured to be asked to review the cases of the eight students to whom the policy was applied in its first year of implementation,” said Hodnett of the policy.

“I use the word honoured purposefully. In my 44 years here, I have never been prouder to be associated with the University of Toronto, seeing the extreme care, diligence, respectfulness, and compassion with which the policy was applied [in each case].”

She criticized the “misinformation” that she said is being “widely circulated…  to use the suicides as a vehicle to link students’ reported fears of seeking mental health services with the mandated leave policy.”

After the meeting, the UTSU released a statement asking Hodnett to issue a formal apology. The statement calls her comments on the UMLAP “offensive and wrong,” and says that they “serve as a way of belittling students and further [emphasize] the ongoing issue of the administration not listening to its students throughout the entire policy-making process.” It criticized her attitude as being demeaning toward the student protestors, and pointed out that a draft of the policy was criticized by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Hodnett also proposed recommendations from her role as ombudsperson. She suggested an ancillary fee system for students that are on a voluntary leave, which would allow them to access university services even though they are not enrolled in full or part-time studies.

Her last recommendation was on analyzing the nature of science labs as “fertile ground for harassment, bullying, and intimidation,” to which Regher responded that the university was undertaking a “Healthy Labs Initiative” which will provide resources for creating a positive lab environment.

Spadina-Sussex residence

UTSU President Joshua Bowman spoke in favour of the new residence that has been in the works since 2014, but ultimately urged Governing Council to consider “affordability and accessibility.”

“Many commuter students choose to commute out of financial necessity,” said Bowman to the council. “We can’t continue promoting the benefits of living in residence while failing to work toward financial options that are accessible to all students.” He highlighted the low amount of accessible rooms in residences across campus, even as the Spadina-Sussex residence is planned to have 44 accessible rooms — 23 dormitory rooms and 21 four-bedroom suites.

Members of the Governing Council expressed their desire for the university to plan for more than the known number of accessible spaces needed in order to create a welcoming environment for students with accessibility needs. The motion to approve the project in principle passed unanimously.

Landmark Project

Two motions were passed on the Landmark Project, a proposal which aims to make major changes to the landscape of the front campus area at UTSG to create a “greener, more walkable and accessible campus.” The first motion passed confirmed U of T’s commitment to the Landmark Project in principle, including the proposed below-ground parking lot. The second motion approved in principle, was a project for a geothermal system under King’s College Circle, which will conserve heat in the summer for use during winter.

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.

The Breakdown: UTSU’s 2019 Annual General Meeting

Member motions to address board attendance, equity collectives, climate crisis

The Breakdown: UTSU’s 2019 Annual General Meeting

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held on October 30 in Innis Town Hall at 6:00 pm. The meeting is open to all UTSU members, which includes full-time undergraduate students, professional faculty students, Toronto School of Theology students, Transition Year Program students, and students on a Professional Experience Year.

The AGM requires a quorum of 75 members, of which 50 members must be physically present, with the rest being present through a proxy. The meeting acts as a forum for members to ask questions and raise items for discussion. Last year’s AGM was marred by long and heated debates, and notably lost quorum during the meeting. This loss resulted in a vote on policy without quorum.

According to the AGM’s agenda, UTSU President Joshua Bowman will give his address, which will be followed by an executive question and answer period.

The meeting will also see a proposal to change the union’s bylaws and elections procedure. One change to the bylaws will remove all mentions of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, as it separated from the UTSU at the 2018 AGM. There are also new outlines for abandonment of office for directors, which, for example, will occur if directors have two “unreasonable absences,” or other combinations of absences.

Member motions

On the agenda is a motion put forth by University College representative Lina Maragha to dissolve the UTSU’s equity collectives. The motion recommends this due to the perception that the equity collectives have not fulfilled their mandate since being introduced in 2017.

Instead, a “Equity Initiatives Fund” is proposed, which will provide funding to existing equity groups on campus. Three new community members will also be added to the Equity and Accessibility Committee under the new proposal.

Another motion proposes that the UTSU endorse all upcoming Fridays for Future climate strikes, as they did for the Global Climate Strike in Toronto last month.

Outstanding issues to address

Some outstanding issues that the AGM might address include the UTSU’s Student Commons project, which has put the union in financial jeopardy before, and been the target of numerous construction and planning delays.

The possibility of the UTSU leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which has been a major topic of discussion surrounding the UTSU for the past few years, could also come to a front. Debate over student funding for the CFS has emerged in the context of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — a provincial mandate for universities that provides an opt-out option for “non-essential” incidental fees. The SCI has also created particular financial challenges for the union, as students can opt-out of certain UTSU fees deemed non-essential by the province.

The union has also been active in student advocacy, including a collaboration with city council on postsecondary transit fees, and pushing for the funding of increased mental health services.

The controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy has once again brought tensions to light between the union, Governing Council, and the university’s ombudsperson on the policy’s effects on student health — less than year-and-a-half after the policy’s approval.