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Ford government releases annual report on freedom of speech on campus

U of T continued with existing policies, highlighted two on-campus events that spurred free speech debate

Ford government releases annual report on freedom of speech on campus

As part of the Ontario government’s 2018 directive that all colleges and universities must develop and report on free speech guidelines, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) released its first annual report on November 4 regarding the state of free speech on campuses. It revealed that U of T did not have to make any alterations to its freedom of speech policy in order to comply with governmental regulations.

Background on the policy

Doug Ford unveiled his free speech policy requirements in August 2018, stating that institutions found to be non-compliant with the government’s free speech requirements are at risk of losing funding.

The policy is based on the Chicago principles for free expression, which were outlined in a 2014 document from the University of Chicago that summarizes its commitments to freedom of expression.

The HEQCO was tasked with monitoring the implementation of this directive, which falls under its mandate to evaluate the postsecondary education system in Ontario.

The state of free speech at U of T

In U of T’s “Annual Freedom of Speech Report” — which each university and college is now required to produce as part of Ford’s policy — U of T highlighted two cornerstone free speech documents that were passed in 1992, as well as a number of expansions to the policy framework over the years.

Universities were also required to note any free speech issues or complaints in their reports. U of T highlighted an event held in March 2019 at UTM where the controversial scholar, Norman Finkelstein, spoke about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Finkelstein’s lecture, which primarily argued against the right of Israeli guards in Gaza to self-defence, faced criticism and calls for cancellation both from within the university and the public.

In addition, U of T was the only institution to cancel an event during the January to August reporting period, when a space booking by the Canada Nationalist Party (CNP) was denied due to security concerns. In its report, U of T noted that CNP Leader Travis Patron had come under RCMP investigation for a hate crime earlier this year. Patron was also recently charged with assault and aggravated assault in Regina on November 2, where two women alleged that Patron attacked them after they refused his offer of a ride.

The HEQCO report identified one issue in regard to compliance with the Chicago principles in Ontario. The report notes that a central feature of the Chicago principles is that free speech “takes precedence over civility and respect.” This section of the Chicago principles was not explicitly stated in the Ford government’s minimum requirements, but the HEQCO asserts that it is not evident in all of Ontario’s postsecondary institution’s free speech policies.

“Universities in general and U of T in particular have been pretty vigorous in defending free speech on campus… universities were doing perfectly well protecting free speech before [the Ford government initiative] came along,” said Wayne Sumner, University Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy, to The Varsity in an interview.

Sumner believes free speech initiatives are the result of “overblown” fears that right-wing speakers are being targeted on campus. However, Sumner does not believe any harm has come from this initiative, saying, “The Chicago principles are the right framework for freedom of speech on campus.”

A Globe and Mail article quoted James Turk, the director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, who went further, saying, “This was all part of Ford playing to a right-wing base, suggesting that the elites in these liberal institutions need to be reined in so they respect freedom of expression.”

In an email to The Varsity, Ciara Byrne, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities wrote that “postsecondary institutions across the province are already seeing an improvement in the upholding of free speech,” despite the policy being in place for less than a year. Byrne emphasized that while the government wishes to uphold free speech, hate speech will not be tolerated.

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

As the policy undergoes governance review, data points toward under-reporting

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

At the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting on November 13, in a relatively empty Governing Council chamber, the university’s sexual violence policy went through its first three-year review. The reports presented at the UAB found that from early 2017 to late 2018, there were 56 cases reported through the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre (SVPSC), but during that same time, only one hearing was held.

That hearing saw the respondent admitting to “non-consensual touching.” The respondent was sanctioned with a one-year suspension, a five-year notation on their transcript, and a one-year probationary period after the suspension, limiting contact with the survivor.

This review was part of the mandate of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act that was passed under former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, which sparked the policy’s creation in the first place. U of T’s proposed revised policy clarified language, but included no substantial changes.

At the same meeting, the university released its numbers for non-academic offences, which included the number of tribunals held in cases where the respondent to a report of sexual violence is a student.

“Cases can be resolved in different ways. Where the respondent is a student, cases may be referred to a hearing under the Code of Student Conduct, but may be resolved before the hearing is conducted,” wrote Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost, Students, in an email to The Varsity.

“In making a decision as to whether a matter is referred to a hearing, the wishes of students who come to the centre are always considered,” wrote Welsh. “In some cases they may not want a hearing, and would prefer the matter be resolved in another way.”

How we got here

In 2016, the provincial legislature enacted the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, which, through the then-Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, mandated that universities and colleges were to develop independent sexual violence and assault policies. Up until then, U of T’s policy was embedded among several other policies, including the Student Code of Conduct and the university’s Policy and Procedure on Sexual Harassment. Following calls to action from the U of T community, and part of a wider movement across North America in 2014, the university began the process of consulting on revisions for a new policy.

By the time the then-bill reached royal assent in 2016, U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment was undergoing consultations, with the university releasing a draft in September and a final version in November of that year. The policy was the work of years-long consultations, research, and various task force and committee recommendations — including the development of a tri-campus SVPSC.

Since then

In 2017, a year after its release,  U of T’s policy received a “C” grade for its sexual violence policies from Our Turn, a coalition of 20 Canadian student unions. The policy was marked down for lacking mandatory sexual violence sensitivity training, not acknowledging the existence of a rape culture at the university, and not having clearly defined timelines for reports and investigations. The same year, Tamsyn Riddle, a U of T student, filed a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity College, citing a failed 17-month sexual assault investigation in 2015 and failure of the college to enforce the interim measures imposed on her assailant.

Various reports were released in 2019, reflecting the policy’s first three years: the university’s own SVPSC 2017–2018 report, a report from the U of T student advocacy group for sexual assault survivors Silence is Violence, and the Ontario provincial survey on sexual violence at postsecondary institutions.

The SVPSC reported that 56 cases of sexual violence were filed under the university’s sexual violence policy from the office’s first two years of operation.

Silence is Violence, a grassroots student advocacy group, collected its own data, surveying 544 anonymous students. Of its respondents, 109 reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual violence or were uncertain whether the incident they experienced was an act of sexual violence during their time at U of T. Thirty per cent of respondents indicated that they knew someone who had experienced sexual violence on campus.

The provincial Student Voices on Sexual Assault survey released on March 19 reported that of 26,824 U of T respondents, 4,628 reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination and online and physical harassment. It also found that 3,602 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, which makes up 13.42 per cent of U of T’s respondents.

The revised policy, with clarified language but lacking any substantive additions, will continue through the governance process, where it will ultimately be voted for approval at the December 12 meeting of Governing Council.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities was unable to comment at the time of publication.

Editor’s note (November 18, 6:00 pm): This article has been updated to clarify that the data is compiled from multiple reports. The article has also corrected that the SVPSC report is from 2017–2018, not 2018–2019.

U of T to review policies after UTM student handcuffed while seeking mental health support

Student Natalia Espinosa speaks on her experience, intersection of mental health with racialized identity

U of T to review policies after UTM student handcuffed while seeking mental health support

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

On October 2, Natalia Espinosa, a third-year student at UTM, was handcuffed by campus police at the Health & Counselling Centre (HCC), as first reported by The Medium. Though she had arrived at the HCC that day to seek support for suicidal ideation, Espinosa told The Varsity in an interview that she left the HCC in police custody, and was then escorted to Credit Valley Hospital.

In the aftermath of the news, student groups around U of T have strongly criticized the university’s policies, further strengthening their calls for change around how the administration is handling mental health. Though the university explained that its procedures are in line with local law enforcement practices, it told The Varsity that it will be reviewing its policies in light of this event.

The events of October 2

Espinosa described how, as a UTM student, she had always been told that she should go to the HCC in the event of a mental health crisis. Her friend and fellow U of T student, Anita Mozaffari, urged her to seek help, and Espinosa, with Mozaffari by her side, obliged and went to the HCC to request a meeting with a psychiatrist.

Upon arrival they were informed that the process of seeing a psychiatrist involved three steps. Espinosa would have to be seen by a mental health nurse, and then a doctor, before she’d finally be able to discuss her health issues with a psychiatrist. This process, they were told, could take a month or more.

Then the HCC receptionist notified them that the mental health nurse was not in that day. Espinosa told The Varsity that she became distressed upon hearing that she may not be able to immediately receive care. As she became more and more visibly upset, the HCC receptionist reportedly allowed Espinosa in to see a regular nurse.

With the nurse, Espinosa developed a safety plan which involved her staying the night with Mozaffari. After the plan was approved, the nurse then told Espinosa that, per U of T protocol, she would have to call campus police to have a “10–15 minute talk” with her before she could leave.

Two campus police constables arrived and Espinosa told them about her prior intention to end her life, and that her plan had included a specific location. The officers then told Espinosa that because her plan included a real location, they would have to place her under arrest and transport her to a hospital.

“I told them that I would be more than willing to go to the hospital,” said Espinosa, and yet campus police insisted that she needed to go in handcuffs. Once the handcuffs were placed on her, Espinosa began to experience a panic attack. She recounted how her distress was met with silence from the constables: “It seemed like the police didn’t know what they were doing.” In fact, it was Mozaffari who jumped in to calm her down.

Mozaffari described to The Varsity that the officers were ready to take Espinosa to their car, even while she was actively experiencing mental distress. “They didn’t even think to stop and calm her down and care for her.”

Espinosa was led out of the HCC and through the Davis Building, with a jacket placed over her handcuffs. Since the police car was not ready, she had to stand in the entrance to the building and face the stares of those passing by, making her feel criminalized.

They would not let Mozaffari ride with Espinosa to the hospital, and while she was alone in the back of the police cruiser, Espinosa experienced another panic attack and vomited.

Espinosa was admitted to the hospital and her handcuffs were eventually taken off. She was able to receive care and will continue seeking support there. In light of this incident, she said that she no longer trusts the mental health services provided by U of T.

Mozaffari sees this event as being indicative of a larger issue at U of T. Not only does she find the handcuffing protocol to be damaging, but she was shocked that someone who was suicidal, as Espinosa was that day, was asked to wait a month or more to receive care.

Espinosa also believes that U of T is not doing enough to combat mental health issues on campus and is angered by the actions of campus police in this situation. In light of her treatment, she has filed an official complaint with U of T.

Law enforcement policy on mental health

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson explained that while they cannot comment on any specific case, “The safety and wellbeing of those involved is the primary consideration in any situation” for the university. U of T will be re-examining their policies in light of this incident.

Mark Overton, Dean of Student Affairs at UTM, further explained that not all cases in which a student is suicidal will result in campus police bringing the student to the hospital. “It’s very much on a case-by-case basis.”

A number of considerations go into whether or not a campus police constable decides to handcuff and transfer a student to a hospital, with one main consideration being the expression of specific intentions to harm oneself. Overton went on to clarify that handcuffs are involved in order to ensure that individuals deemed at risk are safely brought to the hospital.

Both Espinosa and Mozaffari agree that having a protocol that involves handcuffing students who are reaching out for mental health support will deter those who are most vulnerable from coming forward. “When you’re in such a vulnerable position, you need to be treated with dignity and respect, and you need to be treated with care, because ultimately I believe this is a health care matter. It is not a police matter,” said Mozaffari.

Espinosa also claimed that, “The fact that they’re using handcuffs… is criminalizing and creating more stigma around mental health.” She further noted that she finds it unacceptable that law enforcement can act in mental health situations without health care professionals present.

Mental health at the intersection

Espinosa and Mozaffari believe that mental health is particularly pressing for those at an ‘intersection,’ such as women, racialized peoples, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As a racialized woman, Mozaffari acknowledged that there are barriers to accessing mental health services for some more than others, and that police interactions can take on a radically different tone depending on your identity. “There will always be a slight fear when you’re interacting with police because statistically, they will treat you with more violence.”

Espinosa would like to see more services and initiatives aimed specifically at members of marginalized groups who experience mental health issues. She also wishes to see more diverse representation among those who handle people experiencing mental health crises, noting that her interaction with a female police officer that day was a much more calming experience than when she was interacting solely with male police officers.

After the events of October 2, Espinosa and Mozaffari told their story to Beverly Bain, who teaches at UTM. Bain has since begun advocating on behalf of Espinosa and will soon be releasing and circulating a letter to raise awareness of what happened to her.

Bain spoke with The Varsity to discuss the issues at hand.

Bain believes that for racialized women such as Espinosa, there is a greater vulnerability inherent in reaching out for mental health support. “It exposes them, it also puts them in a situation where they feel that their agency is denied… When they try to assert agency and voice [their needs] can easily be put in a situation where they can be put in danger by those law enforcement individuals.”

Bain sees the reason for this being that “women are not supposed to speak up, they are not supposed to say no, they’re not supposed to challenge authority.”

Community responses

In response to the events of October 2, the UTMSU released a statement condemning the actions of the police constables who put Espinosa in handcuffs and the policies that allowed this to unfold. “These actions taken by the HCC and the police are shameful and further the intimidation and discrimination that students face on our campus when accessing mental health services.” The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students, and the U of T Students’ Law Society all announced their support for the statement.

A petition has also been released calling for the university to publicly apologize for handcuffing Espinosa and to improve mental health services on campus. As of publishing time, the petition has over 130 signatures.

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

Ontario universities sees dramatic increase in international enrollment, tuition over past decade

Toronto Star investigation suggests boom in international enrollment acts as replacement for government funding

Ontario universities sees dramatic increase in international enrollment, tuition over past decade

U of T is one of the many colleges and universities in Ontario that, according to a recent survey by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharine’s Standard, are experiencing a boom in international student enrollment. Accompanied by increasing international student tuition costs, this suggests that these universities may see international tuition fees as a viable replacement for government funding.

While the university is currently encountering financial pressures from decreased provincial funding, these growths corroborate earlier estimations made by The Varsity that the university would use international tuition to replace funding lost as a result of the Ford government’s new policies.

The investigation found that international student enrollment in Canada has increased by 73 per cent since 2014, partially due to new laws that make it easier for non-Canadian students to work and attain permanent resident status. U of T alone has seen an increase in international student enrollment from 10 per cent of the total student body in 2008–2009 to 24 per cent in 2019–2020.

For many schools, international students are a lucrative alternative to provincial grants — the demographic brought in $21.6 billion to the Canadian economy in the last year alone, reported the Star.

For the 2018–2019 year, the average tuition for a domestic student at U of T was between $6,780 and $15,760, while international student tuition ranged from $34,180–54,840. In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson commented that “tuition is similar to that of other globally leading universities.

While domestic fees are government regulated, international tuition fees are unregulated and decided by the university. For the 2019–2020 academic year, 87 per cent of U of T’s operating revenues will come from tuition, other student fees, and provincial operating grants — with the proportion from provincial grants declining.

Enrollment-related revenue is expected to increase by 2.9 per cent in the 2019–2020 school year, despite there being no increase in provincial operating grants, and the 10 per cent reduction of domestic tuition fees mandated by the Ford government, both of will have been offset by a 5.4 per cent average yearly increase in international tuition fees.

In response to the higher tuition fees for international students, the U of T spokesperson wrote, “universities don’t receive provincial funding for international students as we do for Canadian students. Canadian students and their families pay taxes that flow back to universities and colleges, so we ask international students to pay their share.”

The three-part investigation from the Star and the Standard offered a few suggestions to prevent universities from taking advantage of international students. Among them being increased provincial operating grants and government support for incoming international students — or that schools could offer training to staff, better language support, and more robust support services.

U of T plans to continue to invest in academic and co-curricular programming, counselling, and support services for international students, according to the U of T spokesperson, who also mentioned other services that the university provides to international students, “such [as] language assistance, additional orientation and advisors to help them learn everything from navigating the TTC to understanding U of T’s academic culture and expectations.”

“International students benefit from studying at the University of Toronto and we benefit from their presence,” wrote the spokesperson. “International students enrich our community with their experiences, fostering a vibrant exchange of perspectives and opinions and helping us build relationships around the world.”

Pro-Hong Kong student group sets up UTSG Lennon Wall, organizes hunger strike

Hong Kong anti-extradition group aims to spread awareness in Canada

Pro-Hong Kong student group sets up UTSG Lennon Wall, organizes hunger strike

As the months-long protests in Hong Kong show no signs of slowing down, U of T students have continued to bring the protests to Toronto. Pro-Hong Kong students set up a Lennon Wall on the UTSG campus and organized a 48-hour hunger strike, though the strike ended prematurely due to worsening weather conditions at the recommendation of first-aid volunteers on site.

The protests in Hong Kong, ongoing since June, were sparked by an extradition bill which would have allowed for detainees in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. The bill has since been withdrawn, though the protests have continued and grown in scope, now encompassing greater demands for full democracy and freedoms.

As the protests continue, violence has escalated as demands by protestors have expanded — universities in Hong Kong have become grounds for petrol bombs and tear gas as protestors and police clash amidst heightened protests against police brutality and calls for full democratic elections.

Lennon Wall

The U of T Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group (UTHKELAG) put up a Lennon Wall outside of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) building on the night of November 5, as a forum for expressing pro-Hong Kong sentiments. Lennon Walls, which are collaborative mosaic walls that originated in Prague during the 1980s, have been a part of the anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong over the past few months.

The U of T Lennon Wall features over a hundred coloured sticky notes on which students have written messages such as “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now!” In the middle of the wall is a memorial to Alex Chow Tsz-Lok, a student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who died on November 8 after falling off a parking garage during a police raid days earlier.

Chow was reportedly attempting to escape tear gas when he fell, though the exact circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. His death has further fuelled global protests, and it has been cited as one of the only deaths linked directly to police interference.

“Lennon Walls have popped up around Hong Kong mostly as sites for expression of views, largely pro-democracy, in favor of the protests and our objectives,” said Milton Chow, a fourth-year student at U of T and a member of UTHKELAG.

He said that the purpose of the wall is “to allow the U of T community to see [that] what’s going on in Hong Kong matters to our Hong Kong student community right now, especially since Toronto is home to one of the largest Hong Kong diasporas anywhere in the world.”

Milton explained that the group hopes to keep the wall up for “as long as we possibly can,” to show the spirit of their activism.

“It’s pretty clear that it is named after former Beatles frontman, John Lennon,” said Milton. “But, in large part it revolves around his messages of peaceful yet radical change, and moving toward greater freedom and democracy for all.”

Michael Junior Samakayi, UTSU’s Vice-President, Equity, said that the UTSU’s decision to allow the wall on their building was a show of solidarity with the people of Hong Kong: “If we’re not standing up for them, then what are we really doing as a student union?”

Hunger strike

This weekend, the student protestors set up chairs, posters, and a tent outside of Old City Hall as they attempted to wait out a 48-hour hunger strike from 10:00 am on November 16 to 10:00 am on November 18. However, 12 hours in, the strike ended early due to safety concerns regarding the cold weather.

Marco So, a first-year student from Hong Kong at the strike, described the current wave of protests as “maybe the last fight for [the] democracy of the Hong Kong people.” He called the hunger strike “a way of self-sacrificing,” and cited his own reason for getting involved in the strike as not having participated in Hong Kong protests before: “And I feel a little bit of regret about that.”

Man Kin Sum, an exchange student at U of T from the Chinese University of Hong Kong participating in the strike, said he was motivated by the recent violence at his home university, where students and police clashed in an hours-long skirmish.

“In the past few days, Hong Kong police tried to get into our school, and there are like a thousand cans of tear gas and they tried to use [a] water cannon and even rubber bullets to attack students,” said Sum.

Hogan Lam, one of the organizers of UTHKELAG, said that the purpose of the hunger strike was to show solidarity with Hong Kong and to get the attention of U of T and Canada.

Due to the nature of the attack at a university, Lam said, “I feel like U of T, as one of the biggest educational institutions in the world, they really have to say something or at least make a stand.”

The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.

University Affairs Board presents updates on mandated leave policy, reviews sexual violence policy

Vice-Provost, Students, explains long Student Choice Initiative winter opt-out period

University Affairs Board presents updates on mandated leave policy, reviews sexual violence policy

On November 13, the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board passed its yearly review of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), its three-year review of the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, and the university’s report on non-academic disciplinary cases. The report on the UMLAP revealed that out of eight cases in the past year, two students requested a review of the decision to use the policy on them, though the university ultimately upheld its original decisions.

Student Choice Initiative

Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh led most of the meeting, giving reports on the various policies up for review and on the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the province’s mandate for universities to create an opt-out option for some incidental fees. The winter opt-out period for students — running from November 1 to January 20 — has already begun, Welsh announced at the meeting.

Welsh attributes its lengthy time-frame, weeks longer than the summer opt-out period, to the deadline for adding and dropping classes, and its effect on a student’s full-time or part-time status. The vice-provost also announced that between the last fall collection period and this past one, there was a two per cent reduction in incidental fees collected through the university due to the SCI.

University-mandated leave of absence policy

The UMLAP received an update since its implementation last year. The controversial policy has seen an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint and waves of student protests.

Welsh reported that the policy had been used in eight cases in the past year, emphasizing that it was only used as a last resort. Two of the student cases took voluntary leave from the school. Of the remaining six, two students requested a review of the policy’s implementation. For both, the policy was sustained, with one student requesting a tribunal, withdrawing the case before the hearing, according to Welsh.

Following her report, Welsh addressed concerns raised about the policy. Specifically, some worry of a broader deterring effect that the policy might have on students in seeking help from mental health resources within the university. Welsh, again, emphasized the extreme and serious nature of the cases on which the policy was enacted, which included risk of harm to others. She further pointed out that any request to invoke the policy needed to be made by a divisional head.

Sexual violence policy updates, non-academic discipline report

During Welsh’s presentation of the revisions for the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in its first three-year review, she lamented the Ontario government-imposed deadline for the report, which tightened the timeline for consultations, after winter exams had already began. Changes were also passed to the Code of Student Conduct to reflect the jurisdictional divide between the two policies.

Finally, Welsh presented the university’s annual report on cases of non-academic discipline: the governance document details specific counts of incidents. Among 12 cases there were 17 offences: 10 offences against persons, four offences of unauthorized use of university equipment, one offence against property, one abetting offence, and one offence of disruption.

Remembrance Day service marks 100th anniversary of Soldiers’ Tower

Flying Officer Edwards of Victoria College remembered as first RCAF pilot to lose life in combat

Remembrance Day service marks 100th anniversary of Soldiers’ Tower

Amidst heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures, more than a hundred people gathered at the foot of Soldiers’ Tower to take part in U of T’s Service of Remembrance. This year’s service marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of the first cornerstone of Soldiers’ Tower.

The Soldiers’ Tower Committee has been holding Remembrance Day services since 1924, when the tower was officially unveiled. In her opening remarks, Michelle Alfano, Chair of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee, said “to those who served and all their families, we see you, we acknowledge the courage of your actions, and as long as the Tower stands, we will honour and remember your sacrifices.”

While the ceremony honours the 16,000 U of T community members who served during World War I, World War II, and other military conflicts, this year, tribute was paid to one serviceperson in particular.

Flying Officer Robert Lesley Edwards is remembered not only for being a part of the No. 1 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), but also as a BA graduate from Victoria College who resided in Burwash Hall. Edwards was killed during the Battle of Britain on August 26, 1940. He was the first RCAF member to lose his life in the service of his country.

St. Michael’s College student, Master Corporal Isaiah Samson of the 32 Service Battalion read a brief description of events during the Battle of Britain. Two days after the German air force launched an aerial assault on London, an Allied patrol engaged German bomber planes, known as Dornier 215s.

“Flying Officer Robert Lesley Edwards of Cobourg, Ontario, opened fire at very close range and shot the tail off a bomber but his aircraft was hit by heavy crossfire from the enemy gunners, and it followed the Dornier to earth.” At 28 years old, Edwards left behind a mother and a wife.

Memorial prayers were given throughout the service, first by Rabbi Julia Appel who recited El Ma’alei Rahamim, and then by Imam Yasin Dwyer of the Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto. The service came to an end with Major The Reverend Richard Ruggle’s prayer of remembrance, followed by the playing of the Last Post and a two minute silence.

“In Flanders Fields,” the iconic Canadian poem, was also recited during the service. The author of the poem and Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae was a U of T alum who served in combat, graduating from the Faculty of Medicine as a member of the Zeta Psi Fraternity. His poem was read by a fellow Zeta Psi Fraternity member, Second Lieutenant Tom Ellard.

In an interview with The Varsity, Ellard spoke about his own experiences as a serviceperson. Reflecting on loss and sacrifice, he recounted how a fellow soldier and friend lost his life in Afghanistan. He said that was the moment “it really came home that what we do is dangerous, and people do pay a price.”

When asked about the ceremony, Ellard expressed how proud he was with the student body for continuing the legacy of honouring Canada’s servicepeople. “There’s a lot of people that arrived to stand in the snow and inclement weather, because I think there’s a recognition that both their grandparents, their brothers or sisters, or they [themselves] might be called upon to do something similar.”

“That’s an important commitment, this freedom we enjoy isn’t free. There are prices to be paid and sometimes it’s the ultimate sacrifice.”

Members of the U of T community, along with overseas visitors, laid wreaths beside Soldiers’ Tower during the service. President Meric Gertler, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr, Chancellor Rose Patten, and Chair of the Governing Council Claire Kennedy laid the wreath for the university.

Federal MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, MPP Jessica Bell, and City Councillor Mike Layton, all elected representatives for University—Rosedale, laid the wreath for the government. The Honourable Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, was also in attendance and laid the wreath for the Commonwealth.

Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Experts say reporting can cause contagion; where does The Varsity stand on principled journalism in these cases?

Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

Some journalistic practices, such as including details about suicide or adding the word “suicide” in headlines, can potentially make suicide contagious, according to a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The study identified significant associations between elements of media reports and suicide deaths. It touched on how reporting on suicide can have a meaningful impact on suicide deaths. In short, it says that journalists and media outlets should carefully consider the specific content of articles before publication.

Following the death by suicide of a University of Toronto student at UTSG more than a month ago, the question of whether The Varsity does a good enough job reporting on suicide is something worth looking into.

For the most part, The Varsity has noticeably taken steps to ensure that its readers are properly being walked through sensitive storytelling. For example, every story pertaining to the topic of suicide begins with an advisory message, such as “Content warning: discussions of suicide.”

It’s a popular belief in many newsrooms that one should only report on suicide if there is some overriding public interest in doing so, an example of this is the Toronto Star’s policy on the matter.

In our case, reporting on a student’s death can be of public interest, seeing as this was the third death by suicide of a U of T student in the span of  over 16 months, and students across all three campuses have been demanding better access to mental health support for some time now.

In an interview with Time, Dr. Ayal Schaffer, a psychiatry professor at U of T who co-authored the CMAJ study, said that reporting on suicide is not the problem, rather it’s how it’s being done where the trouble lies.

“Our goal is not to blame journalists; it’s not to tell journalists how to do their jobs. But it is to provide a pretty strong research base to support specific guidelines about how reporting on suicide should be done,” Schaffer said in the interview.   

Time noted that the research analyzed stories published between 2011 and 2014 on the topic of suicide that appeared in 13 publications with wide circulations in Toronto. It found nearly 17,000 stories that mentioned suicide, including 6,367 articles where suicide was the major focus. It is worth noting that about 950 people in Toronto reportedly died by suicide during this timespan.

When searching for how many stories The Varsity has written with the word “suicide” mentioned, there were over 500 results. To some, this is a large number of stories circulating around suicide, and to others — given that The Varsity has written countless stories over the years — it is an insignificant number.

According to Josie Kao, Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, she found herself, like many journalists, covering an “alarming number of deaths on campus” when she was acting as News Editor last year. Kao then decided that The Varsity needed a responsible guide on reporting on suicide.

“We know that we have a huge responsibility as a media organization to prevent contagion and at the same time de-stigmatize mental illness,” Kao wrote.

These guidelines included which terms to use when reporting on suicide, as well as in the event that a death occurs on campus in a public place, on campus in a private place, or off campus.

“Not all situations warrant reporting on… because the risk of suicide contagion is so high. I’m extremely proud of the work that the paper has undertaken since I began working here, and I truly believe that student journalism is at the forefront of responsible reporting on suicide,” Kao added.

It’s important to ask how students on all three campuses at U of T feel about upsetting stories that are told every day. Does it make them feel informed about what is going on on campus and equip them with all the information needed to confront the school and demand change?

Or does it instead make them feel scared that someone who walked the same halls, sat in the same lecture hall, ate at the same cafeteria, wrote the same exams, might one day want to end their life? Or what if they themselves feel that they can also take their life because others are doing so?

I would like to know how readers feel about this topic and where they stand, reading the tragic circumstances surrounding one of their own.

As your newest public editor, I want to make it my mission to look at both sides of the reader’s perspective so that we can work together in creating an educational, yet safe, environment for all.

Osobe Waberi is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at [email protected].

Disclosure: Osobe Waberi is currently a staff writer at the Toronto Star.

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.