Emergency needs for students are being assessed from person to person as some face displacement and food insecurity By Anna Wdowczyk Ryerson University and the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) have implemented various supports for those affected by the electrical fire at Neill-Wycik Co-operative College. The three-alarm electrical fire happened on the evening of Nov. 2. The fire started on the second floor and spread to other parts of the building. Police officers and fire crews arrived just before 11 p.m. that night. Although they successfully put out the fire, the building still has damages that haven’t been resolved. Neill-Wycik isn’t a Ryerson residence building, but their website says it’s home to over 750 students. This includes current Ryerson students and alumni. Building residents have been affected to varying degrees, so Ryerson has been deciding on how to help each student on a “case-bycase basis,” according to vice-provost Jen McMillen.
“The RSU has taken a lot of weight off our shoulders” Some individuals, like Ryerson graduate Idi Qinami, had to find new places to live. Qinami used to bounce back and forth between living in Neill-Wycik and with his parents in Etobicoke. Now, he has no choice but to stay with his parents “while [NeillWycik is] fixing everything.” He said the situation is an “inconvenience,” but he’s fortunate enough to have family support during the emergency. “I’m not affected as much as other people who don’t have their parents so close,” Qinami said. For current students that needed another place to stay, temporary accommodations were made available in residence, according to Ryerson’s website. McMillen said the highest number of fire victims living in residence at once was 58. The accommodation was intended to only last for a week, but McMillen said they added a one-week-long extension for students who didn’t have anywhere else to go. Students received access to temporary meal plans during their stay as well. Some Wycik residents have also been struggling to stay on top of school work as the building’s wifi has been an issue since the fire. Graham said a “fiber optic connection” problem in the building’s basement has led to unstable inter-
net access. Since many students study online now, this issue drove a lot of residents to move away. Students who stayed downtown but didn’t have anywhere to study were directed to the Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC) so they could “have a safe place to go where they could access wifi,” according to McMillen. On Nov. 23, the SLC closed due to increased lockdown measures in Toronto. The space is “available to those in extenuating circumstances who can attest to the essential need to study on campus,” according to the building’s website. Students have also been able to borrow the university’s laptops for completing work. Those that find themselves struggling financially may receive emergency funding. The RSU established the Neill-Wycik Emergency Relief Grant to aid students who were impacted by the fire. The grant was announced on social media and offers qualifying students with up to $400, according to the form. The form also says it’s “a one-time solution,” so students won’t be able to access it “on an ongoing basis.” “I know that it’s a lot of money that’s being made available for our members, so we’re really grateful to the Ryerson Students’ Union for that,” said Josh Graham, a NeillWycik coordinator. Graham added that the RSU has “taken a lot of weight off of our shoulders,” because he doesn’t think the building is able to match that level of funding. Grant applications closed on Nov. 14. Eligible individuals are RSU members, full-time students and residents of Neill-Wycik Co-operative Housing. These students must have “faced difficulties due to the recent fire incident.” The form says the amount of funding per student depends on personal circumstances and the volume of applications. Financial support has also been offered to some students by the university itself. McMillen said some residents were evacuated without important materials, like phones and wallets, so the school was able to cover a few of their expenses right after the fire. Food vouchers were also distributed for those who didn’t know where they would get their next meal. McMillen said one of Ryerson’s partners, Salad King, provided email vouchers immediately. The university also had some grocery carts available for students to combat food insecurity. Neill-Wycik also started their own virtual fundraiser on gofund-
PHOTO: LORENZA DE BENEDICTIS
me.com. They’ve surpassed their goal of raising $8,000 by more than $1,000 and counting. Graham said this fundraiser is important because residents are struggling for various reasons: some don’t have rent insurance, many need constant wifi access for online learning and others were already “financially vulnerable” before the fire. The proceeds will go directly to building residents. According to the fundraiser webpage, every donation “could mean the difference between having food and safety for a very large number of people.” Ryerson acknowledged on their website that students affected by the fire may have lower attendance and limited time for completing their work. Affected students can ask their instructors or departments for accommodations. McMillen said the university has tried to help students with navigating tough conversations about extensions from faculty.
“Concerns expressed in building management and maintenance” When the fire happened, students were asked to evacuate the building immediately. The university found out about the fire the night it happened when some students walked into residence looking for help on Nov. 2, according to McMillen. Staff greeted these students and helped them figure out what to do next given the emergency situation. The next morning, McMillen
said they started looking for all Ryerson students who were affected by the fire. They called all students who identify Neill-Wycik as their place of residence in their records, reaching over 100 students. To ensure no one was excluded, they put out various social media posts to let everyone know help is available at the university. McMillen said the university immediately took on a “multi-pronged approach” to help students “figure out what the next steps would be.” This meant looking at their indivudual circumstances. For example, some students couldn’t benefit from living in residence temporarily since they moved hours away from campus to live with parents. But they had other unmet needs, so McMillen said the university tried to focus on seeing what they could do to help each individual. As of now, McMillen said “there is some damage to the building and ongoing electrical issues.” She added that the main problems are power and water issues, since the building’s power is produced by a generator. Another limitation is that only the west stairs can be used right now. According to McMillen, students who use temporary residence spaces in light of these challenges won’t be charged. Additional students on campus don’t compromise anyone’s safety because the university had some empty spots to begin with. As most emergency resources are currently temporary, McMillen said Ryerson is working with the City of Toronto to come up with “longerterm planning.” Graham said the fire has been difficult to cope with because some
residents were already suffering financially due to COVID-19. Now, there are several residents who face food insecurity since the fire has made things worse for them. The pandemic is like “the crisis behind the crisis,” said Graham. Graham confirmed there were other electrical issues at NeillWycik over the years. But he said it hasn’t been found that those past issues had any correlation with the cause of the fire. Cory Swick, a Ryerson chemical engineering graduate and resident of Neill-Wycik for roughly 25 years, said he’s worried about his “personal safety” in his “own home,” and expressed concerns in building management and maintenance.
“The sense of community might be a little stronger now” Nonetheless, he acknowledged “it could’ve been way, way worse.” He said, “we’re lucky that no people or pets were injured or far worse.” Qinami also said he found a positive way to look at the situation. “I think the sense of community might be a little stronger now because of what happened.” “There’s a lot of information going around and everyone’s just trying to help each other out,” Qinami said. For some, this means communicating a lot on social media. He said a lot of “people are more active on the Facebook group.” “When events like this happen, it kind of brings people closer together because we all share the same problem.”
This poem is by Robert Molloy (he/they), who is in his last semester of politics & governance. They were the Trans Collective Coordinator at the Ryerson Students’ Union for two years.
On the 22nd of each month my period tracker application reminds me, “Your cycle is starting” Distant echoes of an upturned grin. When I started Hormone Replacement Therapy My uterus would concave at its vibration a phantom contraction. I didn’t remove the application. The uninstall option is a pulling of fingertips. A silent ‘no.’ A promise of a femme returning. menstruation is the body releasing tissue that is no longer needed. The uterus contracts presses the blood vessels takes away oxygen. The body choking the body. My unwanted guest leaves red stains on the doormat. The definition of redolent is “someone or something that brings back strong memories.” The smell of fresh flowers is redolent of spring. Pain in my abdomen is redolent of full days spent curled on sofas, Advil and dark salted chocolate’s swallowing The first drip of shedding came in white kiprees with mother connected by telephone cord
an hour and a half into the future
The 21st became preparation for the evacuation. Tracking a space for repetition. My body is pink yarn tangled hormones. Is the stains left behind. Is redolent of itself. The app is designed to understand how your body works. Redolence of what others face. To prepare you for “what’s to come.” Instruction book based genetics holds the leftover parts from mechanics. Prediction of tender organs My identity is both waxing and waning. A retracing of a sketch. Fibonacci sequenced into knots. App reminds me of my ‘fertile window.’ The most optimal time for genetic code. Emphasis of the binary presses for a seat at my identity’s table. My notification buzzes. “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while. Want to catch up?” Uterus contracts presses the blood vessels again. Wringing itself in confusion. 16 months into transition I am Depth cleaning’s redolence My period doorstepped. I become calories pain medication chromosomes.
red fragment and ripped tissue.
Doctor says my body could be “rejecting” the testosterone Redolent of its monthly ritual. She suggests a different brand of masculinity. I am reminded of gaining knuckle bruises and greying hairs The loss of soprano and girl reckless. App says, “I am happy you are back” A declaration’s arrival, a floodgate’s retrospection. I clean with hydrogen peroxide. Run cold water over my seams.
DATE: December 3, 2020 TIME: Speeches at 6 p.m.
Election rules •
Arts and culture editor, Fun and • Satire editor, Media editor, News editor, Photo editor, Online editor •
David Jardine Sarah Tomlinson Manuela Vega Julia Mlodzik Peyton Mott Eli Savage Kayla Zhu Serena Lopez Alethea Ng Reedah Hayder Edward Djan Anna Wdowczyk
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CHANGE IS COMING
EDITORIAL: The revolution will be live By Rhea Singh and Kiernan Green
This year gave us a Friday the 13th that certainly lived up to the hype. March 13 was the day Ryerson transitioned to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walking home from campus, we saw students gathered in groups, others talking into their phones and more than one trying to run somewhere—all of them were in some state of panic. The disaster we hoped we’d only have to read about quickly became a controlling factor in our lives.
“Only young folks, collectively, can decide what that change will be” Since then, both of us have lived together in a 100 plus year-old house right by campus and will be locked down here with our house rat Remy for the next month. (Rhea has been vibing under the dining room table, listening to Dido, while Kiernan has been transcending on the regular to drum and bass.) This has been our reality for the past eight months. On the out-
side, life sometimes feels like it’s at a standstill; like every day is the same. But if we look closely, behind our tiny screens is a new type of action we have never seen before. We’ve known since March that change is in store for us, across the country and the world. What we couldn’t have imagined is that only young folks, collectively, can decide what that change will be. Since May, collectives and movements have used online platforms to get the masses to mobilize. The country saw Black Lives Matter (BLM) Canada had taken to the streets in June and witnessed online when Indigenous land defenders formed blockades while occupying Haudenosaunee territory at 1492 Land Back Lane. The pandemic may have halted time for some, but for these groups, time is of the essence. To go back to ‘normal’ is to go back to constant oppression, racism and violations of basic human rights. For marginalized people, ‘normal’ is not the comfort of clubs, restaurants, or life as it once was. ‘Normal’ doesn’t hold people in power accountable. If in March we knew the world could not go back to normal, by May we were imagining what could come next. We imagined affordable housing for ourselves
Movers, shakers, changemakers MANAGING EDITORS
Rhea Singh WRITERS WEB DEVELOPER
Abeer Khan Mariam Nouser
Read the full issue online at:
| PHOTO: KIERNAN GREEN
and those experiencing homelessness, institutions held accountable to their decades of prejudice and how we could emerge from this crisis with renewed vigor against climate change. We damn-well demanded dignity, equity and peace—once, for all and forever— for people who are Black and Indigenous across the world.
“‘Normal’ doesn’t hold people in power accountable” But of course, we’ve seen Ontario Provincial Police arrest land defenders like Skylar Williams and Courtney Skye; saw Jenna Reid, Danielle Smith and Daniel Gooch charged for tagging the Egerton Ryerson statue on Ryerson’s campus; and encampments raided by Toronto police across the parks in the city. Fighting for change comes at a cost, but the fight persists. Social media disseminates the message of justice and allowed for these stories to be told. It spawned rallies, protests, food donations, large bodies of people marching and occupying to protest alongside them.
Civil rights icon James Baldwin wrote that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Currently, without a vaccine, we know that COVID-19 can’t be changed. But through the reality of this pandemic, we’ve faced how much in our unequal society that we must change and just how worthy the fight is for that possibility alone. That’s exactly what the stories in this issue are all about: the miraculous “how” and the indisputable “why” people are fighting for systemic change in the midst of it all. More than just knowing these issues exist, we want you to think about how they’ve come to be in the first place, why they’ve persisted for so long and what it will take to address them. Your phone isn’t
just a chunk of metal–it’s a tool you can utilize to empower yourself and those around you, to share content that uplifts voices and spreads information. The power lies in our hands.
“Change is coming; what it looks like is up to you” Through these months, we’ve watched as our friends and family learned, discussed and even cried through these small screens. All we want to do is hold them close, but we first have to hold them and ourselves accountable. Like it or not, change is coming; what it looks like is up to you.
A who’s who in the history of Canadian activism By Mariam Nouser Activism has long-standing roots in Canada, with many notable activists being Black, Indigenous or persons of colour. From advocating for civil rights, access to safe drinking water, or proper representation in the media and the government, these activists have helped pave the way for change within their communities and beyond. Charles (Charlie) Roach (1933 – 2012) A lawyer by profession and an activist by passion, Roach was a trailblazer in organizing demonstrations for equal rights for Black Canadians. His passion for advocating for his community inspired him to start a law firm in his name in 1968, which represented asylum seekers from the United States—including members of the Black Panthers and those avoiding the Vietnam draft—and Canadian labourers at risk of deportation. Roach also founded the Black Action Defence Committee in 1988 in response to numerous police killings of Black folks in years prior. Roach was born in Trinidad and Tobago and brought his cultural roots to Toronto’s art scene by opening the club Little Trinidad, and founding the original Caribana parade in the 1960s, separate from the city of Toronto. He died in 2012 before he was able to become a Canadian citizen.
Leonard (Lenny) Johnston (1918 – 1998) Johnston was born in Toronto to Jamaican parents in 1918. He dreamed of owning a bookstore that catered to Black authors and readers, and would eventually see that dream come true. While working at a Toronto railyard, he set aside what he could from his monthly paycheque of $16. With those savings, Johnson eventually opened up Third World Books in November 1968. Beyond being a spot to find a good read, the bookstore was also a place for public discussions on socialism and encouragement for Black youth to enter academic discussion. Following Johnston’s death in 1998, the bookstore was closed in 2000, but it paved the way for others like it, such as A Different Booklist. Alanis Obomsawin (b. 1932) Born in the U.S. in 1932, Obomsawin settled in Canada with her mother when she was six months old. Obomsawin is one of the most well-known Indigenous film directors in the world. Her first short film for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) entitled “Christmas at the Moose Factory” came out in 1971. Since then she has directed over 50 films, including several NFB documentaries on Indigenous peoples. One of her films, The People of the Kattawapiskak River, explored the situation in Attawapiskat First Nation after a state of emergency was
declared in October 2011 due to a housing crisis. She also documented the Oka crisis in 1990. Autumn Peltier (b. 2004) Peltier is a 16-year-old from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and is known for her water and climate activism. She started advocating for clean water for several Indigenous communities globally at age 14— specifically on the issue of unsafe drinking water, which is a systemic problem happening in many First Nations. According to Water Today, there are 104 active water advisories in Ontario alone. Peltier also gained recognition for her opposition to prime minister Justin Trudeau and the Trans Mountain pipeline and is Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishnabek Nation. Jim Egan (1921 - 2000) In the late 1980s, Egan was dubbed Canada’s first LGBT activist for his publication of long-form articles on the gay experience in the country and for serving as Canada’s first openly gay politician. He and his partner, Jack Nesbit, were the first same-sex couple to apply for the Old Age Security spousal allowance in 1988, which resulted in sexual orientation being written in as protected grounds of discrimination in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Egan was a lifelong advocate for LGBT rights until his death in Courtenay, BC in 2000.
CHANGE IS COMING
As winter approaches, what happens to Toronto’s homeless encampments? Public parks have become a means of survival for unhoused people as housing crisis and pandemic intersect
By Shannon Schaefer A walk through the Alexandra Park neighbourhood, located near Dundas and Bathurst streets, reveals 30 to 50 tents of varying sizes that have been set up around the grounds. Moss Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park and Allan Gardens are similar public spaces that have become a means of survival for hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. The city’s homelessness crisis is not new. In the last five years, the number of people using Toronto shelters has increased by 69 per cent, according to a 2019 report from the Toronto Foundation. Problems affecting the homeless community have only compounded during the pandemic due to a lack of social support from both the provincial and federal governments. “The pandemic has amplified the homelessness crisis that we were already facing. And it’s not just that we’ve got a homeless crisis, we also have an affordable housing crisis,” said New Democratic Party member of provincial parliament Chris Glover, who represents Spadina-Fort York.
“The pandemic the homelessness crisis that we were already facing” What’s more, Ryerson has a responsibility to address the issue of homelessness as it relates to their campus, said Cristal Hines, a community organizer and alumni of Ryerson’s social work program. In preparation for winter, the City of Toronto announced on Oct. 6 that “the shelter system will provide more than 6,700 spaces through the city’s base shelter system and approximately 560 new spaces.” This is a 15 per cent increase from last year’s 485 new spaces. “Creating 560 new spots seems like a lot, until you realize that conservative estimates from frontline workers suggest that at least 1,000 to 1,500 people currently live outside in Toronto,” said Marianna Reis, a spokesperson for the Encampment Support Network Toronto (ESN), in a written statement to The Eyeopener. Most shelters won’t open until December when temperatures drop below freezing. “It’s too little, too late,” she said. “In the meantime, people will die outside.” One hundred new spaces were opened on Nov. 3 at Toronto’s Better Living Centre. However, residents claim they lack privacy and that conditions are “inhumane,” alleging lights are left on 24/7 and only cold water is available for showers. “Housing advocates and workers
PHOTO:ELI ELI SAVAGE SAVAGE PHOTO:
have been pushing since March, and years before, for plans that were dignified and appropriate and, in this season, that are COVID-safe,” said Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Toronto. “In a time where we are told to stay home and isolate, the City of Toronto is putting vulnerable people in congregate settings and expecting them to feel safe, dignified and supported.” “The Better Living Centre is a COVID concentration camp, to put it briefly,” said Domenico Saxida, a resident at Scadding Court encampments during ESN’s anti-eviction press conference on Nov. 8. “I’m not going to an environment where social distancing is an issue.” “I will not be intimidated by the police or the government. I’m not moving, I have the right to stay and to choose.” The Better Living Centre did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. Reis said she and fellow ESN volunteers “are terrified” for winter and “disturbed” by Toronto’s apathy to the issue. “In order for the city to develop a winter plan that meets the needs of encampment residents, they need to actually come out to encampments regularly and listen to the people living in them,” she said.
door spaces are needed for people to meet and engage...the encampments impair the use of parks by others,” Schabas said. “We anticipate that the city will ramp up its efforts to evict encampment residents and coercively relocate them to shelter-hotels and other temporary shelter sites,” said Reis. Most recently, the city began posting notices of removal onto foam domes at Moss Park, according to a Nov. 20 release from ESN. The insulated, foam-based sleep structures were constructed by ESN with other encampment support groups and community members in order to brace for colder weather. According to ESN, these structures retain warmth without relying on extra heating sources, unlike tents, which community members may keep warm through hazardous means like candles and heaters. On Nov. 21, CBC reported that Khaleel Seivwright—a Toronto carpenter who is building tiny, insulated, mobile shelters for unhoused people ahead of winter—received a warning letter from the City of Toronto, threatening legal action if the structures remained on public property. Seivwright told CBC he still intends on building the structures on private property. “Since the city refuses to provide enough shelter for everyone living “I am not moving, outside, and refuses to provide humane living conditions in the spaces I have the right it offers, the least it could do is stop to stay” criminalizing people’s efforts to survive,” ESN wrote in their statement. On Oct. 21, Ontario Superior The city of Toronto’s waitlist for Court of Justice Paul Schabas struck subsidized housing currently stands down a motion to override a bylaw at 79,700. banning people experiencing homelessness from living in parks. What can students do to help? “Parks are public resources, in“I think Ryerson is very much tended to be available and used by complicit in trying to undermine everyone. This is particularly the and minimize its capacity as an incase during the pandemic when out- stitution in helping to support this
problem,” Hines said. Since large potted plants were installed outside of Victoria Street’s Tim Hortons two years ago, Ryerson has been accused of utilizing hostile architecture to deter people experiencing homelessness from being on campus. Hostile architecture is the intentional design of public features, like benches or barriers, to restrict behaviour like sleeping or loitering, according to the Canadian Journal of
“Be proactive about welcoming encampment residents in your neighbourhoods” Urban Research. According to Ryerson’s office of Facilities, Management and Development (FMD), the potted plants were installed by the City of Toronto. “The university did not initiate, execute or take part in the installation of these planters,” the FMD office said in a written statement to The Eye. More recently, Ryerson received backlash for altering the popular Homelessness in Canadian Society (CINT908) course, in which it removed elements of re-humanization of homelessness from the curriculum, as previously reported by The Eye. “The university works closely with…many community agencies to contribute to a comprehensive approach in response to the societal issues that impact Ryerson and surrounding areas,” said FMD. This includes Toronto Public Health, Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area and the City of Toronto’s Streets to Home program. Ryerson is also involved with Furthering Our Community by Uniting Services (FOCUS), an “initiative for community safety” led by the city,
United Way and the Toronto Police Service. The partnership provides “immediate coordinated support and aims to reduce crime, victimization and harm,” according to a Ryerson Works article. Rather than reduce their offerings to solve the issue of homelessness, Hines said she thinks Ryerson should lean into its own internal and external resources. “[The university] has social work students, architecture students, people and professors who have the expertise and the capabilities...to help support these problems,” she said. The university’s relationship with the City of Toronto should also be leveraged, she said. “Ryerson has the capacity to come up with a holistic plan [for the winter] to support the homeless community.” Glover suggested students help through advocating for the homeless community. “The more pressure on this government to actually take steps to address this housing crisis, the less likely they are to delay,” said Glover, adding that more funding should go to agencies providing immediate relief to those experiencing homelessness. “Be proactive about welcoming encampment residents in your neighbourhoods—they are your neighbours too! Talk to and educate your housed neighbours and friends about the issues,” said Reis. “Respectfully offer encampment residents the material support to fulfill their basic needs and, if possible, organize locally with your peers and neighbours to provide more coordinated support.” “The neighbours have all been awesome,” said Saxida who added that it has been “volunteers and the community” supporting encampment residents by providing essentials like “tents, food, water and clothing.”
BL ACK LIVES M AT TER: from campus to canada words by serena lopez / layout by dhriti gupta visuals by alicia reid, laila amer and jimmy kwan
few days after the video of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police sparked worldwide outrage, fourth-year performance acting student Michael Wamara felt compelled to attend a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in downtown Toronto. He called his friends, left his house with a mask and rushed to the protest. Being there was a moment of release—all the anger and grief he didn’t know how to express before came to the surface. The collective frustration seen in the faces around him let him know he wasn’t alone in his fight. After that protest, the fourth-year performance acting student felt pushed to be vocal about anti-Black racism and police violence, speaking with his friends and the community. Wamara turned to his Instagram page, where he uses his passion for art to share poetry and stories against antiBlack racism. He wrote “We Can’t Breathe,” a story from his own experience in New York City. In the multiple-image post, a young Black boy is unexpectedly stopped by a police officer on the subway who hassles him for his ID before getting physical and pinning the boy to the ground. The boy’s last words are those of George Floyd and Eric Garner. In Wamara’s experience, New York City police had approached him while he was riding a Harlem subway train. He recalls seeing the worried faces of other Black people stop to watch him, wondering where the situation might go. “That boy represents everyone. It represents every little Black girl, little boy, Black child, walking the streets of anywhere in any community,” says Wamara. “What they feel on their chest and on their shoulders with what they see and who they interact with.” Wamara considers himself to be a quiet and reserved person. Growing up, when he found himself in situations where one of his peers was racist, he didn’t say anything for fear of “ruining the vibe of the room,” no matter how badly something should be said.
That’s been Wamara’s reality since elementary school. “Every time you call out that racism, someone in the room would be like ‘yo, chill out, like, it’s not that serious,’” he says. “But really it is.” Now being one of the few Black people enrolled in Ryerson’s performance acting program, Wamara felt forced to comment on race when it was brought up in class. It was in these moments Wamara first began to think about how he could find an outlet to express how being Black impacts his experience in the classroom. “I had to do something. I had to find a way to be more vocal and more clear of where I am, where I stand,” says Wamara “There comes a point where you’re not allowed to be scared anymore.”
ince the start of the pandemic, calls for action against racial injustice have surged around the world. Black and Indigenous voices have been at the forefront for demanding social change, holding authority and history to account—and students’ voices haven’t gone unheard. Laura May Lindo, NDP MPP for Kitchener Centre and member of the NDP Black Caucus, says there’s always been a strong link between university campuses and community organization. The work being done by social justice groups in the city and at large are “speaking truth to power,” which in turn fuels a shift on university campuses, she says. At Ryerson, the fight for racial justice has been a key movement on campus. And one of the major actors is the Black Liberation Collective - Ryerson (BLC). BLC was co-founded by Josh Lamers, a community organizer, activist and law student at the University of Windsor. He was an undergraduate student at Ryerson’s School of Social work in 2016, when Henry Parada, the
former director of the School of Social Work, walked out on a Black instructors presentation which was described as antiBlack and misogynoir. Because the School of Social Work acted as Ryerson’s main faculty for pushing a message of inclusion and diversity, Lamers says it was more important to hold them accountable. “By focusing on that space and the fight of resistance, it really allowed for a different kind of reckoning,” he says. Lamers and his peers saw the incident as a trademark example of anti-Black racism in academia, and founded the BLC in response. Along with Indigenous Students Rising and other campus allies, BLC organized the protest against the lack of action from the School of Social Work and raised awareness of the hypocrisy in Ryerson’s and the School of Social Work’s statements on diversity and inclusion. “For Black students who actually go [to Ryerson] and have a sense of what’s actually happening, you don’t buy into the social justice language, you actually realize [Ryerson’s] been fraught with anti-Blackness,” says Lamers. Since its inception, BLC has worked to make Ryerson safer for Black students and community members—organizing the first Black Frosh on campus, calling on the university to scrap a proposal for a new free speech policy that was deemed “anti-protest” and called on the Ryerson Students’ Union to diminish police presence on campus. The group also organized against the university’s proposal to implement special constables on campus—security hired by Ryerson who would have policing authority in “incidents involving assault, assault with a weapon, vandalism and theft, as well as the enforcement of smoking by-laws.” Ryerson decided not to move forward with the proposal following heightened critcism from students, community members and BLC. The same year as their founding, the BLC went on to demand Ryerson launch a formal university-wide climate review of anti-Black racism on campus. The final, 26 page report was released in summer 2020—a year later than it was expected to be completed by—and was criticized by the group as failing to actually hold Ryerson accountable for anti-Black racism on campus. Prior to the recent Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review report, it had been 10 years since the university had released any formal documentation of systemic racism on campus.
change is coming When it comes to the conversation about the Black experience in Canada “the same conversations are being recycled,” says Lamers, adding the task report committee review is “a cycle that these academic institutions refuse to break from, as they never get to the point of actual action and substantive change.” “It’s like a never-ending season of why we’ll never deal effectively with Black people’s lives.”
ascale Diverlus was a journalism student and the RSU’s vice president equity in 2014. That same year, news broke about the shooting of Michael Brown across the border in Ferguson, Missouri, resulting in the renewal of attention to police brutality in America. Diverlus and former RSU president Rajean Hoilett organized a protest on campus in response to the indictment of the officer involved in Brown’s murder. In an interview with Flare magazine, Diverlus says the solidarity she felt at the Michael Brown protest was what inspired her to continue her fight against anti-Black racism. Along with her brother Rodney and other Black Canadian activists, Diverlus would co-found Toronto’s chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM-TO). One of the protests organized included BLM-TO Tent City in 2016, a two-week sit-in at the Toronto police headquarters on College street.The action brought attention to the death of Andrew Loku after the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) decided not to charge the officers involved in his shooting. BLM-TO released their first list of demands during that protest. But this was just the beginning for BLM-TO’s activism. The group infamously brought the 2016 Pride Parade to a halt for 30 minutes to demand the Toronto Pride Organization recentre its message of diversity and inclusion to include adequate funding for Black spaces. In a full-circle moment, BLM-TO made their way to Ryerson campus this summer, as members of the group tagged the statue of Egerton Ryerson. In an art-based action, they also tagged statues of John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII Equestrian. Their goal was to protest immortalizing historical figures that played a role in the systemic oppression of Black and Indigenous people.
ix years after the creation of BLM-TO, their demands remain unmet despite society’s current racial reckoning. The recent deaths of Black and Indigenous people across Canada have exposed the urgency and critical need for these demands to be met. Black liberation groups have reignited calls to allocate money away from the Toronto Police budget and into racialized communities. In Toronto alone, a Black person is 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot by the Toronto Police Service, according to a report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. “Canada has a history of just silencing our voices, pretending they’re reconciling, and then moving on,” says Miranda Davis*, an activist and cofounder of activism group Not Another Black Life, a social justice group focused on abolitionist and anti-capitalist policies, and community organizing to dismantle systemic racism. “I feel like with this generation, people are just so blatantly aware of everything that’s happening that this conversation feels fresh, but it’s not,” says Davis. Calls by BLM to defund the police have not been ad-
dressed by Toronto, instead being met with the approval of police body cameras, an additional $1.076 billion to the Toronto Police Service 2020 policing budget approved in 2019. “I think it goes back to this idea that you need to be pushing for change inside a system while simultaneously pushing from outside,” says MPP of Kitchener Centre Laura Mae Lindo. She says the work needed to address anti-racism shouldn’t stop at representation within institutions, but should extend into policies highlighting issues affecting Black communities structured with an anti-racist and inclusionary lens. For Lindo, understanding the bills and policies that heavily affect Black communities is necessary to truly get to the root of what action should be taken. The Education Act, for example, “does not talk about racism, and certainly does not talk about anti-Black racism. But we’ve got [school] board, after [school] board talking about examples of anti-Black racism from kindergarten to grade 12,” says Lindo. Lindo says it was the efforts from those both within and outside the Black community that demanded that the government make substantial changes to the education and criminal justice system that resulted in a formal acknowledgment by the NDP of tangible solutions to address anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police violence. “What they’re asking for is real change which means that there’s a clear understanding,” says Lindo. “It’s not just an emotive or an experiential understanding of anti-Blackness, but an understanding of the root causes, the need for accountability and the need for change.” Both racialized and non-racialized Canadians in large cities like Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax and Calgary have organized rallies in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute, 63 per cent of Canadians agree that systemic racism exists within the RCMP and support efforts to reallocate funds from the police budget to social welfare strategies. However, this past summer, nearly half of Canadians were still unsure whether they supported the defunding of police, according to an Ipsos survey. When talking about Canadian media’s portrayal of racism, Sandy Hudson says, “It’s always a really surface level, very superficial conversation that lets policymakers and those with power off the hook.” The writer, community organizer and co-founder of BLM-TO shared similar sentiments to Lindo and said that this level of conversation is at the expense of Black communities in Canada and is “simply not good enough.” Hudson says this year can’t be understated in its importance for furthering the discussion of Black oppression. “It was to the dogged persistence of Black activists, scholars, artists and teachers that we were able to impact culture in such a way that people are really questioning the police right now,” says Hudson “That, right now, is unprecedented.” She says she remains encouraged by where the national conversation on race is heading after Black Canadians refused the “weak way that the conversation [of race] is often held in Canada.” Looking forward, Hudson says in spite of the lack of policies and the ongoing struggle for real systemic change in Canada, the one thing that has been permanently changed since BLM-TO started is the public’s knowledge of the ways in which racialized people are treated by Canadian police. “You can’t take that knowledge away from those people,” says Hudson. “So even if the policy to defund the police is slow to come, you cannot undo the fact that people now know something about the police that they didn’t know before.”
7 Hudson says she remembers when the term ‘anti-Black racism’ was met with confusion from policy makers and journalists alike. “It is now a common phrase. We have shifted society. Politicians have been forced to acknowledge [anti-Black racism] and that shift in culture is the most crucial thing that we can do when we are trying to shift the reality for people.” Getting allies involved in the movement is crucial because with consistent activism from Indigenous and Black communities, comes burnout and exhaustion from the labour of recounting trauma and discussing the issues they face. A 2019 study for The Review of Higher Education found that marginalized students engaged in activism as a means of survival. Their personal experiences with oppression on campus were often what led them to resistance and activism, in an effort to challenge Western-dominant institutions to recognize “multiple ways of knowing, being” and learning. The study also found that student activists with marginalized identities experienced “serious emotional, physical, and mental costs associated with activism,” including exhaustion, isolation and long-term implications of trauma. “Talking about your own experience is like speaking about someone really close to you passing away, it can never be desensitized, it’s personal to you,” says fourthyear performance acting student Tarique Lewis. “You’re talking about people who are facing injustices, including yourself and your community, who you share food with, you laugh with.” For Lewis, there is a line between being active and listening, but also prioritizing health. There was a time in Lewis’ life where it was all he was taking in. He began to lose sleep and was less proactive in school. “In all honesty, it hurts,” said Lewis. “There’s no way you could really look at that as a Black person and not feel some sort of grief for losing someone, especially when it’s in the case with them losing their life in a situation where you could most definitely be in.”
s Wamara nears the end of his university career, he plans on continuing to create and share stories that put a mirror up to society. He wants to share “honest and genuine stories” of his community and where he came from as a form of healing. To him, activism feels like his calling; where he feels he has a “whole lot of freedom” to use his voice to speak up for what he believes in. Though with his activism and the current news cycle having a negative impact on his mental health, Wamara’s looking for additional ways to process what he’s witnessing around him by looking for joy within his community. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, taking walks around his community where gets to see his neighbours sitting out on their front porch and smiling and playing music even though they may not be in the best of circumstances. This is what keeps him motivated to continue to speak out on issues impacting racialized communities in his storytelling. Black advocacy, like all advocacy work, starts with just having a small community of those that are fighting for the same causes and supporting each other in using their voices for change, says Wamara. “The more solidified that you become in your voice, who you are and your humanity, [the more] you will be able to share that with other people outside of that circle,” says Wamara. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” *Name has been changed to protect source’s safety
CHANGE IS COMING
Sovereignty underfoot: Settler injunctions against Indigenous land explained From 1492 Land Back Lane to the Trans Mountain Pipeline, here’s what you need to know about threats to Indigenous sovereignty By Asha Swann With the signing of the Haldimand Proclamation over 236 years ago, the Haudenosaunee Six Nations (Iroquois) people were guaranteed a protected land for siding with the British during the revolutionary war. But over 200 days ago, the McKenzie Meadows housing development began at 1492 Land Back Lane, just outside Caledonia, in an attempt to capitalize on the same protected land. Indigenous and non-Indigenous land defenders across Canada have been protesting the development for over five months. Courtney Skye, a research fellow at Yellowhead Institute, was one of more than 35 people who have been arrested at Land Back Lane for defending their ancestral land. In 1784, the Haldimand Proclamation granted the Haudenosaunee peoples 10 kilometres of land from Lake Erie to the north end of the Grand River, “as a safe and comfortable retreat for them and others of the Six Nations.” Six months after the proclamation’s release, an extension was added by Britain’s King George II: “No private person, society, corporation or colony is capable of acquiring any property in lands belonging to the Indians, either by purchase, or grant or conveyance from the Indians.” These two pieces of text declare the land at 1492 Land Back Lane is the permanent ownership of Indigenous people. However, Foxgate Development—the corporation which currently holds ownership of the McKenzie Meadows development company—was able to begin housing construction after obtaining a court injunction. An injunction can take many different forms, but it usually declares that a person or entity is directed to a certain action under provincial or federal law. Because the injunction was granted by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice—the highest level of court in Ontario—a precedent has been set for future provincial injunctions. More recently, court injunctions have been used by corporations to get permission from the federal government to ignore protected status of Indigenous land for the sake of oil or gas. This was the main cause for protests at the Coastal GasLink pipeline site on Wet’suwet’en land in B.C. last year. Foxgate’s injunction at Land Back Lane became permanent as of Oct. 22 after being approved by Justice John Harper. This means that anyone on the construction site of the housing development may be subject to police arrest. It also means the court will not be hearing any more disputes from the residents of 1492 Land Back Lane. Justice Harper’s rul-
ing states that the 200 homes will be developed as planned. By using injunctions as a loophole around a 200-year-old agreement, the Canadian government is undermining not only the permanent accord of the Indigenous peoples, but Canada’s own federal law as well. According to the National Resources Defense Council, these loopholes will only continue to harm Canada’s natural resources unless Indigenousled land management is prioritized. On a national level, court injunctions have disproportionately been approved for corporations like Foxgate to proceed in extracting resources on designated Indigenous lands. Dr. Shiri Pasternak, the research director at the Yellowhead Institute, analyzed 100 injunctions involving First Nations across Canada. According to the study, 81 per cent of injunctions filed against First Nations by corporations were approved, while 81 per cent of injunctions filed against corporations and 82 per cent of injunctions filed against the government by First Nations were denied. Pasternak said these inequalities are inherent due to the nature of how injunctions are applied. “Indigenous people start off at a disadvantage because what the court usually looks at is the amount of economic harm that will be caused by the result of any interruptions,” said Pasternak. “Essentially anyone can apply for a legal action to remove Indigenous people from their land without having to consider any Indigenous rights: either inherent or as recognized by the Canadian settler court system.”
“The Canadian legal system [values] property rights over the lives of people” Skye said the persistance of court injunctions is grounded in the practice of placing valuing Indigenous livelihood below the value of commercial profit. “Capitalist white supremacy wants to exploit land and resources; and doesn’t care what people are destroyed in the process,” said Skye. “This is how the Canadian legal system is set up: they value property rights over the lives of people and over basic human dignity.” The refusal of land defenders to vacate 1492 Land Back Lane demonstrates their right to their land as well as exercising of their own Haudenosaunee laws and obligations, said Skye. “The will of the
PHOTO: JIMMY KWAN
community outweighs any type of order a judge can make…injunctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” Skye said. Skye also noted that injunctions are common when a corporation is looking to obtain resources—be it oil, land for housing developments, waterways, wood and resources fishieries to name a few—but are challenged by the presence of Indigenous peoples. Court injunctions are shown to favour the increase of capital over Indigenous communities according to Pasternak’s research, which involves analyzing the risks to Indigenous lives in the natural resource extraction economy. “Indigenous peoples interrupt commodity flows by asserting jurisdiction and sovereignty over their lands and resources in places that form choke points to the circulation of capital,” wrote Pasternak in an article published in the scientific journal Society and Space. The natural resources of treaty land are vital for Indigenous communities across Canada according to the government of Canada’s website. In this sense, injunctions threaten access to food, drinking water and safety. The environmental harm from resource extraction—or harm from the act of protesting itself—is devastating to aspects of Indigenous ways of being. Resource extraction hurts Indigenous communities by risk of contamination into water supplies, Canadian governments over-regulating Indigenous lands and an inability for Indigenous communities to manage their own resources. The Trans Mountain pipeline is one example, Pasternak said. Prior to its construction, a spokesperson from the company said “the readings and information we have from the air monitoring and the groundwater monitoring do not indicate any risk [of an oil spill on Indigenous land].” In June 2020, the pipeline spilled over 50,000 gallons of crude oil,
poisoning the ground in the Sumas First Nation community. The spill happened right next to a water purifying plant and just south of a historic burial ground.
“what we see is...a doubling-down of the violent occupation of the Indigenous lands across the country”
This spill marked the fourth time in 15 years the Trans Mountain Pipeline has spilled in the same part of Sumas First Nation land. As injunctions allow pipelines to advance, polluted water continues to flow through in Indigenous communities. Despite the federal government under Prime Minister Trudeau promising an end to the hundreds of unsafe water advisories that have been in Indigenous communities for decades by 2021, injunctions granted for the construction of pipelines present further risks for water poisoning. This goal is unlikely to be met because of a lack of data on how many Indigenous communities still lack clean water, according to Global News. The outlet also reported that British Columbia and the territories are completely without data. There have been no data updates across the country since January 2020. According to Pasternak, Trudeau and his government are not promoting a truth and reconciliation agenda but rather promoting the words, “truth” and “reconciliations.” “If you look at all of the policies, legislations, [Trudeau’s] hands-off approach to the violent military occupation of Indigenous lands, what we see is actually a doubling-down of the violent occupation of the Indigenous lands across the country,”
said Pasternak. The history of success for corporations in their use of injunctions against Indigenous land means they’re not going away anytime soon, said Pasternak. “But the parallel trend has been the burning injunction, which is the refusal of the Indigenous people to accept the injunction as a valid legal mechanism to infringe on their sovereignty and jurisdiction.” Pasternak also added that land defenders may be able to challenge injunctions at an international level. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was created to establish a worldwide necessity for governments to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples. Article 28 of UNDRIP states Indigenous peoples have the right to fair compensation if their land has been used for resources without their consent. Although Canada was one of four countries that originally voted against the declaration in 2007, the motion passed. In 2010, the UN released a report declaring the human rights violations against Indigenous people across North America were “deep, systemic and widespread.” The UN has also said Indigenous peoples defending their land have been increasingly mischaracterized as terrorists. “Indigenous people have internationally recognized human rights that are being violated through the application of injunctions against them in Canada,” said Pasternak. For Pasternak, assertion of Indigenous rights point towards an optimistic future not just for Indigenous communities, but climate justice. “We see not just an assertion of Indigenous rights in the face of resource extraction, we see a bright and better future for all of us in their efforts to protect the water and the territories from these devastating cumulative effects of mining, forestry, oil, gas extraction.”
change is coming
COVID-19 can’t stop the climate justice movement
While the pandemic has changed how they mobilize, young people haven’t forgotten about the climate crisis By Abeer Khan In fall 2019, Leah Mascarennas was one of many first-year business management students enduring a tedious math class in the Ted Rogers School of Management building. She wasn’t fond of the course (and ended up switching out of business the next year) but on Sept. 27, her professor inadvertently gave her a significant learning opportunity when he let students out of class early to attend the Fridays for Future Toronto Climate Strike. Mascarennas never thought she’d become a climate activist. That day in September, she didn’t know anything about Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future, or what people were advocating for. When her and her friend approached Queen’s Park, she thought they’d just take a couple of pictures and see what it’s all about. But when she reached the crowd, she was amazed by the diversity of people present—people of different races and ages, coming together to fight for a cause important to them all. “I was shocked at first about the turnout and the people there. All the passion that was there, everyone felt like your friend at that protest,” says Mascarennas. She and her friend ended up staying for the entire day.
“One person stepping up and getting involved triggers a chain reaction” Mascarennas says the event showed her the power of harnessing passion with like-minded people to create change. “Young people are the future, this is our time to shine. This is our time to educate, to be an ally and to be an activist.” After attending the climate strike, Mascarennas spent the past summer reading and researching climate change—even looking into the City of Toronto and their environmental policies. A year out from the strike, in the third week of online school, Mascarennas decided to get ahead of the change she wanted to see. This fall, she’s taking a class on environmental sustainability and governance to learn more about climate change and how she can create a change in government attitudes towards it. Every Thursday at 9 a.m., she sits at her desk and sees herself in the top corner of her Zoom screen: awake, engaged and eager to learn more about climate change and climate justice despite the early hour. Human-induced global warming rose about 1C in 2017, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is the United Nations lead organiza-
on Instagram before people lose attention or unfollow her. But on top of maintaining a small social media presence to educate her following, Mascarennas has implemented environmentally-friendly changes in her life. She’s gone vegan to reduce her carbon footprint and is looking into different climate activism groups to join, even if it’s just online. Al-Abadleh hopes the youth will harness the power of social media and the internet to act on climate change on a global scale by connecting with other young people and creating a global community to work together in their climate activism.
PHOTO: PHOTO:JES JESMASON MASON
tion for assessing the science related to climate change, its potential impacts and responses. In its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C, the IPCC warned that there would be great consequences if the warming increased higher than 1.5C. “Limiting global warming to 1.5C, compared with 2C, would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III. This year saw forest fires, record floodings, hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis around the world. Scientists have suggested that all of these natural disasters can be linked to climate change. “If we didn’t have COVID-19, 2020 would have been the year of climate disaster,” says Alénior Rougeot, co-founder Fridays for Future Toronto, the local chapter of the global Fridays for Future climate strike movement founded by Thunberg. The group is a primarily youth-led grassroots organization with goals to mobilize for a climate justice that’s as socially aware as it is environmental. Youth have been some of the loudest voices demanding that institutions take climate change seriously. In a paper on youth activism and climate change published by Ecology and Society in 2018, author Karen O’Brien writes that “there is no doubt that the visions and values of young people have to be seen, heard, prioritized, and realized through climate change activism.” She and her colleagues conclude that young people will be better placed “to reclaim, reframe, and transform their future in a changing climate.” Hind Al-Abadleh, a professor of chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University, is hopeful that the younger generation will become leaders in mitigating climate change by applying themselves to politics. “Engagement from the bottom of the population (young people) is im-
portant because that will mean that we get the right people in office to enact policies that will help us transition to a more sustainable future,” says Al-Abadleh. “To me, as a young person, climate change means that the rest of my life is going to be impacted by a massive global phenomenon,” says Rougeot. “My housing, my food, displacement in the world, politics, everything. To me, it’s a huge injustice crisis. It’s a human rights crisis. Rougeot is no stranger to the potential of youth in numbers. The 21-year-old University of Toronto student came to the city four years ago and has been involved in the community since. She took the stage at the same climate strike Mascarennas attended in 2019. In front of her was a massive crowd of people that reached so far back, she says she doubted they could all hear her. Everyone in attendance wanted to be a part of change that would define her generation for years to come. It was sweltering hot, the speakers couldn’t stop themselves and crowds started marching without instruction. Friendships formed before her eyes. People came up to her, telling her the march gave them home and inspired them to be activists. “The strike itself didn’t change the world,” says Rougeot. “But we recruited so many people through that one strike.” Rougeout says the solutions to the crisis won’t be found within existing institutions. “We must understand that the solutions to this crisis aren’t peripheral or additions to the way things are now,” she says. In this sense, capital-focused solutions like carbon pricing are no cure, says Rougeot. What’s required instead is recognizing and dismantling the systems which created the climate crisis: capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy. “To me, [climate justice] actually
sounds like a better thing to fight for, because I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing the other things I care about—which are women’s rights, refugee rights, Indigenous sovereignty rights—when I fight for climate justice,” says Rougeot. A lack of know-how on organizing or reducing one’s own carbon footprint is a major barrier for those who want to advocate for climate action, says Deborah De Lange, an associate professor in global management studies at TRSM. The job of climate activists today is to “raise people’s awareness so that they can learn about the issue, not only about climate change itself, but hopefully also the resolution,” she says. “We’ve set climate change on a path and we can’t take it back. There is going to be warming no matter what we do, but we can reduce it. The longer we wait, the more damage we’re going to face,” warns De Lange. She says making a difference doesn’t necessarily mean getting out on the street and protesting–especially for people like her, who prefer to stay home. For those like herself, De Lange recommends building change into your own life by trusting and investing in green technology like electric vehicles, renewable energy sources and shared transit.
“We’ve set climate change on a path and we can’t take it back” “You don’t have to be a climate activist to tell your local elected official, whether it’s municipal, provincial, or federal, that there’s an issue that you want them to deal with,” she says. Due to COVID-19, Mascarennas hasn’t been able to participate in climate activism like she thought she’d be able to earlier this year. There is only so much she can post
“Young people are the future...This is our time to educate, to be an ally and to be an activist” Like Mascarennas, Rougeot says Fridays for Future didn’t plan for a pandemic. But she is proud of how they’ve adapted to the new normal. When Ontario went into lockdown in March, Rougeot says her team adjusted right away. At that time, Fridays for Future was actually in the process of planning a second climate strike for April 3, which they hoped would gain as much traction as the previous one in September. They ended up continuing the strike online. “Organizing has been different because we can’t meet in person and that does take away [from planning] but because we have more people from further away, there’s more diversity of minds and experiences of identities.” Rougeot remembers looking around at a smaller, socially distant climate strike this September and seeing young people just like her in organizing roles. Two were managing the stage, others were running the speakers. Rougeot says she was in awe of the youth-led movement. Alongside Fridays for Future, organizations like Climate Justice T.O., Indigenous Climate Action, and Climate Strike Canada are working to create change within their communities. Here at Ryerson, student groups like Divest Ryerson, Regensis Ryerson, and Fridays for Future Ryerson Chapter are working to create change locally with students. Rougeout acknowledges that it’s hard to change the world overnight, but she’s amazed at how the act of just showing up to fight for change can make other people act as well. “One person stepping up and getting involved triggers a chain reaction, Seeing how it’s contagious is the most rewarding thing.”
CHANGE IS COMING
Out from hiding: The alt-right’s presence on Canadian campuses is supported online
By Elizabeth Sargeant Right-wing extremism (RWE) has been on the rise in Canada in the last five years, with far-right extremist groups growing “in number and in boldness,” according to a research report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) released in June. Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, estimates that there are around 300 active far-right groups in Canada— around triple the amount that she found in a 2016 study. Campuses are not insulated from the issue. “In terms of college and university campuses, there has absolutely been a rise in hate activity,” said Hazel Woodrow, an investigator from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN). CAHN is an organization that monitors, researches and reports on hate-promoting individuals and groups, mostly
online and offline. She noted that the election of Donald Trump enflamed alt-right sentiments in Canada. “His outrageous statements about immigration, Muslims and Latinos captured the imagination of those who had harboured racist and anti-immigrant views and gave them permission to speak out and act out.” According to StatsCan, from 2016 to 2017 alone, hate crimes increased by 47 per cent in Canada, “which is unheard of,” said Perry. While the number of hate crimes did decrease ILLUSTRATION: CATHERINE ABES by 13 per cent from 2017 to 2018, the total still remained the highest through journalism, according to it’s been since 2009. their website. “As the academy becomes more Toronto Campuses Not Immune racially and religiously diverse, and In June, third-year English stuas it is called on to address its insti- dent Maria Couto was sitting on tutionalized racism and colonialism, her couch at home when a petition right wing reactionary ideologies popped onto her Twitter feed. It coalesce out of individual students was titled “Expel Tyler L. Russell and professors into organized and Immediately,” and was created by strategic groups,” said Woodrow. fifth-year language and intercultural The ISD report defines RWE as relations student Nikita Sankreacha. a “loose movement, characterized In tweets and through his live by a racially, ethnically and sexually show, “Canada First”, Russell has exdefined nationalism. This national- pressed nationalist, misogynist, antiism is often framed in terms of white immigrant and anti-Black rhetoric. power, and is grounded in xenopho“I think he is perpetuating viobic and exclusionary understandings lence as his voice is listened to the of the perceived threats posed by such most,” considering his 740 Twitter groups as non-whites, Jews, immi- followers, said Couto. “The outgrants, homosexuals and feminists.” come will be his listeners justifying Perry, who has been studying racist behaviour. It makes me fear hate, bias and extremism since the the harm he will cause to immigrant 1990s, said she’s witnessed the way and minority communities.” overt and visible right-wing exIn their research, the ISD identremism has crossed the American tified 6,660 right-wing extremist border and infiltrated Canada both channels, pages, groups and ac-
counts across seven social media son should accommodate Russell or platforms—Facebook, Twitter, You- his views as part of the community. Tube, Iron March, Fascist Forge, “To allow him to remain on cam4chan and Gab. pus sends the message to BIPOC students that their comfort and “[Social media] safety is not important to Ryerson,” provides avenues for she wrote in a follow-up email.
a broad spectrum of right-wing extremists to mobilise”
Pandemic Strengthens Hate Search data from January to April from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal saw an average 18.5 per cent increase in searches for “violent, far-right keywords” since the implementation of COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a report from Moonshot CVE, a tech startup from London that aims to understand and counter extreme violence. “Anti-authoritarian movements such as anti-mask and anti-vaxx groups have put a much greater emphasis on anti-state and that’s due to COVID,” Perry said. Woodrow said she believes a key solution is making sure marginalized communities who are vulnerable to these attacks are centred in anti-hate conversations and that an intersectional approach is taken. “Institutionalized prejudice and bigotry represses the ability of members of marginalized communities to defend themselves from fascism,” Woodrow said. “The antifascist project must be in tandem with other movements that seek to liberate marginalized groups from all forms of oppression.”
“[Social media] provides avenues for a broad spectrum of right-wing extremists to mobilise by recruiting new members, broadcasting disinformation and propaganda, harassing opponents, and co-ordinating activity including publicity stunts, protests and acts of violence,” the report reads. According to Woodrow, a large portion of university students will most likely see hate propaganda online, and some will be pulled in by it. “Those at risk of being recruited into hate groups and ideologies are young, straight, cis, white men, who already have a disdain for ‘political correctness,” Woodrow said. While Ryerson has anti-discrimination policies and codes of conduct in place, The Eyeopener previously reported that some racialized students felt they weren’t being taken seriously when reporting instances of harassment and discrimination on campus. Sankreacha, in particular, never got a definitive conclusion from Ryerson’s administration regarding how Russell was dealt with or if he faced any consequences at all. Read the full story online at changeisCouto said she doesn’t think Ryer- coming.theyeopener.com.
“Descendre dans les rues!/Take to the Streets!” Quebec’s lessons for exceptional student protests By Kiernan Green The student protests Antoine Panaioti saw as a university student in Montreal were wilder than watching 8,000 people marching stark naked— and the city had shown him that, too. Panaioti, now a philosophy professor at Ryerson, was present for Montreal’s 2005 and 2012 student protests as an undergraduate and PhD student, respectively. Both began as student protests against tuition hikes. In 2011, for example, then-Liberal premier Jean Charest had proposed a 75 per cent tuition increase from $2,168 to $3,793 over five years. “We had a minimum 10,000 people—this huge snake of people—going through downtown Montreal.” Premier Charest could only attain the power needed to finally outlaw the protests through an election, which he lost to the Parti Québécois. They quickly repealed Charest’s tuition hike plans and laws against protesting. Montreal’s students created a movement for more than just themselves. “It became a movement to overthrow the government,” said Panaioti. “Which is
effectively what happened.” A history and political culture unique from the rest of Canada has allowed Quebec students to organize the greatest student protests ever seen in the country, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
“Class is what creates cohesion across communities” While Ryerson is continuously consumed in controversies over a racist statue, Quebecers were quick to dethrone and behead the statue of none less than Canada’s first prime minister, John. A. Macdonald. Although it isn’t crucial to the foundation of a good protest movement, the difference between student protests in Quebec and Ontario starts with the difference between Franco and Anglo perspectives on protest. Quebec’s appetite for secession is an example that dates back to the 1800s and demonstrates a strong sense of “national identity” within the province, said Panaioti.
“There is a sense of being a people or being a nation, which is particularly strong amongst francophones,” said Panaioti. That inherent solidarity results in what Panaioti considers the most crucially important aspect of Quebec’s protests: a critical mass of participants. To achieve a critical level of participation, Ontarian students and workers alike need solidarity as strong as Quebecers. Panaioti said this can be acheived through class solidarity. “Class is what creates cohesion across communities and across separate identities.” Solidarity of class united against authorities which cut assistance like student funding or workers benefits “needs to be tapped into and revived in order to generate the kind of large-scale solidarity.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to student funding, an impediment to a minimum wage increase and cancellation of paid-sick days for low-income workers before the pandemic are a starting point. “People who happen to be harmed by the kinds of changes and reforms
ILLUSTRATION: JES MASON that Doug Ford has put into place happen to be those that are most concerned by systemic racism and marginalization. This is no coincidence,” said Panaioti. “Various forms of injustice converge to create even greater problems for people who happen to be both poor and racialized.” By calling for class solidarity against government measures and attitudes like these, Ontarian students and workers alike could cata-
lyze radical change like that seen in 2012 in Montreal. “To the extent that students in Ontario this summer participated, this actually creates a kind of the impetus for reviving this fight against the Doug [Ford] government … Who knows what would have happened without the pandemic.” Read the full story online at changeiscoming.theyeopener.com.
CHANGE IS COMING
Andrea Houston brings LGBTQ2IA+ representation to media studies By Stephanie Davoli CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mentions of death and sexual violence. Journalist and long-time queer rights activist Andrea Houston has been fighting for LGBTQ2IA+ voices in media and politics for over 20 years. In 2015, her journey brought her to Ryerson. While freelancing in Toronto, Houston was contacted by the university to develop a journalism course that focused entirely on LGBTQ2IA+ issues, given her recognition in the community. After developing the course for about a year, NNS410: Queer Media was offered as an elective to students. It was one of the first courses of its kind in the country. Houston’s course focused on a wide array of queer issues through the lens of media. This includes examining the origins of anti-gay laws in 68 countries around the world, the AIDS crisis of the 80s, trans rights to gender reassignment and more. PHOTO: LAILA AMER “It was really important for me to teach the different steps that activists and movements have used in the courts and different pieces of legisla“I spent lots of time [in the Village] growtion to advance human rights,” said Houston. ing up and going to parties,” said Benoit. “But to actually have a guided, critical analysis of the Village was very interesting…Andrea did such a great job of giving historical context of the area and telling us about all of its ins and outs.” The tour included prominent queer spaces such as 519 Church Street and Crews & TanHouston has significant experience with gos. Houston also spoke on the violence that queer politics, having worked with former had been recently inflicted on the community MPP for Parkdale-High Park Cheri DiNovo by serial killer Bruce McArthur. McArthur in 2015. At the time, DiNovo was the New wasn’t apprehended by the Toronto police unDemocratic Party’s LGBTQ critic whose work til after he’d killed several gay men, despite the focused on federal policies as they related to community expressing their concern about the LGBTQ2IA+ folks. murders for months prior. “We talked about all of these things in one of the key public spaces where people come “to actually have a guided, together for activism, community and to meet critical analysis of the Village was very interesting… their chosen family,” said Houston. “I thought it was really appropriate that the class had Andrea did such a great job” those conversations in that space.” “I never would skip [class] because I loved The pair worked on several pieces of legisla- going,” said Benoit. “The course was really taition, with one their greatest achievements be- lored to our city. I think that, whether you are ing the passing of Bill 77 in 2015, which banned queer or not, if you learn about queer reportmedical conversion therapy for queer youth. ing and their communities it just gives you so “There were some news reports at the time much more leverage [over issues relating to that called Toronto the ‘Ground Zero’ for queer identifying people].” conversion therapy in North America,” said “They’ve taken these Houston. “So I really thought, ‘We should really do something about this.’” The legislation stories and really changed was the first of its kind in Canada and the secpeople’s minds and ideas ond in North America. about queerness” Another bill developed by Houston and DiNovo made equal rights for queer parents more transparent and clear after the passage According to Houston, that trip to the of an earlier bill for marriage equality. Village is just one instance where the Queer Following her work in policy, Houston Media course was crucial for educating stuwanted to make sure students fully understood dents on Toronto’s LGBTQ2IA+ history. queer history in Toronto and the importance of For Houston, the trip reinforced the fact that its representation in the media, so that the LG- queer representation in media is vital for soBTQ2IA+ experience would be told truthfully. cial equity. Sage Benoit, a former student, said they “The changes that happened politically [in fondly remember a class field trip to Toron- recent years] have largely come about in the to’s Gay Village when they took the course media because of journalists—both queer and in 2018. On that trip, students learned first- allied journalists,” said Houston. “They’ve hand about one of Toronto’s most historic taken these stories and really changed people’s queer neighbourhoods. minds and ideas about queerness.”
By encouraging a former student to publish an essay written in her class, Houston personally had a hand in sharing a story that could give readers a better understanding of queerness. In his article titled “HIV Is Not a Crime,” journalism graduate Declan Keogh wrote about discovering that someone whom he had engaged in unprotected oral sex with was HIV-positive and the aftermath of that realization. With the help of Houston and her connections, Keogh had pitched the story to NOW Magazine.
“students who took the course gave me such life... what they brought...was the joy of my life” The story sparked conversation around the Canadian judicial system’s assertion that failure to disclose HIV statuses or other sexually transmitted diseases could be prosecuted as aggravated sexual assault or rape. “It seemed like a completely backwards and marginalizing policy in Canada and it made me reflect on my own experiences,” said Keogh. At the time, Canada was one of the top 10 countries to criminalize and incarcerate people with HIV, and it’s 180 prosecutions of HIV transmitters since 1989 “is influenced by stigma, fear, homophobia and even racism,” he wrote. The article would eventually become the cover story of an HIV-focused issue published in January 2017. When Houston sent him the cover to be printed Keough said his stomach dropped. “A lot of people knew I was bisexual but I essentially came out on the front page, which was intense,” he said. “I thought I was gonna throw up.” Nonetheless, Houston said she stood by Keogh through the publishing process. “It felt wonderful to nurture this incredibly talented young writer from pitch right through to getting it on the cover of a widely-read publication,” said Houston. The inclusion of queer voices in media con-
tinues to be a cause that Houston fights for, especially since current political divisions in the U.S. seem to put LGBTQ2IA+ rights up for debate once more. Prior to President-elect Joe Biden winning the 2020 elections in the U.S., Houston expressed worry over the negative aftermath that could be repeated—similar to the 2016 election. “We might actually have to go through that again—that horrible debate if someone should get a human right simply because of the way they were born,” said Houston.
The Future of Queer Media This is Houston’s second year of not teaching the Queer Media course. Janice Neil, the chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism, told her last year that the course didn’t have enough student interest to make it worth their program budget. “Queer Media was scheduled to be offered in Fall 2020, however, based on the universitywide process for students to say what courses they plan to take...done in the spring of 2020, only one journalism student and seven students in other programs intended to enroll in the course,” said Neil in an email to The Eye. Neil said that it was not financially responsible for the department to offer only eight students the course, as cancelling the course meant they had money to hire an instructor for a new course instead. This course was Reporting on Race: the Black Community in the media, which became a fully enrolled class. Nonetheless, Houston hopes to one day rejoin the Ryerson community and teach it again. “The students who took the course gave me such life,” Houston shares. “Not only their passion but what they brought to the course each and every week was the joy of my life. It’s really a testament to them, their talent and their incredible passion.”
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