U of T should pay heed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

Re: “Ontario Human Rights Commission releases new policy on accessible education”

U of T should pay heed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

While clearly the new policy on accessibility in education released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is meant to apply to all schools across Ontario, it appears as though it was in part a specific response to U of T’s Governing Council, following Governing Council’s approval of the discriminatory University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP) in May. Even if this were not the case, it certainly would not hurt Governing Council to pay attention to this new policy.

For a start, the OHRC policy itself should be a reminder for institutions like U of T as to how they should make special consideration for students with mental illness, disabilities, and other accessibility needs. It is the responsibility of the university to help, accommodate, and respectfully treat students with such needs. It is hardly respectful to focus energy and resources on forcibly removing students with mental illnesses, as is the case with the UMLAP, instead of first and foremost addressing their needs and improving the structure of treatment for such students.

The UMLAP shows us how the university views students with mental illnesses. The OHRC policy, on the other hand, shows us how universities ought to view such students, and how all students with disabilities, mental illnesses, and accessibility needs ought to be treated: respectfully, and in good faith. The OHRC policy includes things like expanding definitions of disability and reaffirming the rights of all students to achieve an education with the support of the Ontario institution of their choice.

It is not up to students to try and force themselves to fit into outdated standards and policies in sacrifice of their health, mental and physical. Instead, it is the obligation of the institution, including U of T, to support all students and meet them where they need.  The goal should be to keep everyone in, not kick them out.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year University College student studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

The Canadian government should listen to Yemeni protesters and end its support for Saudi Arabia

Re: “Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia”

The Canadian government should listen to Yemeni protesters and end its support for Saudi Arabia

Canada’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the subsequent use of these arms to perpetrate war crimes within Yemen raises a moral dilemma for Canadians. Our international role is that of a peacekeeper, intervening to prevent conflict. The events in Yemen are highly reprehensible, and our involvement as an arms dealer in what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis not only sets a bad precedent, but goes against all of our supposed national values.

Some argue that the arms deal is good for Canada, creating a projected 3,000 jobs and boosting our economy. However, as a nation with a reputation for peacekeeping and diplomacy, it is a questionable decision for the government to use a mere 3,000 jobs as the justification for becoming an accessory to war crimes and the bloodshed of tens of thousands of innocent people.  

While supplying these arms may appear to be in the best interest of Canadians, it has deep social and political implications both nationally and internationally. As tensions rise between Saudi Arabia and Canada following a Twitter exchange requesting the release of human rights activists, Canada should make the right choice to end the deal and its support for the Saudi Arabian government in this conflict.

Canada must strive to use its place on the world stage to help advance human rights in all corners of the world, regardless of the potential economic or political gain ensured by turning a blind eye.

Junaid Ishaq is a second-year Pathobiology student at Victoria College.

A summer’s worth of opinions

A compilation of Comment-in-Briefs in reaction to some of the major stories of the summer semester

A summer’s worth of opinions

The new School of Cities could be the pivotal voice we need for complex urban issues, as long as it pulls together

Re: “U of T’s School of Cities to Launch July 1”

U of T’s new School of Cities has vowed to tackle urban-related issues through interdisciplinary methods and collaborations. However, finding more coherent information on the partnerships or direction of this school has been unsatisfying. Apart from their slogans, the School of Cities’ website features pictures and short descriptions of the professors comprising the Interim Working Group, and three articles and two podcast links which are informative but overlap in content.

On the one hand, this is a frustrating start to an institution that encompasses many of the most important and immediate issues of our modernizing time. With Associate Director Shauna Brail calling the School “a big-tent approach” to urban research, and U of T President Meric Gertler claiming it to be a “hub in a global network” of scholars and practitioners, the school is not lacking in grand objectives. However, this has so far failed to reveal convincing short-term targets.

On the other hand, the school has only taken its very first public baby steps, and a definite outline of objectives often hurts the creativity of budding institutions. Cities are the playgrounds of the future, and though the school shouldn’t have to trudge carefully toward a path, they need to pave their way holistically. The extremely diverse group of professors seems to suggest an optimistic direction, as they draw from Civil and Mineral Engineering to Indigenous Health to Women and Gender Studies.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect about the School of Cities is the bridge it shall attempt to build between theory and practice. Hopefully the school will encourage U of T students to help build this bridge and contribute significantly to not only the initiatives, but the very soul of the institution.

For students and urban dwellers in general, never have cities felt more saturated with potential, yet held back by issues regarding housing, transportation, and public safety, to name a few. The School of Cities presents an exciting and critical opportunity for diverse urban communities to contribute to the dialogue of the future of cities.

Grace Ma is a second-year English and Environmental Sciences student at Trinity College.


We cannot have religious freedom at the expense of social equality

Re: “Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights”

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

The battle between the constitutional right to freedom of religion and LGBTQ+ rights has taken shape in Trinity Western University’s (TWU) Supreme Court case against the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario. Unsurprisingly, the university lost the case seven to two.

The very law that allows the evangelical Christian university to exist has been proven to have clear boundaries. When pitted against each other, religious freedom comes second in modern Canadian society to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. The problem with the covenant signed by all TWU students is that it requires abstinence from any sexual intimacy, not only outside of a heterosexual marriage, but also from any intimacy that “violated the sacredness” of that marriage. This very clearly alienated the LGBTQ+ population, allowing TWU to deny them admission.

U of T campus group LGBTOUT, the intervenors on the case, brought this very point up, arguing that the proposed law school would bar LGBTQ+ students solely based on sexual or gender preferences, which is clearly a discriminatory action.

The case was a big win for the LGBTQ+ community as the Supreme Court clearly announced that the law must protect each and every individual of the Canadian population. The court’s decision came at a celebratory time, enhancing the joy and excitement for Pride Month.

This is not the first time TWU has faced the Supreme Court over religious freedoms. I expect it to continue happening over different issues until TWU recognizes that although religious freedom is crucial to a democratic society, its importance should never surpass the importance of equality in a society that is constantly growing and changing.

Varsha Pillai is a first-year Social Sciences student at University College.


Provost’s action plan does not account for safety or student leadership

Re: “Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees”

VASSILIA JULIA AL AKAILA/THE VARSITY

In an email correspondence informing Trinity College students of the administration’s action plan, the Office of the Provost mentions their “aim to improve transparency and communications, while focusing on education, safety and harm reduction, and leadership development.”

As a Trinity College student, I feel that there are numerous inconsistencies with this statement.

First, putting forward an action plan without adequate consultation with student leaders undermines the direct democracy and commitment to student autonomy that has defined Trinity College tradition. Preventing student leaders from spending student fees in a manner they deem fit does not make for effective leadership development. While it’s true that not all students are drinkers, the reality of student fees is that they do not always benefit each student individually.

Second, focusing on safety and harm reduction includes acknowledging that a significant percentage of young adults are going to drink. Harm reduction involves creating a safe environment in which students are familiar with their surroundings and have non-punitive support networks when it comes to alcohol consumption, including a sober patrol and Dons in case of emergency. Moving such events off campus does not guarantee such an environment.

Additionally, the claim that the administration created this action plan primarily due to a 10-month survey of students is dubious given the college’s response to a motion of no confidence passed at the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) last year.

The first meeting at the TCM included a motion of no confidence in which students shared their grievances regarding Dean Kristen Moore and her staff. The motion passed with an overwhelming majority, but it was then overlooked by Provost Mayo Moran, who ensured that she had “full confidence in [Moore].”

Avneet Sharma is a fourth-year English and Cinema Studies student at Trinity College.


The loss of popular locations for students points to a decline in affordability

Re: “Saint George hotel opens on Bloor Street West, replacing Holiday Inn”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

In July, the Saint George hotel officially opened in place of the Holiday Inn, Fox and Fiddle Pub, and New York Fries on Bloor Street West. After the Starbucks on College and Beverley Street also closed its doors earlier this year to make way for a condominium to be built by January 2020, there are now a total of four popular locations around campus that are no longer available for U of T students.

Holiday Inn housed many families when students visited U of T for the very first time. The Fox and Fiddle Pub had just the right vibe for all kinds of rendezvous, whether it be post-exam celebrations or simple get-togethers. New York Fries was the kitchen of Bloor Street that students resorted to after long hours at the library, often because they were too exhausted to walk any further.

Henceforth, these places will live only in the memories of soon-to-be graduates, while prospective students will no longer share the experience of what had already become part of the ‘typical U of T student’ routine.

From a student perspective, opening a luxury hotel such as the Saint George in the Annex is not ideal, considering its expensive price point of almost $300 per night. Although Gyubee — a somewhat pricey Japanese BBQ joint just across from the Saint George — had already broken the concept of affordable eateries in the Annex, the Saint George will now completely reform the image of a cost-friendly neighborhood for students. This end of the Annex is looking more and more like luxurious Yorkville.

Annie Hu is a third-year Criminology, Music, and Sociology student at Woodsworth College.

A U-Pass at U of T has been long overdue

Re: “TTC board votes unanimously in favour of U-Pass”

A U-Pass at U of T has been long overdue

It appears that the once unfathomable idea of a U-Pass coming to U of T may soon be a reality. The U-Pass would provide U of T students with unlimited transit use of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) paid for by a slight increase in tuition fees, allowing students to access much more affordable public transportation than it is currently being provided with. The TTC board voted in favour of the discount transit pass in December and discussed the possibility of its implementation as early as this coming September.

There is an ongoing trend across the country in favour of providing students with subsidized and affordable transportation by including its costs in their tuition fees. In this sense, I am shocked that U of T has only now pursued this type of program. Ontario universities such as Carleton and McMaster have already implemented a U-Pass, while universities like the University of British Columbia have implemented a system almost identical to the proposed U-Pass. In addition, the city of Montréal provides transit passes at a highly reduced cost to university students. Ontario universities have the highest average tuition costs in the country, making it unfortunate that the cost of transportation has not been included in U of T’s ancillary fees until now.

For students going to school in Toronto, it can be almost impossible to get around the city without access to affordable public transportation. While the U-Pass may be particularly good news for commuter students, I think it’s safe to say that all students will be able to benefit from easier access to transportation regardless of where they live. Even living in downtown Toronto, for example, I find myself having to take the TTC at least once a day, and the financial burden of paying over $100 a month for a metropass can be quite heavy. This burden only increases for students living outside the city and who take a variety of public transportation to get to school. Costs associated with long commutes that traverse the boundaries of the TTC can reach up to $25 a day.

Commuters often abide by incredibly dense school schedules in order to cut back on transportation fees, and long hours often prevent commuters from getting involved with extracurriculars or student life. A U-Pass is therefore a useful tool for all students, as it allows them to have more freedom of movement in a city that is so dependent on public transportation.

Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

A small win for free press on campus at McGill

Re: “McGill’s freedom of student press called into question in recent levy referendum”

A small win for free press on campus at McGill

The recent referendum held at McGill University, which regarded the continuation of a mandatory levy supporting student newspapers, returned a 65 per cent vote in favour of retaining the levy. This result represents a win for free press, specifically for the Daily Publications Society (DPS), the student-run organization that publishes student newspapers The McGill Daily and Le Délit.

The end of this funding would have spelled disaster for both The McGill Daily and Le Délit, founded in 1911 and 1977 respectively. Moreover, the lack of support from the Legislative Council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), based on disagreement with certain political content in The McGill Daily and a desire to avoid conflict of interest, highlights how undervalued free and diverse campus press is.

Those in favour of discontinuing the levy cited their disagreement with political ideals expressed in and by The McGill Daily, arguing that they should not have to pay to support a paper they do not agree with. The McGill Daily decided in January to close its comment section on all non-editorial pieces, which has opened it to criticism by its protestors to argue that the publication is suppressing debate. However, stripping the publication of funding is not the appropriate way to address issues of journalistic ethics.

Throughout this debate, the francophone students whom The Délit serves were lost in the fray as it became more politicized. In light of the university’s strong francophone community, potentially losing the only French language paper at McGill should have been met with greater worry from the school’s student union, which is mandated to serve all students.

Despite inherent flaws with the nature of representation in student press, abolishing funding for student papers does not promote free speech or active dialogue. The argument for shuttering the publications due to differing political views is ludicrous — invalidating something simply because one doesn’t agree with it negates the principle of free speech entirely. These newspapers carry influence on campus. The way to create meaningful dialogue and maintain accountability isn’t to silence them, but to reflect on what they have to say and push them to make changes if needed.

 

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

Re: “College faculty strike ends with back-to-work legislation”

Back-to-work legislation highlights Liberals’ disrespect for unions

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have introduced numerous measures to improve workplace environments and raise wages in Ontario, their most recent use of back-to-work legislation to call an end to the college faculty strike is an affront to the collective bargaining process and a reflection of their true attitude toward unionized workers.

The use of similar measures has been deemed unconstitutional in the past — in 2016, similar action taken against postal workers during the Harper era was ruled to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In addition, the move also makes it incredibly difficult for unions to leverage fair contracts for the workers they represent. Instead of a prolonged strike motivating employers to put forward genuine contracts that unions could support, the use of this kind of legislation allows employers to run out the clock, proposing no contracts any responsible union could support in the process.

The Premier and Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews appeared together as supposed ‘gods of reason’ against the deadlock between college administrators and faculty. For her part, the Premier managed to sidestep any criticism the Liberal government deserved for its role in the deterioration of labour relations. In reality, the government’s own austerity has reduced college funding to national lows, increased tuition, and forced educators to work multiple part-time contracts to make ends meet, which ultimately culminated in faculty being pushed to the picket lines.

For unions, last Sunday’s events indicate the substantial challenges the Wynne Liberals have created for unions. For all Ontarians, however, these events should ensure that respect for unions is an election issue.

 

James Chapman is a third-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.

A long and important history precedes Confederation

Re: “‘150 for Whom?’ tackles anti-racism on Canada’s sesquicentennial”

A long and important history precedes Confederation

Even months after Canada’s 150th birthday, it is vital for us, as Canadians, to ask ourselves what exactly we celebrated and whom we silenced in the process. The symposium held at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education earlier this month, titled “150 for Whom, Canada? Colonialism and Indigeneity across Lands,” shone a light on the stories of the Indigenous peoples that have occupied land in Canada for thousands of years, stories that are far too often left unheard.

For me, Canada 150 brings mixed emotions. As the child of immigrants, I am thankful to have been brought up in a country that allows me to pursue many more opportunities than I would otherwise have been able to access. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that I am living an incredibly privileged life on land that was violently stolen from others. Canada has been built upon the bodies of Indigenous people, and this is something that should never be forgotten.

There is not enough being done to educate students about the Indigenous history of this country, especially in Ontario. I grew up in Manitoba, which has a much larger Indigenous population, and there was more of an emphasis in schools to teach students about the atrocities of colonialism and the legacy of residential schools — albeit still not to the extent that these lessons should be taught. In the era of missing and murdered Indigenous women, more work is needed to educate Canadians about ongoing colonial violence affecting Indigenous people today, and to urge us not to misconstrue Canadian history as something that started a mere 150 years ago.

 

Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

Ontario’s plan for STEM is vague but encouraging

Re: “Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads“

Ontario’s plan for STEM is vague but encouraging

The choice to invest heavily in locally educated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees is plainly and unequivocally a good one. As evidenced by the recent investment by Google into the Waterfront and Toronto’s optimistic bid to house Amazon’s Canadian headquarters, it is clear that the tech industry is booming in Ontario. Likewise, it is in the logistical and economic benefit of everyone involved that the accompanying jobs and opportunities be filled with Ontario-educated talent.

However, attempting to become North America’s number one producer of postsecondary STEM graduates per capita is no easy feat. While I am cautiously optimistic, the vague nature of the government’s announcement that it intends to do just that raises questions as to how exactly Ontario will achieve this bold vision. With big talking points like increasing STEM graduates by 25 per cent over the next five years, the only concrete policy on the matter so far appears to be a $30 million investment into creating applied master’s degrees in artificial intelligence. It remains to be seen precisely how the province will promote other areas in the STEM fields.

Regardless, the announcement is a breath of fresh air for scientists in Ontario. With Canada still feeling the effects of the Harper administration’s ‘war on science’ and the concerning anti-intellectual and anti-scientific rhetoric south of the border, Ontario is taking a stand in the name of progress and innovation. Combined with governmental promises to look into the Naylor Report and the potential reversal of American-Canadian ‘brain drain,’ the future is looking bright.

 

Spencer Y. Ki is a second-year student at Victoria College studying Astrophysics and Mathematics.