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.

LGBTOUT to intervene in Supreme Court case

Campus group heads to Ottawa for case concerning discrimination, religious freedom

LGBTOUT to intervene in Supreme Court case

Campus group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 to act as an intervenor on a court case involving Trinity Western University.

The university’s law school was denied accreditation from the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society in British Columbia, which cited discrimination due to the school’s policy requiring students to sign a covenant forbidding homosexual acts. Trinity Western subsequently appealed the decisions; the BC law society’s decision to refuse accreditation was overruled by the BC court of appeals, but the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision. As a result, the case will now go before the Supreme Court of Canada.

LGBTOUT was approached by lawyers involved in the case to ask them to act as intervenors. An intervenor on a Supreme Court case is meant to provide perspective that the two parties involved do not bring to the case. In this instance, LGBTOUT was deemed to help bring the perspective of LGBTQ+ students.

LGBTOUT is the longest-standing student LGBTQ+ group in Canada. “We are an LGBT student group, so we’re hoping that our arguments that we make show that LGBT students’ voices are being represented,” said Gaby Garcia-Casanova, the group’s Public Relations Director.

Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor who specializes in religious law, argues that, if there are a limited number of potential law school positions in Canada and a whole law school’s worth of positions are available under the condition where they would be required to sign the covenant, then there may be a basis for discrimination.

The most relevant precedent to this case was Trinity Western’s teaching school. The British Columbia College of Teachers refused to accredit the teacher training programs on the same basis as the Law Society of Upper Canada — that the covenant was discriminatory. In this earlier case, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the university.

Moon believes that Trinity Western will base a large portion of their argument on this earlier ruling.

For its application, LGBTOUT was required to compile all of its arguments into a factum that they submitted to the Supreme Court in the form of an application.

Initially, its request to leave to intervene was denied. Chief Justice Wagner overturned the decision and released a statement explaining that it had come to the decision that its perspective should be included in the hearing.

The hearing, scheduled to be held from November 30 to December 1, will determine whether Trinity Western has the freedom to receive accreditation with the covenant in place or if the Law Society of Upper Canada is correct in its claim that the policy is discriminatory.