Province’s $42 million online initiative draws skepticism

Ontario Online hailed for its accessibility amid education quality doubts

Province’s $42 million online initiative draws skepticism

The Centre of Excellence for Online Learning (Ontario Online) is a new, $42 million initiative aimed at providing quality post-secondary education online. Courses accessed through Ontario Online will be transferable between all participating universities via Critics cite concerns about the quality of education and underlying motivation of the proposed program.

Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, announced the creation of Ontario Online last Monday. ONTransfer will be a partnership between post-secondary institutions in Ontario that will attempt to streamline credit transfers. Duguid explained that students would simply have to enter their credentials and click a button to see which of their completed credits would be accepted at which universities and colleges in the database. The eventual goal of the initiative is to ensure that students do not have to waste money and time redoing completed learning.

Graeme Stewart, communications director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), is lobbying for more faculty input on the Ontario Online project, as there are currently no seats allocated to faculty members on the Board of Directors overseeing it. “I think that there are a few important stakeholders — admin, students, online learning experts — but it’s the actual faculty members who know best how to deliver the best quality experience,” said Stewart.

Duguid, in response to these concerns, said that the ministry has reached out to all concerned constituents, and has assembled the most experienced board that it could. He believes that the product it provides will be valuable enough that faculty associations will be pleased with it anyway.

In addition to the issue of faculty inclusion, Stewart has political concerns: “I support the goals and principles of accessibility and flexibility; it will really help students who maybe live far away from campus or have other responsibilities, but I am skeptical about the motivation.” He added: “If the government is looking to cut costs and avoid investing in higher education, it won’t work.”

Amir Eftekarpour, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) does not believe that lack of university instructors on the Board of Directors will compromise the quality of education available through the project. “I don’t see why we should have to choose between accessible education and quality education. We think there needs to be a sector-wide discussion to ensure that the quality is the same and that all students get the same access to faculty and the same access to support programming,” he said.

“Student executives on the ground are working with administration through their councils and student unions to make sure that principles of equality and accessibility are upheld,” said Eftekarpour, adding that he was pleased to see the provincial government make a commitment to enhancing online learning. Eftekarpour said that his primary concerns lie with per-student funding, as well as the direct impact on overall student learning experience.

Fifteen out of 20 Ontario universities are participating in the database launch; U of T is not among them. Duguid questioned the wisdom of this decision: “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on any institution that doesn’t participate — either in the Ontario Online, or in the ONTransfer initiative — because they’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “Institutions want students to transfer to them, and if they’re not marketing themselves on this guideline, if they’re not part of the guideline, they’re going to be very conspicuous by their absence.”

Sioban Nelson, vice-president, academic programs at U of T, explained the omission. “The credit transfer issue is something that we have been heavily involved in, and we have taken a cautious approach, built on where we know that we have a large volume of students who are interested in credit transfer and working on procedures for those students,” she said, referencing the seven-member University Transfer Credit Consortium. The consortium comprises U of T, the University of Waterloo, Western University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Guelph, Queen’s University, and McMaster University.

Under the current system, students can automatically acquire transfer credits for 30 first-year U of T courses by taking their equivalents offered by other members of the consortium. If a student wishes to transfer any other credits (including all credits from other institutions), he or she must submit an application. Credit transfer applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Nelson notes that the administration is concerned that if U of T were to automatically accept transfer credits for too many courses, although they may save time and money, they could be at risk of failing second year courses. “If the students fail the second-year course based on the first-year course, it doesn’t really help students much at all,” she said.

The Ontario Online project will launch in time for the 2015-2016 academic year, with the funds being expended gradually over the next three years.

Cities Centre closure a sad loss to U of T and GTA

Closure negatively affects the research and learning environment on campus

Cities Centre closure a sad loss to U of T and GTA

Instead of opening its doors to new urban research students and faculty this January, the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto will be closing them. On November 29, 2013, the Cities Centre released a final news bulletin, reporting that the university administration had shamefully cut the Centre’s funding. This move represents a huge loss to the university community and the City of Toronto. Furthermore, it is yet another example of unilateral decision-making and the pervasive neoliberal governance of the U of T.

The Cities Centre was one of those rare parts of the university that was firmly rooted both within the city and academia. Members produced research that was useful for scholars, policy makers, and community organizers alike. Centre researchers tackled the difficult issues of inequality and access in the city, raising important questions about homelessness, suburban poverty, accessibility, immigration, and gentrification. Most importantly, it supported critical and progressive research by working with diverse community partners to address changes and challenges facing urban neighbourhoods and residents.

It is frustrating and disheartening that the university would abolish such a pillar of progressive urban policy and urban studies.  This move, and the opaque decision-making process, has not gone unnoticed. Influential individuals in urban policy and planning — like Toronto’s former mayor David Miller — have written letters in support of the Cities Centre. On December 16, 2013, the Toronto City Council received a motion — moved by councillor Joe Mihevc and seconded by councillor Mike Layton — concerning the closure of the centre. The motion called attention to the important work done by the Cities Centre, and expressed a desire to “see a strong funded and interdisciplinary research centre” continue at U of T. It was forwarded to U of T president Meric Gertler, and has been referred to the city’s executive committee.

The closure of the Cities Centre not only negatively affects the research and learning environment at the university, but it also impacts individual students and scholars. During my graduate studies in the Department of Geography and Planning, the Centre’s work was particularly important. Several studies provided the foundational research needed to conduct my doctoral work on illegal rooming houses and municipal bylaws in Toronto’s inner suburbs. In addition, the centre published research on pertinent urban issues that resulted in vigorous debates in graduate seminars and undergraduate lectures alike.

The Centre’s impact extends beyond the classroom; its innovative research directly informs urban policy and planning in Toronto. Furthermore, the centre created a hub for scholars from diverse disciplines to collaborate on projects and find a home for their work. I was fortunate enough to work with several faculty members associated with the centre, and welcomed the emails informing me of events, panel presentations, and publications. As I embark on my academic career, I wonder where I will turn when researching and publishing new work on contemporary progressive urban issues in Canada.

By cutting the funding to the Cities Centre, U of T is following a dangerous and ideological trend. Neoliberal governance is increasingly the norm at most North American universities, and U of T is no exception. The university administration has referred to undergraduate students as “basic income units,” conducted lengthy negotiations with unionized workers, and moved towards hiring more contract faculty versus providing stable tenured positions. Cutting funding to a centre that supported critical urban research, dialogue, and community partnerships aligns with this trend.

The lack of consultation and the proposed “merger” with another urban centre is indicative of a disturbing pattern in U of T’s administration. Decisions are made with no input from the affected parties, consultation, or formal external review. It is an appalling way to govern a university. Unfortunately, the Cities Centre is only one of many causalities. The closure ends an era of groundbreaking urban research, partnership-building, and direct research-to-policy influence, and it will be greatly missed.


Lisa Freeman is a recent graduate and phd. in geography and planning.

David L. MacIntosh Clinic one of the best in the world

U of T students and community treated by world-class therapists and doctors

David L. MacIntosh Clinic one of the best in the world

From an evening walk-in clinic with one doctor and a few therapists to a clinic that sees 150 patients a day and operates 2,700 hours a year, the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic has been treating sports-related injuries for over 60 years.

Located in the basement of the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre, this clinic is the oldest dedicated sports medicine facility in the world. In the 1990s, the clinic was named after Dr. David L. MacIntosh, a pioneer in the area of orthopaedic surgery, who began working at Hart House in the 1950s. MacIntosh was the first in the world to develop ACL injury diagnosis and ACL repair surgery. In addition, he was a physician for the Varsity Blues’ football and hockey teams for 25 years.

Marcel Charland, a certified athletic therapist and sport massage therapist, explained what makes the clinic unique is that “the comprehensive care an athlete receives at the MacIntosh clinic is world-class. Very few clinics have physiotherapists, athletic therapists, massage therapists, physicians, and orthopaedic surgeons all working together towards a common goal.”

Sandy Heming, another physiotherapist, said that she applied for the position because the opportunity to be in a clinic and on the field made the position a dream job.

“It’s a great clinic to work at. I have been here 12 years… it is a unique place; it is different. The atmosphere is fun here because everyone wants to get better and get back to doing what they want to do,” said Heming.

Clinic Manager Marr Kelly describes the staff as “a pretty tight-knit group of people, because we have such a small space to work in, and that makes this place unique.” Kelly began working at the clinic as a student at U of T, and has continued working there since then; she now oversees the clinic’s operations.

This clinic also serves as a teaching facility for kinesiology, athletic therapy, physiotherapy, and medical students. Charland did his placement as an athletic therapist student at the clinic in 1982; now, he mentors and teaches students.

“One of the things that makes this job so great is we not only have the opportunity to be in the clinic or on the field, but you also have the opportunity to mentor students and teach them,” said Charland.

“By teaching, you are also learning and the students also keep you current to a certain extent. It’s a great clinic for that — always having new students and new ideas.”

The clinic also includes a concussion clinic, which started around 1999 as solely a research effort. Dr. Michael Hutchison, the director of the concussion program, describes a concussion as “a type of traumatic brain injury [that] is recognized as a clinical syndrome of biomechanically induced alteration of brain function.”

Concussions can result from a direct blow to the head or the body. Other members of the research team include Dr. Doug Richards, Dr. Paul Comper, and Dr. Lynda Mainwaring. The clinic has been providing comprehensive care for sport-related concussions for approximately three years. In the 2012–2013 year, the clinic saw over 250 sport-related concussions.

The staff has experience working with athletes coming from a wide range of sports, and sees all manner of patients from weekend warriors to Olympians.

Dr. Ian Cohen, one of the sports physicians, joined the clinic staff in 1990 and has been working in sport medicine ever since he began practicing. Cohen’s experience as a sport physician extends from the Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team and the national sailing team to the Toronto Argonauts.

Cohen was also a member of the medical staff at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, along with MacIntosh clinic colleague Dr. Mark Leung. Leung is currently one of the team physicians with the men’s national basketball team.

Meanwhile, Charland attended the 1988 Winter Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics as a therapist, and has been selected as an alternate therapist for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Other staff members have also been selected as part of Team Canada’s medical staff at national and international levels of competition, such as the Pan Am Games and the Commonwealth Games. In addition to their responsibilities at the MacIntosh Clinic and working with varsity teams, some members of the staff are also involved, or has been involved, with national teams or professional teams — including the Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Argonauts, and the Toronto FC.

For the staff at the MacIntosh Clinic, the job is not simply a 9–5 occupation; it involves weekends, mornings, late nights, and travelling with the assigned teams.

Despite Charland’s vast accomplishments and memorable moments in his career, he says that it is always great when he rehabilitates a patient and is able to see them back on the court, the field, or the ice.

Pussy Riot is a return to the roots of political music

The second coming of punk rock

Pussy Riot is a return to the roots of political music

When considering the recent impact that Russian punk band Pussy Riot has had on their  nation’s politics, think about this: in the past year, Russia’s illustrious leader Vladimir Putin has mentioned its name no less than six times in his speeches. According to journalist Masha Gessen, that is more times than he has mentioned any one country or person — including US President Barack Obama.



As many of us already know, Pussy Riot is the all-female, eleven-membered (approximately ­­­— nobody’s quite sure) punk band that is known for its outspoken stance on lgbt rights, women’s rights, and why Putin may very well be the embodiment of evil. Their hefty resumé consists of performing a “punk prayer” in an Orthodox church, two years of imprisonment, and being officially declared “hooligans” by the Russian government. If given a grade, Pussy Riot undoubtedly scores an A+ on the punk rock scale. It has made its mark in Russia as a band that protests the homophobic acts of a corrupt government. In doing so, they have revived the authenticity of a genre that seems to have lost substance over the past few decades.

During the genesis of punk rock, while the war in Vietnam neared its end — and Britain’s economy began an alarmingly steep decline — groups of disaffected youth started creating music that spoke directly to the higher authorities. The music usually focused on topics such as unemployment, scandals surrounding politicians and government officials, and other types of injustices. Known for their elaborate hairdos and their habit of spitting on their audience as a form of greeting, one could say that the punks were a slightly more intimidating version of the hippies from the years prior.

Nevertheless, this coterie protested some of the many injustices that affected their everyday life, and in doing so, created a genre of music that matched its oddball subculture.

Bands like The Clash sang about problems with the law and its enforcement in England, while the Sex Pistols and Black Flag attacked social conformity and strongly encouraged mayhem-induced rebellion. Even in America, Charged GBH and GG Allin expressed anti-war sentiments in their songs (as well as a vague desire to kill the then-US president). Later on, in the short-lived “grunge era” of the early ’90s, bands like Nirvana got their say on the state of American society.

Unfortunately, it was also around this time that punk rock petered out, giving way to a new influx of punk-related bands like Blink 182, Green Day, and Ajax’s very own Sum 41. The bands from the ’70s and ’80s that had made a name for themselves by taking strong political stances all seemed to disappear, causing a decline in politically based punk music. Instead, sub-genres of punk that were less focused on the political, and more focused on making unpleasant guitar noises and being aggressively loud gained ground. Many would say that this is the time when punk rock kicked the bucket.

After years without a significant punk rock scene to be heard of, the Russian collective is everything that genuine punk music was originally meant to be, and more. The lengths to which it has gone to protest the horrifying situation for the LGBT community in Russia has elevated it from musicians to full-scale activists. Its determination to protest landed the members’ in jail, sparking a couple of lengthy hunger strikes. Despite the obvious setbacks, the band continues to spread the message, with anti-hits like “Putin Has Pissed Himself” or “Putin Chickens Out.” Now finally freed, we can only assume Pussy Riot will continue to wreak havoc until justice is served.

Lanes, chains, and automobiles

Exploring Toronto’s growing cycling community and downtown bike lane controversy

Lanes, chains, and automobiles

An orchestra of bells, baskets, and bolts echoes in the streets of Toronto as cyclists sight-read the white painted lines on the asphalt and improvise in response to the clunking of streetcar tracks and shutting of taxi doors.

The bicycle, a single frame on two wheels, is an inexpensive, environmentally friendly and convenient mode of transportation in a congested city like Toronto. However, dwindling support for implementation and improvement of necessary infrastructure limits the growth of the city’s cycling community.

Biking in Toronto is a relatively up-and-coming phenomenon. The first bike path in the city, the Beltline Trail, was reluctantly built in the shadow of the Belt Line Railway when it halted operation in the early 1970s. The first marked bike lane was not installed until the late 1970s under the supervision of Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson. It was not for another 40 years that the first separated bike lane was built in 2012, running north-south on Sherbourne Avenue.


A bicycle friendly city?

Bike 2 (1)The Toronto City Cycling Committee was founded in 1975 to encourage biking and bike safety. In 2001, the Toronto Bike Plan was established by City Council to promote cycling and reduce injury. In the plan overview, the initiative sought to achieve these goals with a view towards actualizing “a vision of a more Bicycle Friendly City” by both managing “existing programs and infrastructure” and fostering “new and or improved cycling programs and facilities.”

These goals have not been entirely achieved, however. There is currently a staggeringly small number of bike lanes in the city, with 110 kilometres of urban bike lanes in a city with 5,617 kilometres of road.

Even though Toronto has North America’s third largest public transportation system, cycling infrastructure is virtually non-existent, even at a time when bike culture is rapidly expanding. In recent years, three bike lanes were removed on Pharmacy, Birchmount, and Jarvis.

Safety is also a concern. From 1986 until 2010, there were 31,481 bicycle collisions reported in Toronto, some of which resulted in major injuries and fatalities. Overall, however, few cyclists are involved in collisions annually in Toronto, with just 1,200 reported incidents per year. However, this number has not improved in recent years, and many collisions are not reported.


Cycling culture


The number of people riding bikes in Toronto increased by 30 per cent from 2001 to 2006, and continues to rise — an effect of cycling becoming much more than a means to commute in the city. Cycling is now invested with a growing downtown community of green, health-conscious people of all ages.

Group rides organized by organizations such as Chain Reaction and Dark Horse Espresso Bar gather cyclists together to rove the city with like-minded company. Various blogs are dedicated to cyclist culture, showcasing the street style of cyclists and recent technology and gear, such as, which includes events listings and lively discussions and is a community-run blog run by Herb van den Dool, a Toronto cyclist. This site includes a map feature called “Ride the City,” also available as an iPhone app, which searches for the safest or most direct bike lane route to your destination. Dandyhorse is a print-based magazine dedicated to cycling in Toronto. Various eclectic bike shops in the city also serve the cyclist community.

Young people are among those joining in on this culture, as busy students lugging books and bags use the bike as a mode of commuting and running their errands. Saving on the cost of a transit pass also entices students to employ bikes for transportation. BikeChain, a levy-funded service offered at U of T, provides students with tools and education to service their bikes cheaply on campus.

Saving time and money are not the only motivating factors for students who bike, however. “Despite the lack of infrastructure, [biking] is probably the best way to get around,” suggests Alex Tizzard, a fourth-year student and cycling enthusiast in Urban Studies at the university.

He adds, “Right now… it’s obvious that cities have been built and rebuilt to accommodate the car. Now, there is an increased desire and awareness to create more complete streets… I think there needs to be more of a balance, which there clearly is not.”


Bells on Bloor

DSCF2997With rising popularity and a cycling community of almost 1 million people, the cycling population, although a minority, is too large to ignore. Still, cycling safety is not prioritized in municipal government, and existing infrastructure fails to create a safe environment on the road. Bikes share the road in uncomfortably close proximity with large, heavy vehicles, posing challenges to both cyclists and drivers who struggle to share lanes.

Cyclists in Toronto are in agreement that the change that needs to occur to achieve better bike infrastructure in the city is an overall increase in bike lanes. Albert Koehl is the founding member of Bells on Bloor and a board member of the Annex Residents Association. He comments, “We need a lot more bike lanes. We have 110 km of bike lane on a road system that is over 5200 km. We have virtually no bike lanes, we have no bike network at all. You can ride up and down Sherbourne, but what does it connect to?”

The lack of connecting lanes is a major issue, as there currently is no separated east-west bike lane that spans the downtown core. Koehl adds, “It’s a question of making a network and getting people to where they are going.”

Bells on Bloor advocates for an east-west route on Bloor Street as a main artery for an improved bike lane system.

Bloor Street is a continuous road with no streetcar tracks and a subway line running right under it, rendering it an ideal route for cyclists. Continuity allows for a direct route without twists and turns. The lack of streetcar tracks eliminates the risk of bike tires getting caught in the tracks, trapping cyclists in dangerous positions or swerving them off the tracks into oncoming traffic. The proximity of the subway allows commuters from the surrounding suburbs without cars to easily transport their bikes downtown.

The proposed Bloor Street bike lane pilot project would stretch from Sherbourne Street to Shaw Street, passing St. George Street. Other stretches of road in Toronto have also been suggested as potential routes for bikes, including a lane on nearby Dupont Street stretching from Dundas Street West to Yonge Street.


Resistance on City Council

Recently, the Toronto Public Works Committee approved a $450,000 environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed bike lanes on Bloor Street and Dupont Street. Although this was presented as a major development, according to Koehl, an EA is not a requirement for the construction of a bike lane.

Bells on Bloor reached out to City Council to point out this discrepancy, stating in a email that, “…the construction of a bike lane is considered pre-approved, and only requires public notification prior to implementation.”

The proposed lanes would remove two of the four car lanes on Bloor Street, replacing the twenty-four hour parking spots along the road with bike lanes. The EA will also look at the impact of implementing a Dupont Street bike lane.

An EA, which Koehl’s groups suggests is unnecessary, is an expensive study that will not begin until fall 2014 and will take a year to complete. Discussions of actually installing the Bloor Street bike lane will be delayed until 2015 as a result of this undertaking.

City councillor Mike Layton of Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina challenges this view, suggesting that an environmental assessment, which includes looking at economic and social factors, is necessary because of the many factors involved that need to studied, including the impact on local businesses and the arrangement, unidirectional or bidirectional, that would be most appropriate.

In an interview with The Varsity, Layton adds, “If you just go ahead and put a lane in, you don’t address the needs of the people.” The importance, he expressed, lies in “creat[ing] acceptance for the bike lane and support for it.”

The EA for the Bloor Street lanes was halted in 2011 when Mayor Rob Ford gained power, but as his power waned, Layton notes, “We got it back,” particularly with the push from councillor Adam Vaughan of Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.

City councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works Committee, is the only city councillor that voted against the EA for the Bloor Street bike lanes, stating in a council meeting that it is, “the wrong street to put bike lanes on.”

He added, “Congestion and gridlock are a real problem in this city and adding more bike lanes and decreasing capacity on an important arterial road that runs from one end of the city to another will make it even worse.” Minnan-Wong’s office declined to comment.

Layton suggests that most councillors are aware of the need for bike lanes — just not in their ward: “A councillor’s position about bike lanes has a lot to do with the area they represent.”

Loss of parking, Layton suggests, is the major source of complaints in response to bike lanes. He adds, “Bloor is a vibrant and commercial street and it depends on parking to a certain degree.”

However, Bloor West Village drivers provide only an estimated 10 per cent of business to shops and restaurants along Bloor Street. The rest of the business comes mostly from cyclist and pedestrian traffic. Layton says it’s now a matter of proving these figures to store owners that would be directly affected by loss of parking spaces.


Towards a friendlier city

DSCF3017As an alternative to the EA study, Bells on Bloor has proposed a pilot bike lane project that would run the length of Bloor Street, including past U of T’s St. George campus, connecting to St. George bike lanes and increasing access to the Grace and Shaw north-south lanes. Koehl notes, “A pilot would show people what it would look like… [it’s] a way to deal with people who are fearful and reluctant.”

With a pilot, Torontonians can be provided with firsthand evidence of the impact of implementing the full bike lane, rather than with the expensive cost of a study that is not legally required in order to put paint to pavement.

Koehl also suggests that the study is repetitive, given that a 1992 study already deemed Bloor-Danforth an ideal east-west bike route.

Council is taking a step forward now with current plans to install a separated bidirectional bike lane on Harbord Street.

The frustration surrounding this issue among cyclists, advocates, and councillors alike is obvious. “Putting a bike lane on Bloor is no complex thing — you paint a line and you’re done,” Koehl claims.

Layton contends, however, that the addition of the bike lane requires careful consideration. The strongest consensus in the bike lanes debate is the necessity of improving infrastructure for cyclists. Layton suggests that Toronto would reap the benefits of bike lanes, which “help our economy, get people out of cars, alleviate gridlock, keep a healthier society, and decreases money we spend later in life because it’s an active form of transportation.”

He adds that the critical step needed in order to push the city to implement more bike lanes is to increase constituents’ enthusiasm for the project: “As more people look into cycling as a more feasible way of transportation in their neighbourhood, their attitudes will be changing.”

On his commute from Christie Pitts to City Hall, Layton knows it takes a fraction of the time to bike than to take the TTC to get to his workplace, and predicts it would take twice as long by car. Not only that, but, “you tend to get to work and school less stressed out [when you bike].”

Michael Ly, a second-year molecular genetics and microbiology specialist at U of T says he rides his bike “…because of the enjoyment [he gets] out of it. The fresh summer wind blowing on your face and the freedom to perform any maneuver are examples of reasons why bike riding is incomparable to other methods of transportation.”

Despite safety concerns and the lack of bike lanes, dedicated cyclists will continue to fight for their place on Toronto’s streets. Toronto will be a friendlier, more harmonized city when all modes of transportation are accommodated. With the implementation of carefully planned bike lanes, rather than endanger one another, cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles alike will be able to safely share the road in Toronto.

Tizzard reflects, “Both cars and bikes have their place in the city. It’s about creating streets that accommodate [both].”

Read our guide to biking through the winter.


Toronto’s bike lanes

Bike Lanes Map

1. Rogers Road: Old Weston to Oakwood, 2.44 km

2. Vaughn Road: Winona Drive to St. Clair West, 1.65 km

3. Davenport Road – Old Weston to Bay & Yorkville, 6.44 km

4. Annette Street: Jane Street to Landsdowne Avenue

5 & 6. Russel Hill / Boulton / Poplar Plains: St. Clair to MacPherson, 2.27 km

7. Christie Street: St. Clair to Dupont, 1.17km

8. Bedford Road / Prince Arthur Avenue: Davenport to St. George & Prince Arthur, 794.38 m

9. St. George Street / Beverly Street: Dupont to Queen, 3.04 km

10. Montrose Avenue: Harbord to Bloor, 400 m

11. Grace Street: Bloor to Harbord, 400 m

12. Harbord Street: Ossington to Borden, 1.43 km

13. Harbord Street / Hoskin Avenue: Spadina to Queens Park, 681.65 m

14. Wellesley Street: Queens Park to Parliament, 1.79 km

15. Sherbourne Street: Elm to Queens Quay, 3.5 km

16. Bloor Street E: Sherbourne to Broadview, 1.8 km

17. Shuter Street: Yonge to River, 1.93 km

18. Chester Hill Road: Cambridge to Broadview, 96.61 m

19. Cosburn Avenue: Broadview to Haldon, 3.73 km

20. Strathcona: Carlaw to Jones, 568.98 m

21. Jones Avenue: Danforth to Queen, 2.01 km

22. Greenwood Avenue: Danforth to Queen, 1.95 km

23. Knox Avenue: Queen to Eastern, 191.31 m

24. Carlaw Avenue: Gerrard to Dundas, 300 m

25. Dundas Street E: Broadview to Kingston, 3.4 km

26. Eastern Avenue and Logan Avenue: Leslie to Lakeshore, 1.5 km

27. Yonge and Queens Quay: Front to Parliament, 1.86 km

28. Simcoe Street: Front to Bremner, 276.06 m

29. Queens Quay: Stadium to Spadina, 827.19 m

30. Fort York: Lakeshore to Bathurst, 704.93 m

31. Wellington Street: Niagara to Bathurst

32. Strachan: King to Lakeshore, 856.97 m

33. Dundas Street W and College Street: Sorauren to Landsdowne, 484.72 m

34. Queensway / Stephan: Stephan to Claude

35. Colborne Lodge Drive: Queensway to Lakeshore, 206.12 m

Student unions seek to change blood donation policy

Five-year deferral period for sexually active homosexual men called ineffectual, discriminatory

Student unions seek to change blood donation policy

On July 22, 2013, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) lifted a thirty-year-old policy forbidding men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, only to replace it with one that prohibits them from donating blood if they have had sex with another man within five years of donation. The policy does not take into account a person’s ability to produce clean blood tests. Student organizations are speaking out against the policy, including the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and U of T’s LGBTOUT.

The motion to instate the five-year deferral period for MSM began in 2011, following a 2010 Ontario Supreme Court ruling that stated that there was insufficient evidence to support a lifetime ban, but upheld the ban anyway.

While CBS says that the new policy is a step forward, many have criticized the policy.

The CFS, alongside the Canadian AIDS society, has launched a campaign against the policy entitled “End The Ban.” The campaign aims to eliminate the discrimination that prevents MSM from donating blood. It raises several points as to why the policy is both unfair and ineffectual. It claims that at-risk behaviours practiced by heterosexuals are overlooked, that the policy ignores the present blood donor shortage, and that it lacks sufficient scientific evidence. Alastair Woods, a chairperson for the CFS, opposes the ban. “Ideally, we want the ban to be overturned entirely and for the CBS to move towards a risk-assessment model that targets unsafe sexual practices regardless of the sexual orientation of the persons involved,” said Woods.

U of T’s LGBTOUT organization is also critical of the ban, calling it a fake fix. Corey Scott, LGBTOUT’s public relations officer, said that the ban actually worsens the situation: “Instead of being banned for life, men who have had sex with men are being asked to reform their lifestyles, abstain, or lie about the last time they have had sex.” Scott said that the focus of the issue should shift to promoting safer sex supplies. “Ultimately there are better screening methods to ensure blood donations are safe. This really shouldn’t have to be a queer issue — CBS needs to get with the times.”


Doctor Mark Downing, the chief of infectious disease at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, says that while MSM continue to be a high-risk group for HIV infection, it is important to consider the lifestyle of every individual involved when assessing the risk of having blood disease. “Part of it is going back to the ‘80s — when the epidemic started it was identified with MSM, so it has been stigmatized over time.”

Downing praised the new policy. “The issues that blood services face is the window period between when an individual gets infected and when the test is positive. I think that the move to the five-year ban was a good one. I can see where they are coming from and why CBS is taking gradual steps towards moving forward. It is unfortunate that MSM are stigmatized, but the issue is that CBS is looking at all sorts of groups and it can be difficult to determine what is reasonable and what is not,” he said.

Criteria for the eligibility of blood donors differ globally. In Britain and Australia, the deferral period for MSM is one year. In Italy and some other European countries, there is no ban on blood donations from MSM. Instead, one’s ability to donate blood is based on whether or not they are engaged in unsafe sexual behaviours. In contrast, the United States maintains a permanent ban of blood donation from MSM.

Homophobia is an unacceptable norm

Vandalized mural on campus makes it that much easier to spread hate

Homophobia is an unacceptable norm

On November 24, 2013, the LGBTQ & Allies in Science and Engineering (LGBTQase) mural, located in the pit of the Sandford Fleming Building, was vandalized with homophobic language. When I found out that evening, I was horrified.

Living in Canada, we sometimes forget how privileged we are to be in a society that embraces diversity so openly that it is considered to be a part of our national identity. We are seen as a bastion for LGBTQ rights, having been among the first to legalize same-sex marriage, beginning in 2003. Pride Week in Toronto remains one of the largest LGBTQ pride festivals in the world, and our city is being internationally recognized as the host for WorldPride 2014, taking place this summer.

Unfortunately, international prospects for LGBTQ rights have not been as progressive. From the Russian ban on gay propaganda to India’s reinstatement of Section 377 recriminalizing sexual acts “against the order of nature,” and even Nigeria’s newly signed anti-gay law, it is clear that worldwide LGBTQ equality has yet to be realized. So maybe it’s not surprising that such a malicious and cowardly act was perpetrated on our own campus, despite being in a society that is generally more accepting.

The reality is, homophobia exists. It doesn’t have to be physical harassment or so-called gay bashing, homophobia can be subtle and much more sinister. The vandalized mural is toxic in its very nature, because those attitudes end up permeating the community, making it that much easier to spread homophobia and hate.

The issue is even more contentious within the discipline of engineering. Already a male-dominated field, the stereotype is that engineers display a degree of hegemonic masculinity and in particular, tend to be homophobic. “That’s so gay” is thrown around to express dissatisfaction, but the inaccurate use of the word only acts to cement its meaning in association with negative connotations. We have also witnessed instances in the past where homophobic statements were made. They’re often thinly veiled as a “harmless” joke, and it may very well be just that to the person saying it, but not always to the LGBTQ individual who hears it.

The vandalized mural. PHOTO COURTESY LGBTQASE

Similarly, the vandalism could also be dismissed as a non-issue, since it wasn’t very visible anyway. Could you imagine how an LGBTQ student in engineering, already feeling alienated, would feel upon seeing that? This is what equality ultimately boils down to: the golden rule, to treat others as you would like others to treat you. Surely, none of us would wish that feeling of isolation upon anyone.

This incident and its ramifications are relevant to all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation or identity. I would like to think that, in general, the university community is accepting of sexual diversity. Having this reputation tarnished by a homophobic act should make us take a step back, and reconsider the need to speak up against this type of behaviour. While confrontation is usually uncomfortable for all parties, it is a necessity. I implore everyone, especially allies of LGBTQ people, to take the initiative to challenge any statement or action that is homophobic in nature, as LGBTQ individuals often feel unsafe doing so themselves. We must remember to always speak out against oppression, before it becomes the norm.

The morning after the mural was vandalized, a few LGBTQase executives and I went to paint over the offending language. It is difficult to say if this was the right decision — should we have left the vandalism as is, and perhaps provoked discussion throughout the community? Or would that risk catalyzing further homophobic acts on campus? We can’t say for sure, but I really do believe that LGBTQ-supportive individuals on campus outnumber those that are not.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support LGBTQ individuals, LGBTQase will be hosting a discussion on this incident and homophobia in general within Science and Engineering on February 6, 2014 at 6 pm. Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Day will also be celebrated on February 26, 2014. Locations have yet to be determined. Please refer to our website for more information.


Benjamin Chung is the president of the LGBTQ & Allies in Science and Engineering (LGBTQase).

First year U of T student develops new treatment for malaria

Jessie MacAlpine discusses accessible medicine and her game-changing discovery

First year U of T student develops new treatment for malaria

Malaria is responsible for over one million deaths each year, particularly in developing nations. Despite the efforts of non-governmental organizations and global health bodies, the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of malaria still are not adequately addressed in the areas with the most need.



Recently, Médecins Sans Frontières and other organizations have been fighting to stop the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership from barring access to generic drugs, which are much less expensive than their brand name counterparts. For one young researcher, however, moral interests are far more important. Jessie MacAlpine is a first-year life sciences student who has developed a treatment for malaria. She has filed for a patent on the treatment, and she plans to facilitate its distribution so as to maximize access to it.

MacAlpine’s project, Mustard Oil as an Apicomplexan-targeting Drug Therapy for Plasmodium falciparum, was extraordinarily successful at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where she won Best of Category for Medicine and Health Sciences. Most recently, MacAlpine was the Canadian ambassador at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, where she won the International Cooperation Prize.

The Varsity spoke with MacAlpine about scientific discovery, research, and the current climate of the biomedical field.


The Varsity: Could you describe your research?

Jessie MacAlpine: I began doing research at the age of 12, completing the majority of my work in my own basement as well as at a laboratory at Western University. I was always a very curious child, and after seeing a poster advertising the Canada-Wide Science Fair in my elementary school, I was very excited to begin doing my own scientific experiments.

In high school, I was an active member and later co-president of a club which worked with Free the Children to break the cycle of poverty in developing countries.

In the spring of 2012, we were discussing potential health initiatives we could undertake in the following school year, which made me question why it was so common to fundraise for mosquito nets instead of for actual medications or vaccines. I went home to complete a simple internet search to see what drugs were available to combat global health problems and came across a newspaper article describing the potential of herbicides to treat malaria.

Having spent the past two years creating a bioherbicide, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could transform the compound into an antimalarial medication. I then started my research in May of 2012 at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at MaRS Discovery District, where I was supervised by both Dr. Ian Crandall and Dr. Kevin Kain.


TV: How are you planning to make your discovery available?

JM: I am currently working on in vivo studies to confirm the drug’s efficacy within a mammal model. If this experiment returns results as promising as the in vitro studies, the hope will be to conduct clinical trials before establishing potential distribution channels. The drug itself is very inexpensive – the necessary dose costs approximately a millionth of a cent – resulting in the major inhibitor to treatment being distribution. Potentially partnering with organizations such as the World Health Organization or Malaria No More could allow the inexpensive drug to reach those who are most affected by the disease. As well, because mustard oil is readily available in many malaria-endemic regions, these organizations could potentially run awareness campaigns to ensure the public is informed of the oil’s antimalarial properties.


TV: Why have you chosen to patent?

JM: As the research moves forward in its development, I chose to patent for a variety of reasons. The first was to ensure the drug remained in my name so that a larger pharmaceutical company couldn’t get hold of the information and claim the idea. The second was to make it easier to approach investors and potential laboratories to facilitate clinical trials, who are often more willing to take on a compound that has been patented.


TV: What would happen if a pharmaceutical company discovered your treatment first?

JM: If a pharmaceutical company had discovered the treatment first, they would have had the right to file for patent and potentially transform it into an expensive, brand-name medication for wealthy travelers visiting developing countries. My purpose for patenting was thus to discourage pharmaceutical companies from exploiting the efficacy of the compound for unnecessary profit. As an antimalarial treatment aimed at developing countries, the medication’s purpose is not profit, and a patent was filed to ensure I remained in control of the compound.


TV: What are your thoughts on the current state of the pharmaceutical industry? How are existing healthcare products distributed in developing nations?

JM: I believe that the pharmaceutical industry could benefit from a few major changes. The commercialization of pharmaceuticals has resulted in a loss of access to basic health care, which was the original purpose of mass drug development. It appears that companies are increasingly focused on developing an excessive number of drugs instead of improving existing treatments or modifying the prescription process to reduce resistance. As well, there is significantly more research and funding available for studies related to Western diseases and conditions which have the potential to make pharmaceutical companies large revenue. From an ethical perspective, pharmaceutical companies appear to be losing the moral standards of modern medicine.


Existing healthcare products are distributed in developing nations by a variety of charity organizations. Unfortunately, despite funding and existing medications, many people continue to go untreated. Using malaria as an example, there are still many places in Africa where a single nurse has to diagnose and treat over 200 000 people. Often, this nurse lacks proper training and has to diagnose patients using visual symptoms and a thermometer. Drug resistance continues to be a major concern, as patients are given small dosages of medication and are unable to take treatment to completion. This encourages resistance and has resulted in the inefficacy of many promising drugs in the past.


TV: You’re enrolled in the Arthur Schawlow stream of Vic One, which deals with the ethical and societal contexts of science. Why did you choose to take those courses instead of more technical courses that could further your research? In an ideal world, how would science and society interact?

JM: As a scientist, it is imperative to seek interdisciplinary studies in order to approach research from a well-rounded perspective. As a first year student, I chose to take the Arthur Schawlow stream of Vic One as it offered a unique opportunity to learn about the social context of science in a small classroom setting. Apart from the fascinating curriculum, I chose this course to develop a philosophical and theoretical approach to science and to critically evaluate the scientific process and research conductance in today’s society.

In its pure form, science is the pursuit of knowledge and attempt to describe the wonders of the universe. In the past, science has played a major role in the development of society, and in order for it to continue this impact, it is essential that proper communication is maintained between the scientific community and general public. Clear communication of ideas will allow researchers and consumers to work together to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity.


TV: What advice would you give to undergraduate students looking to get involved in research?

JM: If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to investigate a field you’re interested in and find a professor who might be willing to let you work in their lab. It is then much easier to approach a professor if you have an idea already in mind and have developed a potential experimental design. Even if you aren’t allowed to work on your own project, approaching a professor with a plan shows initiative and genuine interest in their work. It is always difficult to get your first research position, but once you have a foot in the door, the experience will assist you in getting positions for the remainder of your career.


TV: What’s next?

JM: The next step is to finish in vivo trials. If the results continue to be promising, it will then be a matter of locating a lab to facilitate clinical trials. I may also run an observational study in India, where the oil is already largely used for cooking. Despite my research focusing on the efficacy of the raw oil, it is possible that there is still a degree of antimalarial efficacy observed with consumption of the cooked compound. An observational study would hopefully allow a trend such as this to be determined. Finally, if all stages of drug testing return positive results, I will have to partner with a global health organization to organize awareness and distribution channels.


MacAlpine will be speaking about her research and the process that led her to it at the TEDxUofT conference on March 1, 2014, which you can read about in The Varsity.