Two homeowners charged with negligence after house fire took the life of UTSC student

First-year student Naiqi Helen Guo killed, three others escaped

Two homeowners charged with negligence after house fire took the life of UTSC student

Four months after the house fire that took the life of UTSC student Naiqi Helen Guo and injured one other woman, Toronto Police have charged two landlords with negligence.

Guo was an 18-year-old first-year student pursuing a degree in Management and had come to Canada by way of Hebei Province in China.

Her body was found in a second-floor bedroom in the home she shared with three other U of T students at 10 Haida Court, near Ellesmere Road and Military Trail.

The fire occurred around 2:30 am on May 10.

Weisong Zhou, 47, and Yu Jing, 45, both of Toronto, turned themselves into police on August 31.

They each face nine counts of arson by negligence, one count of criminal negligence causing death, and one count of criminal negligence cause bodily harm.

Police allege that the two failed to provide proper fire protection and safety for their tenants.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The couple own six properties around UTSC. The day after the house fire, they evicted tenants at two properties without notice.

A Toronto Star investigation found that at least one of their properties is in an unsafe condition.

UTSC has long had a history of students living in dangerous but inexpensive housing, due to the pronounced shortage of dorms on campus.

Students call for better mental health supports in wake of Bahen death

U of T criticized for response to incident

Students call for better mental health supports in wake of Bahen death

In the wake of the death in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on June 24, members of the U of T community have been criticizing the university’s lack of response to the incident, as well as calling for greater mental health supports on campus.

The death was confirmed by Toronto Police on the evening of June 24, and did not appear to be suspicious. As such, Toronto Police has declined to comment further on the incident. In a statement from U of T Media Relations to The Varsity, spokesperson Elizabeth Church declined to provide any more information, as it has “a responsibility to respect the privacy of those involved.”

“The university is offering support for members of our community who have been affected by the tragic incident at the Bahen Centre Sunday,” wrote Church in the statement. Church also provided a number of hotlines for students, faculty, and staff to use, which have been appended to this article.

Between the time of the death and U of T’s statement the following afternoon, the Bahen Centre had reopened and exams continued as scheduled throughout the day.

A tweet from U of T’s Twitter account said that the “Health & Wellness Centre is available to support anyone affected by the recent incident at Bahen,” but the university has not made any other public acknowledgements of the death.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) also released its own statement in response to the death, saying that it extends its “deepest condolences to the victim’s loved ones.”

“We are here to offer our support to any community members who may have had the opportunity to engage with the victim in their time on campus, as well as any who may find themselves personally affected by this tragedy,” the statement said.

When asked by The Varsity about U of T’s response to the incident, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that “more initiative could have been taken to address the situation. However, I can see why the university might have decided not to respond to such matters, as they can be very triggering to some.”

Boucher also called for “a different approach to mental health everywhere,” which includes increasing the number of mental health practitioners “and removing the rigid cap on visits that unfortunately leave many students without care.”

These calls for greater mental health supports were echoed by others online.

Maddie Freedman, a U of T student, made a public post on Facebook that has since been shared more than 200 times, saying that she was “appalled at the hypocrisy of the university’s response to a student’s death,” as the university was preparing for a final vote on the controversial mandated leave of absence policy, which has since been approved.

The policy, which was passed on June 27 and implemented effective immediately, puts students on a leave of absence if it is deemed that their mental health problems pose a danger to themselves or to others, or if it negatively impacts their studies. It was passed with much opposition from members of the U of T community.

Freedman also criticized the university’s response of offering hotlines for the Health & Wellness Centre, calling it “notoriously unhelpful.”

Laibah Ashfaq, another U of T student, also made public posts on Facebook and Twitter saying, “The education system is failing students.” Combined, Ashfaq’s posts and tweets have been shared or retweeted nearly 200 times.

“There’s no shame or guilt in taking some time to figure things out and get help from professionals,” wrote Ashfaq. “There are amazing counsellors and social workers on campus at [Health & Wellness] that really take the time to understand you and your situation.”

Church added that students seeking help from Health & Wellness “should identify that [they] are seeking support related to the incident in Bahen,” so that the centre can be “prepared to see them immediately.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, 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

Faculty and staff may access the Employee & Family Assistance Program at www.homewoodhealth.com and 1-800-663-1142.

On the digital age and loss

Exploring the changing nature of death in a digital world

On the digital age and loss

Social media has changed the way we deal with death and loss because individuals retain an online and digital presence, even after passing away. Social media profiles, websites, and blogs are not always taken down post-mortem, and photos and videos of the deceased continue to exist on social media forums. According to an article by The Loop,  deceased Facebook users could outnumber living users by  2065.

We remain alive in some sense — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or on our personal or professional blogs. There are machines that keep us alive in our final moments in hospitals, and there are other machines — laptops, computers, and mobile phones, that keep us digitally  alive after that.

The way our parents and grandparents dealt with their loved ones’ deaths is so different from  the way we do. Those in the older generation have little to no access to digital profiles of the people they lost. Before social media, when somebody was dead, there were only memories and  maybe a few pictures, nothing more.  Now, a form of interaction with the deceased can and does continue online.

It’s quite unsettling that somebody could die and people could potentially continue  to visit them. This means those who have died maintain a visual, tangible presence. In addition, it has never been easier to capture and later access photos, videos, and voice recordings. Besides an online presence, we have the ability to hold onto digital memories of the deceased, and we are able to share these memories across forums.

We have an instant connection to people and events worldwide, but we are also building a legacy and memorial through our online profiles. In the past, only certain prominent people were granted legacies or memorialized, but the rise of digital technology changes that.  Sometimes we record more than the significant events of our lives, as some of us also keep track of the insignificant, trivial things — where we had dinner, what movies we watch, and  what memes made us laugh.

[pullquote-default]You no longer have to visit a cemetery or a place of worship — you can remember the deceased from right where you are. [/pullquote-default]

Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have different policies on memorializing people online. Facebook provides several options. It allows you to request that your account be memorialized after your death, or you can have it deleted. Nobody can log into a memorialized account, but if a legacy contact exists, they can change the profile picture, respond to friend requests, and write a pinned post on the timeline. If the deceased did not request memorialization or deactivation on Facebook, loved ones can request the deactivation of the deceased’s account.

Some people choose to share their social media account passwords with friends or relatives who continue posting even after their death, but for those who personally want to keep tweeting or posting after death, services like DeadSocial allow you to do so.

DeadSocial specializes in the digital end of life planning. A user can create messages that will be sent out on social media platforms after they die. DeadSocial is informed of a user’s death because the user can appoint one or more ‘digital executors’ that administrate messages on behalf of them once they have died.

Not only does this online legacy change the way we grieve, but it also means that the potential for learning about those who have passed exists in a different medium. Grandchildren can  learn about their grandparents through their online presence, assuming those forums still  exist. It almost feels as though we are creating some sort of digital soul, something that continues to exist after we are gone.

Part of the grieving process is moving on — not forgetting the person, but understanding that they are no longer in this state of existence with us. The ability to forget is imperative because it allows us to live in the present without the past holding us back, and the digital world makes it harder to forget. In some cases, an online presence can force us to remember the dead, which can make it harder for a grieving person to fully accept the loss and move on.

Grieving can also lose part of the physical component it used to contain. You no longer have to visit a cemetery or a place of worship — you can remember the deceased from right where you are. Old photo albums have become galleries on phones, and precious handwritten letters have turned into text messages — always available and accessible.  This draws out the grieving process, surrounds mourners with it, and makes it hard to separate grief from daily life.

Maintaining an online connection to loved ones after their death is definitely something to ruminate on further. It can greatly shift the way that individuals deal with death; the consequences of this could be comforting, or harmful to the process of mourning.