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Canadian companies criticized for abuses abroad

The occlusive power of Canadian corporate identity

Canadian companies criticized for abuses abroad

In 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The New York Times that Canadian values include “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, [and] to search for equality and justice.”

Of the prominent corporations headquartered in Canada, such as the mining companies Barrick Gold, Nevsun Resources, and Hudbay Minerals; the transportation company Bombardier Inc.; and the software company Netsweeper, most carry out the majority of their operations overseas. This means that although they are technically Canadian, they overwhelmingly impact the non-Canadian communities that they operate within and employ from.

Nevertheless, their reputations are buoyed by their Canadian identity. The Globe and Mail reported that such corporations enjoy a “strategic advantage” in Canadian markets.

In other words, Canadian consumers are more willing to trust, purchase products or services from, and work for corporations with Canadian identities.

This is especially true for mining corporations, reports The Walrus. Such companies headquartered in Canada enjoy “a positive national image, a solid reputation for mining expertise, and access to government resources through [Canadian] embassies abroad.”

Yet as Canadian companies enjoy these perks back home, advocacy groups have questioned whether they are acting in accordance with Canadian values in their operations overseas. Many have grappled with lawsuits and protests stemming from alleged human rights violations in foreign countries, contravening the so-called Canadian values of compassion, equality, and justice.

Barrick Gold is a recent example of a Canadian corporation that made headlines for alleged human rights violations. The firm was founded by philanthropist Peter Munk, after whom the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy is named.

The Munk School of Global Affairs. File photo: BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Munk donated $6.4 million to the construction of the Munk School of Global Affairs, which was at the time named the Munk Centre for International Studies. The institution opened in 2000, and in 2009 his foundation made an additional donation of $35 million. In 2018, the school merged with U of T’s School of Public Policy & Governance to form the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

His foundation’s donations to the Munk School have drawn criticism from students and professors alike, some of which questioned whether the U of T is compromising its institutional integrity by accepting Munk’s donations.

Gold, human rights, and Papua New Guinea

On May 7, Barrick Gold faced scrutiny from the advocacy group MiningWatch Canada during its annual general meeting, a mandatory gathering for the corporation to hold for its shareholders.

“It is shameful that year after year since 2008, either I or people affected by your mines from all over the world, have had to stand here to testify to ongoing environmental and human rights abuses at your mines,” said Catherine Coumans, a research coordinator for MiningWatch Canada at the general meeting.

Coumans cited Barrick Gold’s alleged complicity in abuses including “excessively violent security guards” and unsafe disposal of waste byproducts from mining.

This corresponds with earlier accusations, including research from 2009 led by legal scholar Sarah Knuckey, now associated with Columbia Law School, alleging that Barrick Gold did not do “due diligence in hiring security” for its facilities in Porgera, Papua New Guinea.

According to Knuckey, Barrick Gold’s lack of diligence in hiring security contributed to a number of problems. Her team has since submitted “evidence of eight rapes and two other acts of sexual violence” to the Canadian government.

Flag held by demonstrators agitating against Barrick Gold. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY.

According to The National Observer, Barrick Gold “dismissed reports that security forces were killing men and raping women as lies,” until a report in 2011 by Human Rights Watch documented six alleged incidents of gang rape by mine security personnel in Papua New Guinea from 2008–2010.

During its 2019 annual general meeting, Barrick CEO Mark Bristow responded to Coumans by acknowledging that there are “specific issues that you [Coumans] refer to,” but noted that Barrick has “dealt with them in the past, and… will always continue to deal with those allegations.”

However, Bristow downplayed the role of Barrick in alleged incidents of rape, arson, and assault by mine guards in Tanzania, saying that Acacia Mining, which employed or hosted the guards, operates independently of Barrick, even though they are Acacia’s majority stakeholder.

Bristow further contended that Barrick seeks to “create value” for the communities in which it operates, raising the quality of life of its 17,000 employees across Africa by giving them training and employment to contribute to their local economies.

This echoes a previous defence given by Munk to the Toronto Star in response to protests in Toronto against Barrick’s activities in Papua New Guinea in 2010.

“By moving into these countries and developing their mines, we provide — way beyond the importance of money — we provide human dignity,” said Munk. “We provide an opportunity for these people to earn their money, rather than hold out their hands and depend on charity.”

While Barrick may not have deliberately directed violence against the locals, advocacy groups contend that the company had a responsibility to prevent violence committed by its personnel. Barrick’s response has been to deny responsibility and deflect attention from the negative consequences of its operations by drawing attention to its role in job creation.

Though Barrick’s response may minimize its legal exposure, advocacy groups contend that it has not prioritized the lives of its employees or local residents in the areas where the company operates.

Similar allegations levelled against Hudbay in Guatemala

Barrick is not the only Canadian mining company under fire for alleged complicity in human rights violations overseas. Hudbay Minerals has faced similar allegations in Guatemala, resulting in Canadian lawsuits for negligence.

Eleven women reported gang rape in 2007 and identified the perpetrators as men employed by Hudbay to remove them from their homes in Lote Ocho, Guatemala for the company’s operations, according to a report by The New York Times.

The Times further reported that Hudbay has faced legal claims over alleged negligence which resulted in the death of local leader and teacher Adolfo Ich Chamán, as well as the shooting and paralysis of a bystander, German Chub, as the result of gunfire during protests against Hudbay’s operations in El Estor, Guatemala in 2009.

Hudbay has denied wrongdoing, saying that no “mining security officials” were present during the evictions at Lote Oche, and that no rapes took place.

The corporation further disputed that it was liable for any alleged damages affecting these women, saying that the mine responsible for the evictions was owned by a subsidiary of Skye Resources Inc., another Canadian company, until 2008, when Hudbay purchased it.

In response to legal claims that Hudbay is responsible for the death of Chamán and severe harm to Chub, the corporation maintains that these resulted from self-defence on the part of the mine’s security guards against armed protestors.

Despite Hudbay’s position, Mynor Padilla, the mine’s head of security during the El Estor shootings, has been placed on trial in Guatemala for the death of Chamán and the paralysis of Chub.

Bombardier, Netsweeper face allegations of complicity in human rights violations, by virtue of their clients

Barrick and Hudbay have faced accusations of negligence due to severe crimes allegedly committed by their employees. Yet Canadian corporations such as Bombardier and Netsweeper have also come under fire for allegations of knowingly conducting business with entities likely to use their services to violate human rights.

Following the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, which used to be Ukrainian territory, Canadian foreign policy has been to support Ukraine in the de facto Ukrainian-Russian conflict.

But in July 2018, Bombardier won an $8 million contract to install rail-control systems which would help construct a railway line between Russia’s western and southern military districts.

According to military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer in an interview with The Globe and Mail, the railway line is “of highly strategic importance” to Russia, as the primary function of the line is to transport military personnel within areas of Russian territory near Ukraine.

In response to The Globe’s inquiries, Bombardier has maintained that its projects are “compliant with Canada’s sanctions against Russia,” despite the Ukrainian Canadian Congress lobby group contending that the project has “evident military implications.”

Bombardier has also come under fire for allegedly enabling human rights violations by Israel against Palestinians, according to a recently published book by Associate Professor David P. Thomas of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

Thomas, who studies politics and international relations, has contended that Bombardier has been “complicit” in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory of Beit Surik, due to Bombardier’s sale of supply trains for Israel’s A1 railway. The high-speed rail link, which connects Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, uses land near Beit Surik, reports Reuters.

By selling the trains to Israel, Thomas asserts that Bombardier contributed to a project that requires the occupation of Palestinian territory, which Canada considers to be illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Netsweeper, a Waterloo, Ontario based company, has faced similar criticism for creating software that has enabled 10 countries to prevent access to “news, religious content, LGBTQ+ resources, and political campaigns” from their citizens, according to research by U of T’s Citizen Lab.

“Canada is a country that’s defined by its values. This is a Canadian company headquartered here,” said Citizen Lab researcher Ron Deibert to CBC News. The researchers maintained that the censorship enabled by Netsweeper’s software has posed serious concerns to the human rights of residents in those countries.

The role of Canadian courts

Canadian courts will judge whether companies like Hudbay are legally complicit in human rights violations.

A precedent-setting lawsuit against Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun Resources Ltd. has reached the Supreme Court of Canada, as three lawsuits stemming from allegations against Hudbay have been under review by the Ontario Superior Court.

The charges against Nevsun stem from its alleged complicity in using conscripted labour to build a gold mine in Eritrea. In an interview with The Varsity, Yolanda Song, a U of T research associate in the International Human Rights Program, said that conscripts allegedly faced conditions of “slavery, forced labour, and torture” from members of the Eritrean military.

The Supreme Court of Canada. RWHGOULD/CC FLICKR

The refugees who filed the case against Nevsun allege that the corporation knew or should have known about the use of forced labour in its mine, failed to do anything to stop it, and “knowingly decided to work with the Eritrean government, despite its poor track record of human rights violations,” explained Song.

Nevsun’s defence lies in the “act of state doctrine,” which asserts that Canadian courts cannot judge the lawfulness of the sovereign acts by another country. Song explained that Nevsun has asserted that the act prevents Canadian courts from determining whether the Eritrean program of indefinite forced labour is illegal.

If this is true, Nevsun argues that the corporation is not liable for the human rights violations of using forced labour in Eritrea.

“Our big concern is that if the rule was applied in this way,” said Song, “then you could have huge implications for corporate accountability for their practices.”

“It essentially immunizes companies who knowingly partner up with dictatorships… and it helps incentivize the corporations to pass off their responsibilities, and turn [a blind eye] if they do eventually discover evidence in some wrongdoing.”

Possible solutions 

As Maighdlin Mahoney of The Varsity wrote, corporate sponsorship of public events can deflect attention away from alleged complicity and enablement of human rights abuses.

Mahoney wrote about the hypocrisy of Bud Light in becoming a major sponsor of Pride Toronto while also being a major sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, despite Russia’s anti-gay purges in Chechnya.

Use of student activism, both inside and outside of social media, can draw attention to the alleged lack of accountability of such companies, mounting pressure on key stakeholders to act.

A key influence in pushing for accountability in companies, argues opinion columnist Errol Mendes of The Globe and Mail, is the stakeholders of these companies. Mendes contends that shareholders of Canadian companies have a responsibility in ensuring that the firms they invest in act ethically.

These ethical standards can be set by international instruments such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provides a mechanism for companies to best ensure they do not contribute to human rights violations.

In contrast, Associate Professor Penelope Simons of the University of Ottawa, and Professor Audrey Macklin of the University of Toronto have placed greater emphasis on change stemming from legislation, in an op-ed to The Globe and Mail.

“The government needs to take bolder steps to protect the human rights of individuals and communities affected by resource extraction by Canadian companies,” they wrote. “Companies insisting that voluntary self-regulation is adequate and that their conduct already meets or exceeds global standards have little to fear from regulation.”

“They should welcome measures that compel their less scrupulous colleagues to cease engaging in the kind of conduct that gives Canadian extractives — and Canada — a bad name.”

Flaw in WhatsApp exploited to target human rights lawyer, finds Citizen Lab

Lawyer has been embroiled in lawsuit against NSO Group, controversial Israeli technology firm

Flaw in WhatsApp exploited to target human rights lawyer, finds Citizen Lab

On May 12, a London-based human rights lawyer received peculiar video calls on his WhatsApp account while visiting Sweden.

Concerned by receiving the calls at such odd times in the morning, he reached out to cyber specialists at U of T’s Citizen Lab to investigate.

The Citizen Lab is a multidisciplinary research institute located at the Munk School for Global Affairs and Public Policy. The lab explores issues related to cybersecurity, surveillance, and digital censorship.

The lawyer, who remains anonymous due to fears of retaliation for speaking out, suspects potential foul play given his involvement with a civil lawsuit against NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm.

Foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates, have allegedly used NSO Group’s products to spy on journalists and political dissidents, including a critic of Saudi Arabia living in Canada.

According to reports from the Financial Times, the spyware targeting the lawyer’s phone had digital characteristics typical of NSO Group products.

Citizen Lab Senior Researchers John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak led the investigative team that discovered WhatsApp’s vulnerability.

In an interview with The Varsity, Scott-Railton said he “observed a case where it looked like there was an attempt to target that lawyer’s phone with this novel attack, which would have happened over WhatsApp through a missed call.”

By exploiting the app’s vulnerability, NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware could enter a target’s iPhone or Android device through WhatsApp’s call function. The malicious code could then extract private information such as text messages and call histories, regardless of whether a target answers the call or not. The spyware can also collect new data by turning on the device’s camera or microphone.


WhatsApp’s response

WhatsApp engineers worked to patch the vulnerability as quickly as possible once they became aware of the susceptibility in the software. When finished, their company urged its 1.5 billion users to update their apps.

“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” WhatsApp said in a public statement.  

The social network also informed the United States Department of Justice officials and issued a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures notice to inform cybersecurity experts.

Scott-Railton praised WhatsApp for acting swiftly after discovering the vulnerability. “The way that WhatsApp has responded to this has been, I think, quite positive,” he said, noting how WhatsApp contacted a number of human rights organizations, which are common targets of the Pegasus spyware, before publicly announcing the security vulnerability.

According to Scott-Railton, this was an “unprecedented” move by a social media company and signals that it “felt there was something very wrong that had been done… and they didn’t like what they saw.”

It is unclear how many people were targeted or impacted by the vulnerability. However, based on WhatsApp’s comments, Scott-Railton said it seems like “there was a problem… [which was] much larger” than the attack on the human rights lawyer alone.

NSO Group promises reform

NSO Group maintains that it partners with governments to assist with law enforcement efforts and prevent criminal activity such as terrorism.

In response to reports that its software was targeting the human rights lawyer, NSO Group said that it “would not, or could not, use its technology in its own right to target any person or organization, including this individual.”

Earlier this year, NSO Group was partially acquired by the UK-based private equity fund Novalpina Capital. When Novalpina took over, it promised to reform the company in light of recent reports of suspected abuse.  

When the acquisition occurred, Novalpina was hoping to “establish a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights in full compliance with the [United Nations] Guiding Principal,” said Stephen Peel, co-founder of the fund.

Scott-Railton believes that “if indeed this was NSO, it suggests that this public story about human rights abuse may not [match up] with other things that we’ve observed.”

A bigger picture

Citizen Lab has been involved in multiple investigations tracking companies that sell spyware. Earlier this year, Citizen Lab itself had been targeted by undercover agents — masked as “socially conscious investors” — for its research on NSO Group.

Scott-Railton believes this case points to a larger trend of companies selling spyware to target individuals. “I think in the long run, we won’t really understand the digital risks and challenges that we all face until we see cases where harm happens to individuals,” he said.

“It’s very disconcerting to someone who has WhatsApp on their phones when they hear that there’s some company out there that’s selling a technology to basically use that as a way onto their phones, without any interaction,” Scott-Railton said.

“It’s almost unpreventable.”

Mowat Centre to close following cancellation of funding by Ontario government

The Munk School-based public policy think-tank part of widespread budget cuts

Mowat Centre to close following cancellation of funding by Ontario government

The Mowat Centre, a non-partisan think tank located at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, will be closing by June 30, in an announcement by Director Andrew Parkin on April 29. The closure comes in light of the provincial government’s cancellation of the Centre’s funding agreement.

Established in 2009, the Mowat Centre reported on public policy topics related to Ontario and Canada. Previous research covered nonprofits, immigration, income and employment trends, the digital revolution in the health sector, and education. It ultimately aimed to “suggest new but practical ways of looking at long-standing public policy challenges, free from the constraints of short-term political pressures or policy choices of the past.”

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Christine Wood, Press Secretary for Economic Development Minister Todd Smith, wrote that “the government cancelled funding to all think tanks” as part of an effort to balance the 2019 Ontario Budget.  

While the budget does not explicitly mention the cut, it does cite research from the Mowat Centre in a section on regional economic development.

Two projects, the Mowat NFP and the Research Initiative on Education + Skills, are expected to be relocated within other agencies, according to Reuven Shlozberg, the Centre’s Knowledge & Outreach Coordinator. These projects focus respectively on research and analysis of issues within the nonprofit sector; and education, skills, and labour markets in Canada.

There are still no details on how and where the initiatives will be relocated.

The Centre’s most recent budget showed that much of its $2.8 million budget was covered by a $1 million grant from the Ontario government. Close to $1.9 million of the expenses went toward salaries and benefits for the Centre’s staff. Eleven staff stand to be directly affected by the closing of the Centre.

In his letter, Parkin wrote that the Centre’s closure is happening at a time when the “challenges of transforming government and strengthening the federation are perhaps more acute than ever.”

He hopes that “the work that the Mowat Centre has conducted since its inception will continue to be a useful resource for all of us working to address these issues.”

In conversation with Professor Cynthia Goh

Chemistry professor bridges passions for research and entrepreneurship

In conversation with Professor Cynthia Goh

Professor Cynthia Goh balances many responsibilities. She is a professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the Institute of Medical Science, and the Munk School of Global Affairs.

She is the director and founder of the Impact Centre, which strives to bring “science to society” through entrepreneurship, and also the academic director of University of Toronto Entrepreneurship.

Goh describes herself as “a STEM student through and through.” Explaining her interest in STEM, she says, “I think if you know the rules that govern the world you can make a better world.”

Goh’s research interests lie in nanoscience — specifically, the properties, structures, conformations, and interactions of molecules such as polymers and biomolecules, and how these molecules can be used to improve areas such as health care and disease treatment.

After receiving tenure, she shifted her focus to entrepreneurship. “I was making impact in my discipline, I would write a paper and people would quote it and write papers about it. But, I really wanted to see how to make a difference in people’s lives and I learned, basically, that’s about bringing this nice research result to creating a product that somebody can use.” This is how the Impact Centre was created.

The Impact Centre was recognized by the university in 2013, but it has been in operation for years prior to that. Goh describes the centre’s mission as striving to connect the research being done in institutions to a service or a product to create positive impact.

In its beginning stages, Goh had designed an extracurricular entrepreneurial skills training program for students who believed that the skills would be of value to them.

But according to Goh, there was a disconnect between research and application. The change in direction was a challenge. However, Goh views challenges as opportunities to overcome obstacles and forge paths to new areas.

In fact, when Goh began working at U of T, she was the only woman in the Department of Chemistry, and this continued for eight years.

“When I had my kid, nobody knew what the maternity leave rules were because nobody has asked for maternity leave before me,” says Goh. She recounts that she would carry her child at work and would, at times, receive strange looks.

But instead of “carrying a chip on [her] shoulder,” she explains, “I’ve always had the attitude that if people maybe may sound like they’re not on your side, it’s probably because they just don’t have the experience.”

From the small sample of children Goh has worked with, she says that despite the generalization that boys seem to have more outward confidence than girls, “confidence comes from having done your homework.”

The nature of STEM subjects, she says, allows for checking if an answer is correct. “In math, you can tell what the correct answer is, so I can build a lot of confidence knowing I’m right.”

Researchers at U of T’s Citizen Lab targeted by undercover agents about spyware studies

Questioned about studies on spyware used on friends of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Researchers at U of T’s Citizen Lab targeted by undercover agents about spyware studies

Undercover agents have been questioning U of T Citizen Lab researchers in recent months about their study of an Israeli spyware that was used on murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s friends, reported The Associated Press.

Agents have approached researchers twice in the past two months claiming to be “socially conscious investors” interested in partnerships. During meetings set up after online contact, the agents questioned the researchers about their personal lives and work regarding the NSO Group, a surveillance technology firm based in Israel that has sold a clandestine software called “Pegasus” to governments seeking to spy on iPhones.

The Associated Press reported that Bahr Abdul Razzak, a Citizen Lab researcher, was approached in December by an investigator who called himself Gary Bowman.

Bowman’s questions to Razzak included, “Do you pray?”, “Why do you write only about NSO?”, and “Do you hate Israel?”. Another Citizen Lab researcher, John Scott-Railton, was later approached on January 9 and was asked similar questions.

The Associated Press was not able to reach either of the agents, nor is there any evidence that they are linked to the NSO, which has stated that it is not involved.

Citizen Lab’s research into the NSO Group is part of its larger initiative on tracking “nation state spyware,” said senior research fellow Bill Marczak on CNN in October.

The lab concluded with “high confidence” that Omar Abdulaziz, a close friend of Khashoggi and fellow Saudi dissident, had been under surveillance using the Pegasus software. Abdulaziz lives in Quebec.

“When a government buys Pegasus,” said Marczak, “What they do is they can send a text message to someone’s phone containing a link, and if they convince the person to click on that link in the text message, then the phone becomes infected and the government can see anything on the phone — including pictures, contacts, listening into calls, watching text messages, and even turning on the camera and microphone.”

Citizen Lab is a Munk School of Global Affairs laboratory that studies human rights issues using computer science and social sciences techniques.

Beyond résumé padding

One student explains how her passion project turned into an incredible academic opportunity

Beyond résumé padding

During my first year of university, I saw a small announcement on Blackboard for one of the anthropology courses I was taking, advertising the Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge (ITAC).

ITAC is a competition run by the Munk School of Global Affairs that gives winners the opportunity to conduct an independent research project on the topic of their choice, related to an Asian issue. Winning projects are allocated up to $7,000 in funding, making it possible for students to travel and conduct original research in Asia. The competition is open to all U of T students in the Faculty of Arts & Science, both undergraduate and graduate, including those unaffiliated with the Munk School.

Taking on an independent project did not sound realistic with my existing workload, especially knowing it was entirely possible I wouldn’t win. Still, I was inspired to partake in the competition, perhaps because of my passion for the issues of slums and inequality in India, which I had touched upon in some of my other courses.

Feeling as though I couldn’t tackle the project all by myself, I approached my friend Amanda McKinley about joining me. Amanda also introduced me to Alexandre Gignac and Siddhartha Sengupta, two of her classmates at UTM, both third-year Political Science specialists. The Munk School had encouraged students from different academic backgrounds to collaborate on projects. With my background in Anthropology and Marketing combined with my group members’ backgrounds in Political Science, Psychology, and History, we managed to articulate our ideas and come up with a unique research idea for the competition.

The Munk School provided us with a great deal of support in the process. Before our team submitted our application, we attended a writing proposal workshop, which gave us essential guidelines and information. It also boosted our confidence in the possibility of actually winning the competition.

This was also when I started to realize that participation itself was providing our team with such valuable experience that we would not have been able to gain in the classroom. “I figured that even if we didn’t win, I would have learnt how to write a proper research proposal and I would get to meet other students who were interested in the same things as myself,” said Amanda.

We were surprised by the small number of students participating in the competition, particularly because of its broad criteria for eligibility. When I spoke to other friends from university about it, they hadn’t even heard of such an opportunity. Even after we discussed it, many did not apply because they believed they didn’t have a chance at winning.

Before our team discovered that we were one of the winners, we felt exactly the same way. “I, and I think all four of us, didn’t actually think we were going to win. We put our best effort into it but it was still the Munk School of Global Affairs. Schools like Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson balk at some of the research Munk does,” said Siddhartha.

“It seemed too good to be true,” added Amanda.

But here we are eight months later: our team won the competition, traveled independently to India, spent four weeks in Mumbai doing preliminary research in one of the biggest slums in Asia, and now we’re in the process of writing an academic paper and getting published. I also now work as a research facilitator for the student-run conference InDePth: Asian Cities, hosted by the Munk School’s Asian Institute.

This is my second time doing an undergraduate degree, so I am learning from the mistakes I made during my first one, when I never got involved in an extracurricular activity unless it promised to add value to my resume. ITAC was different: I got involved because it was something I was passionate about. Winning the competition did provide us with an invaluable life experience, and also added value to our resumes, but this was never the goal. I believe it was our team’s passion that led us to success.

“People volunteer for the sake of volunteering and at the expense of their passion. There is always something at U of T for one’s passion. It is just a question of finding who is offering it, not whether it is being offered,” said Siddhartha.

University life offers an incredible amount of opportunities. Every day, different departments at U of T offer discussions on various topics, so many of which are free. Perhaps there is a problem with advertising, leaving many students unaware of these opportunities, but it is important to take matters in your own hands and get involved anyway.

“I think other students are not aware of how easy it is to get involved. They think, as I did, that every club on campus is very serious and time consuming. That there are set structures in place, and things can only get done by a certain type of people… not true!” said Alexandra.

He admitted that taking on the ITAC was initially intimidating, but the key is to stop looking at things from afar and get involved. When you’re immersed in the process and making your way through one step at a time, it no longer seems as immense or terrifying, and most importantly, you’ll be able to enjoy it. ITAC is now open for submissions for 2017-18 — if you’re passionate about exploring a topic it covers, who knows where the experience might take you.