U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Vice-Provost declines to comment on reports, says campus police are trained in “de-escalation”

U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

At the University Affairs board meeting on November 13, Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh was met with questions about the recent allegations that a student was handcuffed by UTM Campus Police while seeking help during a mental health crisis. Welsh declined to comment on the specifics of the case but clarified that such instances would be separate from the university-mandated leave of absence policy, and also defended campus police training.


According to an article in The Medium, later reported by the CBC News, a U of T student sought help for suicidal ideation at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC), and was handcuffed when the the HCC called campus police on the evening of October 2. 

The student arrived at the HCC with a friend and developed a safety plan with a nurse. Before she could leave, she was informed that it was protocol to speak with campus police. The student was then handcuffed and arrested when she disclosed that she was having suicidal thoughts. 

The Varsity has yet to independently verify the reported allegations.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) condemned the decision by the HCC to call the police. “The UTMSU believes that this student should have been approached with care and compassion, not handcuffs,” reads the press release.  

University responds at UAB

Responding to a question from full-time undergraduate member Daman Singh, the former Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and an advocate for the UMLAP, Welsh declined to comment on the details reported in the two articles, but did say that the mandated leave policy was about concerning behaviour and that it would be irrelevant in a situation where a student is being taken to the hospital. 

Welsh, along with UTM Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal, Student Services Mark Overton, reiterated that police are there to assist in extreme cases and work in accordance with the province’s Mental Health Act.

In response to a member questioning the “authority and knowledge” of campus police to “put people in handcuffs,” Welsh replied that campus police officers are trained in de-escalation and work closely with the health and wellness offices of the three campuses.

A university spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Varsity, “Campus police become involved when an individual makes specific statements that indicates they have an intention to do harm such as suicide and are unwilling to go to the hospital.”

“U of T is reviewing its police practices in this respect. Our existing practices are consistent with those of local municipal forces.”

Community responses

The UTSU endorsed the UTMSU’s statement, writing that they “stand in solidarity,” and described the incident as an “injustice.” Other campus organizations including the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students and the U of T Students’ Law Society also supported the statement. 

Spadina—Fort York MPP, Chris Glover, condemned the incident, writing: “What is the state of our services on campus if students looking for mental health support are turned away and led in handcuffs.” Glover also criticized the Ford government for removing services and thereby creating barriers to success for postsecondary students. 

UTSU President Joshua Bowman weighed in with a tweet asking “What university can stand by a protocol that actually “arrests” a student seeking help”? 

Diana Yoon, former federal candidate for Spadina—Fort York, described the traumatic experience of being sent to the emergency room “without any reasonable discussion” after seeking help for mental health issues from a guidance counsellor while in high school. Yoon declared that it is “outrageous to see this now from UTM.”

This story is developing, more to follow.

If you or someone you know is in distress, 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.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

UTM plans for five capital construction projects

Enrolment growth, research goals prompted need for new infrastructure

UTM plans for five capital construction projects

The UTM Campus Council announced plans for new and ongoing capital construction projects for the 2019–2020 academic year on October 2.

Of the $274.5 million net operating budget of 2019–2020, $44.6 million will be allocated toward capital construction projects.

The Arts, Culture & Technology (ACT) Building; Robotics Lab Environment; a new residence building; and the Annex are in early planning stages, while construction for the Science Building is expected to begin later this fall.

“[The] Annex will be a new modular building located beside our current Academic Annex… and will house Campus Police and Hospitality Services,” Chief Administrative Officer Saher Fazilat wrote in an email to The Varsity.

According to Fazilat, $41.5 million out of $44.6 million will go toward the proposed ACT Building, and the remaining $3.1 million to “a project in [the] Davis [Building].”

The proposed ACT Building will house several departments, like the Institute for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, Computer Science, Robotics, and units like the Blackwood Gallery and the Indigenous Centre.

According to Fazilat, the proposed construction projects are a response to enrollment growth.

UTM plans for a five per cent undergraduate enrollment growth by the 2022–2023 academic year, according to the Planning and Budget Office’s 2018 Enrolment Report.

14,544 full-time undergraduate students are enrolled in full-time studies at UTM this year, a 630 student increase from the office’s projected enrollment goals for UTM.

New intake of full-time undergraduate students “won’t increase over fall 2019 levels,” wrote Fazilat.

Yet, this increase has prompted a need for more student spaces, like a new residence building.

“There are very few available residence spaces for upper-year students and fewer still for graduate students,” wrote Fazilat.

Fazilat also wrote that the proposed construction projects aim “to enhance our research agenda.”

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Director of Continuum Robotics Laboratory, has been working with UTM to plan the proposed Robotics Lab Environment since she was hired in June.

“Having a building that had our needs in mind from the beginning will be transformational, so [that] our robotics program can really be the best and the biggest in Canada,” said Brugner-Kahrs in an interview with The Varsity. “And that will be great for UTM and U of T in general.”

The Science Building, “one of the largest capital projects at U of T,”  will house the Centre for Medicinal Chemistry, wet research laboratories, the Research Computing Data Centre, offices for science departments, and space for facilities support.

Upward of $20 million in funding for the Science Building was approved by the Governing Council in 2017.

The building will be located between the Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex and the Davis Building, and is expected to be completed by 2023.

Alvin Singh remembered for his kindness, teaching excellence

UTM alum and OISE graduate student died from cancer in September

Alvin Singh remembered for his kindness, teaching excellence

Alvinder Pal Singh, better known as Alvin, was a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a teaching assistant (TA) at UTM. He died on September 13 from cancer. He was 30 years old. 

Singh was diagnosed with cancer over the summer and was “left without an income for the foreseeable future,” according to a GoFundMe page set up by Cindy Short, the lab coordinator at the Department of Biology at UTM, to help support Singh while he underwent treatment.  

The fundraiser raised $33,700 from 719 people since it was posted on August 30. Following Singh’s death, Short posted an update on September 14, noting that the funds would be given to his surviving family.

In July, Singh was scheduled to attend a science education conference.

“He was late getting there because he was getting his cancer diagnosis at Sunnybrook Hospital that morning, and he still came to the conference,” Fiona Rawle, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, said to The Varsity. “He said that he didn’t want to let anything dictate what was important to him.”

Singh’s teaching career started in the summer of 2011. He was a TA for 15 courses in the Department of Biology, six in the Department of Mathematical & Computational Sciences, and one in the Department of Psychology. 

He taught a total of 93 sessions, which included tutorials and labs, from 2011–2019, and was also a guest lecturer in three courses at the Department of Biology.

Singh was a TA in Rawle’s courses for several years and worked as one of her research assistants. 

“He wanted to be in charge of what was important to him,” said Rawle. “And he put so much of himself into… what was important to him.”

Singh was awarded the June Scott Teaching Excellence Award for Teaching Assistants for 2013–2014. The award recognizes TAs for demonstrating enthusiasm for a subject, engaging with students, and encouraging them to learn the course material. 

“He wanted to make students feel at ease and he wanted to support them,” said Rawle. “He’s well known for long colour-coded emails and detailed instructions to students that are quite helpful, and also in midterms and exams, he would be the one to do all the announcements.”

The comments on Singh’s fundraiser also attest to Singh’s penchant for teaching. 

Alvin was a warm and supportive TA, and he made me feel like I could succeed. He will be missed so much,” wrote Heba Faroohki, a former student of Singh. 

Faroohki’s comment is just one of 113 from people who have left comments on the fundraiser’s page. 

“The fact that there have been hundreds of grieving students on campus really shows how many people [Singh] touched,” said Rawle. “You could see that in everything he did, in terms of teaching students — he wouldn’t just teach them the content of the course.”

“He was really concerned about how they were learning and what their experience was like, and how he can make it better for them.” 

Christoph Richter, a professor in the Department of Biology who worked with Singh, echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Varsity. Richter teaches introductory biology courses, including BIO153: Diversity of Organisms. 

That happened to be the first course that Singh taught in the summer of 2011. It would also be the last course he would teach, in the spring of 2019. 

“He was really concerned and worried and cared a lot about the students that he interacted with,” said Richter. “He would do office hours until late at night; he would just be totally committed to the… students.”

Singh’s love for education began at a young age.

Short recalled a speech at the memorial service given by Singh’s brother. “At his memorial service, [he]… talked about how Alvin, even at a young age, would teach [Alvin’s brother] and so he put together… different lessons,” said Short to The Varsity. “[Singh] would develop his own courses, and he would put together syllabi for his make-believe courses and he would make tests for his brother to do.” 

According to Rawle, Singh was also known for carrying around a notebook with him with a quote that read: “Wherever you are, be all there. Be present.” 

Rawle knew that Singh liked the quote because she observed that when Singh finished one notebook, he would cut out the quote and move it to the next one. 

“That, to me, is what Alvin was,” she said. “Alvin was present… he would always focus on you and give you his full attention.”

“Alvin really made [students] feel valued, and made them feel important. [He] made them feel like they could succeed.” 

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Transition period, designated smoking areas lead to a cleaner campus, healthier students

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Following the legalization of cannabis last October, U of T announced plans to ban smoking on all campuses by the start of 2019. According a report by the Canadian Cancer Society, the legalization of marijuana “will pose a challenge for campuses that are not 100% smoke-free, and provides further rationale for adoption of a comprehensive smoke-free policy.”

Few need a reminder of the negative impacts of smoking. Health classes from elementary school to high school extensively cover the adverse effects that smoking can have on your body. Furthermore, cigarette packages feature grotesque images, tragic stories, and startling facts that warn buyers of their harmful nature. And yet, Statistics Canada reports that smoking is still “the leading cause of premature death in Canada.”

Smokers between the ages of 18–34 account for 19.2 per cent of all smokers in Canada, making up the second largest age group for smokers. This translates to 1.5 million people, a number which has remained consistent between 2017 and 2018.

While the common perception may be that smoking poses more harm to the smoker than to those around them, smoking affects all. Non-smokers experience an almost equivalent risk as smokers, since “Most of the smoke from a lit cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker. It fills the air around the smoker. This endangers everyone in the area.”

Many students, myself included, can attest to the plumes of cigarette smoke that used to cloud the entrances of many buildings. At UTM this is particularly true of the Instructional Centre. Smokers would congregate less than the regulated nine metres away from the entrance, with puffs of grey smoke billowing from the butts of their lit cigarettes. We, the non-smokers, trekked to class with breaths held and steps hurried in order to avoid inhaling any of the over-4,000 chemicals present in the cigarettes.

Designated smoking areas

With the smoking ban and the introduction of designated smoking areas, I saw a decline in the number of smokers assembling in front of the building entrances. Moreover, students previously burdened by the smoke-filled air can now take a breath of fresh air thanks to the ban.

Conversely, for smokers who have become used to the designated smoking areas, the end of the transitional phase may raise concerns. Designated smoking areas are a decent remedy, but they unfortunately fail to address the real issue: the addictive nature of nicotine and nature of withdrawal, both of which will not dissipate like vapour with the smoke-free policy.

The physical effects of smoking

In recent weeks, a number of newspapers reported on the surge of vaping-related deaths in the US, with 34 deaths reported this year. Much of the marketing for vaping frames it as a “cessation tool,” despite there being little research on its effects on health. One user cited the switch to e-cigarettes as a measure to stave off cigarettes. This unsubstantiated narrative of e-cigarettes being a safer alternative has encouraged its popularity, especially among young people.

More frightening is the fact that more than half of the 1,604 cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes were under the age of 25.

The Ontario Lung Association reports that in Ontario, “13,000 people are killed annually by smoking, which translates to 36 people a day.”

The troubling and unfortunate reality is that smoking kills.

Governing bodies

Universities exercise the right to govern student bodies when their actions negatively affect other students. While students should, and do, have the right to choose whether they smoke or not, inhaling secondhand smoke is an involuntary action and policies such as this one offer a way to protect these students.

Additionally, for university students concerned about their GPA, studies by the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium have found that “students who use tobacco are shown to have lower GPA’s than those who do not.”

The smoking ban seeks to further the university’s goal of a cleaner and healthier campus. However, a more in-depth study on the reasons for smoking may be beneficial to promote healthier lifestyles and address the real concerns behind smoking.

Belicia Chevolleau is a fourth-year Communication, Culture, and Information Technology student at UTM.

UTM: Reporting on Trump, the Fords and the Facts with Daniel Dale

Award-winning reporter Daniel Dale has built his career on fact-checking politicians. At the 2019 Snider Lecture, Dale will share his stories about his time at CNN and the Toronto Star covering Donald Trump, Rob Ford and Doug Ford. He’ll focus on his fact-checking work—why he started it and kept doing it, why facts still matter in this era, why it’s important to call a lie a lie, how people across the spectrum have reacted to what he does and how the media is still failing in handling political dishonesty. He’ll also offer some advice to citizens about how they can contribute to a fact-based discourse.

This event is open to the general public.

Register online to attend in-person or watch the live-stream: https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/snider-lecture/

Justin Trudeau announces full, costed Liberal platform at UTM Town Hall

Plan includes tax cuts, increased student grants

Justin Trudeau announces full, costed Liberal platform at UTM Town Hall

Liberal Party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his party’s full platform at a town hall event held this Sunday at UTM. In it, he set out a “real plan for the middle class.” The platform is set to increase spending on student grants, child benefits, and the environment by billions of dollars, at the expense of the wealthiest one per cent of Canadians. He also took questions from students, community members, and the press.

Restructuring of student grants

In introducing his plan to support students, Trudeau brought up Premier Doug Ford’s changes to education in Ontario.

“Doug Ford slashes education funding and makes it near impossible to pay for tuition.”

Under a Liberal government, Trudeau vowed to increase the Canada Student Grants by another 40 per cent, a move he claims will provide students with an additional $1,200 per year for tuition, books, and rent. The maximum Canada Student Grant will be raised to $4,200, up from $3,000.

He will also institute a two-year interest-free grace period with a minimum $35,000 income requirement, which is an increase from the previous six-month grace period. This means that even after the two-year grace period elapses, students will not have to start their student loan repayments until they are making at least $35,000 a year. Parents with student debt will also have the option to freeze their loan payments until their child reaches the age of five.

When asked about her thoughts on Trudeau’s plan for students, UTM student Maha Taieldien said in an interview with The Varsity, “I think it’s a step in the right direction. There’s obviously a lot more that they can do, but it’s baby steps.”

Tax cuts for the middle class

Trudeau kicked off the event with a scathing criticism of conservative politics, both federal and provincial.

“When he was campaigning, Doug Ford said that not a single person would lose their job to pay for his massive cuts. Well, tell that to the 10,000 Ontario teachers who are losing their jobs. Andrew Scheer is asking you to double down on Conservatives. That’s twice the handouts for big polluters and the wealthy, and twice the cuts for you and your family.”

In response, he promised to make Canadian lives more affordable. He plans to achieve this with tax cuts for the middle class — cuts that he claims will save the average family $600 a year and lift 38,000 Canadians out of poverty.

In addition, the platform, which was titled “Forward: A Real Plan for the Middle Class,” aims to cut phone bills by 25 per cent, provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for families who wish to retrofit their homes, and boost the Canada Child Benefit so that families with newborns will receive up to $1,000 more in payments.

On climate action

Trudeau said that Canada will reach net zero emissions by 2050 under his government, and that fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out by 2025.

“In the process, we’ll become world leaders in clean technology.”

He also defended his Liberal government’s move to greenlight the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, promising that profits from the pipeline will go directly back to funding clean energy projects and an initiative to plant two billion trees in the next decade.

“I’m glad that they’re doing something about it but I just feel like 2050 is very far into the future,” noted Taieldien.

Emphasizing the point of her fellow classmate, UTM student Amanda Hammad said, “especially based on how much limited time we have, I agree, it’s something that needs to be done sooner.”

Media response

When taking questions from the press, Trudeau faced multiple queries regarding how he plans to fund his tax cuts and benefits for students and the middle class, while continuing to work toward a balanced budget.

His answers often repeated the same sentiment that increased investment in the middle class would result in greater economic output. These answers weren’t well received by journalists who were looking for specific plans on when and how Trudeau might curb his spending.

Trudeau also faced scrutiny for continuously mentioning Doug Ford, a provincial politician. One journalist asked if Trudeau was attempting to associate Ford with Scheer. In response, Trudeau noted that, “Mr. Scheer is the person who has associated himself with Doug Ford.”

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

Efforts to engage students are meaningful, organized, direct

UTM’s support for the Global Climate Strike sets an important example for other campuses

This September, individuals and organizations around the world will join together in a global demonstration to demand climate action and an end to the age of fossil fuels. U of T’s Mississauga campus has been involved in organizing events in support of the Global Climate Strike. For instance, UTM held a banner-making workshop in preparation for the walkout on September 20. On both September 20 and 27, people from around the world will have walked out of homes, schools, and workplaces to show their dissatisfaction over inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

UTM is helping along the strike by sharing resources and information on the movement, and hosting teach-ins, talks, and workshops throughout the week. UTSG administration hasn’t released any statements on the issue, though Faculty of Arts & Science Dean Melanie Woodin sent an email on September 22 in support of the strike.

By supporting this cause, UTM is showing that it is listening to the concerns of its students and taking the climate crisis seriously. Its support of this movement conveys that it understands the importance of climate action, especially for young people. While climate change will affect everyone, it is young people who are particularly distraught, as their entire futures are under urgent  threat.

As a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a United Nations body — report stated, the world only has between one and three decades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically before we face catastrophic climate destruction.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student, is the face of youth activism against the climate crisis today. Thunberg, like millions of students around the world, sees everything that she works and strives toward, including her education and her future career, being in jeopardy due to the actions — and inactions — of corporations, politicians, and individuals. The Global Climate Strike is a demand from young people around the world to world leaders for an urgent response to the climate crisis and divestment from fossil fuel industries to world leaders.

By supporting this cause and encouraging involvement in climate action, UTM is acting as a visible leader in the fight against the climate crisis. It is validating the concerns of its student body, and in doing so, it shows that it does not view its students merely as masses of numbers or tuition checks, but recognizes them as the future of this country and the world at large.

Recently, U of T moved up to be the 18th-best university in the world, according to Times Higher Education. Students at this university are some of the brightest around the globe, and have the potential to affect positive change in whatever they choose to pursue. By participating in this movement, UTM is not just supporting climate action; it is safeguarding the future of its students. This stance is one that UTSG and UTSC should follow as well, because when you encourage young people to advocate for their future, they will be that much more empowered to change this world for the better.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

U of T Career Fair 2019

Explore employment opportunities with more than 100 diverse and global organizations. University of Toronto students from all years, all fields of study and campuses are invited, as well as recent grads.