U of T Professor George Elliott Clarke withdraws from Regina lecture amid controversy over relationship with convicted killer

Criticism directed at willingness to read poetry written by the perpetrator of an Indigenous woman’s fatal beating

U of T Professor George Elliott Clarke withdraws from Regina lecture amid controversy over relationship with convicted killer

Content warning: article contains mentions of sexual violence.

George Elliott Clarke, Professor of English at the University of Toronto, was at the centre of controversy last week, after public outcry saw him withdrawing from a lecture at the University of Regina (U of R). The backlash revolved around Clarke’s relationship with, and openness to, citing Stephen Brown’s poetry in the now cancelled lecture, which was titled “‘Truth and Reconciliation’ versus ‘the Murdered and Missing’: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets.”

Brown, who changed his name from Steven Kummerfield, was convicted for the 1995 murder of Pamela George, an Indigenous woman from Regina. Clarke has edited poems and books for Brown, and the two have a long-standing relationship.

“A terrible murder, a vicious crime”

Brown and Alex Ternowetsky beat George to death and abandoned her in a ditch just outside Regina. They were both initially charged with first degree murder, but that conviction was reduced to manslaughter. Although Brown was sentenced to serve six-and-a-half years in prison, he was released on parole in 2000, having been behind bars for only three years.

George’s murder trial in 1997 sparked outrage from groups representing women and the Indigenous community. They believe that Brown and Ternowetsky received unjustly lenient sentences because of their racial privilege and affluent background. This speaks to a larger systemic issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, which includes the targetting of economically vulnerable Indigenous sex workers like George. The judge had instructed the jury to consider George’s occupation as a sex worker in determining whether or not she had consented to sex.

Clarke says he learned about Brown’s past in September 2019 and characterized George’s fatal beating as “a terrible murder, a vicious crime” in an interview with The Varsity. This prompted him to wonder how a person goes from being a murderer to, in his opinion, “a talented poet.”

When Clarke was asked to give the 2020 Woodrow Lloyd Lecture at U of R, he claims that he considered using Brown’s work to analyze these kinds of situations, as well as “in terms of the absence or presence of commentary regarding violence, in particular against Indigenous women and girls.”

“It was never my intent… to celebrate his poetry, condone his crime, exonerate him of his crime. Not at all,” said Clarke.

A community still mourning

When critics learned of that Clarke might read some of Brown’s work, they were quick to call on U of R to cancel the lecture.

Heather Bear, Vice-Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said in a statement to CBC News that she is “disgusted, disheartened and hurt that university officials would consider promoting — even indirectly — this [killer’s] work or even to allow the potential of it to be read aloud publicly within the community that still mourns her death.”

Members of the U of R community were also concerned about the lecture, with one faculty member highlighting that the event may not be carried out in the spirit of reconciliation.

Krista Shore, daughter of Barabara Ann Shore, an Indigenous woman who was murdered in Regina one year after George, also spoke out against Clarke’s lecture. The ambiguity of whether Brown’s poetry would be read was a source of stress for families like hers with direct ties to violence against Indigenous women.

“Why play mind games with people? We’re trying to heal here in Treaty 4 territory… and I don’t think it’s necessary that we bring a killer’s name into light,” she said.

A day before withdrawing from the lecture, Clarke issued an apology to George’s family and stated definitively that he would not read any of Brown’s work.

University response

In the face of public scrutiny, U of R’s Faculty of Arts refused to rescind its invitation to Clarke. In its statement, it claimed that doing so would be an example of censorship, which “goes against everything a university should stand for.”

However, after Clarke’s withdrawal, the university acknowledged that the planned event “brought back painful memories for many in relation to the 1995 killing of Pamela George.”

U of R plans to conduct consultations with Indigenous leaders and community members “to hear people’s concerns and perhaps begin a healing process.”

U of T declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

Claims of cancel culture

At the time, Clarke did not know if he would use Brown’s work in his lecture because he hadn’t finished researching the contents of the talk. However, he maintains that it is his right to “quote whatever [he thinks] is cogent for the sake of [his] argument.” In an interview with The Varsity, Clarke expressed that he felt that his fundamental charter rights of freedom of expression were under attack due to a “campaign of harassment and intimidation.”

He felt that some individuals at U of R had jumped to conclusions about the points he would make and so worked to ensure it would be “impossible for [him] to give this lecture.”

“They are the enemies of free speech, they are the enemies of free thought, they are the enemies of free expression. And the only reason why I cancelled the lecture was because I was being cast as being opposed to anybody receiving due justice for horrendous crimes against Indigenous people.”

However, he later elaborated that another reason for his withdrawal was out of consideration for “Ms. George, her family, survivors, [and] the wider Indigenous community who did not understand and never were told about the campaign of harassment that I had to endure for two months.”

He went on to say that as someone who is partly Indigenous himself, he has never condoned racist violence — and that his lecture would have been supportive of Indigenous empowerment.

Clarke stands by his appreciation of Brown’s work.

“Knowing about his criminal past makes that more difficult now, but I can’t change my mind about what I like about his work. And I don’t think that’s an impossible statement to make, while still saying that I find violence against Indigenous people to be a crime against humanity.”

Where to find sexual violence and harassment support at U of T:

A list of safety resources is available at safety.utoronto.ca

The tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre’s website is www.svpscentre.utoronto.ca

Individuals can visit the Centre’s website for more information, contact details, and hours of operation. Centre staff can be reached by phone at 416-978-2266.


U of T downtown Toronto campus: Gerstein Library, suite B139

U of T Mississauga: Davis Building, room 3094G

U of T Scarborough: Environmental Science and Chemistry Building, EV141

Those who have experienced sexual violence can also call Campus Police to make a report at 416-978-2222 (St. George and U of T Scarborough) or 905-569-4333 (U of T Mississauga)

After-hours support is also available at:

Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre (416-323-6040)

Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre (416-495-2400)

Trillium Hospital Sexual Assault Care Centre (905-848-7100)

Faculty of Law dean apologizes for assignment that featured Indigenous stereotypes

Dean maintains that this is not indicative of U of T shying away from difficult issues

Faculty of Law dean apologizes for assignment that featured Indigenous stereotypes

The Dean of the U of T Faculty of Law, Edward Iacobucci, emailed an apology to all first-year law students in December after an assignment garnered backlash from law students for using racial stereotypes of Indigenous people. A Globe and Mail article drew attention to the story, questioning whether this was discouraging students’ real-world preparation skills.

The assignment asked students to write a legal memo about the effects that the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act would have on a hypothetical case, which involved Indigenous children in foster care, whose parents were experiencing alcohol and substance use disorders.

A recurring racial stereotype of Indigenous peoples is that they are genetically predisposed to alcohol and substance use disorders. However, there is no scientific evidence for this claim. For Indigenous communities, alcohol and substance use disorders are linked to historical social conditions, such as the trauma inflicted by colonial policies like residential schools.

The case summary states that the father had recovered and wanted to continue a relationship with his children against the wishes of the foster parents, a non-Indigenous couple who wished to end all contact between the children and their father and pursue adoption.

Along with his apology, Iacobucci has provided an alternative assignment and promised to consult with the law school’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee in the hopes of avoiding similar situations in the future.

In the Globe and Mail article, Cindy Blackstock, a McGill University professor of social work and member of the Gitksan First Nation, questioned whether students would have the capacity to take on these cases after graduation if they hadn’t already faced them in school.

Blackstock noted that the “reality is that First Nations kids are overrepresented among children in child welfare.” She further contextualized the issue as linked to “poverty, poor housing and substance misuse linked to multigenerational trauma arising from colonialism writ large and residential schools in particular.”

“Striving to be respectful in a discussion is not at all equivalent to striving to avoid discussion,” Iacobucci wrote to The Varsity. “There is no legal issue in the ‘real world’ that we would be unwilling to teach our students.”

Iacobucci further emphasized that these discussions need to occur in the proper contexts.

The President of U of T’s Students’ Law Society, Morgan Watkins, also maintained that the law school is not shying away from any tough issues. “The school hosts discussions on some very difficult cases that have involved Indigenous people… that have been in the media,” Watkins said, citing talks which concerned the cases of Colten Boushie and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

However, the assignment purely concerned instructing students on writing legal memos; the class did not delve into the history of Indigenous people in Canada or child welfare law. For this reason, Watkins believes that the assignment “really flattens and glosses over any of the context.”

Watkins explained that it’s important to ensure that students have the right “repertoire of knowledge” before giving an assignment such as this one. Watkins does not claim to speak for Indigenous students, or the student body in general, but was present for discussions surrounding the assignment.

Leslie Anne St. Amour, an Algonquin law student from U of T’s class of 2020, wrote to Law Times that there are alternative ways to introduce Indigenous law to students.

St. Amour elaborated that, “The law school has a Manager of Indigenous Initiatives who could have been consulted in the writing of the assignment in order to prevent the display of stereotypes with no context that students received.”

University suspends incidental fee opt-out portal following court decision quashing Student Choice Initiative

Students required to pay all incidental fees, Ford government appealing ruling

University suspends incidental fee opt-out portal following court decision quashing Student Choice Initiative

Following a Divisional Court of Ontario ruling in November, the University of Toronto has decided that all students will be required to pay the full incidental fees — both optional and mandatory — for the winter 2020 semester.

In its ruling, the Divisional Court found that the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the mandate for universities to implement opt-out options for certain incidental fees — impugns on their autonomy. In early December, The Globe and Mail reported that the Ford government would be seeking an appeal of the court’s decision.

The SCI’s tumultuous journey from the government’s executive action to the impending court appeal has played out over the past 12 months. It began with an announcement in January of last year, followed by multiple student-organized protests and confusion within universities regarding the government’s “essential” and “non-essential” fee categorization.

For the fall 2019 semester — the only semester where the SCI was implemented — students could opt out of an average $60 out of $850 of incidental fees, according to of fees across campuses and colleges.

Province appeals court decision

Honourable Justices Harriet Sachs, David Corbett, and Lise Favreau wrote in their decision to strike down the SCI: “Universities are private, autonomous, self-governing institutions. They are ‘publicly assisted,’ but not publicly owned or operated.”

As a direct admonishment of the government’s argument, the justices wrote that for over a century, “Ontario has had a legislated policy of non-interference in university affairs… conferring on university governing councils and senates the authority and responsibility to manage university affairs.”

A brief obtained by The Globe and Mail on the government’s appeal of the SCI outlined the province’s argument for its appeal of the Divisional Court’s decision, primarily hinging upon the court’s decision that the SCI had overstepped the province’s authority in the governance of universities.

As part of its appeal, the government is arguing that the autonomy of colleges and universities is not being violated: “Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence.”

The government brief further stated, “Universities remain free to exercise their independence and autonomy through the choice to accept public funding, subject to whatever conditions are attached.”

Provincial operating grants make up 24.1 per cent of the university’s overall 2019–2020 revenue, with its core operating grant standing at $578.2 million per year. However, since 2017, the university has actually received more money from international student tuition than from the province.

“The decision on what financial barriers to education are sufficient to warrant a policy response is precisely the kind of value-driven determination for which elected decision-makers ought to be accountable to the public,” argues the government in its brief. “And should attract deference from a reviewing Court.”

In one of the few comments that Minister of Colleges and Universities (MCU) Ross Romano has publicly made since taking the MCU position from Merilee Fullerton — under whom the SCI was implemented — Romano remarked that “I’m not able to elaborate… but what I can say is that we have protected certain programs or certain services as essential,” as iPolitics.ca reported.

Downtown Legal Services (DLS) was among the many organizations that faced serious cuts from the Ford government. Lisa Cirillo, Executive Director at DLS, spoke to on what a government appeal could mean and look like.

“The court has laid out really firmly: this is the territory of universities and student unions within the universities, and we don’t believe that you can encroach on that,” Cirillo said.

Cirillo refers to a passage in the decision where the court rebuked the government’s argument that the SCI was outside of the court’s jurisdiction of review, saying that doing so “would undercut the supremacy of the legislature and open the door for government by executive decree, a proposition repugnant to the core principles of parliamentary democracy.”

University suspends opt-out portal

“The University suspended access to the online site that enabled students to opt out of incidental fees for the winter term, following the decision of the Divisional Court regarding the Student Choice Initiative,” wrote a university spokesperson to The Varsity.

As the SCI was overturned, universities had the choice to independently continue or discontinue opt-out portals for their incidental fees. U of T has decided all students must pay fees for the winter 2020 semester, and has thus shut down the online opt-out portal on ACORN.

“Opt-out selections for the Winter 2020 term are not available. Students will be required to pay all optional and mandatory fees for the Winter 2020 term.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities for comment.

The Breakdown: Victoria College renames “Ryerson Stream” to “Education Stream”

Changes made following criticisms over Ryerson’s involvement in the residential school system

The Breakdown: Victoria College renames “Ryerson Stream” to “Education Stream”

The Vic One Education Stream was, until 2019, named after Egerton Ryerson. It was changed last summer after Victoria College students protested the name due to Ryerson’s involvement in the creation of the residential school system.

Ryerson, a prominent nineteenth-century Methodist minister, had been honoured by Victoria College for his role in establishing the college and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, as well as a free and compulsory public education system in Canada.

Ryerson also created blueprints for the residential school system, which forcefully relocated an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children between 1880 and 1996, with the purpose of assimilating them into Euro-Canadian culture.

Students were isolated from their culture and community, and many experienced physical and sexual abuse. As a result, intergenerational trauma continues to negatively and severely impact Indigenous communities. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that this policy amounted to “cultural genocide.”

This legacy is what inspired last year’s Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) to call on Victoria University’s Board of Regents to rename the Ryerson Stream. Its report on the matter stated that, “The man [Ryerson] was has no place being celebrated in this age of truth and reconciliation.”

The decision to rename passed with little fanfare by the board before the beginning of the academic year.

Why rename?

Ira Wells, Victoria College’s Academic Programs Director, wrote to The Varsity about renaming, noting that staff at Victoria had been “considering the appropriateness of the name of the Vic One Ryerson stream for some time,” and that they welcomed VUSAC’s report. He expressed that the renaming was “one part of a larger conversation that will continue for some time” between Indigenous communities and Victoria University.

Vibhuti Kacholia, Vice-President External of VUSAC, echoed this sentiment, saying that the union is looking into “other initiatives that we can put into play that are [going to] make Victoria University a better space for Indigenous people.”

Kacholia ultimately thinks renaming is important because “language is very powerful in the way that we not only have our institutions here but… students who are coming into our campus and their impressions of it and their feeling of comfort and home… are tied to the language that we use here.”

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, Special Advisor to the President of Victoria University on Indigenous issues and a member of the Kahnawà:ke community, said that these discussions serve to “[get] people thinking about the [issues around reconciliation].”

“This is not about blame anymore… There’s no one here alive who [is] part of [that history], but… they’re part of this institution. They’re part of the structure. And so it’s to say, ‘okay, we’re here today as this group. How do we recognize what’s happened, and then how do we move to… open up the spaces?’”

Hamilton-Diabo called the relationship between Ryerson and Indigenous peoples “complicated.”

Ryerson’s recommendations of segregated, religious, and industry-based boarding schools for Indigenous populations did, in large part, shape the residential school system. However, he also spent some time with the Ojibwa people at Credit River as a minister, where he befriended Kahkewaquonaby, a chief of the Credit River Mississaugas otherwise known as Peter Jones. Jones also supported a schooling system similar to the one that Ryerson advocated for, though one that was on “native… controlled terms,” according to Hamilton-Diabo.

He argued that at times, historical figures are thought of as “heroes and villains,” which reduces the complexity of historical relations. Renamings, he thinks, should not be done automatically, but should be undertaken through consultation with and for the benefit of Indigenous communities.

Ryerson’s support for the residential school system was not the only reason for the switch. Wells wrote that his name had been problematic during recruitment events, like the Ontario Universities Fair, since prospective students would mistakenly assume that the stream was affiliated with Ryerson University.

Why “Education Stream”?

According to Wells, the name “Education Stream” was chosen because it “most closely captures the academic purpose of the stream.”

This choice is contrary to the original name suggestion provided by VUSAC’s report.

VUSAC hoped to name the stream after Cindy Blackstock, a notable Indigenous and children’s rights activist who earned her doctorate at U of T, and has been described by The Globe and Mail as “Canada’s ‘relentless moral voice’ for First Nations equality.” Excluding the Education Stream, five of seven Vic One streams are named after white men, with no racialized or Indigenous members.

Though the name was potentially a placeholder at the beginning of the year, pending further discussions with the board, Alexa Ballis, President of VUSAC, wrote to The Varsity that the college has no intention of changing the stream name from “Education.”

Kacholia noted that VUSAC was not made aware of the decision to rename the stream, and continued by saying that “[the board] would have loved to be consulted in that process.”

Criticisms surrounding the renaming

Recent scrutiny over statues, institutions, and plaques honouring contentious historical figures garnered some pushback. Critics say that renamings constitute “historical revisionism,” which oversimplifies the complicated morality of Canada’s historical figures.

Kacholia said that VUSAC has “definitely [seen] a critique [that the renaming is] somewhat erasing history and embracing the legacy that Ryerson has here,” but remarked that “Ryerson is not forgotten in… the Vic One stream.”

Ballis hopes to add a description of Ryerson’s legacy on the Vic One website, and ensure that there are discussions in the Education Stream’s classroom surrounding its previous namesake.

An explanation about the stream name is not present on Victoria College’s website as of time of publication, and VUSAC does not yet know if these discussions have been implemented for this year’s cohort.

Moving forward

Kacholia stressed that VUSAC sees the renaming as a starting point for reconciliation. According to her, the union hopes to return to the report and avoid putting “the settler narrative onto whatever we think is best for the university because as settlers, we don’t really know what that is.”

A main priority going forward will be on consultations with Indigenous groups and the general student population through a consultation form. The consultation form has seen 187 responses, according to Ballis, who also provided The Varsity with some sample responses, which have been supportive of VUSAC’s report.

Kacholia said that she’d like to bring an updated report to the Board of Regents by the end of the year.

Reflecting on reconciliation efforts at U of T, Hamilton-Diabo said that he has seen improvements in relations with Indigenous communities. He added that, “It’s just become a wider discussion… [people] are now paying attention to it and wanting to engage in figuring [out] how to do this.”

“Reconciliation’s not a feel-good project. It’s not meant to make people feel good,” Hamilton-Diabo said. “It’s actually about understanding the stories and how Indigenous people… have come to a particular place collectively.”

U of T remembers six students who died in Iran plane crash

Community mourns, memorial service held at Multi-Faith Centre

U of T remembers six students who died in Iran plane crash

Students, faculty, and community members came together for a packed memorial service at the Multi-Faith Centre on Friday for the six U of T students, and eight U of T community members overall, who died in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plane crash on January 8. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the next day that Iran had mistakenly shot down the airliner, which killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 57 Canadians.

The incident occurred amidst escalating Iran-US tensions this month. Hours earlier, Iran had fired missiles into Iraq, aimed at US and allied military bases in response to the American assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on January 3.

“On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, let me say first and foremost how profoundly heartbroken we are,” said President Meric Gertler. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families, the friends, the classmates, and to the teachers of those who lost their lives.”

Following a memorial service held at the Multi-Faith Centre on Friday, a service was also held in Convocation Hall.

Mojtaba Abbasnezhad

Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, 26, was a first-year PhD student in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

Pooya Poolad, a friend of Abbasnezhad, wrote to The Varsity, “He was one of the most talented and intelligent guys I knew.” They had known each other since they studied at the same university for their bachelor’s degrees and reconnected when Abbasnezhad came to U of T.

In the same department, Poolad and Abbasnezhad worked on the same floor in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology and saw each other frequently. “Right before he [left] for Iran, we were sitting at my apartment, planning and dreaming about the future, and thinking what should we do for our PhD,” Poolad wrote.

Mohammad Asadi Lari

Mohammad Asadi Lari, 23, was a second-year joint MD and PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine, and was in the crash along with his sister, Zeynab.

He co-founded and served as the managing director of an organization called STEM Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps provide opportunities for youth in STEM.

Sacha Noukhovitch, founder and President of STEM Fellowship, wrote that Mohammad “worked tirelessly to develop the organization’s mission and vision.”

STEM Fellowship’s statement describes him as a “visionary,” and adds that “he was also a compassionate leader who went above and beyond – fostering a strong community, developing others’ potential, and inspiring them to unite around a common cause with his humanitarian ethos.” He also co-founded the Canadian Association of Physician Innovators and Entrepreneurs.

“In a program full of stars, Mo shined brightly,” said Professor Nicola Jones of the Faculty of Medicine. She remembered him as someone with broad interests, who was “very passionate about being a clinician-scientist.”

Zeynab Asadi Lari

Zeynab Asadi Lari, 21, was in her fourth year pursuing a bachelor of science at UTM. Matineh Panah, a U of T student who spoke at the memorial service, described Zeynab as “full of life, dreams, hopes,” adding that “she wanted to be a doctor.”

Zeynab also worked at STEM Fellowship, creating its human resources department, and spearheading the creation of a branch of STEM Fellowship at UTM. She was the founder and president of the UTM branch of STEM Fellowship.

The statement on behalf of STEM Fellowship describes her as a “creative, hard-working, committed young leader who made invaluable contributions to STEM Fellowship.”

Zeynab was a health and mental health advocate, serving as a mental health network coordinator for the Youth Mental Health Association, and a Youth Member for Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. “I know if Zeynab was here, she would want me to advocate for mental health,” said Panah.

Mohammad Amin Jebelli

Mohammad Amin Jebelli was a graduate health science student in translational research and a physician.

Jebelli was recognized for his contributions to an online forum for helping international students adjust to international life. “Every time someone would post a question, a concern, he would constantly reply any hour of the night,” said Panah. “He would offer guidance and his help in any form he can… He was just always willing to help.”

He was also remembered for his “kindness to other students” by Professor Joseph Ferenbok of the translational research program. “There are hundreds of people whose lives he touched that recognize him.”

Mohammad Amin Beiruti

Mohammad Amin Beiruti, 29, was a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science.

When Panah spoke with Beiruti’s colleagues, they reported that he was soft-spoken and kind. “He was very careful on how he treated others. He talked with kindness and grace.”

Panah shared an anecdote that when Beiruti could not attend an international research conference, he had a friend present his work for him. “He was passionate about advancing technology.”

“He cared about the impact of his research and wanted to make the world a better place,” said Professor Yashar Ganjali.

Mohammad Saleheh

Mohammad Saleheh, 32, was a PhD student in computer science. Saleheh was in the crash with his wife, Zahra Hasani, a prospective U of T student herself. They had immigrated to Canada only a year and a half ago.

“When I asked about Mohammad Saleheh, everyone talked about his bright mind,” said Panah. “They said he was the humblest genius they knew.”

“It was really my great privilege to know and to work with my PhD student, Mohammad Saleheh,” said Professor Eyal de Lara. They had known each other for three years, working together before Salaheh became a student of de Lara. “He was amazingly good at what he did,” said de Lara. He was also a teaching assistant, and “students really just loved him.”

Women’s hockey suffers stunning defeat by the Laurier Golden Hawks

Toronto yields physical match in shoot-out

Women’s hockey suffers stunning defeat by the Laurier Golden Hawks

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team faced a shocking defeat at the hands of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks on January 10. The Blues — ranked fourth in the country — lost a 3–2 decision to the Hawks in a shoot-out at Varsity Arena. In spite of this loss, they’re still at first place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Conference.

The Blues knew they were in for a rough match when Laurier started off with a pair of early penalties for tripping and cross-checking. While the Blues were unable to capitalize off their powerplays, Laurier took advantage of a Blues penalty by sliding a tricky shot past Blues goaltender Madeline Albert close to the five-minute mark. More penalties to both teams riddled the intense first period. Despite strong offensive efforts by forwards Laura Ellis and Adrianna Noble, the first period finished with Laurier scoring the only goal.

The second period saw another flurry of penalties, but this time Toronto was successful in punishing their opponents’ mistakes. Gabrielle De Serres had plenty of time and space during the power play and used it to send the puck into the Hawks’ goal crease. Blues’ Breanna Berndsen also shouldered off her defender to knock home Cristine Chao’s rebound.

Using their momentum and physicality to further press the Hawks — and withstand their powerplays — Toronto squeaked in a second goal with barely a second left.

After winning the faceoff of the third period, Chao received the puck and sent it toward the net, where Madelyn Walsh deflected it past the Laurier goalie.

Unfortunately, Toronto was unable to maintain their lead, despite Albert’s impressive goaltending. Overtime — where Albert once again shone, robbing Laurier of any chances to score — solved nothing and the game headed toward a shootout. Both goalies were impressive, with each turning away five shooters before Laurier finally got one past Albert. Ultimately, Noble was unable to score, and Laurier stole the win.

Toronto will spend their next three matches on the road before they return to Varsity Arena on January 23 to play their crosstown rival, Ryerson University.

Blues lose nail-biter to Rams

Win streak was snapped, but Blues remain first in OUA West Conference

Blues lose nail-biter to Rams

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team saw their historic winning streak snapped on January 9 when they lost a 4–3 decision to the Ryerson Rams in overtime. Despite the loss — their first after winning 14 games in a row — the Blues remain on top of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West Conference.

The crosstown matchup saw both teams start the game off strong. It was impossible to tell who would be the victor when watching the first period, as both teams were evenly matched in speed, puck handling, and intensity. Second-year goalie Alex Bishop was rock solid in net, showing no signs of nervousness as he handled close shots and hard pressure with ease.

The defensive line of Captain Willy Paul and veteran Evan MacEachern also played with a fearless mindset —  they showed no hesitation when diving in front of shots to protect their net. Despite their sacrificial defending and crafty offense — Colin Paradis and Kevin Lavoie were particularly dangerous up front — the Rams drew first blood with a beautiful goal at just under a minute of play left in the first period.

Toronto came into the second period with even more vigour and intensity than before. Their discipline was quickly rewarded when Jared Leslie scored off a rebound from teammate Kyle Clarke.

The Blues were eager to continue chipping away at the Rams, and pulled ahead with a 2–1 score when Lavoie notched a stunning goal off a Scott Kirton assist. Ryerson tied it up with a goal of their own shortly after, but Ross Krieger once again pulled ahead after capitalizing on a scramble in front of Ryerson’s net.

Unfortunately, the Rams once again equalized with two minutes left in the period, and the game headed into the third period knotted up at 3–3.

Despite an intense, back-and-forth third period, no more goals were scored, leading to a three-on-three sudden death overtime period. Toronto was visibly exhausted at this point, as the match had been incredibly physical and tense, despite only three penalties being called. Bishop made a pair of impossible saves to keep the Blues heading toward a shootout, but the Rams managed to slip one past him just before overtime expired to take the match.

The Blues will next head to Guelph to play the Guelph Gryphons on January 11, before returning home to play against the University of Windsor on January 17.

The ABCs of mental resilience

Sports and clinical psychology research offer insights for mental health

The ABCs of mental resilience

Content warning: discussions of suicide

What is the value of addressing social connectedness as a factor of mental health? To Michael Wager, it may be one of the best tools that students can use especially as the university battles a mental health crisis on campus.

Wager, a performance coach for athletes who works at the U of T-affiliated Toronto Western Hospital, spoke with The Varsity to share his experiences of mental health and discuss promising approaches to addressing the causes of mental health concerns.

The ABC model of mental health

An influential model in psychiatry is the biopsychosocial approach, which posits that biological, psychological, and social factors each influence resiliency — defined as one’s ability to adapt to stress and adversity.

To make the model more accessible to a general audience, Wager reframed it as the ABCs model of resiliency: attitude, biology, and community.

Psychological attitude refers to one’s outlook on the world, which includes whether you see the world through a positive lens and have an optimistic attitude. This represents the psychological factors of resilience. “If you can find a way to have a positive attitude, you can be more resilient,” said Wager.

A shift in psychological outlook could stem from psychotherapy, which comprises treatments for mental health conditions by talking with a mental health provider. It could also come from coaching, especially in the context of competitive sports, which could shift athletes’ mindsets.

“The ‘B,’ biology, is how can you hack your own biology to be more resilient,” said Wager. This corresponds to the biological factors of resilience, which suggests that biological abnormalities may be a cause of mental health conditions.

Prescription medication, such as antidepressants, could be a treatment option, along with medical procedures, including deep brain stimulation for severe cases. However, Wager noted that neurological changes can also take place due to physical exercise, as well as improving one’s nutrition by eating healthier food.

But the ‘C,’ community, could be the most important piece of the puzzle of resilience, noted Wager. Which corresponds to the social factors of the biopsychosocial model.

“There’s research out there that shows the more connected one is to their community, the better off they’re going to be in their own mental health journeys,” noted Wager. Joining a club, a sports team, or volunteering could be ways for students to find a community.

One major criticism of the biopsychosocial approach is that the boundaries of biological, psychological, and social factors are ill-defined: for example, it’s unclear whether a psychological factor can be a biological factor as well. However, this may be less important in the context of treatment.

“If you’re not sure where to start, just pick something, anything, that will help you make gains in one of those three areas,” said Wager.

Applying the model in his own life

Wager himself has grappled with mental health challenges and used the ABCs to address them.

“In university, I had a really tough time; I was depressed,” he said. “I failed my first year, got myself back together, worked in the restaurant industry for a couple of years, became a little more stable, and then finished a bachelor’s degree.”

He has further experienced depression following the loss of a friend due to suicide. “It made me more depressed, but it also made me more motivated to really try and make a contribution to this world and [raise awareness about mental health].”

Wager uses journalling to change his own psychology. “I have a great little journal that my friend made me, it’s tiny so I can carry it wherever I go,” he said. “So I will start my day by writing out 10 things I’m grateful for.”

To address his biology, Wager practices yoga, which has been linked to neurobiological changes that could help patients with depression. He has also spoken with a psychiatrist, who has prescribed him with medication to improve his mental health.

Finally, to broaden his community, he joined a volleyball team. “When I first moved here [to Toronto], I barely knew anyone,” he said. The team sport enabled him to have fun and get to know people he enjoyed spending time with.

“It’s so important if you’re going to perform in sports or in school or in life, you’ve got to have people in your corner,” he said, reflecting on the importance of social factors. “Whether you’re an athlete or not, you’ve got to have people in your corner, and that’s what I want to share.”

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.