“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

Petition garners 400 signatures from students, alumni

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

India Annamanthadoo came to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law in the hopes of pursuing a career in public interest law, and working in areas such as international human rights law and legal aid work.

Since arriving, however, Annamanthadoo has become increasingly worried about being able to go into those fields given concerns over the high cost of tuition and increasing student debt. She also noticed that many of her friends in the faculty forgo those fields, which tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale, in favour of careers in the higher paying field of corporate law.

“Many of my peers and I came to U of T Law because we were enticed by the prospect of working in these areas,” she wrote. “But what I’ve come to realize is that those options are only viable if you don’t have debt from your undergrad and your parents are paying for your law degree.”

She added, “The situation is only getting worse, with tuition set to pass $40,000 next year. It was clear to me that now is the time to act.”

This academic year, Annamanthadoo and 14 other students and alumni helped launch Barriers to Excellence, an initiative to persuade the faculty to “implement a moratorium on tuition increases past $40,000 per year” until certain conditions outlined in an open letter addressed to Dean Edward Iacobucci are met.

These demands include a comprehensive financial review of the faculty with publicly accessible results. Based on the review, Barriers to Excellence demands that the faculty commit to specific initiatives to control costs and protect the allocation of financial aid, such as guaranteeing assistance to low-income applicants upon admission offers and a long-term plan for affordable tuition.

The name is modelled after the faculty’s Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, a project launched this year aiming to raise $20 million for financial aid.

To date, the open letter has over 400 signatures from current students, alumni since the class of 1971, and several organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

“Obviously this is not a campaign for current students,” wrote Annamanthadoo. “We’re already here, paying six [figures] for a law degree. This is a campaign for future students.”

In a statement to The Varsity, the faculty noted that Iacobucci has had two in-depth discussions of the budget, tuition, and financial aid at Faculty Council, the governing body of the Faculty of Law.

The council is composed of the dean, full-time faculty members, the Chief Law Librarian, the Assistant Dean of the Juris Doctor Program, elected student representatives from each year of the program, and two graduate students.

The statement continued that, subject to U of T approval, Iacobucci will aim for a four per cent increase in tuition next year, rather than five per cent, the maximum allowable amount.

In response, Alexandra H. Robertson, a third-year law student also involved with the campaign, wrote that the move was an “important first step.”

“It will be the first time since 2006 that the faculty has not increased tuition by the maximum allowable amount,” she wrote. “Students have been advocating on this issue since the early 2000s and feel like their efforts have been in vain. We believe this development means that the Faculty is hearing student and alumni concerns about tuition, financial aid, and law school accessibility.”

Robertson added, “Obviously our goal is for the demands in our letter to be met by the Faculty, which hasn’t happened yet, but we’re heartened that the Faculty is clearly listening to what we’re saying.”

US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan visits U of T Faculty of Law

American jurist discusses Kavanaugh hearings, judicial system with Justice Rosalie Abella

US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan visits U of T Faculty of Law

A U of T Law-hosted conversation between Elena Kagan, Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, and Rosalie Abella, Canadian Supreme Court Justice, focused largely on the state of the American judiciary, as well as the recent controversial hearings of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The event took place at the Jackman Law Building on November 12 and was livestreamed on YouTube.

Abella began the conversation by asking Kagan, “I think it’s on everybody’s mind who watched the recent hearing: Do you like beer?” referring to Kavanaugh’s repeated phrase during the Senate proceedings — eliciting a laugh from the audience.

Kagan dodged the question and the discussion moved on to comparisons between the two judicial bodies of Canada and the US. Kagan noted that although confirmation hearings allow the public to get to know the process and the nominees, they have some problems.

“It seems good to me from the perspective of transparency of governance, people [senators] taking their constitutional role seriously and having an opportunity to see a person, and to try to figure out what kind of justice she or he would be, and in the abstract, I think that’s a good thing,” said Kagan.

“In the concrete, it’s a little hard to watch any of these hearings and think they accomplish all that much.”

In Canada, justices are appointed by the governor general according to the prime minister’s recommendation, unlike in the United States, where the president nominates a person who must be subsequently confirmed by senators.

Kagan also said that in previous years, many nominations to the US Supreme Court have had wider bipartisan support, noting that judges received support from members of a party that did not nominate them. More recently, debates have become more politicized and divided.

“I do think there’s room for people to listen to each other and try to find common ground and try to find areas of compromise,” said Kagan. “The way to find agreement and the way to find consensus, is not to keep talking about those big questions, because you’re just going to soon run into a wall, but to see if you can reframe the question.”

Kagan noted that after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the court worked very hard to not come under gridlock and get stuck with tied votes by only having eight members. In the two-year period, Senate Republicans refused to consider Judge Merrick Garland, a nominee of President Barack Obama.

During the Q&A session, law student Teodora Pasca told Kagan that she “almost regretted” asking her question, but she said that she and many people she knew in the legal profession watched the Kavanaugh hearings “with a little bit of pain in our hearts.”

“I’m wondering what you think the role of the Supreme Court is,” she asked, “and how it can be considered legitimate in its treatment of women who have experienced violence, when you have not one, but two justices who have been levelled with credible accusations, and the appointment process has put them forth.”

The two justices referenced are Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual violence by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick; and Clarence Thomas, who was accused by Anita Hill in 1991.

Kagan replied, “You’re right, you should not have asked me that question, and I’m sorry to say that but there are some questions that — I’m part of this institution, I care about it a lot, I care about my colleagues a lot and that’s something that I’m not going to be talking about.”

Disclosure: Teodora Pasca was The Varsitys Comment Editor from 2016–2018.

Faculty of Law announces $30-million financial aid campaign

Campaign funds tuition, co-curriculars

Faculty of Law announces $30-million financial aid campaign

The Faculty of Law has launched a new $30-million fundraising campaign, announced on September 28.

The Campaign for Excellence without Barriers has raised over $24 million since January 1, 2015, when the faculty’s current dean, Professor Edward Iacobucci, began his tenure.

The campaign primarily funds student financial aid, but it also supports co-curricular programming at the faculty, such as legal clinics, mental health initiatives, and professional opportunities.

Although donors are ultimately in control of where their donations are allocated, the goal of the campaign is to raise $20 million for financial aid and $10 million for co-curricular programming, according to Lucianna Ciccocioppo, the faculty’s Director of External Relations. $14.8 million of the amount raised thus far is toward financial aid.

“It’s fundamental that we continue to get the very best students interested in studying law here no matter their backgrounds,” Iacobucci told U of T News. “I think a great deal would be lost if financial obstacles prevented a broad range of people from attending the Faculty of Law.”

The campaign is expected to conclude in December 2019. Funds raised as part of the campaign have already been dispersed, including to this year’s incoming class. Privately supported endowments account for approximately a third of the faculty’s annual financial aid budget.

Since the mid-1990s, tuition at Ontario law schools has risen steadily, alongside a decline in government funding. While every law school in Ontario has a tuition fee of at least $16,000, U of T’s JD program is the most expensive in Canada — the cost of domestic tuition for the 2018–2019 school year is $36,720.

“The University of Toronto Faculty of Law has by far the most robust student financial aid program in Ontario,” said Ciccocioppo. “We are the only law school in Ontario with a needs-based only financial aid program. That means the students with the most demonstrated need obtain the highest level of financial support.”

Also unique to U of T’s Faculty of Law is the Post-Graduate Debt Relief Program, a low-income protection program for graduates that helps them repay their student debt following graduation.

For the 2017–2018 year, the law school distributed approximately $4.3 million in bursaries and loan interest payments to about half of its students. The average effective tuition for domestic first-year students receiving financial aid, in addition to government student loan grants and tax credits, was $10,900.

Tuition for the full-time JD program for international students is $49,270 this year. International students are not eligible for the U of T Law JD Financial Aid Program.

Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights

U of T campus group LGBTOUT acted as intervenors on case

Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled against Trinity Western University (TWU) in a case that pits religious freedom against LGBTQ+ rights. TWU is a BC-based evangelical Christian university with a satellite campus in Ontario that was denied accreditation for a proposed law school by the law societies of BC and Ontario on the grounds that TWU discriminates against LGBTQ+ people. On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled 72 in favour of the law societies.

The case arose over a covenant agreement that all TWU students have to sign, which binds them to a code of conduct that specifically requires students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

“The community covenant is a solemn pledge in which members place themselves under obligations on the part of the institution to its members, the members to the institution, and the members to one another,” reads Section One of the agreement on the school’s website.

“TWU reserves the right to question, challenge or discipline any member in response to actions that impact personal or social welfare.”

As a result of the university’s community covenant agreement, concerns about the personal safety and open access of LGBTQ+ students were raised by various groups, including U of T campus group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT).

On November 30, 2017, a two-day hearing for the case was held by the Supreme Court against the university. LGBTOUT, which is the longest-standing LGBTQ+ group in Canada, travelled to the Supreme Court to act as an intervenor on the case, arguing that the law school “would harm prospective LGBTQ+ students, who would be effectively barred from TWU just because of their sexual or gender orientation.”

An intervenor on a Supreme Court case is meant to provide perspective to the matter and may be brought in at the discretion of the court.

In a statement released on the group’s Facebook page, LGBTOUT called the ruling “fantastic news.”

“There is no place for LGBTQ+ discrimination in the legal profession or in Canadian society. LGBTOUT is thrilled with this news and victory for our community, especially as it comes during Pride Month!”

Judges Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown were the only judges that sided with TWU, arguing that judicial intervention should be more limited when it comes to approving law programs.

“While, therefore, the [Law Society of BC] has purported to act in the cause of ensuring equal access to the profession, it has effectively denied that access to a segment of Canadian society, solely on religious grounds. In our respectful view, this unfortunate state of affairs merits judicial intervention, not affirmation.”

This is not the first time TWU has faced the Supreme Court over grounds of religious freedom. In 2001, the British Columbia College of Teachers refused to accredit their teacher training programs due to the discriminatory nature of the community covenant.

After the court’s ruling, it is uncertain whether TWU will continue its plans for its proposed law school as the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario refuse to accredit their law degrees.

Putting trauma in print

As sexual assault allegations continue to surface in the media, journalists must critically examine their responsibilities as storytellers and public informants

Putting trauma in print

Significant media attention has been focused on the explosive accusations of sexual assault and misconduct recently leveled against some of the most powerful men in entertainment and politics. As story after story has been broken — from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Louis CK — the voices of those victimized by sexual violence have reached the ears of international audiences.

More disturbing still is that many of these highly publicized outcries are paralleled by the experiences of the people around us. The social media campaign #MeToo has emboldened hundreds of our peers to share that they have been victims of sexual violence and harassment. Tamsyn Riddle’s human rights complaint against Trinity College and the University of Toronto for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault case is still ongoing. Around the same time the CK story came out, one of The Varsity’s masthead members received a wholly unsolicited pornographic photo from another student.

Sexual violence is not limited to what is portrayed by international headlines: it is a nefarious reality that will affect most people in some way during their lives. It is also something that has proven very difficult to talk about for many people. These cases involve vulnerable persons and deeply intrusive information, not to mention facts that can be muddled by stereotypes and by the competing interests of the implicated parties.

It is the media who are given the incredibly important task of consolidating the facts into a narrative, of informing the public in the way that is both ethical and true. In light of the sensitive nature of sexual violence cases, journalists must critically examine the means by which they carry out their duties in this respect.

On November 15, in partnership with Silence is Violence, The Varsity hosted a panel entitled “Responsible Reporting on Sexual Violence.” Led by Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Life writer Lauren McKeon, and  activist and co-founder of grassroots organization femifesto Shannon Giannitsopoulo, the discussion centred on how media professionals can adopt appropriate reporting practices and reconcile any legal or ethical conflicts they encounter.

In the Unfounded series Doolittle spearheaded at the Globe, it was revealed that one in five claims of sexual assault in Canada are dismissed by police as baseless. While some complaints may indeed have been unfounded, in other cases, blatant negligence or misogyny on the part of police forces — such as in the famous case of Doe v. Metropolitan Toronto Commissioners of Police — have left complainants out in the cold, aggravating feelings of fear or mistrust when dealing with police in general.

When complainants do not feel comfortable dealing with police, or they feel as if their cases are not being taken seriously, the media can play a role in helping them achieve justice. In this sense, journalists are often known both for blowing the whistle on powerful people and for battling against efforts being made to bury the hatchet.

The Harvey Weinstein case is particularly galling given the complicity and wilful blindness demonstrated by Weinstein’s many enablers, and the lengths to which the producer went to cover up his actions. In a follow-up to his original exposé in The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow revealed that Weinstein had enlisted ex-Mossad agents to get close to some of his victims and mine them for information, sometimes under the guise of being women’s rights advocates. Journalists who were in dogged pursuit of Weinstein, including Jodi Kantor of The New York Times and Farrow himself, were also targeted by Weinstein for investigation.

Given the influence of the media in shaping people’s perceptions of events, journalists must ensure that their work does not further contribute to the conditions that can make coming forward about sexual violence so difficult. At the same time, many people are genuinely concerned about the influence media coverage might have on the public’s perception of accused persons. What is often alluded to in this regard is the presumption of innocence under section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires the accused to be presumed innocent until the  Crown can prove the charges against them beyond a reasonable doubt and before an independent and impartial tribunal.

The presumption of innocence is an important and often misconstrued idea that, in the context of sexual assault cases, squarely applies to representatives in the criminal justice system. Given that the media is neither a criminal law institution nor a representative of the government, it does not owe the accused the same right; rather, it finds its obligations within defamation law, an entirely different set of standards.

Nevertheless, media professionals are also required to be watchful of baseless allegations — in acknowledgment that a false or misleading story can potentially ruin the life of the person about whom it is written. As Doolittle pointed out, journalists tend to be extremely cautious when writing about sexual assault, including through the use of words like ‘alleged’ or ‘accused’ when discussing claims yet to be confirmed by the courts.

Reporting on these stories can therefore involve a delicate balancing act, one often sorted out case by case. The discussion that took place at the panel last week provided insight into the steps journalists can take to ensure they are engaging in appropriate practices.

For one, journalists should be keenly aware of the impact stories might have on the people represented in them. Before publishing the Unfounded series, Doolittle gave each of her interviewees the option to be quoted anonymously or to withdraw from the story altogether. She was careful to emphasize the importance of explaining to complainants how their lives would be affected by going public with their stories.

Another point of caution pertains to language usage. In a guide entitled “Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada,”  femifesto advises journalists to omit details about the accused that might serve to imply that they are not ‘the type’ to commit such acts. This is to avoid the pitfalls of media attention centred on people like Brock Turner, a former Stanford student who was convicted of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman. Turner was often referred to in headlines as a “Stanford swimmer” rather than, for example, ‘the convicted felon.’

Finally, accusations made against certain people cannot be differentially treated on the basis of the institutions in which they work, or ‘the type’ of people we think they are. As allegations against Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Mark Halperin, and others have shown, the media itself is hardly immune to outbreaks of sexual misconduct. An anonymous spreadsheet entitled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” — the virtual embodiment of a whisper network — circulated online last month, allowing women to document their disturbing experiences with men in the media. This means that journalists should not only take great care when reporting on the experiences of others, but they must also watch for any violence happening around them.

Reporting on sexual violence is an immensely important responsibility, and the integrity and critical self-reflection that must underlie journalistic practices in this regard cannot be understated. The sheer number of accused abusers and misogynists seemingly crawling out of the woodwork might make us enraged or pessimistic, particularly since so many stories festered for years before being brought to the surface. But as McKeon put it, the current momentum of these stories also provides journalists with an opportunity to shed light on those not being told.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.