Should the U.N. be Abolished? The 6th Annual CIC Foreign Affairs Debate

Born out of the vestiges of World War II, the United Nations was built with the great hope of maintaining global peace and security. Over 70 years and more than half a trillion dollars later, many would question whether it has been effective. The Security Council remains dominated by five countries and has proven resistant to reform. Wars in the Middle East continue to rage on, with the worst humanitarian crisis of our time unfolding with little international attention in Yemen. The number of people living in absolute poverty has decreased, but wealth inequality has also increased at an alarming rate.

Has the U.N.’s intended vision been realized? Is a tool born out of WWII able to face the challenges of the 21st century?

Hosted jointed by CIC-Toronto, the Hart House Debates & Dialogue Committee and the Hart House Debating Club, the 6th Annual CIC-Toronto Foreign Affairs Debate will feature student debaters from Hart House (University of Toronto) and Ryerson University on the motion “Be it Resolved That the United Nations Should be Abolished”. Standing in favour of the motion at hand will be Hart House, and standing on opposition will be Ryerson.

There will be a panel of three expert judges, as well as a ‘splitting of the house’ where audience members will be be asked to vote on who they believe presented the stronger arguments and defended their position the best. The debate will be followed by a catered post-reception.

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Where: Hart House Debates Room, University of Toronto

When: 7:00-9:00PM

6:30PM: Doors Open

7:00PM-8:30PM: Debate

8:30-9:00PM: Catered post-reception

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Tickets are free. Please reserve your spot on Eventbrite.

Please note that in order to guarantee your spot, you must arrive by 7:00PM. Doors open at 6:30PM.

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If you have any accessibility questions or concerns, please email marco.adamovic@utoronto.ca.

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.
HANNAH CARTY/THE VARSITY

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.”

Turkish incursion into Northern Syria against Kurdish forces sparks tension at Hart House

Students protest U of T’s invitation of Turkish ambassador

Turkish incursion into Northern Syria against Kurdish forces sparks tension at Hart House

On October 10, protestors demonstrated outside Hart House against the invitation of Turkish Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras to an event titled “Toronto-Turkey Alliance: Research and Trade Workshop.”

The protest was in opposition to Turkey’s recent military offensive into Northern Syria against the Kurdish-led forces called the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leader of the military arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The YPG controls swathes of territory in northeastern Syria and have been instrumental to the US in its fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A day prior to the event, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted, “Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria today.” An October 8 report by Genocide Watch noted, “Turkey’s aggression into neighboring states threatens the long-term security of all Kurdish, Christian, and Yezidi populations in the region. Turkey’s intention is genocide.”

Protesting the event

Along with the Turkish ambassador, other speakers at the event included U of T professors from the Departments of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Earth Sciences, as well as several professors from Turkish universities. Kurdish PhD student Sardar Saadi sent a letter to Ted Sargent, U of T’s Vice-President, International, asking him to cancel the event. “I am dismayed that my own university ignores these atrocities and plan to collaborate with the Turkish government, particularly at the time that Kurdish people are being bombed and displaced while the talk on ‘research and trade’ is taking place,” wrote Saadi.

Saadi wrote in an email to The Varsity that the protestors “managed to shut down the event,” but that Sargent continued with the event in private. “This is such a shame and as a member of this community for more than 6 years, I am ashamed of my university and incredibly furious and disappointed.”

“The event continued in a different format and in a different location because of safety concerns,” wrote Sargent in a email to The Varsity. He noted that the goal of the event was “academic collaboration and fostering connections between U of T and Turkish researchers in areas such as geophysics, archeology and nanotechnology.”

“Such discussions are in keeping with our commitment to academic freedom and free speech,” remarked Sargent.

Salam Alsaadi, a representative from the Syrian Solidarity Collective at U of T, wrote, “We strongly condemn invitations to all officials of any despotic regime in the region not only Turkish officials.”

The situation in Turkey and Syria

The Kurdish people are the world’s largest stateless ethnic group spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, making up roughly a fifth of Turkey’s population. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group, as it links the YPG to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, a political and military organization based in Turkey that pushes for Kurdish autonomy, has been in armed conflict against the Turkish forces.

Following a sharp policy shift by US President Donald Trump, US troops withdrew from YPG territory. This prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to begin an offensive in order to establish a “safe zone” across the country’s border, free of Kurdish fighters.

On October 27, the SDF announced that it would be withdrawing from the Turkey-Syria border in accordance with a deal between Turkey and Syria, negotiated by Russia, amidst an unsuccessful ceasefire.

The Toronto Turkish Consulate General did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Before changing world politics, let’s change student politics

Reviewing the shortcomings of the International Relations Society

Before changing world politics, let’s change student politics

Many first-year students who aspire to make the world a ‘better place’ flock to U of T’s International Relations (IR) program. Since its inception in 1976, the program has offered students an interdisciplinary education in economics, history, and political science.

It also provides them with the analytical tools to reckon with challenges faced by the international community. An official course union for the program followed soon thereafter, with the International Relations Society (IRS) appointing its first president for the 1979–1980 school year.

However, it is no secret among IR students that the IRS has fallen into a state of neglect in recent years — to such a degree that many students in the program are unaware of its existence. The IR program includes at least 350 students across all years, who are well-distributed among the colleges at UTSG. Yet, historically, the IRS executive has been dominated by Trinity College students, often due to a lack of meaningful and equal outreach to all of the university’s colleges.

It is true that the IR program is sponsored by and administratively housed at Trinity College, but it is nonetheless an Arts & Science program open to students of all colleges. The failure to engage with students from other colleges has resulted in IRS elections that, year after year, are poorly attended, often barely at, or below quorum, with uncontested executive elections.

Furthermore, the IRS has demonstrated an inability to perform the basic responsibilities outlined in its constitution, such as hosting a social event before December and maintaining a functional website. It also falls short when it comes to innovating on the rote, poorly-attended events and initiatives described therein, including the mentorship program.

Also, hosting an annual conference is constitutionally mandated, and it was held in January each year between 2014 and 2017. However, last year’s conference was held much later in March, and no conference has been held yet this year even though it is already March. In sum, the timing of the course union’s programming has become increasingly problematic over the last few years.

Such failures have ultimately resulted in a cycle of disengagement and non-representativeness. IR students are left disillusioned with a program that is infamous for its lack of community and inadequate mechanisms for student feedback.

This is not meant to accuse the students involved of maliciously abandoning their responsibilities or intentionally being exclusive. That isn’t the case. Student leaders across campus are often overextended, and amid their many academic and extracurricular commitments, they might drop the ball on some responsibilities.

This is especially true if responsibilities are perceived as a lower priority due to the community seeming unresponsive or uninterested. It is a symptom of a deeper problem: the non-representativeness and exclusiveness of the IRS relative to the full population of students it is intended to serve.

In examining the state of the IRS as a case study for how well-intentioned student societies can fall into disrepair, it is also important that we acknowledge the potential of the IRS to serve as a positive model going forward.

We live at a time when student unions face advanced scrutiny. Opponents raise real questions regarding unsatisfactory participation, misuse of funds, and electoral deception, among other concerns. Student societies are therefore in a position to prove critics wrong by getting back to the basics.

For example, the IRS must rethink the way it communicates with IR students at all colleges as well as the greater U of T community. The IRS can do a better job of embracing all of its students by establishing college representatives for curious students to connect with, or by obtaining a student lounge as a welcoming community hub.

Future executives must also proactively work with the program director to reevaluate the impact of certain mandatory courses, while looking to invite guest speakers, host career nights, and sponsor more meaningful programming that suits the interests of IR students.

Beyond providing a platform for career development or engagement with alumni, it is the fundamental mission of student unions to establish avenues for participatory reform. Through  oversight of their bylaws and the suppression of electoral competition, dysfunctional unions do all students a disservice. The underrepresentation of even one group of students in the faculty must always be a cause for wider concern.

The IRS must advance the essential principles of representation, responsibility, community, opportunity, and reform. It has a mandate to advocate on behalf of all the students it represents, not just those in its immediate vicinity.

How we as student leaders uphold our institutions, and whether we do so in an inclusive way, tangibly affects our peers as well as our own capability to create reform in other settings. Why wait until graduation to change the world when we can start making changes right here?

Sarah Ingle is a third-year International Relations, Digital Humanities, and Political Science student at Trinity College. Anvesh Jain is a second-year International Relations student at Victoria College.

Disclosure: Ingle was the VP Mentorship for the 2017–2018 IRS Executive. Ingle and Jain are running as co-Presidential candidates for the 2019–2020 IRS Executive.

Editor’s Note (March 10, 7:30 pm): This article has been updated to include comment about the IRS annual conference.

Editor’s Note (March 11, 9:00 pm): This article has been updated to clarify an author’s past association with the IRS Executive.