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Table of Contents 04 NEWS
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Divest McGill organizes sitin at Fortier’s office
Ghomeshi’s acquittal sparks protests in Montreal
Talent, lust, and dystopian IKEA in opera’s contemporary Händel
Discrimination complaint against Faculty of Medicine
A letter from Talk Black to future us
Women face challenges in the SSMU executive Demo shows support for Black Lives Matter Toronto Panel discusses Truth and Reconciliation report Montreal police brutality in review
25 FEATURES On the social implications of the Ghomeshi case The student reactionary, then and now Discussing Islamophobia at McGill and in Montreal
Playing with perspective and perceptions of reality Cecile Emeke uses video storytelling to empower Black diaspora Dressing with sustainability and environment in mind Disobedience and sex work in the Bible through comics
SSMU Council passes Indigenous Solidarity Policy
The power of redefining architecture and exploring form
Documentary explores Indigenous land rights
Santropol stays cozy and sustainable forty years later
Year in review: News
Year in review: Culture
SSMU end of year reviews PGSS end of year reviews
18 COMMENTARY Photography exploits victims of violence McGill needs to step up its family care Slavery, resistance, and human nature Letter Solidarity statement for student teacher Compromise needed on smokefree campus proposal The activist culture of overwork Year in review: Commentary
Super tap dancing songbirds
The Daily thanks this year’s contributors
What Kaspi’s Herzberg Medal means for women in STEM
A possible new planet in our solar system The connectome, the mind, and mental disorders Challenges in diagnosing pancreatic cancer Year in review: Sci+Tech
47 COMPENDIUM! A SSMU love story Crossword
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Divest McGill organizes sit-in to
Fossil fuel companies “for the
Marina Cupido and Xavier Richer Vis The McGill Daily
t 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29, nine members of Divest McGill, a campus climate justice group, entered the James Administration building through a back door and began a sit-in in the reception area outside Principal Suzanne Fortier’s office. They remained there for 72 hours, protesting the Board of Governors (BoG)’s recent decision not to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry. The BoG voted against divestment on March 23 during a closed session of a meeting outside its regular schedule. The agenda had not been publicized in advance, unlike its other meetings. The BoG’s decision followed the release of a report by its Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), which claimed that climate change does not cause “grave social injury,” and that divestment was therefore unwarranted. During their sit-in, the activists met with Fortier for their first formal meeting in two years to discuss their frustration with the BoG’s decision and articulate their demands. The Daily provided live coverage of events from the reception room throughout the week. Meanwhile, a larger group of Divest McGill members and supporters set up camp in Community Square, where they held daily rallies and “teach-ins” in support of divestment. The week of protest culminated in a ceremony on Friday morning during which several McGill alumni returned their diplomas to protest the BoG’s decision.
Divest’s demands The activists staging the sitin in Fortier’s reception room had three demands for the administration: that the University hold public hearings on the CAMSR report and educational events concerning divestment and climate change and that the concerns raised at these events be addressed in a revised version of the report submitted by January 2017; that CAMSR publicly disclose all expert testimony gathered during its investigation on climate change and divestment; and that Fortier make a public statement acknowledging that the fossil fuel industry causes grave social harm. Shortly after their arrival in the reception room, the activists were met by Vice-President (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa, Vice-President (Communications and External Relations) Olivier Marcil, and Chief of Staff Susan Aberman, who received copies of Divest McGill’s demands. At this initial meeting, the administration called the demands unrealistic, denying the broad support in the McGill community for fossil fuel divestment. Later that day, Dean of Students André Costopoulos stopped by the reception area, and spoke briefly with Emily Boytinck, a member of Divest McGill and current Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External. Security personnel had initially told the group that they could not stay in the room, and repeatedly told them to leave. Costopoulos, however, said otherwise, telling Boytinck that “as long as [the sitin is] safe and there’s no danger, there’s no reason for the administration to act in any way.”
Members of Divest McGill after exiting the sit-in. Life inside the James Administration building During the next 48 hours, there was virtually no interaction between the administration and the nine student activists. Soon after the students’ arrival in the reception area, security personnel were stationed outside the exterior doors, and all doors leading to the inner offices were double-locked. Meanwhile, staff employed in the inner offices were directed by McGill Security to take an alternate route through the building, to avoid the reception room. On Wednesday afternoon, the second day of the sitin, some of the students expressed frustration over this, telling The
Harry Tainton | Photographer
Daily that they felt somewhat ignored by the administration. As the sit-in continued, the cramped physical space began to take its toll on the protesters. Fortier’s reception room lacks windows, so for much of the week, the only source of fresh air was through a slightly open window in a nearby washroom. Additionally, some of the lights in the room were reportedly motion-activated, and remained on throughout the sit-in, making it difficult to sleep. By Thursday morning, many of the activists described feeling restless, exhausted, and somewhat disoriented as a result of the constant fluorescent glare combined with the lack of fresh air and natural light.
The students were also not permitted to walk around in the administration building except to access a nearby washroom and water fountain. They were only allowed to descend to the lobby one at a time to meet with members of the press and receive deliveries of food from supporters. Despite the mental and physical stresses of their environment, the mood in the reception room remained overwhelmingly positive throughout the week. In a post on Divest McGill’s website published on Wednesday, activist Ava Mohsenin, who was a part of the sit-in, wrote: “It’s easy to feel isolated up here – no sunlight, no windows,
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April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
demand revision of CAMSR report most part” lawful, Fortier says
no showers, no visitors except for The McGill Daily. But what is keeping us [...] hopeful and inspired is the growing number of campers outside, camping with us for climate justice. [...] It’s the University of Toronto locking their President’s Office in response to our sit-in, fearing their divestment campaign will follow suit. It’s the media [coverage that] draws attention to our call for transparency.” Speaking to The Daily, another activist present at the sit-in, who wished to remain anonymous, shared Mohsenin’s positive outlook. “I hold [the other students here] in the highest respect,” he said, “and I consider them fellow activists that I can really confide in. [Our] advantage is in our solidarity, and I think that’s where [the opponents of our cause] fall apart. Our dynamics are surprisingly [...] composed, [given] the amount of stress we’ve been under.” He also expressed an appreciation for the generally pleasant and accommodating staff and security personnel who interacted with the activists, an opinion echoed by the rest of the group on more than one occasion. The only incident of direct confrontation between the activists and staff occurred on Tuesday morning, immediately after the group’s arrival in the reception room. As Aberman was entering the reception area from Fortier’s office, Divest member Michael Lifshitz attempted to hold open the door to allow the group to get through, eventually sitting down in front of it. A building employee then assaulted Lifshitz, pulling him roughly away from the doorway, and at one point attempting to shut the door while his arm was in the way. A McGill Security officer present at the scene made no effort to intervene directly, but instead yelled at Lifshitz, who remained sitting, to get out of the way. The officer also told The Daily’s reporter that she did not have the right to be taking photographs, and attempted to block her view as the assault was in progress. The Daily contacted McGill Security to ask why this incident was allowed to take place, given that McGill Security’s stated mission is to protect the McGill community, but has received no reply at the time of publication. Meeting with Fortier When the activists began their sitin on Tuesday morning, Fortier was in California visiting Stanford University. However, she returned on Thursday, and arrived at the reception room at 2:30 p.m. with Provost Christopher Manfredi to meet with the students. According to activist Jed Lenetsky,
Naghmeh Sabet at the Diploma Returning Ceremony. Fortier had not spoken directly with Divest McGill since the summer of 2014, and had refused to meet with them several times during the past few months. During Thursday’s meeting, Fortier and Manfredi repeatedly insisted that their priority was to follow the recommendations of the CAMSR report, which included “looking at opportunities for, and supporting, sound investments in alternative [...] energy firms, alternative technology development and commercialization,” and raising awareness about climate change. In response, the Divest McGill members said that supporting a transition to clean energy would certainly be worthwhile, but that the CAMSR report itself and the non-transparent way in which it was presented and voted on were deeply problematic. The students’ first demand was that the report be rewritten to address the community’s criticisms, but Fortier maintained that the report had been voted on, and was final. Bureaucratic processes such as this must be respected for the sake of democracy, she argued. A Divest McGill member replied that “democracy works best when those who are decision [makers] represent the community.” Boytinck argued that the report should be rewritten, saying, “[This report] didn’t even talk about Indigenous consent and that is particularly troubling. [...] I don’t understand how we can have these public consultation sessions on this report that has such inconsistencies and completely ignore the realities of students on your own campus, and yet refuse to change the report.”
Harry Tainton | Photographer
With regard to Divest McGill’s second demand, Fortier told the group that for CAMSR to reveal information about the experts consulted without their consent would be a violation of their freedom of speech. However, she and Manfredi agreed to ask for the experts’ permission to release their information. Fortier categorically refused the activists’ third demand: that she publicly acknowledge the grave social injury caused by the fossil fuel industry. Climate change causes social harm, she told the group, but not grave social harm. She went on to suggest that the social harm caused by fossil fuel companies was comparable to that caused by individuals. “For the most part,” Fortier said, fossil fuel companies “are lawful companies operating within the law.” She then asked an incredulous Divest McGill member if they themselves had ever broken a law. After the meeting, The Daily spoke with several of the student activists at the sit-in. “It bothers me that when they’re making these decisions, deciding that the fossil fuel companies don’t cause grave social injury to Indigenous communities or [marginalized] communities in general, they’re directly ignoring their Indigenous students. It’s insulting to [those] students,” said Sophie Birks. “I felt helpless. [...] I feel like [Fortier] just doesn’t hear us,” said Mohsenin. In the press release published by Divest McGill after the meeting, activist Julia Bugiel, who had not been present in the reception room, wrote: “The [BoG] ignoring unlaw-
ful acts by fossil fuel companies with the reasoning that all companies break the law; the narrow-minded view of social injury; the fundamental ignorance of our arguments; these all point to a Principal who is failing McGill by not upholding the high intellectual standard for which the university is known.” Diploma returning ceremony Divest McGill’s week of protest culminated at 11:30 a.m. on Friday April 1, when dozens of McGill students and alumni gathered outside the James Administration building to participate in a diploma returning ceremony. Planned by Divest McGill and alumni, the event provided an opportunity for McGill graduates to express their opinions on the BoG’s refusal to divest. After exiting the building, the nine Divest members who participated in the sit-in spoke to the crowd gathered outside, condemning the administration’s lack of meaningful action on climate justice, and bring-
Fortier meets Divest.
ing attention to ongoing acts of protest at campuses across the country. Each of the nine activists pledged their support to the movement, speaking one at a time: “We pledge to never give up until McGill divests from the fossil fuel industry. [...] We pledge to be on the right side of history. [...] We pledge to continue our activism, cognizant of the rights of Indigenous communities, and the struggles of other activists across campus. [...] We pledge to persist in direct actions, so we don’t have to return our diplomas when we graduate.” Following this, alumni stood in front of the crowd, one by one, explaining why they were returning their diplomas. Naghmeh Sabet, one of the alumni returning her diploma, explained that she was a portfolio manager at Scotiabank. She said that a client had recently asked her to manage a $2 million donation to McGill. Upon receiving Fortier’s email announcing the BoG’s vote against divestment, she consulted with her client, and they decided not to make the donation after all. Until McGill divests, she implied, she would advise her other clients not to donate to the university, either. “The funds that will not come to McGill will hurt,” she said, to loud cheering from the crowd. “We don’t speak loudly, we do not occupy buildings, as these courageous people do, but we speak a language [Fortier] will understand very soon.” A speaker from the Northwest Territories, Kata Kuhnert, concluded the event, responding directly to CAMSR’s controversial claims: “I can tell you that there is severe, grave social injury caused by fossil fuels.” Northern communities are marginalized and often vulnerable to discrimination, said the speaker, and their lives and their environment are being transformed by the catastrophic effects of climate change. The diploma returning ceremony ended at noon, concluding the week’s events.
Marina Cupido | The McGill Daily
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
McGill students, Montrealers debate and protest Ghomeshi verdict Demonstrators decry lack of support for survivors of sexual assault
Paniz Khosroshahy & Romita Sur The McGill Daily
n response to the March 24 verdict where former CBC radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, several groups at McGill and in the broader Montreal community organized events to discuss and protest the verdict. Ethics in criminal sexual assault trials On March 29, McGill Law students Anna Goldfinch and Nazampal Jaswal hosted a panel called “Beyond Ghomeshi: Creating Ethical Practices in Criminal Sexual Assault Trials.” The panel featured crown prosecutor Sara Henningsson, criminal defence lawyer Suzanne Costom, Constance Backhouse, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, and Toronto-based community activist, support worker, and artist Chenthoori Malankov. The panel was moderated by Alana Klein, a criminal law professor at the McGill Faculty of Law.
“We still search for the worthy victim, but it is now masked in the language of credibility.” Constance Blackhouse, University of Ottawa law professor Henningsson said that “the [Ghomeshi] trial received so much attention that it is difficult to plow through and prosecute the case.” In the verdict, Justice William Horkins questioned the three complainants’ credibility and said they were “less than full, frank and forthcoming” in their version of events. At the panel, Costom argued that “complainants, if caught in a lie, throw their whole testimony into doubt, even if it is about something as small as the weather.” Blackhouse, a legal historian, suggested that the scrutiny of the complainants’ credibility was motivated by sexist norms of disbelief towards survivors of sexual assault. “We still search for the ‘worthy victim,’ but it is now masked in the language of credibility,” she said. “Our
Steven Chua | Photographer
Demonstrators show support for survivors of sexual assault. deeply sexist culture is reaching back into history.” While discussions of the fairness of the verdict have been polarizing, Goldfinch told The Daily that “there aren’t actually ‘sides’ to this issue per se, but rather complex societal issues and a criminal justice system that is not always equipped to acknowledge and address these issues. Law can be overly clinical sometimes, and it can forget to address historical context, or issues of systemic discrimination, and trauma.” She continued, “This is why in addition to bringing in lawyers who practice criminal law, we also brought a legal historian and a community activist and support worker to humanize the discussion.” Jaswal told The Daily in an interview, “It was important for me to come into the space wanting to learn. While the panel discussions were going on, I was confronted with points of view and information about the realities of the court process that I hadn’t considered. Hearing a range of perspectives, I now feel better equipped to enter into this discussion myself.” Demonstration at McGill On March 31, the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), as part of its annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week, organized a demonstration in support of survivors as a response to the Ghomeshi trial. Held in Community Square, the demon-
stration aimed to create a space to discuss the failure of the criminal justice system and the McGill administration to support survivors of sexual assault. On the Facebook event page for the demonstration, the organizers wrote, “In the wake of the Ghomeshi trial, we are reminded that our criminal justice system, and our society at large, do not support survivors. We are reminded that our own university does not have institutionalized mechanisms to deal with sexual violence, nor has committed to the pro-survivor, intersectional support we need.”
“The men of colour in my life [...] who were beacons of hope for a generation, simultaneously harmed those they loved behind closed doors.” Sara Sebti, U3 Political Science Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke spoke about the University’s lack of cooperation with regard to the Sexual Violence Policy, formerly known as the Sexual Assault Policy.
“No matter how many articles are written, no matter how many student leaders speak up, no matter how much research we show them, it seems that they still refuse to listen, and that is so incredibly frustrating to me,” Rourke said. She continued, “We shouldn’t need a public scandal to happen [for survivors] to be listened to. And we don’t want change that comes from harm. We want change and we want it now.” Sara Sebti, an Iranian McGill student who attended the demo, noted that Ghomeshi is Iranian, but that the Iranian community has been silent on Ghomeshi’s actions. In an email to The Daily Sebti spoke of grappling with the fact that “the men of colour in my life [...] who were beacons of hope for a generation, simultaneously harmed those they loved behind closed doors.” Sebti wrote, “Where do we start, what is the goal, how do I have these conversations with my family? I am afraid and at times I feel bitterly alone.” “Cry-in” to voice grief for survivors The same day as the demonstration, a “cry-in” was held in Phillips Square for people to voice their grief for the four women who testified against Ghomeshi and all survivors of sexual assault. The event was inspired by a similar cry-in organized in New York in March 2015, in honour of Ana Mendieta, a Cuban-American artist. Mendieta was allegedly killed by her hus-
band, who was acquitted based on grounds of “reasonable doubt.” Tessa Liem, an organizer of the event, explained to The Daily in an email that the goal of the event was to reclaim crying, typically seen as a sign of feminine weakness, as an act of protest and healing. “Our sadness is meant to be a form of resistance. It is also meant to acknowledge the very real pain of survivors and allies,” wrote Liem. Around 15 people sat in a semicircle facing the sidewalk at Phillips Square with signs explaining their action. “We were received positively for the most part,” noted Liem. “Passersby shared their own stories with us, two young men sat with us for a few minutes, another man said, ‘it’s not easy what you’re doing’ and congratulated us.” “I realized I didn’t want to cry, I wanted to scream with rage,” Cherie, another organizer of the event, told The Daily in an interview. “For me this was the most epic part, and the part that felt the best for me, in terms of getting out my feelings that were bottled up in me. So I just started screaming, like rage power hardcore screaming and then everybody was letting loose, and it was ricocheting off the skyscrapers.” “So often we are told that we should be composed, ‘keep it together,’ and many of us do compose: we write essays, stories, poems,” said Liem. “But really the event was about asking people to acknowledge that these traumas are devastating.”
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Medical student files lawsuit against McGill Faculty of Medicine
Faculty faces systemic issues of discrimination, says director of CRARR Ellen Cools The McGill Daily
n 2011, KC*, a medical student at McGill, entered the university’s General Surgery residency program. At the time, he did not know that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By November 2013, he had withdrawn from the program due to physical and mental exhaustion. In the time between, KC was diagnosed, put on academic probation for his academic performance prior to diagnosis, appealed the decision to no avail, and faced discriminaton from members of the Faculty and other barriers that prevented him from being appropriately accommodated. Citing “discrimination and violation of his right to dignity and honor,” the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) filed a complaint on KC’s behalf against McGill in November 2015. The case was brought to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. Currently, KC and CRARR are waiting to see if McGill will accept mediation. If it does not, the case will be referred to investigation. Initial concerns During his first year at McGill, KC started experiencing insurmountable academic difficulties. In an interview with The Daily, he said, “I was studying twice as hard as others,” yet he was not getting good results. “Also that year I did fail [...] two exams that were important despite working hard,” KC added. In October 2012, KC began to wonder if he had ADHD. He informed his program director, Paola Fata, of his speculations and told her that he would be undergoing testing for ADHD. According to KC, Fata verbally told him that she was not comfortable with the situation. However, KC said Fata made a written note at the time, which he obtained a copy of a few years later. According to KC, She had written that his ability to carry out his clinical or senior responsibilities was affected, presumably by his disability. “She just decided on her own that I have an inability. [...] Medically, legally, you can never say that.” From that point on, according to KC, Fata decided that he could no longer fulfill the task of taking surgical calls, KC said. Diagnosis, academic probation and appeals When KC was officially diag-
nosed with ADHD, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada accommodated him for exams. He re-took the two exams he had previously failed, and in June 2013, he was informed that he had passed. However, in May 2013, he was put on academic probation. KC said that the decision to place him on probation was based solely on his performance until the end of December 2012 which was before his diagnosis, the start of his treatment, and his having learned to manage his ADHD. “I was not given the chance to appeal that decision in front of [the General Surgery] [promotions] committee,” KC added. “Usually you can appeal [such a decision] in front of your own program’s promotion committee [...] before it is final.” In the summer of 2013, he appealed to the Faculty Postgraduate Promotions Committee, requesting accommodations for his disability, but his appeal was rejected. According to KC, the committee claimed that he had been treated for ADHD, but that his condition did not improve. “You cannot treat ADHD,” he said. Instead, he was forced to start the probation period. KC was pressured to abandon his residency and re-apply a year later. “My learning opportunities were cut off and, besides that, I was expected to perform [academically] in a very good manner, although I was kind of stuck against the wall,” because he had stopped taking surgical calls months before, KC said. That Fall, three and a half years into his residency program, KC chose to go on medical leave. As a result of these series of events, he had developed symptoms of depression and anxiety. KC also met with the director of the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) at the time, Frédéric Fovet, who informed KC that he was the third medical resident to contact him regarding disability-related discrimination and lack of accommodation. KC contacted the Ombudsman at McGill to report his case, who said the Dean of Students, André Costopoulos, would handle it. Costopoulos agreed that he should have received accommodations to prevent his situation from deteriorating, but nothing came of this. KC alleges instead, that when Armand Aalamian, the Associate Dean of Postgraduate Medical Education and Professional Affairs, started at McGill, he did not recognize KC’s disability. KC had
to submit to more testing, which again confirmed his diagnosis. A year before resigning, KC met with the Human Rights Commission and informed the Faculty of Medicine of this meeting. He told the Faculty that “it would be a case that [the Commission] would accept,” but his situation, again, remained unchanged. A systemic problem In June 2015, the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS) put McGill’s Undergraduate Medical Education (UGME) program on probation for failing to meet 24 accreditation standards and requiring monitoring on an additional eight. Dean of Medicine and Vice Principal (Health Affairs) David Eidelman told The Daily in an interview that there were four categories of problems that CACMS identified, including curricular monitoring, issues related to clinical learning environments, failure of the school’s program at a teaching site in Gatineau to meet certain criteria, and changes to the curriculum that had not been implemented. Eidelman highlighted that “issues of accommodation were not in the accreditation survey.” He also noted that the Faculty of Medicine is not on probation, only the UGME. But in an intrview with The Daily, Fo Neimi, executive director of CRARR, said “We wonder to what extent there’s a correlation [between KC’s case and the school’s probation] because I don’t think we can solve this case without addressing what we call the more systemic problem.” Niemi said that “one of the conditions of probation is that you have to improve the issue of mistreatment of students when they complain or when they need help.” According to Eidelman, since being put on probation, the school has upgraded the quality and functioning of the curriculum committee, revised the administration of education services, and revisited the consultation and governance models in place for the faculty, among other changes. KC informed The Daily of at least six other residents who he says have not been accommodated or faced roadblocks to accommodations. “Even if [students are] informed and supported, the faculty seems to be requiring one proof after another, to the point where [people’s cases] just get drawn out,” Niemi said. While Niemi and KC question if these complaints signify a sys-
Cassandra Ryan | Illustrator temic issue, in an interview with The Daily, Costopoulos noted that he does not believe there are more student complaints or issues filed in the Faculty of Medicine than in other faculties. When students bring a complaint to him, Costopoulos said his office works to understand both the student’s situation and any constraints of the faculty, and also reaches out to appropriate services, such as the OSD. His office proposes solutions and, according to him, “usually it works.” However, “In a very few cases [consensus isn’t reached], and that may lead to escalating to a decision by a dean in a faculty or, ultimately, in very, very few cases, a grievance,” he admitted. KC’s situation appears to be one such case, as his meeting with Costopoulos did not yield a solution with the Faculty. When asked about her experience with medical students, Teri Phillips, the director of the OSD, told The
Daily in an email, “In my five months as the director of the OSD, I have not personally met with any medical students […] nor have I had any specific concerns brought to my attention.” “Generally, the Faculty [of Medicine] is very accommodating to students in terms of things related to health and well-being,” Eidelman told The Daily, “Whether that meets the expectations of all students, I can’t say,” he added. Eidelman admitted that “sometimes students and the administration disagree on what is a valid reason for accommodation,” but he believes that this does not apply to health problems. Niemi maintains that “the facts speak for themselves. This case will hopefully be a wake up call, because the moment the Dean of Students is informed, that’s part of management, [so] the entire university management, like it or not, must be informed.” *Name has been changed
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
The curious case of the peaceful anti-police brutality protest
Demonstrators and journalists reflect on Montreal police’s behaviour Joseph Timan News Writer
n March 15, the 20th annual demonstration against police brutality, organized by the Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière (COBP), ended peacefully, to the surprise of many. In previous years, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) have consistently kettled marchers, issued tickets, and assaulted demonstrators. Two weeks after the march took place, demonstrators and journalists who regularly attend Montreal anti-police brutality events are still questioning why the police behaved so differently this year. In an interview with The Daily, Jennifer Bobette, a Montreal-based artist and COBP sympathizer, said that the press conference held by the Standing Committee for the Support of Demonstrators (SCSD) the day before the demonstration “helped a lot.” SCSD called “on civil society to attend, whether to participate in the protest or to simply be a witness to what will occur.” SCSD reasoned that the SPVM would act with more restraint if they were aware that the march had a wide audience. Bobette also spoke about the barbeque that took place at Parc La Fontaine right before the march. “[The barbeque was] to offer the family, the old people, the kids, [...] a spot to exchange about police brutality in a calm atmosphere,” Bobette said. Franklin Lopez, who was covering the demonstration for subMedia. TV, told The Daily, “It was a peaceful march for the most part, people got their rage out, and then at the end, people got on the metro and went home.” Nevertheless, many who attended the demonstration claimed that protesters did not act differently from previous years. Matt D’Amours, a reporter at the Link who attended the march, told The Daily, “Before the march started, they had an effigy of a police officer as a pig, and it was a piñata that they whacked. So the tone, the discourse was hardcore, it was militant, it was anti-police.” D’Amours, who has attended many demonstrations in Montreal, claimed that the difference this time was that the police were less visible. He believes that heavy police presence at the beginning of previous years’ demonstrations may have played a role in provoking violence.
Heavy police presence at the 2015 annual march against police brutality. Katie Nelson, a Concordia student activist, agreed. Nelson told The Daily, “In one of the most violent protests that happens in Montreal every year, no violence happened because no police were there. I think that speaks a lot.”
“They’ve been stripped of those legal mechanisms by which they were cracking down on us before.” Aaron Lakoff, CKUT Radio news coordinator Nevertheless, while the police were less visible this year, riot police still followed the march on parallel roads. For this reason, Jaggi Singh, a Montreal-based activist, believes that the police were not showing any restraint at all. “This year was profoundly violent,” Singh said in an interview with The Daily. “The presence of hundreds of riot police, the helicopter, the history of this demonstration, meant that it was a profoundly violent place to be, not because of any particular actions of protesters, but because of the police.” Singh was reluctant to speculate as to why the police acted differ-
ently this year. “I feel like we can’t know that unless we’re a fly on the wall in a police station,” Singh said. “And even then, there are a lot of independent factors at play.” SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras told The Daily that the SPVM adjusts its strategies according to what happens, but Gingras did note one difference this year. “[The protest] was not legal in the sense that they did not give us an itinerary, but it was still nonetheless tolerated,” Gingras said. Last year, the police immediately stopped the march by declaring it illegal according to municipal bylaw P-6, which requires an itinerary to be submitted to the police prior to demonstrations. Police also issued fines to individuals for “[obstructing] vehicular traffic on a public highway,” under Quebec Highway Code Section 500.1. However, the courts ruled in favour of many who contested these tickets, and in November 2015, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that the use of the section is invalid, claiming that it violates constitutional rights. Aaron Lakoff, a community organizer involved in supporting the victims of police brutality and the news coordinator at CKUT Radio, said in an interview with The Daily, “The fact that they did not intervene in this demonstration is really based on the fact that they’ve been stripped of those legal mechanisms by which they were cracking down on us before.”
Cem Ertekin | The McGill Daily
However, D’Amours, who has been ticketed by police for “obstruction of roads” at other demonstrations in Montreal, said, “In no way do I think that the police were hamstrung on the evening of the police brutality demo. They still have tons of tools at their disposal if they wanted to clamp down on a protest.” D’Amours instead pointed to “PR reasons” as a reason why the police allowed the march to take place this year without detaining, assaulting, or ticketing protestors.
“In no way do I think that the police were hamstrung on the evening of the police brutality demo. They still have tons of tools at their disposal if they wanted to clamp down on a protest.” Matt D’Amours, Link reporter
The SPVM’s poor public image worsened in December when an undercover officer pulled out a gun at a protest. Nelson, who was hospitalized as a result of this protest, told The Daily that “the only reasonable explanation I can find is that they’re just trying to save public image.” Reflecting on the SPVM’s worsening public image, Bobette said, “More and more the SPVM are fucking up [with] their profiling, their police repression toward ethnic people in Montreal North, or the social cleansing that they are doing downtown.” Although the lack of violence at the March 15 demonstration was seen as a victory, D’Amours was cautious in assuming that the police will continue to behave this way in the future. “I’m not convinced that this is going to be the strategy, that [this] tactic is going to continue to be applied night after night,” he said. Bobette was optimistic about a rise in attendance in future demonstrations. However, Nelson argued that protestors’ fear and anxiety will not disappear. “Even if they completely turn around tomorrow and apologize for all the injustice and all the violence and take accountability for all the things that have happened, I don’t think people will go into protests feeling safe,” Nelson said.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
SSMU adopts Indigenous Solidarity Policy
Supplementary Council meeting considers twelve notices of motion Saima Desai The McGill Daily
he Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened on March 31 for a supplementary meeting, where they adopted a Policy on Indigenous Solidarity and discussed five other motions. Council also considered 12 notices of motion, which will be brought back for debate at this week’s Council meeting on April 7. These include motions regarding the proposed Smoking on Campus Policy and Accessibility Policy, the service status of Elections SSMU, and amendments to the Internal Regulations of the Elections and Referenda. Club status for Indigenous groups SSMU Indigenous Affairs Coordinator Leslie Anne St. Amour explained to Council that the proposed policy on Indigenous Solidarity includes consultation protocols for matters that have a direct impact on Indigenous students at McGill. The policy also outlines ways in which SSMU can support Indigenous students, like accommodations for access to the Shatner building, and ways that SSMU can lobby the University for continued support of Indigenous students and an increase in Indigenous course content. There was discussion regarding which SSMU events would require
a traditional territory acknowledgement. VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik explained that certain events, like Activities Night, would be exempt, “because that would require running floor to floor with a megaphone,” she said. The motion also saw debate over access to status as a SSMU club: some councillors advocated removing a clause that would waive the membership requirements for creating and maintaining Indigenous student groups due to the underrepresentation of Indigenous students at McGill. Under other circumstances, the interim status application for clubs requires a list of at least ten McGill students who are interested in being members of the club. Bialik argued that the clause was unnecessary because the Club Committee already waives the tenmember requirement at its discretion, so “all it does is water down what a club is.” “This is something that multiple Indigenous student groups have asked for, because it’s something that they have struggled with over the years,” retorted St. Amour. “I take issue with leaving this decision of whether or not to allow Indigenous student groups to become clubs with less than ten people [...] in the discretion of [the Club Committee] because we have no assurance that that group will understand [...] just how under-
SSMU Council. represented Indigenous students are at McGill.” According to St. Amour, there are fewer than 230 Indigenous students at McGill, from the undergraduate to the postdoctoral level. The wording of the policy was amended to mandate the Club Committee to consider the underrepresentation of Indigenous students at McGill when assessing applications for club status from Indigenous student groups, and waive club requirements when appropriate. The motion passed with 23 in favour and 1 abstention.
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily Other motions Council voted unanimously to approve an update to executive job descriptions, as well as a motion simplifying appointments to vacant CKUT representative positions. A motion to amend SSMU’s Policy on Support for Family Care also passed unanimously, mandating event organizers to provide child care regardless of the hour of the event. For example, the organizers of an event like 4Floors, which continues until the early morning hours, would be mandated to provide child care throughout that event.
Finally, Council passed a motion regarding First Year Council (FYC) restructuring. With the FYC having failed its service review earlier this year, the motion sought to revoke the service status of FYC, instead institutionalizing it as a SSMU body under the portfolio of the VP Internal. Bialik said that SSMU service status “isn’t the most appropriate for a student group that’s run by first-years, which generally requires more support than a lot of our autonomously run services.” The motion passed unanimously.
Fracking threatens Indigenous culture Documentary premiere and discussion highlights structural injustice
Grace MacEwan News Writer
n March 21, Cinema Politica Concordia, a group whose mission is “to promote, disseminate, exhibit, and promote the discussion of political cinema by independent artists,” premiered a documentary called Fractured Land. The film follows the path of Caleb Behn, a young Indigenous lawyer, as he fights for the land rights of his people in Northern British Columbia against the rapid expansion of liquid natural gas (LNG) extraction through fracking. The film documents the sale of exploration and extraction rights of parcels of land in Northern BC to companies, the lack of real consultation with communities, and the lack of regulation and monitoring of operations. It also shows
Behn’s whirlwind journey through law school as an activist in his community. Over the course of the film, Behn speaks at several high-profile events and journeys to New Zealand to meet Maori communities facing similar threats. The movie includes an emotional scene in which Behn’s father speaks about his experience in a residential school, and others speak of high suicide rates in Indigenous communities and the pain of losing one’s culture. Structural injustice, loss of Indigenous culture Behn himself was at the event where he answered audience questions. As Behn was introduced, he squatted down to the ground explaining that, as a man, “[he is] very aware of body language.” Throughout the question
period, he returned to squatting in a gesture of humility. The discussion, much like the film itself, was about more than the struggle against unjust LNG extraction in Northern BC. Broader themes of structural injustice and loss of Indigenous culture and way of life were woven into the story of fracking for LNG. While watching the film, it was clear that LNG extraction is only part of the problem, and that there is more being fractured than just the land. Behn spoke of his own struggle being away from the land and living in a highly adversarial environment instead. “My world is war,” he said. He said that while filming the movie, he nearly killed himself three times. However, his motivation for leaving the land to become a lawyer is clear; in the film, he
explains to one of his peers that lawyers are the only people in this country to whom judges listen.
“The honesty that Caleb exhibits in the film and his talk afterwards move me very deeply.” Vivian Wiseman, The Raging Grannies In an interview with The Daily, Diana Tapia Munguía, one of the coordinators of Cinema Politica, said the goal of the event was “getting truth on the screen and making it open and free for everyone so they can take action.”
Behn had some words of encouragement for those who want to take action: even small action matters, when it’s done in a way that “seeks to critique or understand.” However, he emphasized the need to engage strategically to have an impact because “the systems of disempowerment are so well structured after 600 years.” The evening ended with a performance by the Raging Grannies, a group of grandmothers that draw attention to issues of peace, environment, and social justice through singing and street theatre. Vivian Wiseman, a member of the Raging Grannies, said that “the honesty that Caleb exhibits in the film and in his talk afterwards move me very deeply. […] I am in awe of his self-understanding, and it gives me a lot of optimism for the future.”
Aprl 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Year in review “In the current economic system, a decent wage is one of the few things that shows an employer’s respect for workers, and the low wages support staff receive [at McGill] show a serious lack of respect from the administration.”
Cem Ertekin | The McGill Daily
—Molly Swain, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), speaking with The Daily in September, in response to allegations that McGill violated provincial Bill 100, which restricts pay raises in order to combat provincial debt
Elizabeth May was in Montreal on October 10, participating in a protest against the Energy East and Line 9B pipelines.
“I am so tired of a man so smug that he can look at any one of our victims, any one of our missing women, and say ‘you don’t matter’. Well I’m gonna tell Stephen Harper one thing and one thing only. And that is, Stephen Harper, you don’t matter. We are done with inept leaders.” —A speaker from the Kanien’keháka (Mohawk) Nation at a vigil for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women on October 4
Cem Ertekin | The McGill Daily Members of the Non-Status Women’s Collective of Montreal held a press conference on January 18 at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. The speakers, who wore masks to protect their identities, talked about their experiences living undocumented lives and reiterated their demand that they be “regularized.”
“I do think there’s an obligation to not be complicit in war crimes and violent, aggressive warfare.” —Jason (pseudonym), a member of Demilitarize McGill, encouraging alumni to take a pledge not to donate to McGill until military research is ended at the university, as part of the Change McGill campaign Vigil held for victims of police violence.
Saima Desai | The McGill Daily
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Year in review “We have called for this. It is your moral obligation as people of social conscience to answer this call. It is not your obligation to tell what Israel has done to us. Every single Jewish student in this room can fly to Israel tomorrow, while I have never been able to step foot on that land.” —Laura Khoury, a Palestinian student and organizer for McGill BDS Action Network, at the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2016 General Assembly, speaking in favour of a motion to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at McGill Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily McGill BDS Action Network launched its campaign on February 4.
“How many of you feel safe to go to the police to report a crime? I don’t. My current case is open, nothing’s being done. They’re not pursuing the men that have raped me.”
Marina Cupido | The McGill Daily On January 23, climate activists delivered a “people’s junction” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office. The people’s injunction called on the National Energy Board (NEB) to “immediately suspend the ongoing reviews of the TransCanada Energy East and Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipelines […] until the NEB’s environmental review process is reformed, as promised by Justin Trudeau during his campaign.”
he 2015-16 year in student activism was bookended by the actions of Divest McGill, with Fossil Free Week in September and a sit-in by activists in March. They managed to garner the support, solidarity, and rage of thousands of students and community members. In fact, Divest McGill’s actions even eclipsed Demilitarize McGill, which was suspiciously quiet this year. However, they did protest the Remembrance Day ceremony, run a countercampaign to the McGill24 fundraising day, and throw fake blood at a defence contractor recruitment event on campus.
This year also saw a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion brought up at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly and the concurrent emergence of the McGill BDS Action Network, which provoked a powerful backlash from some parts of the McGill community. The division between those who speak the rhetoric of so-called political neutrality and those who mobilize for social justice is only widening. The sweeping federal victory of Justin Trudeau in October was seen by some as a success for the left, and yet Trudeau has
—A speaker affliated with Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, at the Take Back the Night march on November 7, describing her experiences of seeking redress in the wake of repeated sexual violence
already been called into question over some of his decisions, or lack thereof; climate activists delivered a people’s injunction to Trudeau’s Montreal office in January, calling on the National Energy Board (NEB) to suspend the ongoing review of pipeline projects going through Indigenous territories. With the influx of Syrian refugees to Montreal – as part of Trudeau’s campaign promises – many have also called for the revaluation of immigration policies and the regularization of non-status people in Canada. Austerity, and resistance to it, has
also been a notable theme. This year saw the creation of SSMU’s McGill Against Austerity, as well as numerous protests in Montreal against the provincial government’s budget cuts to the education sector. In the meantime, the University faced intense scrutiny over practically everything, including its lack of a sexual assault policy, the dismal state of its employment equity, and its general propensity to stuff its fingers in its ears and hum loudly in the face of widespread and vocal student organizing.
SSMU End of Year Reviews
his year has been rough on the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives. Understaffed, underfunded, overworked, the SSMU executives nevertheless strove to fulfill their duties – though in dealing with day-to-day tasks, larger visions have languished. Mercifully, some of the troubles from the Fall semester have been resolved in Winter, with the election of a General Manager and VP Internal, and the hiring of a Daycare Director. With that in mind, the executives have been able to do their job, instead of perpetually picking up the slack. SSMU’s predicament, however, points to a broader trend in student politics. In SSMU, a student culture of caffeine-fuelled late nights collides with the rigor of a daytime office workplace. Facing unrealistically high expectations for a thankless task,
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
most executives have commented that their mental and physical health have been negatively affected. President Kareem Ibrahim told The Daily, “I don’t have the emotional energy to do [this job] again.” Perhaps this is why the number of candidates for executive positions was so low this year. Being a SSMU executive is perceived to be very harmful – not to mention the toxic environment that always seems to emerge during elections. This is a problem that SSMU and the undergraduate student body at large need to address. Our student union is our foremost instrument in lobbying for student interests. If it is increasingly inaccessible, this is to the detriment of all of us. A long-term investment in a healthier environment for student politicians is in all of McGill students’ best interests.
- Compiled by Ellen Cools, Saima Desai, and Cem Ertekin
Andy Wei | The McGill Daily
President Kareem Ibrahim
areem Ibrahim has spent most of his year as President shouldering the responsibilities of other executives and staff. Ibrahim’s work was fettered by a few notable staff vacancies this year: SSMU was lacking a VP Internal, an events manager, a Building Director, a General Manager, and a Daycare Director at various points throughout the year. As a result, Ibrahim devoted time to tasks outside his portfolio, such as managing the daycare and working on Indigenous Affairs, a task that falls under the VP University Affairs’ portfolio. He made significant strides in the latter project, supervising the Indigenous Affairs Coordinator, and drafting a policy on Indigenous solidarity, which was adopted at Council last week. Ibrahim’s most visible accomplishment was organizing the 2016 Winter General Assembly (GA), which he called a “solo mission.” It involved fitting over 900 students into the Shatner building to discuss multiple motions, including the motion to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at McGill. In the meantime, some smaller things have fallen through the cracks. For instance, the Know Your SSMU event series was shelved. Speaking to The Daily, Ibrahim expressed frustration at the myriad of projects he didn’t have time to follow through with. Ibrahim also faced roadblocks in his communication with upper administration. As the sole student representative on the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), he said he was “heavily outnumbered” in the recent decision to not divest McGill’s holdings in fossil fuel companies. Next year, the SSMU executive team will see the addition of a seventh executive, as well as a reshuffling of tasks between portfolios – all without an increase in the SSMU membership fee, which was voted down in a referendum earlier this semester. Ibrahim says he’s focusing on preserving institutional memory in the face of such a significant transition. Instead of having exit reports, he’s working on creating guides for all processes – including how to run for an executive position – since the current lack of institutional memory means that, in his words, “the wheel is being reinvented annually.”
Andy Wei | The McGill Daily
VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik
imber Bialik has been focusing on long term projects this year, with a particular emphasis on a protracted vision for the Shatner building and its accessibility. Bialik said that she regretted being less accessible this semester, compared to last semester, which was due to the resignation of some essential student staff and a resulting increase in her workload. Even so, she’s been highly active on Council, bringing forth a slew of motions pertaining to her platform – though she commented that her workload has also meant that she couldn’t thoroughly research some of the motions presented at Council, and too often abstained from voting as a result. Bialik has worked hard on the creation of an accessibility policy, calling it a “special interest project,” even though it falls somewhat outside her portfolio. She should be commended for her choice not to remain bound by the specific duties of her role, since SSMU has taken significant steps toward physical accessibility this year under her guidance. An accessibility audit occurred in February, and while Bialik is still waiting on the final report, she’s envisioning changes to the physical accessibility of Shatner, such as transitioning to non-fluorescent lights and installing more automatic doors. Her largest accomplishment, however, is the restructuring of the twenty SSMU Services. Bialik raised concerns about the current services structure, saying that it lacked accountability because of a need for more SSMU oversight. With six services failing service reviews this year, the services review committee has recommended moving away from an autonomous model of service provision. Services are notoriously resistant to change, and hopefully next year, the VP Student Life will work more closely with services to implement a more integrated model of service provision, rather than ignore the concerns that Bialik has worked hard to elucidate this year.
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily
VP Internal Omar El-Sharawy
mar El-Sharawy’s term as VP Internal only started in January, meaning that he had much less time than his colleagues to adjust to the job. El-Sharawy has focused most of his attention on the events part of his portfolio, fulfilling his elections promise by working to increase the inclusivity of the events SSMU organizes. His biggest and most challenging event was Faculty Olympics, and he relied heavily on the support of his committee to organize it. El-Sharawy has opted to decentralize the organization of Frosh, scaling back SSMU’s role in Frosh to one of harm-reduction and general support for the individual faculties. For that purpose, El-Sharawy has helped create three new positions: a harm reduction and logistics coordinator, a community engagement and outreach coordinator, and a Frosh administrator. Letting faculty associations have more leeway in the planning and organizing of their own Frosh is a novel approach, and could be welcome, considering the troubles encountered this year, such as the logistical nightmare that was the Beach Day. Hopefully, ElSharawy’s successor Daniel Lawrie will be able to uphold this harm-reduction approach that El-Sharawy and his staff have attempted to create. As a member of SSMU Council, El-Sharawy told The Daily he has attempted to “step in when there’s a need for me to step in.” When he ran last Fall, The Daily expressed reservations about El-Sharawy’s stance on SSMU’s position as a political actor. Unfortunately, our reservations were well-founded as El-Sharawy has maintained his apoliticism, going as far as saying that students want “SSMU to be more fun, and less political” while discussing a motion regarding solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) at the March 28 Council meeting. While his stated aim was to avoid alienating the broader student body and to represent the interests of each of his constituents, the mindset that has characterized his term – that “fun” and “politics” must preclude each other – is indicative of a broader misunderstanding of the student society’s role.
SSMU End of Year Reviews
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily
VP External Emily Boytinck
mily Boytinck took over the position of VP External last year when momentous change began to take place in the Quebec student movement. The Féderation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), Quebec’s largest provincial student federation, was at the point of dissolution; the Spring 2015 anti-austerity movement was gathering momentum; and the SSMU Winter 2015 General Assembly (GA) had seen SSMU adopt multiple political positions, including one regarding the creation of a climate change policy. Boytinck attempted to address all of these issues during her tenure as VP External. Over the summer, she was involved in discussions on the creation of the two new provincial federations: the Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ) and the Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ). She worked hard to educate both SSMU Council and the entire student body about the implications of affiliation with each. While undergraduate students ultimately voted against affiliating with AVEQ, Boytinck’s dedication to making Quebec student movements part of McGill’s internal student politics is commendable and very welcome at an anglophone university that’s too often isolated from provincial student politics. That her successor David Aird plans to continue the dialogue on student federations is proof that Boytinck’s contribution to SSMU’s institutional memory has been significant. Under Boytinck’s tenure, we have also seen the creation of McGill Against Austerity, which started off as a SSMU initiative, but has now taken a life of its own. Similarly, Divest McGill’s work has reached a new high this year: despite the fact that the University has refused to divest from the fossil fuel industry, Divest McGill’s resolve remains stronger than ever. Instead of directly assuming control of these entities, Boytinck has helped them to remain autonomous, thereby ensuring the long-term sustainability of anti-austerity and environmental activism.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Andy Wei | The McGill Daily
VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke
hloe Rourke has been tasked with managing a broad, diverse portfolio this year, and she says she has largely managed to do so without significantly neglecting any one area of the portfolio – a feat in itself. Rourke has been most vocal in advocating for mental health, especially important at a time when many students are decrying the insensitive, inefficient, and impractical nature of mental health care at McGill, as well as the gaping disconnect between McGill Mental Health Service (MMHS) and Counselling Services. She has been pushing to implement a step-care model to reduce wait times, and is working toward a common triage system between Health Services, Counselling Services, and MMHS, hopefully to be implemented in September. Rourke has also been collaborating with President Kareem Ibrahim to institutionalize Indigenous Affairs within SSMU and organize the first ever Indigeneity and Allyship event series. They are also advocating for the University to recognize and implement aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation report in consultation with Indigenous student groups. Earlier this year, The Daily criticized Rourke’s inattention to equity initiatives. This semester, Rourke has strived to do more in this regard, by working in projects such as the SSMU Accessibility Policy spearheaded by VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik, which will be discussed at this week’s Council. Rourke was out of the office in December on bereavement leave, and said that she relied heavily on her experienced team of student staff to make sure that her work “didn’t grind to a halt,” though this certainly slowed the momentum of her projects. She faced significant challenges in the Memorandum of Agreement negotiations with the University, saying that during negotiations, she felt she was “working within a system that really just doesn’t get it, and that’s really frustrating.” The Sexual Violence Policy (formerly known as the Sexual Assault Policy) which was completed last month, has also stalled in the upper administration. Hopefully her successor Erin Sobat will not lose sight of the initiatives that have gotten stuck in the gears of McGill’s bureaucracy.
Andy Wei | The McGill Daily
VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston
ith the splitting up of the VP Finance and Operations portfolio next year, Zacheriah Houston has been working on overhauling the relevant internal regulations. He has successfully developed new internal regulations wherein funding can only be allocated by the funding committee and groups can now apply for funding through said committee. Restructuring the funding committee has also been a major success for Houston. He told The Daily the funding application forms have been revamped: instead of asking for cover letters, the funding committee asks very specific questions with word limits on the answers. Furthermore, the applications have been moved completely online. In turn, this has significantly reduced meeting times for the committee, making the volunteers more engaged and the process a lot faster. Houston also noted that one of his biggest successes was supporting SSMU Services, remarking that he has a meaningful understanding of the activities of each one, which allows him to be a better resource. One of the difficulties Houston faced was committing enough time and attention to the operations aspect of his portfolio. He admitted that he was more involved with the SSMU budget instead of finding solutions for the Student Run Cafe’s deficit. “I take this quite seriously, I am disappointed with this,” he told The Daily. This past year has seen a large number of fees that were passed or renewed. Houston noted that “it took a lot of time, but a lot of really good positive fees passed,” citing the renewal of the equity fee, and mental health fee, among others. While the referendum question to increase the SSMU membership fee did not pass, Houston emphasized that a lot of work went into calculating the proposed fee increase of $5.50, which has helped him acquire a thorough understanding of SSMU’s budget. Houston claims that SSMU became unsustainable financially because previous VP Finances and Operations focused too much on the shortterm, but he has taken the long-term seriously, not only to balance the budget, but to develop a sustainable future plan.
PGSS End of Year Reviews
he Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS) has had a relatively relaxed year. Most of the problems the executives had to deal with were issues remaining unresolved from last year due to high rates of turnover. The disagreement over the severity of the budget deficit, for instance, is due to years of mismanagement. The PGSS budget remains unnecessarily complex and prone to being misunderstood. This year’s Financial Affairs Officer has attempted to fix this problem; however, the fact that Council nevertheless dedicated a significant portion of its time to understanding the budget suggests that making the budget more accessible is easier said than done. Speaking of complexities, the fact that PGSS Council meeting documents remain highly inaccessible to undergraduate members of the student press is concerning. Trying to obtain Council meeting documents to report accurately on PGSS procedures has been an ongoing problem for The Daily this year. The purpose of journalism is to keep
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
organizations accountable, and that cannot be done if the organizations don’t make information at least minimally available. Hopefully, future executives will understand this problem as significant enough to warrant a solution. Of course, all this can only be possible if there are any executives in the first place. The abysmal candidate turnout at this year’s elections is indicative of a broader problem within PGSS. Similarly to SSMU’s relationship to undergrads, PGSS is the most powerful instrument grad students have to protect their interests. Given that it’s an instrument, however, it must have competent people to wield it. Unopposed candidates tend to win elections at McGill, meaning that voters rarely evaluate these candidates critically. As such, it is the executives’ responsibility to find and train multiple successors and foster healthy competition, so that students can elect executives that will really represent their interests.
- Compiled by Ellen Cools, Saima Desai, and Cem Ertekin
Secretary General Danielle Toccalino
anielle Toccalino ran on a platform she described to The Daily as being “very ambitious,” since many of her goals turned out to be out of her reach. She had promised to visit each of the 57 post-graduate student association (PGSA) meetings at least once a semester in order to solicit broad opinion, but could not do so due to time constraints. That being said, she actively encouraged PGSAs to reach out to her if they had questions or concerns, to some success. As PGSS Representative to the Board of Governors and Senate, she said she felt torn between representing students and representing the University. She also expressed a desire for more discussion within meetings, saying that concerns she raised often went unaddressed. As a self-described “policy person,” she highlighted her work in refining PGSS’s bylaws and Society Affairs Manual (SAM), in an attempt to make them “accessible and comprehensive.” Though she spearheaded two rounds of bylaw changes and various SAM edits, Toccalino said that the project was also overly ambitious, and she lacked the time to refine them as thoroughly as she would have liked. She has also put together an information policy to govern and mandate access to information such as council minutes and executive meeting agendas. In addition, she has created the first PGSS code of conduct, and has instituted a conflict of interest disclaimer for PGSS employees and Board of Directors members. She also worked to ensure that all executive officers and commissioners underwent equity and diversity training, and most underwent mental health first aid training.
Member Services Officer Brighita Lungu
his was Brighita Lungu’s second year as the Member Services Officer (MSO). Recent disagreement over the severity of PGSS’s budget deficit has meant that the most recent Financial Affairs Officers (FAOs) have targeted services for cuts. Lungu said that this has increased the burden of her job because she has to advocate for the protection of services not only at the university level but also within the executive committee. In terms of services, Lungu has highlighted Study Sundays as among her biggest accomplishments. Originally an initiative by the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL) and taken over by PGSS in 2012, Study Sundays are organized once a month and aim to provide students who are also parents with a quiet study space and free childcare. This year, the project came close to cancellation, but Lungu salvaged the program by sacrificing the free lunches provided by Thomson House. It is disappointing to see Lungu forced into these kinds of concessions, especially considering her original desire to increase the amount of services PGSS provides, but she has remained a strong and passionate advocate for PGSS services. Hopefully Lungu’s firm stance on the importance of PGSS services will be reflected in institutional memory, and future MSOs will also fight back against cuts demanded by FAOs. On the university level, Lungu has been working with her counterparts at SSMU to lobby the office of the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) (DPSLL) to be more transparent with the student services budget. A huge chunk of the student services budget is paid for by student fees, yet the University, until recently, has been reticent in sharing this information with the student body. It has taken her two years to convince DPSLL Ollivier Dyens to increase transparency of the budget. Hopefully her successors will be able to use the released information for more targeted and efficient advocacy.
Internal Affairs Officer Mina Anadolu
ust like her SSMU counterpart Omar El-Sharawy, Mina Anadolu took the Internal Affairs Officer (IAO) position in the middle of the academic year, following the resignation of her predecessor Sahil Kumar. Anadolu’s biggest concern this year has been the lack of awareness by members of PGSS of the society’s existence and the extent of its activities. As such, Anadolu reached out to clubs and services on campus to involve them in PGSS events. Anadolu tried to change the function of the Internal Affairs Committee (IAC) from being a “party-planning committee” (a definition at which she balked) into a more politically charged entity. In Anadolu’s words, “You come to board games night, you leave knowing more about the Syrian refugee situation; you come to speed dating, you learn about safe partying and safe sex.” Her pushback against the stereotype of an apolitical IAO is definitely commendable. As stated, Anadolu believes that the biggest problem PGSS faces is its visibility. At the end of this year’s official nominations period, PGSS had only one candidate: Anadolu herself, running for re-election. After extending the nomination period, only one position out of six was contested. As the IAO, Anadolu’s task has been to communicate with the student body, yet student apathy appears to have been especially acute during the Winter 2016 PGSS General Elections. Fortunately, Anadolu is forthright about this issue. She admitted that she hasn’t been in touch with postgraduate student associations (PGSAs) as often as she’d like. In order for PGSS elections to be fully democratic, and more than just an opportunity for student politicians to pad their resumes, increasing the level of student engagement will be one of the most important tasks that Anadolu will shoulder next year.
PGSS End of Year Reviews
External Affairs Officer Bradley Por
hile Bradley Por did not have much experience in student politics prior to becoming External Affairs Officer (EAO), he told The Daily, “This has been, personally, one of the best experiences I’ve had, particularly because I’m actually a student of politics and law, so to experience it on the ground has been really enlightening.” Por ran on a platform emphasizing more active student engagement in the Quebec student movement. One of the difficulties he faced was communicating to students the importance of student federations. While Por said he was successful in presenting the two student unions – Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ) and the Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ) – to students and in creating an affiliation policy, he maintains that engagement at the provincial level is one of the major challenges for external officers. He further emphasized the importance of having EAOs who are political and do their best to fire up students’ interests. Another one of Por’s platform points focused on building a coalition of student associations to confront austerity. In working with both UEQ and AVEQ, Por has taken admirably firm stances against austerity. This week he will be organizing a forum on PGSS and the Quebec student movement, with an emphasis on austerity – though he noted that he wished he held more forums during the year, and we’d tend to agree. While Por campaigned with the promise of making himself available through office hours in Thomson House, he told The Daily that he did not succeed in doing so, citing the fact that students do not show up to these kinds of office hours as much as he’d like them to. The Daily wonders, however, how Por would know whether students wanted to attend his office hours if he did not hold them in the first place. Por said he often found himself communicating with students just by being in Thomson House, though it should be noted that this does not pass as sufficient consultation.
Academic Affairs Officer Devin Mills
evin Mills ran on a platform highlighting communication and transparency, and told The Daily he believes he has been successful in these regards. For instance, Mills has revised the PGSS reporting and committee structures. He stated that prior to this revision, the Academic Affairs Officer (AAO) was considered the point person for everyone, which, he argued, was inefficient. The revised structure makes individuals already on specific committees within PGSS representatives to a range of university committees. According to Mills, the goal is that the “reporting will become very organic in nature.” Mills has also worked extensively with the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) Josephine Nalbantoglu on several projects, including creating a revised template for the annual graduate student progress tracking system, which now includes an additional section on conflicts of interest. Mills added he hopes this will create “an opportunity for dialogue between the professor and [their] students,” and it will also ensure everyone is aware of the existing regulations. Mills admitted that he did not sit on library advisory board meetings as often as he had initially pledged, nor did he host as many focus groups and workshops as he had planned. However, he has taken steps to resolve the lack of structural support that he encountered during his time in the role for the benefit of future AAOs. Mills revised the structure of the Academic Affairs Committee to help the AAO with their primary duties. He highlighted recruitment as one such priority, adding that over the past year he took “some of the easier roads as far as trying to recruit people [through] emails, invitations, flyers.” Mills believes this restructured committee would have helped him by working with people committed to the position’s portfolio and goals. His work in creating a more sustainable committee structure will hopefully have positive effects next year.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Financial Affairs Officer Behrang Sharif
ehrang Sharif has worked hard to provide PGSS members with a clear and understandable breakdown of the budget. Sharif emphasized the importance of structural changes to the budget, noting that the current structure is difficult to understand, and redoing the whole budget is a large, time consuming task. He told The Daily that it took him a few months to understand the budget, and he has been trying to make it understandable for students. Sharif is particularly proud of the new budget templates, which he believes will be in use for many years to come. He consulted with previous Financial Affairs Officers and an accountant at PGSS, and so far he said he has received very positive feedback on the functionality of the template. He also noted the fact that the event budget is one of the biggest budget lines and was not balanced. Sharif has implemented a broad budget structure that he believes will be “self-maintaining.” While improvements have been made in how PGSS runs events, the services the society provides, and in how the budget is balanced between the business side of PGSS and the society, Sharif wishes he could have had the time to “focus on the bigger picture improvements.” One of these goals included focusing more on improving how the business is providing services for members. Sharif also shared some of his frustrations about the position, remarking that “when I started this, and still in some cases, we’re doing things not because they make sense, but because they have been historically done like that.” The yearly turnover of PGSS executives coming soon means that momentum for implementing programs or changing procedures is often cut short. Hopefully with Sharif’s improvements, institutional memory will be strong enough to withstand the quick turnovers.
April 4. 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
The exploitative lens
How photography dehumanizes Black and Brown bodies Khatira Mahdavi Commentary Writer
s an artistic and journalistic medium, photography gives its audience access to realities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Photos that feature Brown and Black bodies as victims of war, famine, and other humanitarian crises are often produced under the guise of generating sympathy and awareness toward the immense violence that continues to plague much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Photojournalists, often white male ones, capture and circulate these images under a framework of advocacy meant to highlight and bring attention to these victims of violence. However, this advocacy fails when, within the chaos of image distribution, these photos lose their context and the people in them – lifeless or not – are dehumanized. They become nameless symbols of violence that must be stopped, of people who must be saved, all without acknowledgement of the systems causing the violence in the first place. This is how neocolonialism is justified. If the Western masses can be convinced that these bodies represent an uncivilized, helpless, and homogenous people, Western nations can continue to validate their intrusions into these countries. Throughout the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, photography has been crucial in reporting the hostile conditions endured by refugees. However, it has also created fertile ground for the exploitation of their bodies. Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy whose lifeless body was found off the coast of Turkey, became victim to this phenomenon as his image went viral online and on social media. His body became politicized and used in support of various political agendas without a trace of his humanity spared for those who knew and loved him. He was sketched as caricatures and associated with a multiplicity of political and personal narratives, all by people who seemed to think that this was an appropriate way of generating awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees. This pattern is not unique to the refugee crisis. In Febru-
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily ary, when Boko Haram bombed and burned down an internally displaced person (IDP) camp in northeastern Nigeria, images of desecrated homes and burned Black bodies went viral. Such nonchalant consumption of these images serves to objectify and normalize the death and suffering of Black people.
Why are we convinced that it is impossible to acknowledge and discuss the treatment of refugees or the horrors of mass violence without disrespecting lifeless Brown bodies?
In stark contrast, white bodies are rarely publicized as a tool of awareness. The masses are expected to acknowledge the gravity of violence against white people without visual proof. The most recent example of this is of the attacks on Paris; graphic images of the victims were not spread, uncensored, in mainstream media. Why then, are we convinced that it is impossible to acknowledge and discuss the treatment of refugees or the horrors of mass violence without disrespecting lifeless Brown bodies? It is not just photography being a visual medium that makes it so prone to this type of reductive representation. Photography was developed as an extension of the white male gaze: the fact that photojournalism as a discipline was founded and largely controlled by white men heavily influences the way it has come to be practiced throughout the world. While photographers of colour are also guilty of exploiting people’s bodies, this is still largely because the dominant conception of this art form is
grounded in the white gaze. The effect of this dynamic is particularly harmful for women of colour captured in exploitative photos, where the intersection of race and gender leave them vulnerable not only to the white gaze, but to the male gaze and the fetishizing objectification that comes with it. It is alarming how comfortably people in the West consume these images without considering the humanitiy of the subjects. Brown and Black people are omitted from conversations about the violence that is enacted against them; instead of seeking and sharing stories from people of colour, images of bodies detached of their individuality are spread, made ready for consumption, public critique, and entertainment. As these images circulate, people attach their own personal narratives to them. In doing so, the notion of “advocacy” is perverted. Instead, they consume and use these images for their own gratification and agendas. Through the co-opting of these images, photography is ultimately
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an expression of the white political agenda and how it would like to see the “other” presented. Although photojournalism explores inhumane conditions and violence and introduces them to a wider audience, it can also be violent itself by exploiting the images of victims of violence. This leads to the silencing of whichever narratives do not reconcile with that of white, Western media. It is no coincidence that, when the media normalizes and devalues the lifeless body of a Brown child, it is also lowering the standards of living conditions expected and accepted for living Brown children. Sharing images of the dead and adding to the media frenzy seems to satisfy the general public’s moral need to “do something” – but it shouldn’t. We must collectively be more vigilant in the ways we attempt advocacy, and ensure that the methods we choose are not destructive. Khatira Mahdavi is a U1 Cultural Studies student. To contact her, email khatira.mahdavi@mail. mcgill.ca.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Student caregivers need support McGill’s family care services leave much to be desired
Julia Pingeton Commentary Writer
ast October, I was hired in a new position as the Family Care Commissioner of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). This position was created to provide support for the interests of student caregivers by expanding the resources available to them. Though much headway has been made by individuals involved with family care at SSMU and McGill in general, McGill has shown that it has a long way to go in making the educational experience accessible to students who are also family caregivers. The current status of family care at McGill Family care at McGill is currently in a dire state. Because so many students are only here for a short four-year cycle and are often not directly impacted by family care policies and initiatives, there is a severe lack of institutional memory about the issue. Over the course of this year, I met with members of the McGill community who have been directly involved with family care over the years to try to rectify this. The portfolio of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Member Services Officer has included family care for a long time. Tanya Lalonde, the Family Resources Coordinator at the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office (also a new position) has been making great progress in coordinating and centralizing the various family care initiatives on campus. However, the lack of prioritization of family care by the central administration makes it difficult to implement solutions to the issues facing caregivers. Many people in the McGill community provide family care in various ways – caring for children, elderly folks, ill family members, and financial dependents – and they all deserve support. The prioritization of family care issues ebbs and flows with the movement of faculty, staff, and students at the university. This plays out as inconsistent support for caregivers across the university. For example, in some departments, most of the faculty do not have young children or elderly parents to care for, so accommodation for caregiving responsibilities is eschewed. Similarly, in departments where most of the faculty are older white men who do not typically bear the burden of direct childcare responsibility, the need for childcare or other caregiver support is not seen as a need at all. This is not to say that there is no support for any people with dependents anywhere
Outside the SSMU daycare. at McGill, but the burden of proving that this need exists resides with the people who are already trying to juggle caregiving responsibilities with studies or work at the university. The impact on undergrads Undergraduate student caregivers as a population are particularly vulnerable to the erasure of their needs, which compounds the barriers facing undergraduate students with dependents. One way to illustrate the particular burden that family care can place on undergraduates is by examining the role of financial burdens. A faculty member who is forced to reduce their work hours due to caregiving responsibilities inevitably faces a reduction in income as a result. These situations are difficult for anyone to deal with, but faculty members are sometimes able to make special arrangements, such as restructuring their teaching hours or focusing on research, which is still time consuming but is often more flexible and amenable to caregiving responsibilities. Graduate students may take a reduced workload based on the discretion of their supervisors. But, for undergraduate students who must pay, rather than be paid, to study, the financial imperative becomes more serious. Undergraduate students with caregiving responsibilities may want to take a part-time course load in order to ease stress
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily and meet their responsibility. However, to do this means to sacrifice eligibility for in-course financial aid, which could jeopardize their ability to care for dependents or pursue their education. The responsibilities of caregiving go far beyond financial responsibilities. Most of the work I’ve done has been with undergraduate student parents, and one problem that many of them face is sick notes. Most daycare facilities have a rule that, if a child has a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they cannot come to daycare or must go home if already there – at the McGill Childcare Centre, children must stay home for three days after having a fever. This rule is important to prevent other children from becoming sick. But, because of the medical note policy for most undergraduate students, if a parent has to keep a child home from daycare and does not bring them to the doctor, which is not always necessary for routine illnesses, they have no way of obtaining documents justifying absence from classes or exams. Thus, the state of family care at McGill is already discriminatory in that it forces many people to choose between work, studies, and caregiving responsibilities. The situation is worse for undergraduate caregivers who are invisible to their peers and professors in this capacity, as the lack of recognition ultimately results in a lack of accommodation.
Solutions for caregivers Students with dependents are in diverse situations, and there is no one solution that will be able to comprehensively address the problems they face when accessing education at McGill. However, there is a variety of potential solutions to caregiving problems on campus that the University could attempt to implement, though they vary in terms of financial costs and sustainability. To start, the SSMU and McGill daycare waitlists are incredibly long. Some wait for as long as eight years, at which point daycare is no longer necessary. The SSMU daycare prioritizes undergraduate students but the McGill Childcare Centre does not. Because of provincial zoning laws, no more subsidized public daycares can be opened in the downtown area. The only option, then, is to pursue private daycare, which would have a fixed daily rate and could be a more viable choice for people in higher income brackets given. Were McGill to pursue this option, daycare space could be freed up in both the SSMU and McGill daycares for undergraduate and graduate students in need of those subsidized spaces. This option would be better for all people involved – more daycare space means parents who work at the university can be closer to their children, and more children can be accommodated. Many of the issues facing student caregivers come down to the
simple fact that these students are invisible, both to the administration and in their social environments. If there is one thing that I have taken away from this work, and that I would like to emphasize to my peers at McGill, it is to remember that students can be parents and caregivers, too. Destigmatization for student caregivers is crucial – too often the reaction to identifying oneself as a student parent is poorly disguised shock. As with other issues of access to, and comfort in, a space, the burden should not be on student caregivers to make themselves and their needs known. Many of the new family care initiatives at McGill have been trying to create a centralized list of student caregivers; but, as of now, there is no such list. The administration must make an effort to account for student caregivers institutionally, and implement a policy to protect student caregivers, especially undergraduates, from the extra barriers they face when pursuing an education at McGill. Only then can the University effectively provide them with the services and support that they so clearly deserve. It is 2016, and it is time for family care to be prioritized at McGill. Julia Pingeton is a U3 Psychology student and the outgoing SSMU Family Care Commissioner. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
The lessons of slavery
What history teaches us about human nature, power, and resistance
Nadir Khan Shadows of Slavery
n occasion, our minds naturally wander to the edges of our consciousness in search of long forgotten memories. Remembering can serve as an escape from the visceral grip of the present, but we can also gain insights from the previous realities that we no longer inhabit. How, though, do we remember stories and histories that we would rather collectively forget? What happens when we tip-toe into the recesses of a dark and painful past? Remembering transatlantic slavery raises these questions. As difficult as it may be, it is an important undertaking that sheds light on real aspects of human nature and power, the role of resistance, and the living quality of history. Fundamental questions about human nature are thrust upon us when we remember slavery. How could a slave owner psychologically afford to inflict such extreme violence and pain, and so wilfully disregard another person’s humanity? How was the physical, legal, and economic violence and subjugation of slavery normalized and accepted by multiple societies? The possible answers to these questions are diverging.
progress onto the past without regard for historical context. The reality is that, in practice, slavery was not incompatible with modern ideals of freedom – after all, the world was steeped in enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality at the apex of the slave trade. Even as those ideals violently asserted themselves in the American and French revolutions of the late 18th century, slavery remained in place. This is because the root of slavery is to be found not in a moral misunderstanding, but rather in the exploitative human tendencies whose presence is a historical constant – despite the “backwardness” narrative’s best efforts to consign them to the past, as if they no longer exist. It is also worth noting that large-scale resistance efforts, such as the successful 1791 revolution led by enslaved Haitians, played a much more important role in ending transatlantic slavery than any kind of “moral progress.” An alternative and more convincing view is that this 400-year period characterized by the theft and enslavement of 12 million people was, in fact, a display of a constitutive aspect of humanity. The view that humanity is by nature predisposed to raw violence and prone to distrust and hatred
At times, history offers no obvious contemporary lessons, and instead asks simply to be understood on its own terms. One commonly held view is that humanity was at a less “enlightened” historical stage and simply did not realize that slavery was wrong. According to this line of thought, it was inevitable that humanity would see the light and progress from the dark age in which racism and commodification decided and limited people’s humanity. This view of humanity is flawed and somewhat arrogant – it projects the present conception of
of the Other disgusts us. It tells us nothing that we want to hear about ourselves, and offers no flattering redemption narrative. I do think, though, that this is a more honest view. Columbia University professor Saidiya Hartman explains that, when seeking to understand humanity through a study of slavery, we must “consider the forms of life that exceed and challenge our understanding of the human, because they transgress and
Alice Shen | The McGill Daily defy our basic predicates of decency, rationality, belonging, care and community.” Seen in this light, perhaps the most frighteningly “inhuman” parts of our nature are more human than we’d like to think. Aside from these vexing questions of human nature, the story of transatlantic slavery highlights the central role of both physical and psychological power, as well as resistance to it, in human relations. Different levels of power operated here, such as the physical power of slaveholders or the more subtle, enduring, and silent power of the legal system that helped entrench slavery. Enslaved people constantly navigated these power relations through acts of resistance and subterfuge. In her autobiographical novel Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, escaped American slave Harriet Jacobs recounts how she staved off sexual predation at the hands of her master by expertly navigating his desires and, by having an affair with another white man, using her own sexuality to protect herself
from her master. Olaudah Equiano traded small trinkets and goods until he had enough money to buy his freedom, while Nat Turner turned the U.S. upside down in 1831 by leading a large-scale slave rebellion in Virginia. In countless more acts of daily resistance and survival of which we have no account, enslaved people confronted the power that was exerted over them. For all that the history of slavery is, there are many things it is not. For one, it is not an oracle of revealed truth. At times, history offers no obvious contemporary lessons, and instead asks simply to be understood on its own terms. This can frustrate our desire to instrumentalize the past, but this is the reality of coming to terms with it. Secondly, history is not an uninterrupted story of endless suffering. It is a human story, one fraught with inspiration as well as pain, resolve as well as horror. Finally, history is also not a parable, nor a moral arc that bends inevitably toward freedom or justice. Slavery is still
present in many parts of the world, and the racist relics of transatlantic slavery have taken shape in the form of mass incarceration of people of colour, racially targeted police violence, and social and political marginality and poverty in racialized communities. This column has attempted to present the living history of slavery and its residual aftershocks. It has sought to remember the lives of enslaved people and bring light to the dark corners of the human experience. The shadows of slavery linger on. Instead of running from them, we must turn toward them with deep humility in an effort to better understand not only parts of ourselves, but this chaotic world around us. Shadows of Slavery is a column that seeks to remember the history of slavery in the Americas and to examine how this history manifests itself today. Nadir Khan can be reached at shadowsofslavery@ mcgilldaily.com.
Letters Submit your own: email@example.com
The Education Undergraduate Society offers support Re: “Speak louder than racism” (February 8, Commentary, page 9). The members of the Education Undergraduate Society (EdUS) would like to extend their deepest sympathy to the writer of
this article and to all of those who have experienced similar events during their field experiences. As a student society, we are deeply concerned with these issues occurring during field experiences, and we are currently looking into ways to make support systems
more accessible to students. We would like to take this time to remind students that if they are facing a difficult situation, or if they would like to talk about anything pertaining to our Faculty – whether it is related to courses, field experiences, or the
Faculty in general – our doors are open and we are here as outlets and support systems for you. —Natalie Pepiot, VP Communications of EdUS
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Student teachers in solidarity
No one should be left alone in the face of racism in the classroom Students of EDEC 203-001 Commentary Writers Re: “Speak louder than racism” (February 8, Commentary, page 9)
ear anonymous student of colour who hopes for change, We are Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) students currently taking the class Communication in Education. In our class, we talk a lot about communication. Each week, we write brief responses to a prompt related to our readings, class discussions, guest speakers, or relevant newspaper articles. Recently, your letter was our writing prompt. We took your letter seriously, and thought about everything you wrote; many of us were deeply affected by what you shared. We are a diverse group with different perspectives, identities, and experiences, but each of us saw something in your letter that we could relate to. When we returned to class after reading week we decided that we wanted to share our collective response with you. We wanted to let you know you are not alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We are so sorry for what you went through, and are grateful to you for sharing your experiences publicly in The Daily. We commend you on your bravery, both in the classroom and in writing and publishing your letter. You have inspired us, and we think that your courage will inspire other students who feel that they lack power and are afraid of the potential repercussions of speaking out critically to people in positions of authority. We are so impressed with your strength in being able to complete your internship under the conditions you described. We understand why you chose to remain anonymous. Some people may be able to shrug off your letter, but to us it has incredible value. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We know that schools can be unsafe places; this is precisely what has motivated some of us to become teachers. We have experienced racism, homophobia, and sexual harassment; we have faced discrimination and exclusion because of our beliefs, the way we dress, and our accents. Your experiences remind many of us of our own previous school experiences, and they remind several of us of previous internships: I had almost the same experience as you did with my cooperating teacher. Yet, you were courageous enough to talk about it and take action. As for me, I preferred
Justine Touchon | The McGill Daily to be quiet and survive my three weeks in that school. I just wrote about it in my journals and cried alone in my bed. You know what I did all of those times when I was made fun of or teachers tossed racial jokes at me in front of all of my peers? Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I just accepted that as a reality. I shrugged it off and did not linger on it, thinking no one would really care what I had to say – no need to turn this into a “race thing.” So, thank you. Thank you for being braver than me. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Those of us who are students of colour are especially sensitive to your experiences. But all of us, regardless of our various identities, feel that racism and other forms of oppression have no place in our future classrooms. Several of us have heard internship horror stories from other students in the program. For most of us, your letter highlighted some of our greatest fears as pre-service teachers: we too could be paired with a cooperating teacher (CT) who mistreats us or their students; we too could turn to our supervisors for advice only to be confronted with a lack of concern
and understanding. Not being able to speak about our experiences and being denied necessary support is as bad, if not worse, than being paired with a terrible CT. An institution as prestigious and well-regarded as McGill, one that welcomes so many international students, should be prepared to support all students, including students of colour. We are told by professors in our professional seminars to be quiet, and not to report or comment on a CT’s conduct, strategies, or behaviour. At the same time, we are also being taught to think critically about pedagogy and the importance of creating inclusive, safer classrooms. We want to join you in calling for resources for all members of the Department of Integrated Studies in Education that would explain how to better understand the struggles people of colour face, and how to approach students dealing with those unique situations that white students and faculty simply do not encounter – we feel that mandatory workshops for all members of the Faculty of Education would be an excellent step. We agree that McGill has a respon-
sibility to ensure that every CT is a positive model for student teachers to observe and learn from. Students should be given the opportunity of first meeting different CTs before being assigned to one; McGill should hold events similar to career fairs in which B.Ed. students would have the opportunity to meet different teachers who have agreed to offer their services as CTs. We also think that CTs should have less power to determine whether a student teacher passes or fails – students need to know that their supervisors and the Department have their backs, and will support and protect them. Clear procedures to help a student teacher who is mistreated, or witnesses the mistreatment of students during an internship, are helpful only if we know about them, talk about them, and if we and our professors are prepared to abide by them. More attention needs to be paid to the problems that may arise during field experiences, and student teachers should be explicitly taught what to do if they witness or experience racism or any other serious problems during an internship.
Your description of your experiences has renewed our determination to become teachers and make positive contributions to the schools in which we will one day work. You are not alone: we still hope for change too. We hope that the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, and the Faculty as a whole, is taking your letter and the concerns you have raised much more seriously than the short letter published in response to yours suggests (“Support pathways in the faculty of education,” February 22, Letters, page 12). Indeed, some of us felt betrayed by that response. But, we have learned from you that we do not have to be silent: if you say something, and if I say something, then maybe someone else will, and someone after that. We hope that you are able to stay positive and hopeful about teaching. We still think it is a beautiful profession, and would hate for this experience to take away your spark and hope. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. With gratitude and solidarity, —Students in EDEC 203-001: Communication in Education and our instructor, rosalind hampton
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Compromise, don’t ban
The smoke-free campus project is paternalistic Paniz Khosroshahy The McGill Daily
y first pack of cigarettes were Marlboro Silvers from a Couche-Tard. I bought them after spending the entire evening on the metro going from Angrignon to Honoré-Beaugrand and back because I didn’t want to be anywhere in particular. I had never seen cigarettes in stores, so I had to google “how to buy cigarettes” to find out that they were sold over the counter. Those days were the beginning of a depressive episode that was to last for many months, taking me to emotional depths of which I no longer have any memory. Over a year later, I do not consider myself “a smoker,” although I enjoy smoking socially – I usually bum a cigarette during my drunken Friday night shenanigans, and rarely turn down a friend offering a cigarette on a study break. I go for long periods of time without smoking and it is not an addiction; rather, it’s something pleasant that I like to do to unwind, just like some people indulge in watching porn or sleeping in. Admittedly, when I first heard about the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s investigation into the possibility of a smoke-free campus, I rolled my eyes. Since then, I have read more on the topic and have learned that the regulation of smoking spaces is a valid approach to an important problem, given the effect that second-hand smoke can have on some people’s respiratory conditions, allergies, and other health problems. Indeed, organizers of many events that seek to be more accessible ask attendees who have been smoking to take off their jackets before entering a space. Unfortunately, the manner in which the smokefree campus initiative has been raised and negotiated at McGill takes a very medicalized approach centred on health and addiction, instead of one that respects the needs and autonomy both of people who smoke and people with respiratory illnesses. Throwing the words “lung cancer” at smokers and smokershaming more broadly are parts of a larger culture obsessed with a particular construction of health, fitness, and cleanliness that pre-
scribes a fixed set of “healthy” behaviours instead of putting forward a holistic view of health sensitive to individualized contexts – one that understands that health looks different to different people. This view arbitrarily pathologizes the everyday choices and behaviours of certain groups of people. How many times have we heard that smoking and smokers are “disgusting”? Undoubtedly, this is why the proposal for a smoke-free campus gains more traction than other accessibility-related proposals, such as installing ramps and elevators in inaccessible buildings on campus. I am aware that the objectives of the smoke-free campus initiatives are not to shame smokers, but this is certainly the effect that the implementation of such a project would have in practice. Introducing support for quitting has been mentioned as a solution, but not all smokers are trying to quit and the non-smoker/smoker-trying-to-quit binary is simply false. Many people start smoking to deal with stress. Is that bad? I don’t know and I don’t care. It is not up to anyone to tell others what to do with their own bodies. People make decisions based on complex factors in their lives, and they know their conditions and their body best. To support them adequately, we need to meet them where they are. Most importantly, shaming them will not help alleviate their stress or their anxiety at all. One of the proposed solutions is having smoking shelters. Forcing people to go to a shelter to smoke is stigmatizing and also unpleasant, because nobody, not even the degenerate smokers want to hotbox themselves in a small space full of tobacco smoke, unable to have a conversation not overheard by everyone around them. Because of this stigma, many people may also not wish to display themselves as smokers in designated public locations. They’ll have to either walk far away from campus at each study break, or just continue to feel anxious while trying to study at the library. Measures have been taken to have a “clean” campus by the smoke-free McLennan-Redpath terrace and have already failed. People do smoke beneath the Redpath underpass, but maybe
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily that’s because expecting smokers to stand in the dark at night and away from a shelter from the rain and wind is unreasonable. Smokers may actually be much more receptive if smoking was allowed on the terrace or in some areas of the underpass, like closer to the McLennan walls. Both of these locations are isolated enough to retain smoke-free access to the library. And if someone without a health condition is bothered by the mere proximity of a cloud of smoke, honestly, that’s too bad. I’m also regularly bothered by people who talk in class, people who ask me to watch their stuff at the library, and people who don’t hold doors open for other people, yet I’m not suggesting that these behaviours be banned. There is also the argument that normalizing social smoking on campus is harmful because it exacerbates peer pressure to smoke. However, while I have definitely seen a few people feeling ashamed for not knowing how to smoke properly, we don’t live in the 1950s anymore and smoking isn’t really considered to be that cool. More importantly, a much more pressing issue is the rampant alcohol culture on campus. There are numerous campus bars and frequent events that focus on binge drinking – also a harmful behaviour – that are organized
and promoted by SSMU and other student associations. In contrast, there are no social events where smoking is a comparable requirement for participation. There is a clear double standard here, and the emphasis on smoking is misplaced and exaggerated. I am glad that efforts have been made to make campus more accessible to those with respiratory issues and smoke sensitivity. However, we need to keep in mind who the proposed policies will affect. Given, for example, that up to 50 per cent of queer people smoke, banning smoking on campus disproportionately affects marginalized people that resort to smoking as a way of dealing with, you know, life. However, respiratory issues also affect racialized people disproportionately – though there hasn’t been any discussion of that in the SSMU initiative. When there is no solution that can benefit everyone, we need to more carefully examine whose health and whose needs are at stake if we implement or don’t implement a smoke-free campus to reach a more reasonable solution. What is at stake is two different groups’ bodily autonomy – one’s freedom to be safe from harmful chemicals and the other’s to engage in smoking. The burden should not fall solely on smokers to change their lifestyle. Instead
It’s not too late.
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of arbitrarily penalizing a group, the two should come to a mutual compromise – through the mutual recognition of each other’s autonomy and each other’s needs, not through the pathologizing of their choices. I guess, more than anything, I think back to myself last year. I was seeing a family doctor, a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist while on a variety of medications. At the height of my suicidal ideations last spring, smoking had become the only activity that I ever looked forward to – it gave me a sense of time in my otherwise disoriented head. I had a tendency to self-harm, and sometimes I convinced myself that smoking was enough harm. Is self-harm bad? Probably, but to someone who cuts that is irrelevant. What they need is support, love, information, and resources to do what’s best for them given the factors affecting their lives as opposed to a blaming finger. Was I smoking for the wrong reasons? Honestly that’s the least of my concerns. I survived and every god damn day of my life I’m grateful that I am still breathing, even if my lungs are not as “perfect” and “healthy” as they could be. Paniz Khosroshahy is a U2 Women’s Studies and Computer Science student. To reach her, email email@example.com.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
You are not disposable, and neither are your colleagues
A culture of overwork is incompatible with effective social justice Niyousha Bastani The McGill Daily Warning: the first paragraph contains a potentially triggering description of suicidal ideation.
lmost every single Saturday of the past year, I’ve walked home from The Daily’s office some time between 4 and 6 a.m. after having spent more than 18 straight hours working. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve stood at a traffic light, utterly drained and in tears, running these numbers through my head while trying to guess the speed of the next car coming toward me. “Would it kill me on impact if I timed it right?” Usually, the thought only pops up for a single second, but sometimes it has stuck around for a few more – long enough for me to scare myself. “I am not good at my job. My coworkers don’t value the work I do. No one is doing their job right. What’s the point of my existence aside from these endless hours of labour?” In those moments, I’m attacked by these thoughts. I’m writing this piece because of that sea of selfloathing, anger, and exhaustion, because I think it might sound familiar not just to my colleagues, but to many other students working in organizations that do anti-oppression work. During my time at McGill, I have repeatedly watched the quick deterioration of the mental health of friends who do social justice work. Somehow, the full irony of this only hit me recently. Mental health problems, which can be onset or worsened by stressful conditions, are a social justice issue; anti-oppressive organizations with work environments that damage the mental health of those involved with them are recreating oppressive conditions within their own space. In such organizations, a culture of overwork is indirectly promoted through the normalization and expectation of a dangerous work ethic – for instance, consistent sleep deprivation, and five-hour long meetings. Practices like these can cause serious, long-term harm to anyone’s mental health. The impact of social determinants of health – like discrimination, violence, and limited access to economic resources – means that the consequences are even heavier for those who are a part of marginalized groups. So, these work conditions are more likely to alienate members of marginalized groups from such organizations or harm them when they do get involved. The emotional labour involved in working with social justice organizations is also likely to be greater for
Marina Djurdjevic | The McGill Daily individuals who are marginalized, as their identities are often implicated in the injustices being fought. This, in turn, can make the rest of their work all the more taxing. The weight of a two-hour long discussion about an editorial on Islamophobia is a lot heavier on me as a Muslim woman than on someone without such a personal connection to the issue.
When you have fifty hours of work to do in a week, selfcare remains little more than a taunting ideal, and collective care is relegated to the realm of utopia. A culture of overwork is not only detrimental to individuals, but to the effectiveness of the organizations in which they work. Needless to say, no matter how appealing the valuable anti-oppressive work of an organization may be, people looking to join the group are likely to turn on their heels after witnessing this culture. Those who do get involved are likely to burn out quickly or, if they’re lucky, quit before things get too bad. For the organization, this means a cycle of understaffing, resignations, and
high turnover, which contributes to a lack of institutional memory and mistakes being repeated in loops. All of this makes it nearly impossible for the organization to achieve its antioppressive goals, whether that be activist organizing or producing antioppressive media. In this culture of overwork, the organization ends up treating its members no better than the disgusting capitalist system it is trying to fight. I say disgusting because capitalism, as an ideology, involves reducing people’s worth to how much labour they can perform and how cost-efficient they are. In the capitalist workplace, you are only valued based on your labour, and if you are marginalized on the basis of your race, ability, sexuality, gender, religion, etcetera, then your labour is likely to be greatly undervalued. This leaves people, particularly marginalized people, to be treated as disposable. For me, fighting against oppressive power structures involves fighting against this kind of environment. Yes, this involves valuing each other’s labour, especially the labour done by those whose identities are marginalized, but we must also avoid valuing each other on the sole basis of this labour. The truth is, many of us who feel disposable don’t feel that way exclusively because of our individual problems or our coping mechanisms; we feel that way because our workplace, where many of us spend the bulk of waking hours, treats us as such. In a recent piece in the New York Times titled “Why Therapists Should Talk Politics,” Richard Brouillette explains that an exclusive focus on internal contributors to mental health
can push patients to think they themselves are solely responsible for their shaky mental states, overlooking entirely the psychological toll of the broken social and economic system in which they live. Brouillette writess, “Today, if you can’t become what the market wants, it can feel as if you are flawed and have no recourse except to be depressed.” Not meeting the impossible demands of the normalized work culture at any organization, I think, can feel much the same. Unable to meet these demands, “people feel less hope and more stress; their self-regard is damaged; they believe they are fated to take what they can get; they exist in a state approaching learned helplessness,” argues Brouillette. Unfortunately, organizations with politics that pay lip service to self-care are not exempt from these effects. When you have fifty hours of work to do in a week, self-care remains little more than a taunting ideal, and collective care is relegated to the realm of utopia. A possible solution for meaningfully prioritizing self-care is to keep the long-term effects of our decisions in mind. When our work is aimed at dismantling inequitable power structures and the violence that is part and parcel to these structures – which harms people every single day – the work no doubt feels (and is) urgent. In my life, this has worked to justify habits like sleeping so few hours a week that, by the time Friday rolls around, I’m a dizzy, vomiting shell of a person. The work is important and we should be working toward social justice as quickly as we can, but when we are working so much that burnout and
staff turnover are inevitable, then the situation is something like running at full speed in a hamster wheel. As we plan how much to take on for the year, how much to discuss at every meeting, and how many hours of work to expect from each other, we must remain aware of our limits in the long term. How much work is possible for a group of our size to do in a way that will harm neither our members nor anyone else affected by our work? Which projects can we stretch over a longer period of time to avoid stretching their fellow organizers instead? These are the kind of structural questions we must ask ourselves. Not only will eliminating this culture of overwork draw in more members to organizations and make them more accessible to those with marginalized identities, but it will also keep members who are already doing crucial work around longer. It will create a work environment where people are treated justly today, instead of waiting for just environments to be created in the far future. As organizations that value mental health and are working toward a better, more just world, we cannot hope to uphold our values and achieve our goals if we perpetuate the crushing culture of overwork demanded by capitalist ideology. I dream of a world where every human being, regardless of their so-called productivity, is at the very least respected, and at best, radically loved. Niyousha Bastani is the Coordinating Editor at The Daily, but her opinions here are her own. To contact her, email niyousha.bastani@ mail.mcgill.ca.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Year in review
Students engaged with the environment and climate crisis from both a local and international perspective this year. The December 2015 COP21 summit in Paris was the subject of debate: Would anything come of the summit? Could international negotiations meaningfully combat climate change? Ella Belfer argued that domestic emissions reductions, often conditions of agreements made at such conferences, are undermined by carbon offset payments (“The carbon offset loophole,” November 30, page 14). Victor Frankel argued that COP21 could lead to needed change, but only if leaders are proactive (“Seize the COPportunity,” February 1, page 11). The climate crisis was also fought close to home with Divest McGill’s continued advocacy for McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) to divest from McGill’s holdings in fossil fuel companies. Kristen Perry reflected on her time as a Divest McGill activist and the pending decision on divestment, saying, “You have all of the information, you certainly have the support, and you have taken more than enough time; now all that is needed is courage” (“Progress and disappointment,” November 10, online). On March 23, the BoG decided for the second time not to divest.
Mental health on campus
Attention paid to mental health as an important aspect of campus life has only grown in recent years. Between budget cuts and increasing demand, the McGill Mental Health Service (MMHS) has been criticized by students for providing inadequate or inaccessible services. Paniz Khosroshahy argued that MMHS’s inconsistent availability and lack of communication with other university institutions makes it nearly impossible for some students to access the care they need (“Chasing mental health at McGill,” November 2, page 8). Anna Pearson recounted how her experience with MMHS left her without a plan for further care upon graduation (“Careless care,” February 1, page 9). However, one student noted that, despite the financial pressures on MMHS, they found the Eating Disorder Program to be very helpful (“In defence of mental health,” October 19, Letters, page 8). Navigating mental health at McGill comes down to more than MMHS. Looking at ways of accommodating students in the classroom, Connor Tannas argued that trigger warnings are often misunderstood as censorship when, in reality, they can make sensitive topics easier to approach for students dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other effects of trauma (“Trigger warnings are not censorship,” September 28, page 7).
BDS sparks campus discussion
Once again, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) was a major site of political action and reaction on campus this year. While the Fall 2015 GA had no motions and struggled to meet quorum, the Winter 2016 GA passed a motion from the McGill BDS Action Network that called on SSMU to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns and to lobby McGill to divest from a number of companies that operate in the occupied Palestinian territories. While the motion failed to pass online ratification, it succeeded in fuelling important discussions in the McGill community and beyond. A group of Jewish students at McGill argued that the conflation of Judaism and Zionism is harmful, and that engaging with and supporting BDS is a crucial step in ending Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians (“Making space for Jewish resistance,” February 15, page 9). Hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty from McGill and beyond, including Noam Chomsky (“Rectify the misrepresentation of BDS,” March 14, Letters, page 11), signed letters condemning Principal Suzanne Fortier’s response to the online ratification results, in which she stated that the BDS movement was “contrary to the principles of academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views and ideas in responsible, open discourse.”
Histories, experiences of racism
Analyzing the historical roots of racism and sharing their experiences, our writers put forward both global and personal perspectives on racism this year. Inori Roy-Khan made the topic the focus of her column “Minority Report,” in which she spoke of cultural appropriation, whitewashed allyship, and the persistent nature of racism. In his column “Shadows of Slavery,” Nadir Khan narrated histories of domination and resistance in the transatlantic slave trade. Roy-Khan called for an end to police violence against Black youth in the U.S. (“Kids deserve to be kids,” November 9, page 9), and Khan traced the roots of this racist brutality to the era of slave patrols (“Policing the racial hierarchy,” February 1, page 10). Meanwhile, Laura Xu examined the racist origins of drug prohibition in Canada and the U.S. (“The colour of pot,” February 22, page 11). Closer to McGill, Francesca Humi described how, as a French speaker, she is “caught in between spaces and places” when attempting to articulate her racial identity in France (“Between places and spaces,” March 21, page 10). Ralph Haddad and Nadine Tahan uncovered the orientalist assumptions behind Principal Suzanne Fortier’s selective condolences in response to terrorist attacks around ther world (“On selective grief,” November 23, page 8), while an anonymous student described the racism they experienced during a teaching placement and the subsequent lack of support from the Education faculty as a “personal hell” (“Speak louder than racism,” February 8, page 9).
Sarah Meghan Mah | The McGill Daily
2015 federal election Students weighed in as Canada sought to shake off nine years of Conservative leadership in the October 2015 federal election. Gregoire Beaune observed during the campaign that, like progressive parties around the world, the New Democratic Party (NDP) had drifted to the right and abandoned its past socialist ideals (“The orange drift,” September 8, page 10). For Jules Tomi, this cost the party the election: in an effort to rebrand the NDP as a more palatable centrist party, leader Tom Mulcair made it into an unappealing shell of its former self (“Lessons in hope and disillusionment,” October 26, page 9). In response, Malaya Powers and Jacob Schweda, co-presidents of NDP McGill, argued for a more nuanced analysis that acknowledges the NDP’s progressive tax plan and campaign commitments (“Progress over pessimism,” November 9, page 8). Meanwhile, Gavin Boutroy pointed to the emptiness of the leaders’ debate on the economy (“The meaning of ‘the economy,’” October 15, page 8), and Xiaoxiao (Alice) Liu praised Green Party leader Elizabeth May for going above and beyond as her Member of Parliament (“On waiting for representation,” September 1, page 10). The election was also as good a time as any to reflect on democratic reform. Erin Dwyer warned that the 2014 Fair Elections Act could lead to the disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups, such as youth, Indigenous people, seniors, and homeless individuals, all to the benefit of the Conservatives (“The Unfair Elections Act,” September 14, page 9). After the election, Louis Warnock emphasized the need to introduce a proportional component into Canada’s electoral system to ensure equitable representation (“Toward democratic reform,” November 23, page 9).
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April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Confronting our culture of silence Uncovering the social underpinnings of the Ghomeshi verdict
Written by Rahma Wiryomartono | Visuals by Sarah Meghan Mah Trigger warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault “Cassandra among the Creeps” is the title Rebecca Solnit, writer and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, gives her 2014 piece about silencing in cases of sexual violence. The title alludes to the Trojan princess Cassandra, to whom Apollo gave the power of prophecy in an attempt to seduce her. Upon her refusal of his advances, Apollo cursed her so that no one would believe her prophecies. The tale of Cassandra serves as an apt parallel to the reality that many
sexual assault survivors face. Often, testaments of sexual assault are disregarded, citing the teller’s lack of credibility. This pattern exists within public purview and its repercussions echo throughout: on March 24, when Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, the 90-minute verdict cited the complainants’ “inconsistencies” and “deception” as the basis for Ghomeshi’s acquittal.
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
An ongoing Toronto Star investigation has detailed allegations against Ghomeshi from 15 women, but only three came forward to the police. During the trial, which began on February 1, the three women testified to instances of Ghomeshi’s violence, which they claimed had come without warning or consent. One woman testified that Ghomeshi had yanked her hair forcefully and punched her in the head multiple times. Another stated that he had choked her, pushed her up against the wall, and slapped her three times. The third woman said that he had choked her. With Ontario Court Justice William Horkins claiming that “it is impossible for the Court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants,” it’s hard not to see reflections of Cassandra, the ‘liar.’
silence extend beyond highly publicized cases. Upon reflection, I found that they were also echoed in both my friends’ and my own experiences.
Layers of silence As it stands, sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in Canada, with only 5 per cent of survivors contacting police. From that already dismal pool of reported cases, sexual assault cases in Canada have a conviction rate of 45 per cent – the lowest for violent crime exempting attempted murder. Several lawyers who specialize in sex crimes state that fear and mistrust of the courts are major reasons why survivors don’t report their assault.
The aftermath of the trial has sparked public outcry and an outpouring of sympathy, as well as outrage at the failure of the criminal justice system to treat survivors fairly. The Ghomeshi case is hardly an isolated incident. Its verdict speaks to a broader cultural pattern of not recognizing or respecting the testaments of those who have experienced sexual assault. When the voices of survivors are discredited, their experiences become erased. As advocates who work with sexual assault survivors have said, the trial could deter and discourage survivors from reporting. Lenore Lukasik-Foss, head of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, reports that responses to the unfolding of the case include comments like, “Wow, I’m so glad I didn’t report,” and, “I don’t know that I could ever report because of this. I don’t want to be treated like this.” The aftermath of the trial has sparked public outcry and an outpouring of sympathy, as well as outrage at the failure of the criminal justice system to treat survivors fairly. The case resonated with women across Canada. Its ripples were felt on a national level, they were felt here at McGill – where a demonstration in support of survivors was held last Thursday – and I felt them in my own personal life. As this widespread rippling effect makes clear, the ramifications of our culture of
Legal proceedings are an inherently harrowing experience for survivors of sexual assault. Testifying means inviting an anonymous crowd to dissect and scrutinize intensely personal events. In that way, survivors are made to constantly re-live their assault when most would prefer to repress those memories. Their credibility is also questioned, and they place their experiences in the public eye with no guarantee of results. Understandably, survivors think twice about seeking legal justice. In her essay, Solnit describes the multiple factors that push survivors to keep quiet as concentric circles of silence. The innermost circle consists of internal inhibitions, like shame, repression, self-doubt, and confusion. These inner conflicts make it difficult for a person to speak out. However, in the rare instance when someone does voice their experience, there still exists a surrounding circle of forces that attempt to silence them. For instance, family and friends may try to dissuade the person from speaking out in order to preserve a specific reputation. If this barrier is overcome and the story is voiced, the person still risks facing the final circle of silencing: the outermost ring in which
both the testimony and the speaker are completely discredited by society at large. These are the obstacles that survivors face when they choose to speak out. Doing so already requires immense courage and strength, and it’s reprehensible that survivors of sexual assault are subject to multilevel silencing forces. I feel outrage at this system, especially after witnessing first hand how the consequences have affected those close to me.
The mental haze and the aftermath “It’s funny,” my friend Anna* begins, “how people aren’t aware of what they’re doing.” She tells her story. “My sexual assault – everyone has their own story – but mine was that I hooked up with this guy who I had never met before. I didn’t want anything personal, so I was fine not knowing him. Anyway, we did it. After we finished, people immediately knocked on his door. I thought he was going to tell them to go, but instead he leaves and his friend comes in. I was so vulnerable – I was in bed, I didn’t have anything on me. I opened my eyes and he started to kiss me. I said, ‘Let’s not do that.’ We struggled and circled around the room for about 15 minutes. He would touch my body. I said, ‘No, don’t.’ I made it clear that I didn’t want him to touch me. He left the room and a different guy came in. I was scared. This time, I had nothing in me to fight back. All right, okay. He puts on a condom and rapes me. I didn’t think things could happen to me like that. It was almost like you’re watching a movie. You’re in the middle of everything, but you’re not in control of it. You’re just not given the right to any action. You feel, but you don’t contribute to the plot. The third guy left and the second guy came in. He said, ‘How come he got to fuck you?’ Fine. I’m not going to argue with you. I don’t even know these people. We had sex. I was in bed after. They all came in. One of them said, ‘Which one of us was the best?’ I was new to sex. It was very novel to my life – I had never done that before, go over to someone’s place like that. I realized what happened only later. After, the three of them asked me if I was hungry and gave me some chips. They were casually speaking. It’s like... they
just don’t know what they’ve done. I think they regarded me as someone who provided the service. The first guy said, ‘I’m going to get up early tomorrow so you better leave.’ It was like a business transaction. The second guy texted me later asking if I wanted to chill. I said, ‘Do you even know what you did?’ Then he said, ‘We thought you were having fun.’ That was the last that I’ve heard from any of them. I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t report to the police. But at the same time, it felt like it wasn’t right. It was personal, you’re the only witness. There’s no one who can speak for you. Especially when you were in it, you don’t remember everything that happens – it’s hard to recall everything. You’re suppressing that part of your memory, and when it happens, you’re in the film. I waited a long time. I felt that I needed to think it through. After it happened I went to the clinic to do some tests and make sure I was physically okay. There was a social worker there, she was nice. They were all nice. I feel numb. I bear the burden of this piece of memory.” Four months after the incident and one month after reporting, the police denied Anna’s case.
when “nothing happened” The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) defines sexual assault as “any unwanted act of a sexual nature.” This deliberately general wording leaves room for people to define their own experiences – a consideration that becomes important when thinking about infringements that don’t include physical violation. I incidentally heard about an instance like this while some friends were over for dinner. We were joking about how one of us, Enya*, always lands herself in abnormal situations. Somebody offhandedly mentioned Café Campus. My curiosity was piqued – I hadn’t heard that story before. *** “What happened at Café Campus?” I ask. “Oh, it was a while ago,” she says with a laugh and a dismissing wave of the hand. “There was a creepy guy.”
We smile, anticipating something funny. “How so?” “I don’t know,” she starts. “He was so weird. I mean, he bought me a drink and then left right away. After, I was just sitting down on the floor and I couldn’t stand.” Smiles drop and eyebrows furrow. “Wait, what?” After a prolonged silence, someone asks, “What happened?” Enya laughs uneasily. “Well, he just approaches me and says, ‘Hey, you want a drink?’ and I say, ‘Sure.’ So he goes away for five minutes and comes back with two shots of tequila. We drink it then he just leaves. Doesn’t say anything and walks back to the bar. I remember thinking that it was so strange, how he was just watching me. By that time everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, let’s go,’ so we leave for some air. We’re at coat check and I just – I sit down. Everyone’s telling me to stand and I’m like, ‘I can’t.’ They all laugh at me because they think I’m drunk, but then they realize that I can’t get up. My roommate took me home after that, so it’s okay. You guys don’t have to be so weird... I mean, nothing happened.” *** A situation like this is difficult to orient in the general discussion of sexual assault, as the term “assault” innately implies a point of contact. Not everyone would agree that an incident lacking the breach of physical boundaries, like slipping something into a person’s drink, counts as violation. A non-physical transgression occurs in a different, less tangible sphere. Experiences of emotional infractions do not transcend to a universal level of understanding, and speaking out can rouse comments like, “It could’ve been worse.” This kind of dismissal is not always external, but can also be part of the internal dialogue of the person who experiences the transgression. Like Enya said – “It’s okay… nothing happened.” However, the lack of direct physical assault does not excuse the infraction or make it less severe. The “it could’ve been worse” mentality carries heavy implications: it insinuates that the situation doesn’t warrant any reaction, and thus minimizes the gravity of the event. Such erasure of serious experiences contributes to inaction and the broader cultural act of silencing.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
The in-between After a few personal experiences on the Montreal metro, I started to weigh in on the question of how severe a violation of personal space has to be before it can be obviously defined as sexual assault. In the first case, an older man had asked me for the time, pointing to my watch. Before I could respond, he took my wrist and twisted it in his direction. On his way out, he patted me on the knee with a smile and a “merci, chérie.” I felt a nagging agitation that I dismissed, after reasoning that I wasn’t harmed. I had gone to the clinic with Anna – this was nothing in comparison. A few weeks later I was on my way home, cutting through the post-rush hour emptiness of the Lionel-Groulx station. A man’s arm reached out as if to grab the edge of the door, yet ended up winding around my chest. I froze in shock, not realizing what had happened. There was a lag between my mental processing and the physical contact. By the time I processed what had occurred, he had already disappeared down the escalator. I laughed – an absurd reaction, in retrospect. It struck me as bizarre how he was merely on his way, going through the rest of his day. When I got to my room afterward, I stared at the ceiling for half an hour to sort through the disorientation that trailed behind me on my way home. The state of not knowing what to feel echoed the previous instance, with the watch and the knee. I realized that both experiences left me in the same place emotionally, despite the fact that one was clearly more severe than the other. However, I tried to dismiss this incident too, because I couldn’t justify the indignation that I felt: the situation just didn’t seem grave enough. The concentric circles of silence are such that we question our most innate reactions. Am I overreacting? Is it appropriate to feel violated? Are my feelings valid? The confusion that follows can lead to a pattern of dismissal. If it seems like certain experiences aren’t enough to deserve a strong reaction, then the obvious conclusion is to brush them aside. However, dismissal becomes a form of self-silencing. Repression never fully works: lingering effects still manage to surface.
It’s as if the confinement that begins from the enclosed setting of assault gradually evolves into the confinement of the mind. Pushing these things down means indirectly allowing them to keep happening, since perpetrators continue to get away scot-free.
Confronting our culture of silence The total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators serves as the common denominator in all these cases. It’s abhorrent that in only our first year of university, my friends and I, along with countless others whose stories remain unvoiced, have already accumulated these experiences. There’s no denying the culture of silence when we live in a world of its consequences.
Dismissal is not always external, but can also be part of the internal dialogue of the person who experiences the transgression.
Demonstration in support of survivors.
However, just because this oppressive culture is so deeply ingrained does not necessarily mean that it’s impossible to overcome. The world is shifting in response to the sheer exasperation of those affected by sexual assault and their supporters. The nationwide outrage in the wake of the Ghomeshi verdict shows how people are discussing sexual assault and drawing attention to the issues at hand, despite society’s insistence on cloaking these experiences. Last week was SACOMSS Sexual Assault Awareness week. Addressing and dissolving the silencing cloud surrounding sexual assault means unmuting the experiences of survivors. By raising the subject into an audible, visible sphere, the voices of survivors gain the weight and traction that they deserve. This is a necessary step toward believing survivors and treating their accounts with respect and sympathy. At the demonstration held by McGill students in support of survivors last Thursday, speakers emphasized the dire need to support survivors and change the structures that allow for acts of sexual assault to continue in silence. Regarding these structures, speaker Sadie McInnes stated at the demonstration, “We are angry and we are sad.” Most importantly, we are not quiet. *Names have been changed.
Courtesy of Steven Chua
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Understanding the history of student politics at McGill By Cem Ertekin
henever activists fighting for social and environmental justice try to get anything done at McGill, they are immediately faced with two obstacles: reactionarism and apathy. Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assemblies (GAs) are a perfect example: either they are sparsely attended and fail to make quorum, or reactionaries attend in full force to tell students that they shouldn’t be supporting a particular social justice issue. Consider the SSMU Fall 2014 GA, where a motion calling for solidarity with Palestinian human rights was tabled indefinitely. The discussion was hijacked, and instead of discussing the merits of standing in solidarity with an oppressed people, students were forced to discuss the intricacies of Robert’s Rules of Order. A common argument goes like this: students should not be discussing these issues, because the milieu in which they discuss them, the student union, ought not to be political. We are supposedly students first; we have our grades to worry about, assignments to finish, lectures to listen to, parties to attend et cetera. SSMU should not be discussing these “political” issues, because students have other “more important” things to do. In addition, even the proposition for SSMU to consider taking a political stance is deemed divisive and alienating, as political discussions apparently create unbearable tension within the student body. This kind of reactionary is the “politically neutral.” When the SSMU Legislative Council passed a motion to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) occupation of the Toronto Police Service headquarters, SSMU VP Internal Omar El-Sharawy said that students want SSMU to be more “fun” and less “political.” Former SSMU presidential candidates Alexei Simakov and Jordan Sinder made “political neutrality” the centrepiece of their campaigns. The problem is that nothing is politically neutral: everything is inherently political. Though this may seem like a vague statement, the simple fact that injustice and oppression exist in the world means that neutrality, or the choice to not do anything, has the effect of tacitly supporting this status quo. This choice is, in itself, political. It is SSMU’s recognition of its role as a political agent that justifies the commitment to “leadership in matters of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection” set out in SSMU’s Constitution. And while political discussions that are brought up at SSMU are uncomfortable at times, this is not a bad thing. They highlight tensions and disagreements that already exist among students, and working through them is necessary for us to take meaningful steps forward. Another kind of reactionary hides behind a feigned concern for effectiveness. They recognize that SSMU is, in practice, political, but they argue that SSMU does not have the ability to effect meaningful change, and so any actions and stances in support of social justice on its part are not worth the effort. They don’t see the point in standing in solidarity with the anti-austerity
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movement, for example, by going on strike. They fail to see that direct action, in the past, has forced the government to change its policy and listen to student demands – remember when Quebec tuitions were not hiked? When other students want the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry or from companies that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine, the reactionaries argue that these are symbolic actions that mean nothing, and that no matter what SSMU does, it will not be effective in bringing about the desired outcome. They forget, however, that McGill has successfully and meaningfully been a part of similar movements in the past, having divested from the tobacco industry and companies profiting from the South African apartheid.
In December of 1968, the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) held a referendum to disaffiliate from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Ronald Segal, a “yes” campaigner, wrote an opinion piece focusing on political neutrality as a reason to secede. (“Should the engineers secede? YES.” December 3, 1968, page 6) As such, SSMU is said to be useless and a waste of money. Instead of providing their own alternatives, however, these reactionaries merely attempt to shut down progressive movements. Why would they provide their own alternatives anyway? To them, there is no problem with the status quo. Apathy is another threat to effecting change. It is difficult to get people engaged at McGill. This does not mean that students don’t care – but when it comes to active engagement, they disappear, often because of very valid reasons like school or work. However, student apathy often becomes a tool for reactionaries to push their claims: they dispute the legitimacy of the vocal minority – arguably a small group of very loud activists – in pursuing progressive goals on behalf of a majority that is okay with the status quo. But the reactionaries themselves can’t speak on this
silent majority’s behalf, either as the fact that students don’t get involved does not mean that they oppose a progressive agenda. The results of student-run referenda and SSMU elections, our best indicators of the majority opinion, consistently show that many more students support progressive proposals. Admittedly, turnout at these acts of direct democracy is usually rather low, but this does not mean that it is not representative of the political climate – if we are to assume that the silent majority at McGill simply does not care about what we do, then it cannot inform our decisions either way. As a side note, however, it would be nice if they cared. The rhetorical devices I have just described are not new. Indeed, when we look at McGill’s history, we see that this back-andforth between reactionaries and those fighting for social and environmental justice changes rarely, and even the language used remains more or less the same. As they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
executive elections. The discourse of neutrality and polarization is meant to cloud people’s judgment. In actuality, the problem here is not that SSMU is taking too many political positions – it’s that the reactionary is not in favour of the topics being discussed. Back in 1968, one of the critiques brought up against SSMU was that it was in favour of making McGill a “critical university,” where that research would be conscious of its sociopolitical nature. This would imply responsible and ethical research. Avoiding this outcome is not political neutrality – it is a political choice. Similarly, the steering committee motion was brought up right after a contentious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion was discussed at the SSMU Winter 2016 GA. Not discussing “external and divisive” motions, however, does not erase polarization – it’s merely burying one’s head in the sand.
Discourse of neutrality and polarization
The critique that SSMU’s political stances are meaningless has a kernel of truth in it, though, as they often end up having little effect. However, this is not because SSMU is powerless to enact meaningful change, but rather because, when it comes to mobilization, SSMU often trails significantly behind its counterparts at other universities. It is clear that the solution is not, as the reactionaries would have it, to cease political activity, but rather to increase SSMU’s mobilization capabilities.
“I recognize the importance of establishing a SSMU executive branch which maintains political neutrality. [...] Our student government must represent and cater to the diversity of all political beliefs and ideologies, not a preferential few. I envision a SSMU which facilitates a means of political discussion and awareness. However, our student government must represent all political views, not retroactively impose their own beliefs on the student body.” –Following in the footsteps of former presidential candidate Alexei Simakov, Jordan Sinder ran on a platform of political neutralty. Sinder’s platform, compared with Simakov’s was definitely more toned down. (From SSMU presidential candidate Jordan Sinder’s campaign platform, 2016) In 1968, an important discussion overtook the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS). Students argued that engineering students were not benefitting enough (or at all) from being members of SSMU. In addition, some argued that SSMU’s representative efforts were misguided – essentially, according to them, SSMU was too political. In the end, EUS decided to stay in SSMU, with 63 per cent of the votes. Almost fifty years later, the debate on SSMU’s political nature is far from settled, and there remains a reactionary attitude to perceived politicization and radicalization of our student union. During this year’s referendum period, a motion to create a steering committee to block motions deemed to be “external and divisive” from being discussed at GAs was put forward. The question, criticized by its opponents (of which I was one of the most vocal) as stifling democracy, ultimately failed by a slim margin, with 52.6 per cent voting against it. A hesitancy, or even fear, of “polarizing” the student body marked the platforms of many candidates, especially presidential candidates, in this year’s
Ineffectiveness and McGill exceptionalism and the McGill bubble
In November of 1999, the students in Montreal were striking against government cuts to education. Notably, however, SSMU was missing from the ranks. (“Students Take Demands to the Streets,” November 4, 1999, News, page 8) One of the reasons why SSMU is difficult to mobilize – despite being located in Quebec, a province with many vibrant student movements – is the widespread perception that McGill is fundamentally different from the rest of Quebec, with the campus enclosed, as it were, by a bubble. This explains the fact that most McGill students again stood idle while the rest of the province was up in arms against provincial
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for instance, collects a Student Refugee Fee in order to fund refugee students’ studies at McGill. It surely cannot be the fault of social justice groups that no opposing reactionary student group is funded through student fees.
austerity measures, as was the case during the Spring 2015 movement. In fact, though, McGill is not as different as we’d like to think – if we put our mind to it, what works elsewhere will work here as well. When enough students mobilize, they get tangible results. In 2012, when the provincial Liberals tried to hike tuition fees, tens of thousands of students took to the streets, eventually leading to the ousting of that government. Even though McGill was not very active in that movement, it benefited from the actions of other Quebec students.
Apathy and the silent majority
Finance Director of SSMU Mike Clarke complains about EUS members who complain about how SSMU is useless, while never proposing any solutions themselves. (“EUS considers secssion,” November 27, 1968, page 3)
Former SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barette attempted to mobilize SSMU to be more directly involved with the Spring 2015 anti-austerity movement. Much to her chagrin, it takes more than asking nicely to get students to believe in SSMU. (“Quebec students set to strike,” February 2, 2015, News, page 6) Whatever anyone says, McGill is in Montreal and is affected by its political climate. Saying that SSMU is ineffective, without attempting to make it any better serves a reactionary agenda. If other universities and other student unions can do it, so can we. Calling SSMU ineffective is not an argument against it – it’s an effort to keep it that way for political reasons.
Any other entity on campus that has a mandate to fight for social and environmental justice also needs to be funded – the amount of labour that goes into these endeavours and the socials goods that they create make these groups worthwhile investments. Examples of such groups include CKUT, QPIRGMcGill, and everybody’s favourite campus newspaper (yours truly). According to the reactionary, funding these groups privileges their political stances above others and this privilege is unearned. But this is false. Money for these groups comes from student fees levied through referenda, and students have repeatedly voted in favour of these initiatives. If SSMU and other organizations are truly useless to most students, nothing can explain the fact that these can survive and have survived for decades now with students’ continued support.
Discourse of uselessness, waste of money Whether they acknowledge it or not, every student at McGill benefits from the services and advocacy provided by SSMU. Extended library hours, the operation of the Shatner building, Senate representation, reading week, student rights – none of these could exist if SSMU had no money to spend on services as well as advocacy efforts. This is the case for any student union. As such, it is just patently wrong to argue that paying the SSMU fee is a waste. No service SSMU provides can come for free. Understandably, students are hesitant to increase their fees. This provides a useful talking point for the reactionary who would prefer that this money not be spent toward progressive goals. Hiding behind the argument that progressive groups (often funded via, but not by, student unions) are useless, however, is merely avoiding a discussion about the true political intents of the reactionary.
Lauria Galbraith, who wrote this article, was The Daily’s SSMU beat in 2014-15. From her vantage point, it was clear that SSMU could be used as a tool, yet students need to be convinced first. (“End your apathy,” March 30, 2015, Commentary, page 22)
The reactionary often attempts to further bolster the legitimacy of their rhetorical efforts by speaking on behalf of the “silent majority.” This nebulous group of students is presented as sharing the reactionary’s opposition to progressive efforts – the fact that they don’t speak out is taken to mean that they support the status quo.
The political nature of student life at McGill is a fact. As students, we are passionate about the things we study and the things we do. It is inevitable that we care about certain issues. Personally, I do not believe that there is such a thing as true apathy. That 30 per cent is the highest turnout we see at SSMU elections could be seen as a piece of evidence against my conviction.
Similar to the anti-austerity week that was held at the beginning of this academic year, SSMU tried to hold an Activism Day in 1999. Turnout left much to be desired. (“Talkin’ About a Revolution,” November 4, 1999, News, page 4) The truth of the matter, however, is that public political discourse necessarily exists only among the vocal minorities, to which, incidentally, reactionaries of this kind also belong. While a professed commitment to neutrality is, as discussed earlier, a political stance, we cannot say the same of silence. In fact, we can hardly assume anything about the opinions of this silent majority, nor can we speak on its behalf. The only way to find out what the majority thinks is to consult it. And in fact, referendum results for questions about progressive groups and issues, which are frequently decided by close margins, show that the distribution of opinions is much less clear than the reactionary would lead us to believe. The turnout rates at referenda and elections, however, seem to contradict this statement. A majority of the approximately 30 per cent of the entire student body is really a minority. Yet, this approximately 70 per cent that constitute the silent majority is so consistent that we can ignore its epistemic impossibility. If it is the case that this 70 per cent is truly apathetic, then their opinion actually does not matter. We cannot know what they think if they do not speak up. We cannot know if they are for or against progessive movements if they do not vote. As such, there is nothing wrong with focusing exclusively on that fraction of students who do. The debates happen between the vocal minorities, but it is still the majority that holds decision-making power, and it does not need anyone to speak on its behalf.
Conclusion Any group with sufficiently high levels of support can lobby both SSMU and the University to be funded by student fees. The McGill Chapter of the World University Service Canada (WUSC),
groups have shown that students want “SSMU to be more fun, and less political. […] It just seems that this semester we have become more political and I think this is something to consider.”” —SSMU VP Internal comments that SSMU ought be less political and more fun, as per the demands of the broader student body. (“SSMU stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Indigenous groups,” March 28, 2016, News, online)
“Explaining that while he personally was not for or against the motion, VP Internal Omar ElSharawy said that consultations with students and
SSMU VP External Emily Boytinck was more fortunate than her predecessor in finding passionate students to mobilize against austerity. The process is arduous, but it’s progress. (“The butterfly effect,” November 23, 2015, Features, page 10) On the other hand, looking through the archives of The Daily, I have seen that this battle between activists and reactionaries has been waged for decades now. For every progressive action, there has been a reaction. Obstacles were always in the way. I believe, however, that there is a reason why EUS stayed a part of SSMU; there is a reason why QPIRG-McGill is still around; there is a reason why political campaigns such as Divest McGill and Demilitarize McGill can pass motions at general assemblies that mandate SSMU to support them; and there is a reason why The Daily is still here. The progress of the progressive movement is real. The recent increase in reactionary efforts is only proof of this. The stronger the action, the stronger the reaction. History shows, however, that in the end, it is the activists who win. Sure, there are some defeats here and there; however, the social and environmental justice movements cannot be stopped. This is not arrogance that fuels these words. This is radical optimism. I am radically hopeful that one day we will eradicate all injustices in the world. Until that day however, the battle against the reactionary continues.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Muslim students speak out Islamophobia on and off the McGill campus Trigger warning: This piece contains descriptions of racism, violence, and verbal abuse
Visual by Stephanie Ngo
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Written by Munema Moiz and Syed Zain
arah*, an undergraduate student at McGill, was walking down Guy last year with two of her friends when, out of nowhere, a middle-aged man came up to her and struck her hard on the head. “I lost my balance and fell onto my friend. Then he turned and mockingly asked, ‘You okay?’ And it was so unexpected, I barely had time to process anything, so I was like, ‘I would be if you hadn’t hit me so hard.’ Then he shouted, ‘I hope you get hit by a truck.’” Neither of Sarah’s friends had visible Muslim identifiers, but Sarah wears a headscarf. This was her first encounter with a reality many Muslims face: Islamophobia. Islamophobia is defined by the Runnymede Trust report, which was produced by the independent race equality think tank, as “unfounded hostility toward Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” According to University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender website, Islamophobia is directed at a perceived threat of Muslims that incorporates beliefs of Islam as a monolithic, inferior, barbaric, archaic, violent, terrorist, or oppressive religion. A national survey conducted by Leger Marketing recently released by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration asked 1,500 Canadians about their attitudes toward various religious, Indigenous, and racial groups. The findings are grim: a majority of respondents hold a negative opinion of Muslims and only 48 per cent reported “approval” of Muslims. A 2013 report from Statistics Canada found that hate crimes against Muslims had increased by 44 per cent since 2012 (an increase of roughly 20 incidents) and were more likely to be violent than hate crimes directed at other religious groups. Though distressing, these statistics are not surprising for anyone who has been paying attention to the rhetoric about Islam and Muslims in the media. As a form of xenophobia, Islamophobia intersects with other factors, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Non-Muslim people of colour and certain non-Muslim religious symbols are also seen being “Muslim” due to Islamophia’s intersection with racism, for example. Consequently, Islamophobia has also been directed at non-Muslim people of colour and other religious minorities, such as Sikhs or non-Muslim Haitians. In practice, Islamophobia manifests itself in a myriad of ways: physical violence, harassment, social exclusion, vandalism, discrimination, profiling, surveillance, and discriminatory laws are some of its most common manifestations. Constant and consistent negative media portrayals and conflations of Muslims and terrorists engender Islamophobic attitudes. Islamophobia has been found to be more prevalent in Quebec than in other Canadian provinces. A 2013 Angus Reid
Global poll found that 69 per cent of Quebecers hold an unfavourable opinion of Islam, compared to 54 per cent of Canadians outside of Quebec. A 2015 survey by the Quebec Human Rights Commission (HRC) found that while only 5 per cent of Quebecers said they were bothered by a person wearing a cross around their neck, 48.9 per cent of them were bothered by a woman wearing a veil in comparison. The introduction of the Charter of Values by the Parti Québécois in 2014 – which included a provision against wearing “ostentatious” Muslim signifiers in public domains – resulted in a spike in Islamophobic attacks, particularly against veiled women. There were instances of victims being spat on, their veils being pulled off, or being verbally attacked.
Islamophobia on campus Reports of Islamophobia are surprisingly common in and around the McGill campus as well. Students have reported hostility from fellow classmates following highprofile terrorist attacks. Zara*, an undergraduate student who is often the only person wearing a headscarf in her classes, was shocked when people did not sit next to her in class. “I thought that it was just me thinking that. But then I was sitting in a row, the only one in the row, in a [packed] class,” she recalled. “I was kind of discouraged to say things in class [but] other hijabis [women wearing a headscarf ] told me not to care.” A report published in Convergence, an undergraduate community research journal, in August of last year, surveyed Muslim communities at McGill and Concordia. The report found that 36.6 per cent of respondents said that they may have been discriminated against at their place of education because they were Muslim, while 12.2 per cent were certain that they had been.
them to go “back home.” Given this, it is no surprise that the HRC found that only 37.6 per cent of Quebecers support assigning prayer spaces in schools. Islamophobia on campus is not limited to interactions between students. “[Islamophobia] can be illustrated in the relationships between the professors and the students, but also among professors, especially if they are Muslim or even a non-Muslim studying Islam, [they] may be subject to surveillance,” a Montreal university professor, who wished to remain anonymous, asserted. Indeed, the very existence of Islamophobia is sometimes called into question: “Where I did my graduate studies, you could not talk about Islamophobia. [...] Some people are in denial. They are [so] convinced about the way they think the veil is oppressive of women that they don’t see that [Islamophobia] is racism.” The professor continued, “It affects who you can read, who you can cite, [...] who you can work with.” Similarly, professors and teachers may make negative assumptions about visibly Muslim students. Laila*, a Dietetics student at McGill, remembers her high school teacher commenting after she stopped wearing her headscarf. “She made a remark on how I took off my [headscarf ] and then, while smiling with satisfaction and approval, smirking, said, ‘You’re better this way. At least, I think so.’” In 2013, a McGill professor was found guilty by the McGill Committee on Student Grievances of “religious, cultural, and personal offences” for issuing death threats to his Egyptian graduate student (the professor has since appealed the decision). Islamophobia can often be hard to identify. Subtle, perhaps even subconscious prejudice can lead to discrimination and structural barriers for Muslims. Laila was surprised after her teacher commented on her
“Some people are in denial. They are [so] convinced about the way they think the veil is oppressive of women that they don’t see that [Islamophobia] is racism.” A Montreal university professor, who wishes to remain anonymous Sometimes Islamophobia results from linking a contentious issue on campus, such as the issue of women-only hours at the McGill gym, to a perceived notion of a ‘dangerous’ Islam. A storm of Islamophobic diatribes usually follow online. After the recent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) motion passed in the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) in February, insults were hurled at Arab students, among others – who were also conflated with being Muslim on social media, telling
headscarf. “I didn’t think it was anything people felt negatively about until then. I started thinking perhaps people aren’t as accepting as I think them to be, and maybe other strong personal feelings and opinions are just hidden behind a smile.” Rabeea, a McGill alum, echoed Laila’s observations. On looking for a job after graduation, Rabeea noted, “I wondered whether or not there was hidden, latent Islamophobia within certain people’s decisions to not hire me because the Charter of Values was happening at that time.”
However, it is often clear to Muslims when they are discriminated against that it is because of Islamophobia. Given that research has shown that having an ‘ethnicsounding’ name on resumes reduces hiring opportunities, this is not surprising. In the aforementioend Convergence report, the author, who wishes to remain anonymous, reports that approximately 20 per cent of Muslim respondents were certain, and 18.6 per cent were very certain, that their religious beliefs have impacted their job opportunities. One anonymous respondent said, “When I was searching for a job at a certain point I was told the positions were filled when they clearly weren’t.”
“[He] accused me of poisoning society because of my backwards ways and not blending into society.” Maha*, McGill Science student Increased scrutiny also affects Muslims in other public spaces. International students, particularly men, may find that they are subjected to “random” searches when crossing the border. Adam*, a bearded Muslim Engineering student at McGill, felt targeted after being cross-examined at the US-Canada border. According to Sharif, 34.1 per cent of Muslims surveyed felt that their beliefs have impacted their experience crossing borders. Harris*, another Engineering student at McGill, was interning in another province when he and his friends were harassed by two drunk men. “I think it was prompted by [my friend] who has a big beard. We [were] just sitting [in McDonald’s]. They asked us where we were from and told us, ‘Go back to where you’re from’ and rants like those. We ignored them but they followed us outside and sat on our car. We called the police.” Students have also found themselves victims of shocking Islamophobic incidents in downtown Montreal, usually an area presumed to be more ‘multicultural.’ Fateemah*, a McGill graduate student, reports being followed and harassed by a man near Parc Avenue – following the Paris attack – for wearing a headscarf. “[He] accused me of poisoning society because of my backwards ways and not blending into society,” she said. Maha*, a Science student at McGill, describes a similar experience of being assailed by a woman near Concordia: “She was outraged at my headscarf.”
Living with Islamophobia
Students respond to Islamophobia in different ways. Many are taken aback
Features when it occurs: “It was something I didn’t see happening in Canada. It made me feel unsafe,” Harris said. Although some laugh it off or minimize it, others, like Fateemah, reluctantly choose not to wear overtly Islamic symbols in order to feel safer “[I felt] threatened and very unwelcome despite being a Canadian citizen who’s done her best to be inclusive and respect everybody else. I do wish […] that I could wear [the headscarf ] again and not be judged for it,” Fateemah said. Some Muslims will consider alternatives similar to the hijab, like a turban, hat, or hoodie, to reduce their visibility. Although Rabeeea continues to wear the headscarf, frightening Islamophobic encounters in the metro and a shopping mall left her feeling apprehensive about going back to these locations for the next few months. Zara, realizing her classmates were avoiding her due to her religion as well as her race, felt alienated, saying, “I spent my first semester very sad, crying.” Even the threat of Islamophobia will force Muslims to preemptively change their behaviour. Some, like Laila, are told explicitly by their Muslim peers or family to avoid appearing Muslim. “My mother, because she had experienced Islamophobia, was paranoid and skeptical of my decision [to wear the headscarf ].” Others avoid political activism or refrain from attending Muslim events due to fear of government surveillance and being put on a terrorist watchlist.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily 8 per cent of its headlines related to Islam were positive from 1984 to 2014. One respondent in Sharif’s report suggested: “[The] media [should] stop looking for stories that demonize Muslims as a whole community and use the proper language when reporting. Subtle changes in the way the media reports certain stories have strong implications on what the message of the story is.” Muslims often feel that they lack a unified voice and presence in the media. However, as Manai points out, this is tricky because Muslims may receive death threats after appearing on television defending Islam.
Moving beyond Islamophobia Islamophobia can also drive its victims to combat prejudice. “Islamophobia, as a stigma, becomes a way to involve women to share new narratives. [...] In Quebec, some women try to turn the stigma into something positive,” Manai says. Within Quebec, the Charter of Values debate instigated the creation of several Muslim women’s groups for support, legal aid, and working toward better media representation, such as Association des musulmans et des arabes pour la laïcité au Québec (AMAL Quebec), Paroles de femmes, Justice Femme and Lavoiedesfemme. These groups offer legal assistance for victims of Islamophobia, hold conferences
“What is really insidious about Islamophobia is the way we [Muslims] internalize some adaptations. [...] Not only people who are visible or seem to be visible [Muslims] do this.” Bochra Manai, assistant professor of Geography at Université de Montréal Students may also be discouraged from practicing their faith to avoid becoming “radicalized,” wherein society pressures them to choose between being Muslim and being a ‘good person.’ After the Charter of Values was released, some Muslims began considering leaving Quebec due to the increase in Islamophobia and reduced job opportunities for women wearing headscarves. Bochra Manai, an assistant professor of Geography at Université de Montréal (UDeM) who is conducting her postdoctoral research on deconstructing radicalization, explains, “What is really insidious about Islamophobia is the way we [Muslims] internalize some adaptations. [...] Not only people who are visible or seem to be visible [Muslims] do this. Sometimes, in an airport, if I am listening to Arabic music, I think, ‘Oh God, people will see my YouTube video written in Arabic. So I just listen to Beyonce.’ It becomes a day-to-day way of adapting to the suspicion.” Many Muslims hold the media accountable for common Islamophobic attitudes. A recent study found that the New York Times portrays Islam worse than cocaine, cancer, and alcohol. Only
about the issue, and record statistics of hate crimes. Many Muslims will try to counter the misinformation about them that they encounter. After being stopped at the border, Adam said, “I felt after that incident that we need to do more [...] to spread the right message of Islam.” Majdi, an Engineering student at McGill, agrees, “In a way we are all speaking out by just being good people and good Samaritans and good Muslims, we are giving a good name to Islam. But it is a fact that we should be talking about these issues,” Majdi said. Many Muslims try to foster dialogue and counter the Islamophobic rhetoric that dehumanizes them. Following the 2015 Paris attacks, Majdi was shocked to see Islamophobic posts by his Facebook friends. He decided to stand blindfolded at Roddick Gates with a sign saying, “I’m a Muslim, Syrian & Canadian, but I’m told I’m a terrorist. I trust you. If you trust me… hug me, sing with me, dance with me or b-ball with me.” “I was very nervous at the beginning [but] there was overwhelming support. [I]
had conversations about Islam. A lot of people told me, ‘You know, we know you’re not a terrorist.’ But what I learned from that experiment was that everybody knows somebody who is a bit prejudiced. More often than not, most people said to me, ‘I have a friend who thinks like that, I know what you’re talking about.’” However, it is not all bad news. A Pew research poll conducted in 2013 suggests that younger people are more likely to reject the idea that Islam encourages violence among its believers. On campus, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) aims to raise awareness and spread knowledge about Islam, as well as provide a supportive community for Muslim students. The president of the student group, said, “In trying to combat Islamophobia, [the MSA’s] vision is that of mutual understanding, knowledge, and seeing the bigger picture.” He emphasized the importance of understanding where Islamophobia stems from: “From the Muslim point-of-view, we have to understand that while there is no place for Islamophobia, and all this bigotry is unacceptable, it is understandable. This is the goal of the terrorists [who are] trying to usher this in. Safety is the dearest thing to a person’s heart. [...] Being susceptible to fear is normal.” One initiative started by the MSA to respond to Islamophobia is “Discover Islam,” a week of events where students, faculty, and staff can learn more about Islam in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. “Knowledge and exposure to Muslims, I think that is the best way to combat Islamophobia,” the MSA president said. “Discover Islam” received positive feedback last year from both Muslims and non-Muslims who benefited from the discussion-based nature of the events. Many Muslims believe that there should be spaces to question and criticize Islam, without resorting to hatred of a Muslim’s choices and beliefs. “When we approach people who might be Islamophobic not from a point of view of ‘you’re a bigot!’, but rather ‘we understand this feeling, but let us show you the truth, let us work together,’ I think this will change a lot of the discussion. It
becomes a dialogue of compassion and understanding from the beginning,” the MSA President explained. With a larger event and a series of talks being planned for the week of April 4, the MSA hopes to garner more positive discussions and dispel misconceptions this year.
“In trying to combat Islamophobia, [the Muslim Students’ Association’s] vision is that of mutual understanding, knowledge, and seeing the bigger picture.” The president of the Muslim Students’ Association Ultimately, however, combating Islamophobia is not just about countering myths about Islam. It is about creating an environment where Muslims and other marginalized people can flourish, find their identity, and practice their faith on campus and in Canada without fear of backlash and hate. Though Sarah was scared after her attack, she says, “I haven’t considered taking my headscarf off simply because it’s been a part of my identity since I was 12 years old. It makes me who I am and it hasn’t hindered me from achieving anything in life so far. Rather than me changing my choices to accommodate their ignorance, I think it’s a matter of educating people to be more accepting of Muslims and to nurture a safe environment for everyone to live in harmony.” *Names have been changed to protect the identity of the students. Syed Zain is a member of the Muslim Students’ Association. If you have experienced Islamophobia, you can call the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline at 604-343-3828 for support.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Speedy speedy tap dancing
New insight on elaborate courtship displays of songbirds Tony Feng Sci+Tech Writer
ast November, the discovery published in Nature by Manfred Gahr, Nao Ota, and Masago Soma unveiled the speedy and unique “tap dancing” of cordonbleu songbirds as a courtship display. In addition to uncovering this elaborate courtship display they found that, contrary to common belief that female birds have less sophisticated courtship displays than male birds, female cordonbleu songbirds can perform tap dancing as complex as that of their male counterparts. These birds’ unique way of attracting mates is performed at such a high speed that human eyes cannot see the astonishing phenomenon without advanced imaging tools. Soma, an associate professor at Hokkaido University, pointed out that even a normal digital video camera cannot capture their motion. By using a high-speed video camera with 300 frames per second, researchers were able to observe the tap dancing and determine that each step lasted about six frames, approxi-
mately 0.02 seconds. The tap dancing was at first assumed to produce vibrations and non-vocal sounds to attract other songbirds. As it turns out, although the tap dancing is invisible to unaided human eyes, the songbirds can see each other dancing because they have a much higher visual sensitivity. Sue Anne Zollinger, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, referred to this heightened visual capacity in an interview with the Discovery Channel as a “higher flicker fusion threshold.” Gahr and Soma observed this tap dancing behaviour in other closely related songbirds, such as the blue-capped cordon-bleu and the red-cheeked cordon-bleu, both of which are from the genus Uraeginthus. They inferred that three other species in the same genus – the blue-breasted cordonbleu, the purple grenadier – and the common grenadier, may also tap dance in a similar fashion. Gahr noted in an interview with BBC, “maybe more birds are doing it, but it just has not been seen.” Zollinger also explained in her interview that “the foot taps may also add to the acoustic part
of the display, like a one-man band that sings while simultaneously playing the drums.” Gahr and Soma also noticed that while the songbirds were tap dancing and singing, they would also wave around a twig. Soma said it is predicted that “fine coordination or synchronization of dancing should relate to long-term pair bonding.” Soma also pointed out these socially monogamous birds are particularly selective when it comes to picking their mates; the songbirds only perform courtship displays to other birds they found attractive. Additionally, this speedy footwork holds clues about the evolution of dancing in humans and other mammals. Dancing is a more intimate form of courtship for the potential mates, whereas singing is audible to any bird who can hear the sound, like an “advertisement,” as described by Soma. Zollinger has pointed out that the speed dancing not only serves as a visual component to the courtship display, it also suggests how physically fit the dancer is. “[Tap dancing is] quite complicated, to do all that without falling from the perch
Amanda Fiore | The McGill Daily – it’s very acrobatic,” Gahr added. Besides the unprecedented observation of tap dancing, the study documents the first known female songbirds whose courtship displays are as complex as their male counterparts’. Classical selection theory suggested that courtship displays evolved in males because females are believed to have the choice to select mates. However, in this study, dance performance var-
ied amongst individual birds, but did not differ within sexes – both males and females escalated their dance when their mate was on the perch. This could suggest an angle for future studies in considering courtship as a two-way sexual communication, potentially focusing on how multimodal courtship display is evolved in both sexes to give us a more diverse and complex understanding of the bird kingdom.
A step toward gender equality in STEM Victoria Kaspi wins Herzberg medal
Jessica Hunter Sci+Tech Writer
cGill is basking in pride after Professor of Physics and Lorne Trottier Chair of Astrophysics and Cosmology – Victoria Kaspi – was awarded with the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. The award was given to Kaspi in recognition of her eminent and influential research on pulsars, a type of rapidly rotating, highly magnetized neutron star. The award takes its name from Canadian Nobel Laureate of Chemistry Gerhard Herzberg and is distributed via the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Kaspi is not only one of the youngest researchers to receive this award, but she is also the first woman to do so. Kaspi’s astounding success within astrophysics is evidenced by the long list of awards and distinctions that she has accumulated throughout her relatively short career. Her previous distinctions include the Herzberg Medal of the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Steacie Prize, the Rutherford Memorial Medal of the Royal Society of Cana-
da, and the Prix Marie-Victorin – not to mention being a McGill alumna of ‘89. Also noteable on the list of Kaspi’s accomplishments is the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy, given by the American Astronomical Society, which Kaspi received in 1998. Like Kaspi, Annie J. Cannon was a great female astronomer who was instrumental in shaping and furthering the way we understand the universe; Cannon is credited with developing the first classification system for stellar bodies. It was another great heroine of astrophysics, Cecilia Payne, who realized that Cannon’s classification system, which was based off the temperature of the stars, also correlated with the stars’ chemical composition. Payne’s doctoral thesis, “Stellar Atmospheres,” which outlined her and Cannon’s finding was disregarded as it went completely against conventional knowledge of the stars. It took four years before her contemporaries realized that Payne had been correct and acknowledged her revolutionary discovery. Like Victoria Kaspi, the story of Cannon and Payne exemplifies the hugely influential role women have had in the field of astrophysics, while also
alluding to the dismissal of women in academia. Even though Cannon and Payne were working nearly a century ago, it remains no secret that there is still gender based discrimination within the upper levels of the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Although these fields often have many women in their ranks at the undergraduate level, female representation drops moving up the educational and professional ladder. The phenomenon is well-known and is often referred to as the “leaky pipeline.” Although there are a number of reasons for why this might be the case, with some blaming innate gender differences, or women’s focus on family over career, these unfounded explanations don’t stack up in reality. The most likely explanation for this leaky pipeline phenomenon is a systematic discrimination against marginalized groups within the STEM fields. One might assume this bias doesn’t exist within today’s supposedly liberally-minded academic institutions, but a paper published by Corinne Moss-Racusin and associates from Yale titled “Science
Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students” provides unsettling evidence for the existence of this discrimination. The researchers recruited a sample of over 150 STEM professors at several top American universities and had them assess two candidates applying for a lab manager position. The faculty were asked to rate the applicant’s competence, perceived hireability, and the likelihood that they would mentor the candidate. The candidates’ resumes were identical, with the exception of their name being gendered. This subtle tactic produced results overwhelmingly consistent with the leaky pipeline hypothesis. The male candidate was rated significantly higher in all domains – competence, hireability, and mentoring. What is most striking is that the gender of the professor had no effect, meaning even female professors were susceptible to committing this type of discrimination. When asked why they rated the female candidate lower, the professors reported that they perceived those applicants to be less competent. The results of Moss-Racusin’s study are consistent with the his-
torical and modern perception of women in STEM fields; women consistently have to work harder to prove their worth in this competitive realm. What’s more is that this leaky pipeline does not apply only to women, but extends to other groups discriminated against based on race, age, and other identity factors. In order to overcome this systematic and erroneous prejudice, we must actively create opportunities for their professional and academic development within the STEM fields as well as other white male-dominated sectors such as business and government. Recognizing that systematic discrimination continues within STEM fields, Victoria Kaspi’s recent award becomes all the more remarkable and a toast to all women in academia. By celebrating prominent female scientists and their contributions, we are simultaneously creating positive role models in science and technology and erasing the sexist notion that women are incompetent. This award has brought Kaspi to the forefront of STEM in Canada, and will be pivotal to improving the representation of women in STEM everywhere.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
The new planet on the block
New discovery could change how we see our solar system Leanne Louie The McGill Daily
cientists at Caltech have found evidence suggesting a ninth planet is lurking on the distant edges of our solar system. Ten times as massive as the Earth and nearly the size of Neptune, this planet would take 15,000 years to complete one full orbit of the sun. The founding researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, were first alerted to the possibility of this planet’s existence when they observed the unexpected clustering of six objects in the Kuiper belt that orbit beyond Neptune. According to the scientists, it’s highly unlikely that this grouping occurred by chance, indicating the presence of a body with a large gravitational field that has the potential to herd other objects into this orbital formation. From Pluto to Planet Nine This gas giant, nicknamed Planet Nine by the scientists, isn’t the first discovery of Brown’s to make headlines. In 2005, Brown found Eris orbiting beyond Neptune, an object more massive than Pluto. Surrounded by many icy objects similar to itself in size and orbit, Pluto had been in question since the early 1990s. Many advocated that the distant entity and its neighbours should have their own classification, separate from planets. Brown’s discovery was the final straw to ending Pluto’s planetary status, sparking the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006, alongside Eris and other objects beyond Neptune, such as Ceres and Haumea. Brown’s book, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, details the events leading up to Pluto’s reclassification. Now, ten years after Pluto was dethroned, another planet has captured the world’s attention, and again, Brown is at the centre of the hype. The six similarly positioned objects in the Kuiper Belt that led Brown and Batygin to Planet Nine were first brought to Brown’s attention in a paper by his former post doctorate student, Chad Trujillo, and his colleague, Scott Sheppard. These objects were 6 of 13 periphery
objects studied by Trujillo and Sheppard. The paper examined the shared orbital features of the 13 objects, suggesting a small planet could be responsible. Brown’s curiosity was piqued. Brown and Batygin worked on the problem for a year and a half and eventually found that six of the most distant objects studied had orbits moving in the same direction in space and tilted in the same way – an arrangement that is highly unlikely to occur by chance, according to the researchers. Simulation experiments also revealed a large planet could be the cause of such movements, and rendered a likely size and orbit of the hypothetical entity. Scientists estimate that this planet could be around 10 times the mass of the Earth with an anti-aligned orbit, which the researchers explain is “an orbit in which the planet’s closest approach to the sun, or perihelion, is 180 degrees across from the perihelion of all the other objects and known planets.”
Six of the most distant objects studied had orbits moving in the same direction in space and tilted in the same way – an arrangement that is highly unlikely to occur by chance. The existence of Planet Nine would also help to explain another of Brown’s previous findings. In 2003, Brown discovered Sedna, a minor object with a farflung orbit. One of the most distant objects in the solar system, Sedna’s exceedingly long and elliptical orbit indicated that an unknown force had likely pulled it into its current orbit. At the time of its discovery, anything from passing stars to Sedna’s capture from another system were proposed as possibilities to
Sarah Meghan Mah | The McGill Daily explain Sedna’s the strange orbit. The discovery of Planet Nine and its strange orbit may be the answer that astronomers studying Sedna were looking for. Planet Nine’s hypothetical existence could also explain a second grouping of planets, orbiting perpendicular to the plane of the eight established planets of the solar system and at 90 degree angles to Planet Nine. Five such planets with similar orbits to Planet Nine’s predicted orbit have been observed since 2002. “Not only are [the planets] there, but they are in exactly the places we predicted,” said Brown in his interview with Science. “That is when I realized that this is not just an interesting and good idea – this is actually real.” Not all scientists are as certain as Brown and Batygin, though. Dave Jewitt, a professor of astronomy at UCLA, worries that the measurements are simply too crude to say for sure that such a planet exists. Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, has warned that it’s “too early to say
with certainty there’s a so-called Planet X out there,” and that the finding is in it’s early stages as of yet. Another source of skepticism are the results of NASA’s Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a 2013 survey which scanned the sky for brown dwarfs – the scans would have detected giant planets that were orbiting our solar system. However, Planet Nine, which may be smaller than Neptune, could have been missed due to its size. Origins and implications If this hypothetical planet does exist, then other questions arise – where did it come from, and how did it get to the far reaches of the solar system? Planets don’t usually form as far from the sun as Planet Nine is predicted to be, and if they did, they wouldn’t reach the gargantuan size this unseen planet is believed to be. One possibility is that Planet Nine formed close to the sun, alongside the other gas giants, and was eventually knocked out of its original orbit
like a billiard ball by a rogue object or a gravitational push. Within our own solar system, Planet Nine’s orbit is considered unusual, but its behaviour is quite common in the context of the rest of the universe. Sun-like stars are known to be orbited at a variety of distances, and given the fairly clustered orbits of our current eight planets, our solar system could be considered the oddball – that is, unusually huddled together in comparison to others. Additionally, our system is void of the most common type of planet – those between one and ten times the mass of the Earth. Planet Nine could actually normalize our solar system. Using the Japanese-owned Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, Brown and Batygin are currently scanning the sky for Planet Nine. Brown says it could take five years to completely search the regions of interest. If they do find their planet, it will be quite a career twist for the self-proclaimed Pluto-killer. Before long, we could have nine planets again.
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April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Mapping the brain’s connections
New approaches to understanding the mind and its disorders Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez Mind the Complexities
couple of months before I moved to Canada to pursue my graduate studies in neuroscience, I stumbled upon a 2010 TED talk titled, “I am my Connectome,” delivered by MIT researcher Sebastian Seung. In the talk, he spoke about how our brain function can be explained in terms of the collection of synapses – the connections between neurons – between the billions of neurons in our brain – this is the connectome. He went on to describe The Human Connectome Project, through which many teams of neuroscientists around the world are joining efforts to map the neural connections in the human brain, reminiscent of the largescale initiative to sequence the entire human genome in 2003. His talk covered the basics on what a synapse is and the enormous number of potential applications of this mapping to understand and cure mental disorders. My jaw dropped. Today, three years later, the idea still amazes me, although I’ve grown a little more skeptical. From genome to connectome There is a big difference between understanding the synapse between two neurons and being able to say “I am my connectome.” Before exploring what the connectome is, and to what extent it can help us to understand the human mind, let’s go back for a moment to the predecessor that inspired “the connectome.” A genome is the entire DNA sequence of an organism. In 2003, fifty years after Watson and Crick first described the double helix structure of DNA, the human genome was completely sequenced and all our genes were mapped through a collaborative international effort dubbed The Human Genome Project. Back then, we believed that we had found nature’s recipe for building a human being. Somebody might as well have said: “I am my genome.” But we are not our genomes. We are more than the combined genetic information from an egg and spermatozoid. From the moment we develop as an embryo and throughout all of our lives, the genetic information of our cells can be modified in response to environmental or external factors. These genes go on to code for proteins, and these proteins build all the cells of our bodies. By this the-
ory, genes and their environmental modification should be enough to explain our physical constitution. However, our personalities, mental faculties, and emotions are a special combination of genes and environment and they represent a more complex system of specialized cellular structure, interaction, and function. This is where the connectome comes in. Connecting with the connectome Neurons are the cell type which “conduct” messages, allowing our central nervous system to function. A synapse is the place in which these “messages” pass from one nerve cell to another, in the form of electrical or chemical signals. This impulse transmission is the base of our central nervous system’s functions. This implies a difference between the brain and other organs of our body: brain function relies on not only the cellular processes of individual neurons, but also on the interaction between neurons which can be far from one another. These circuits of neurons are responsible for our capacity to move in and perceive the world. Our mental functions and identities depend on the connections between our neurons. The term connectome, coined by Olaf Sporns at Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was inspired by the sequencing of the genome. This term refers to the map of all the neural connections within the brain and nervous system. If we see the mind as a system for the flow of information, the connectome would be the circuitry that keeps this information moving. Interestingly, the connectome is the product of both genetic connection patterns and environmental effects which influence this initial circuitry. Although an important part of our brain’s connections is determined by genetics, our connectomes change over time through learning and experience. Our brains are elastic: synapses are continuously created and eliminated according to use and experience, thus modifying the connectome. For instance, you have probably made new synapses while reading this article. If we believe that the mind emerges from the brain, and that it is in constant flux, we may also believe, like Seung, that the “connectome” is a determinant of who we are. Explaining mental disorders The connectome has been seen as a potential pathway to addi-
Sarah Meghan Mah | The McGill Daily tional insight into mental disorders. When studying some psychiatric illnesses, we have to take into account that there are often no visible morphologic alterations in the brains of people with these conditions. However, the biological theories of many conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and autism today include the concept of “disordered connectivity.” In the words of Alan Evans , a professor of neurology at McGillmental disorders “arise from brain function disorganization.” Assessing brain function disorders has historically been difficult because “we didn’t have tools to observe the connectivity and organization of the entire brain as it changes through life.” With the boost in neuroimaging techniques in the last 20 years, this paradigm has changed. We now have machines to observe the structure and function of the brain in real time. The Human Connectome Project aims to provide answers to these disorders. For instance, Evans uses a variety of neuroimaging techniques to study the brains of infants who have been diagnosed with and without a disorder in the autistic spectrum. Studying the ongoing wiring of infant brains is also important to understanding autism as we know that infancy is one of the most important developmental periods in which brain connections are being established, and one in which the brain is most plastic. To date, the only connectome that has been completely mapped is that of C. elegans, a tiny worm
from the nematode family; a team led by South African biologist and Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner drew a wiring diagram of this organism’s nervous system. We know today that C. elegans has 302 neurons and about 7,000 neural connections. In contrast, the human brain has about 100 million neurons and the number of connections is astronomical. Mapping this number of connections is no easy task and the brain sections of the worm can obviously not be applied to the human being. Instead, through the use of new neuroimaging techniques, powerful data-analysis technologies, and the construction of open-source databases, the endeavour is starting to seem feasible. In addition, collaboration between international laboratories in the recent Human Connectome Project, funded by the National Institute of Health in the U.S., have some scientists believing that we may fulfill this goal much sooner than expected. Are we our connectome? While the idea of the connectome and Sebastian Seung’s TED talk still amazes me, I cannot help but question his claims that the connectome is the ultimate answer to understanding someone’s personality. Eventhough the circuitry of the nervous system is important, it is not the whole story. It is another example of focusing on the “where” things happen while forgetting the “how” a recurring weakness of neuroscience more broadly. The processes and the kind of information being
conveyed by individual connections and groups of synapses are also fundamental. In the case of C. elegans, our tiny worm, mapping the entirety of its neural connections did not per se explain the whole repertoire of its behaviours. Rather, the diagram served as a starting point for generating hypotheses of functions for the mapped neural circuits, giving rise to many experiments that slowly began to explain the organism’s behaviour. Twentyfive years after the worm’s connectome was mapped, scientists now understand how it responds to temperature and mechanical stimulations, but they’re still using the connectivity diagram to conduct experiments, looking to advance our understanding of its nervous system and behaviour. If a nervous system composed of 302 neurons is so hard to understand, even with a full map of its connections, what can we expect of the human nervous system with its immense number of connections? The evidence points one way: We are not merely our connectomes. However, mapping our connectomes, in combination with other approaches to brain and mind functioning, seems a worthy endeavour to help us to explain who we are. Mind the Complexities is a column exploring how scientific knowledge can be applied to the various problems with mental health experienced in our society. Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez can be reached at mindthecomplexities@ mcgilldaily.com.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Combatting the elusiveness of pancreatic cancer Early detection methods remain evasive
Igor Zlobine The McGill Daily
ancreatic cancer entered the limelight recently when the co-founder and CEO of Apple Steve Jobs was diagnosed with the disease. Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Jobs gave a commencement speech in 2005 at Stanford University where he said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” These words came from a man who had seemingly realized that his time on this earth was soon coming to an end. Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The issue of recognizing and diagnosing pancreatic cancer has been brushed aside for far too long, and it’s time that we paid more attention to it. A deadly disease Pancreatic cancer is unique fom other cancers in that its close anatomical association to many vital blood vessels bolsters its ability to spread to other organs. Because of this, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer associated death in Canada. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach which is responsible for producing vital hormones such as insulin as well as pancreatic polypeptide. Although humans can live without a pancreas, this comes with consequences. The pancreas aids in the absorption and digestion of nutrients by secreting digestive enzymes. There is a rising incidence of pancreatic cancer worldwide, and based on a 2009 estimate, pancreatic cancer is projected to be the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S by 2030 surpassing breast and prostate cancer. Perhaps most alarming is that pancreatic cancer is responsible for the highest rate of cancerassociated mortality and – despite our efforts in cancer treatments – the overall survival rate of patients with pancreatic cancer has remained essentially unchanged over the past four decades. Pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect as in its early stages patients often remain asymptomatic for a long time. Symptoms that do manifest often do so in the form of very non-specific symptoms such as back pain, changes in stool, jaundice, or loss of appetite; these can easily be mistaken for other relatively minor health
issues. Because of this, when a patient is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it is usually already at an advanced stage. This is mainly because, as the American Cancer Society notes, there is still no reliable method for early detection. In the U.S., more than 60 per cent of all cancers affect those over the age of 65, and pancreatic cancer is no exception. The average age for a patient diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is approximately 70. A paltry 8 per cent of those diagnosed live more than five years post-diagnosis. According to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, if someone is diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer (meaning, one that is confirmed to have potential to spread to other parts of the body), the average life expectancy is less than six months. To make matters worse, in about 80 per cent of pancreatic cancers, the tumours are at such late stages that surgery is not a viable option. In these cases, clinicians have to rely on other methods of treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy. Despite its deadliness, there is a lack of media attention given to pancreatic cancer, with other diseases such as breast cancer often receiving much more consistent popular media attention, The U.S. National Cancer Institute calculated in 2011 that research and fundraising for breast cancer raised 15,638 USD per death, while pancreatic cancer only received 2,641 USD per death.
The cancer’s return was detected six and a half months earlier using [ctDNA analysis] as opposed to standard CT imaging. The search for a cure It is difficult to know where to start researching when trying to address such a deadly and complex disease. The common approach is to focus on a particular pathway or marker for a disease. Rather than follow this approach, however a Johns Hopkins research team led
Young Jin Cho | Illustrator by Victor Velculescu chose to look for de novo (newly acquired) mutations in an attempt for an unbiased analysis of the entire genome of the patient, instead of looking at known mutations relating to pancreatic cancer. This involved looking at 24 tumours, as well as the analysis of mutations related to the tumour extracted from the patient’s circulation. Velculescu’s 2015 study provides some insight into early detection. His research group examined the utility of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) in patients with pancreatic cancer. CtDNA is residual DNA that is shed from tumour cells due to their extreme activity and turnover. It contains cancer-associated mutations which can be used as a measurable indicator of the presence of a tumor. This method has the potential to be an extremely sensitive diagnostic tool, which is more rapid and less invasive than current techniques. In another part of the study – as proof of ctDNA’s potential as a reliable diagnostic tool – the research group found that almost half of the patients had detectable ctDNA. Continued detection of this ctDNA after resection (surgery) was very
closely correlated to the patient’s overall outcome and chance of clinical relapse – suggesting that this type of analysis may be able to predict if the cancer will return and whether a patient will survive. Furthermore, the cancer’s return was detected six and a half months earlier using this method as opposed to standard CT imaging, which may provide clinicians with a way to detect and treat this type of cancer earlier. In addition to the lack of available markers for pancreatic cancer, the tumours themselves are known to be very heterogeneous, meaning that different parts of a tumour can be composed of different mutations and cell types. However, ctDNA is regarded as being less widely influenced by these differences as opposed to alternative methods, such as direct biopsy – the removal of tissue for examination – and thus, it may provide a more accurate picture of what is happening to the tumour as a whole. Hope for prevention The conditions that increase susceptibility to pancreatic cancer remain unclear. Obesity and diabetes seem to be risk factors. In ad-
dition, approximately a quarter of pancreatic cancer cases have been linked to smoking. It would thus seem clear that lots of exercise and a balanced diet is the way to go, as with any healthy lifestyle consistent with disease prevention. It is interesting to note that pancreatic cancer is more commonly seen in wealthy countries, suggesting, among other things, that our overconsumption of food combined with our concomitant lack of exercise are serious players to consider in the fight against this disease. For example, there is a positive correlation between high consumption rates of meat and dairy and the risk for pancreatic cancer. Every day pancreatic cancer takes the lives of 12 people in Canada, and as it stands now, diagnosis might as well be a death sentence. However, new techniques for detection and treatment, such as the analysis of ctDNA, offer promise for patients. Hopefully this research can be moved into the clinic soon. This new research allows us to gain more knowledge about the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. All of this may be the key to detecting this deadly disease earlier and with more accuracy.
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Year in review Technology and social justice This year technology has taken new steps to redefinesocial justice. From JustHack’s effort to encourage a more inclusive environment for computer science hopefuls (“Coding for community, not corporations,” September 14, online) to the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s online map of places in Montreal where trans people have faced discrimination (“Mapping cissexism,” November 30, page 24). With the rise of social media, technology has become an increasingly important tool in social justice movements around the globe, like #STEM on twitter, drawing attention to marginalized voices in STEM (“#ILooklikeSTEM,” October 15, page 14). We still have many steps to take in fighting for social justice – and technology will play a pivotal part in that. These movements have sought to create a diverse
and inclusive environment for all science and technology lovers. As a society, we should seek to make the paths of science and technology as accessible as possible – events like JustHack, the research by Johns Hopkins University supporting individualized vaccines (“A movement towards indiviualized vaccines,” January 25, page 13), and creating apps combatting inaccessibility (“Using apps to combat inaccesibility,” September 1, page 14) are just the tip of an iceberg. Science does not get a free pass from social justice efforts. The scientific community needs to look at how research can play into oppressive power structures. By working toward an anti-oppressive environment, we create opportunities for marginalized individualized to participate more in research and in changing the world.
Mental health and neuroscience As this year’s Sci+Tech columnist Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez, put it, our minds are more than simply the sum of our parts. Her column about mental health kicked off a key discusion. Over the course of this past year, Sci+Tech writers have discussed many mental health disorders and aspects of neuroscience, ranging from seasonal affective disorder (“Grappling with the ‘winter blues,’” November 30, page 22) to schizophrenia (“Mysteries in diagnosis,” March 21, page 19). Mental health’s research is a broad-based discipline and area of study that requires knowledge from many different fields, such as psychology, anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry. Due to the complexity of neuroscience and mental health research as a whole, many individuals may try to
oversimplify complex diseases like ALS, often missing key pieces of information – but not to fear, Pérez Gay Juárez’s column has deconstructed the disease and illuminated a potential path to a cure (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15). With regard to mental health, an important theme to keep in mind (pun intended) is the fight against the “work now play later” approach that many of us may take, especially when faced with mountains of work. As Pérez Gay Juárez has explained, this may do more harm than good, as our brains need time to relax, and our memories need a good night’s sleep in order to consolidate. This balance is something we should all aim for to take care of ourselves and our mental health.
Discoveries in science This year has been a great one for scientific discoveries in fields ranging from aerospace to renewable energy. The scientific community has revealed some significant findings that may be the foundations of big things to come in the upcoming years. One of the most recent of these discoveries is Google’s Deep Mind AI which managed to beat a professional player in the board game Go (“Google’s AI triumphs in the world of Go,” February 22, page 15), spelling new promises for artificial intelligence development. Additionally, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX successfully landed its first pilotless rocket (“Dawn of a new space age,” January 18, page 15), potentially creating a future for cheap space travel and goods transportation. New research
for Lou Gehrig’s disease (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15) and Alzheimer’s (“Ten more years for Alzheimers,” January 11, page 15) show new hope for diagnosis and treatment. And newly discovered species are feeling the influence of pop culture – harvestmen have been named Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, and sea slugs named after Khaleesi from Game of Thrones (“Nomenclature normalities,” February 1, page 16). These discoveries also show us just how much work is left to do. Despite all our advances, large parts of the natural world remain unknown to us. Hopefully, if this year is any indication, we are on our way to new answers, and even more questions, about our world and our place in it.
Visual by Erica Skye Schaaf
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
A game of tones
Revenge, lust, and a hanging chair in Opera McGill’s Rodelinda Carly Gordon Culture Writer
lack-clad state police, wearing ski masks and brandishing nightsticks, apprehend an anti-establishment graffiti artist. It’s not exactly how you might expect the opening scene of an 18th century opera to unfold, but Opera McGill’s March 19 performance of Rodelinda defied expectations from its very first note to its last, though not always in a good way. Rodelinda, composed in 1719 by Georg Friedrich Händel, is a rarely performed spectacle of a convoluted plot with larger-than-life characters. It’s loosely based on the events surrounding the usurpation and attempted assassination of Perctarit, king of the Lombards, in the 7th century. Since it’s hard to confine a medieval military coup to three hours of theatrical staging, Händel’s work focuses instead on the twisted yet decidedly human relationships between the parties involved. Stage director Patrick Hansen was stumped by Rodelinda’s relative obscurity. In the director’s notes, Hansen wrote, “[Rodelinda] is not as well known in North America as it should be. [...] I’m not sure why, as the themes and characters present in this opera are timeless and currently reflected in HBO’s Game of Thrones television series.” He cites violence, lust, obsession, and royal intrigue as common to both works. It should be noted, however, that Rodelinda is sadly devoid of dragons. Throughout the production, talented opera students from McGill’s Schulich School of Music dominated the challenging, ornate vocal lines for which Baroque-era music is known. Stellar voices and acting skills, even in the context of the storyline’s melodrama, amounted to an impressive collective performance. Meanwhile, an orchestra hidden in the pit beneath the stage aced the trills and flourishes of Händel’s capering score. The evening’s standout was countertenor Nicholas Burns. Hailing from British Columbia, the 21-year-old took on the lead role of King Bertarido with impeccable vocals and an enthralling stage presence. In Rodelinda, Bertarido has been deposed by the tyrannical Grimoaldo and presumed dead by his son Flavio and wife Rodelinda. But Burns’s arrival on stage midway through the first act made it apparent that the king, in fact, lives on. Burns channelled the regal poise of a monarch and the pained urgency of a father and husband separated from those he loves, all encapsulated by a skillful voice rarely heard in a performer so young. Often, countertenor
King Bertarido “returns from the dead.” roles will be reassigned as “pants roles,” or male roles played by a lowervoiced woman, in absence of a male singer sufficiently capable in the high vocal range demanded of countertenors. Luckily for Opera McGill, Burns was more than capable, with a voice that could compete with the pros.
The sexual bent would have been more compelling had it examined or thwarted gender roles. Soprano Lauren Woods in the role of Rodelinda was another highlight, depicting equal parts majesty and woe with a voice at once agile and nuanced. Woods performed with a gripping and elegant intensity, capturing the eponymous queen’s acts of mourning, loyalty, and defiance. Woods made her regal entrance in the first scene, wearing a swirling pink crown that would have made Effie Trinket jealous. Despite the student performers’ display of utmost professionalism, the actual professional stage designers failed to hit the mark, resulting in a production that was visually interesting, but thematically half-baked. The opera appeared to be set inside a dystopian Ikea: bare metal scaffolding, grey mesh columns, and, oddly, a chair suspended upside-down from the ceiling. The set amounted to an aesthetic that per-
haps can best be described as “warehouse chic.” In his director’s notes, Hansen explained that he hoped “to create a minimalist expression” in which to frame the characters and their interactions, abstracting the plot to its most basic emotional core. The look was, if nothing else, cool. The set was sleek and flexible, with movable pieces meant to signify scene transitions. But some conspicuous design flaws undercut the set’s success: as the orchestra struck its opening notes, outward-facing lights at the back of the stage nearly blinded the first several rows of audience members, while characters ducking around the mesh columns disappeared completely, though unintentionally, from the audience’s view. And that chair – oh, that upsidedown chair. Characters would periodically stand off to the side of the stage and reach longingly toward the chair with outstretched arms. The airborne furniture, hanging awkwardly above stage left, was overtly symbolic of Bertarido’s contested throne, and more generally, of power and control. Pro tip: if your symbolism is overt, it’s not doing its job. Throughout the production, bizarre currents of violent sexuality came into focus. Lust and desire are unquestionably central to the opera’s plot, but when a vengeful aria sung by King Bertarido’s sister Eduige (chillingly and charmingly portrayed by mezzo-soprano Emma Bonanno) turned into a choreographed BDSM ostentation alongside the scheming Duke Garibaldo (a role brilliantly sung by baritone Jean-Philippe Mc-
Courtesy of Tam Lan Truong Clish), the effect was more comical than intense. The sexual bent would have been more compelling had it examined or thwarted gender roles. Though the opera features two powerful women, Queen Rodelinda and her sister-inlaw Eduige, it fails the Bechdel Test, the set of criteria, usually applied to film and television, that evaluates how women are represented in media. The test asks whether a given work has at least two female characters who talk to each other about a topic other than any of the male characters. (For some perspective, Jessica Jones passes the test, while Daredevil falls short).
Stellar voices and acting skills, even in the context of the storyline’s melodrama, amounted to an impressive collective performance. Rodelinda and Eduige score on the first and second criteria, but their sole interaction is about, you guessed it, men. This is to be expected of an opera written in the 18th century, but Opera McGill’s
abstracted set and staging choices at first seemed to point toward a fresh perspective. Yet, even as Eduige takes on the domineering role in her BDSM aria early in the opera, this staging doesn’t carry through: by the final scene, she docilely agrees to wed Grimoaldo. Here, Hansen had the opportunity to stage Eduige’s betrothal through a lens of empowerment and agency, as a grab for monarchical power or a return to the earlier motif of intertwined dominance and desire. Instead, Eduige’s previous display of passion fizzles in favour of a conventional happy ending. Even if these components had come together more persuasively, the fact remains that such a modernized take is hardly original. Opera directors are constantly reimagining and reinterpreting their repertoire, searching for innovative settings and unexplored nuances to reinvigorate a centuries-old genre. The question that directors must ask themselves is whether their updated version presents the opera in a way that doesn’t simply transplant the original, but transforms it. Does the staging interrogate the opera’s themes, or simply reroute them? Opera McGill’s vision for Rodelinda was on the cusp of achieving this interpretive metamorphosis, but fell short on multiple counts. Fortunately, sublime performances shone where the staging faltered, with the Schulich School of Music’s brilliant students lending vivacity and passion to this final production of Opera McGill’s 2015-16 season.
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
A letter to the better us
It’s time to cherish our identities and unite forces Jedidah Nabwangu Talk Black
acism isn’t new. So, how come every time I experience it, it feels like the first time? How come I feel like my heart is being stabbed a thousand times over when I see yet another video of police brutality committed against a Black person, an Indigenous person, or a person of colour (BIPOC), or hear another speech given by Donald Trump? Why am I so overwhelmed when I talk about these things? Am I the only one who feels like this? No, of course I’m not. Most if not all BIPOCs have felt like this at least once and many feel like this everyday – and it’s fucking tiring. I continuously ask myself, “Will things ever really change?” It seems like whenever progress is made, something new always happens to reverse the evolution. I don’t think I’m pessimistic, just realistic. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want something a bit more peppy. I want the peppy. So, this week, I decided to write an idealistic open letter to our future society. Whether it’s thirty, seventy, or a hundred years from now, I hope that this is how the world is one day. To the oppressors, I hope that you have found peace within yourself so that imposing chaos in and around somebody else’s life is no longer necessary for you.
To the allies, I hope that you have continued to understand your position within the fight for racial justice and how important it is for us, BIPOCs, to have you by our side. I hope that you’ve continued to respect us as individuals and have not forgotten to hold that same value for our cultures. That you’ve listened to our best interests without expecting us to teach you about systems of oppression and how you should combat them. That you’ve found out about us on your own time by using the resources that are available to you as a result of your privilege. I hope you still use this privilege for good under various circumstances, like talking to other non-BIPOCs about racism and racial justice and standing directly against the systems of power that have committed injustices against BIPOCs. You’ve hopefully taken risks that have been scary and completely put you out of your comfort zone. I also hope that you have remembered to give space to those whom you have allied yourself with, that you have been conscious of your surroundings and careful not to take over the narrative of their struggle, because you know that this would be disrespectful and damaging in that it erases the true story, which is not yours to tell. To the oppressed, I hope that your society no longer makes you feel inferior or disadvantaged because of your identity.
Whether at the interview for that job you’ve worked your ass off to get, or at the school you’ve been dreaming of attending since you were five, may you have approached the opportunity with the utmost sense of pride and confidence. The hope is that where you are now, they no longer take one look at you, or your name, or where you come from, and immediately decide that you’re not good enough. They all see what you always knew, that those descriptors don’t determine your worth or status as a person. Yes, they are pieces of you that should be cherished, but they do not define you. I hope that you can walk down the street freely without being afraid of judgement or harm based on your appearance. That systemic racial violence and colonialism have finally become an acknowledged, disgraced part of history, and that because of this, BIPOCs no longer have to be raised with the idea that they have to compromise their identities for the benefit of their oppressors. I hope that these institutional changes are reflected in the social sphere. That you no longer feel less intelligent or accomplished than “Robert,” the cis gendered, heterosexual, loud, white man at that dinner party. That a little BIPOC girl can turn on her TV and see an accurate representation of herself and her experiences instead of a dehumanizing caricature that damages her self-esteem. That a queer BIPOC can feel comfortable and
Sybill Chen | The McGill Daily safe within their community, without stigmas attached to their race, gender or sexuality. Finally, what I hope for the most is that you have all reached the highest level of unity among yourselves. No matter what group or social class you may belong to, I hope that you have chosen to support each other in your respective endeavours, continuously showing empathy and solidarity when it is most needed, even
when facing issues that may not affect you “directly.” I hope we all finally understand that we can’t be pitted against each other and expect things to change. We just can’t. Talk Black is a column that seeks to engage in anti-racist culture writing, addressing art, music, and events. Jedidah Nabwangu can be reached at email@example.com.
Silhouettes, and a blue fence
“Perspectives / Perceptions” brings art out of the periphery Harrison Brewer Culture Writer
n March 18, The Fridge Door Gallery, a student-run art initiative at McGill, put on an exhibition titled “Perspectives / Perceptions.” The exhibit explored the age old and ultimately rhetorical theme of “what is art.” Founded in 2007, Fridge Door showcases an exhibition each semester to promote the production of student art. Born out of the absence of a fine arts program, it aims to establish a creative platform for students to engage with and discuss visual arts. More importantly, it motivates students to view the fine arts as an accessible means of expression. Kavya Anchuri, one of the artists featured in this semester’s exhibit, told The Daily, “‘Perspectives / Perceptions’ allows students [...] who wouldn’t have [the] time or the
interest to go to a museum [to see art]. It’s a fantastic outlet for people to display their own work.”
To those who would usually disregard the arts, the exhibition offered a creative outlet. The exhibition analyzed the topics of reality and perspective through a range of mediums, including photography, collage, painting, and illustration. It strove to promote a widening of horizons and to highlight, through art, different views of reality. A diverse selection of works showcased students’ multi-faceted responses to the ways art is defined, lending equal weight to
both amateurs and professionals in the discussion. One of the Fridge Door Gallery’s taglines for the exhibition was that “art deals with representations that are never pure reflections of reality.” Hayley Mortin’s collages titled Amalgam II, IV, and V played with this idea by exposing the viewer to different spatial perspectives and points of reference. Mortin used mixed media to create compositions which depicted faceless figures and human silhouettes. This placed the viewer inside the work, as the featureless forms allowed them to project themselves into the scenes and spaces that Mortin had created. Anchuri took a different approach to her photo Hole-in-theFence, Backyard. The focal point of this work is a blue fence, something often completely ignored by passersby. Anchuri’s piece is realist, static, and direct, but still plays
with physical perspective. Hole-inthe-Fence, Backyard was the product of Anchuri’s experimentation in the summer of 2015, she explained to The Daily. “It was evening time and the fence was newly painted in my backyard, so I went around and started fooling around with my camera, and that is where the photo came from,” Anchuri said. “The photo speaks to perspective because [it is taken] so close to the fence. It isn’t a noticeable spot by adults, [since] it is so low down, so it can only really be seen by children. It’s interesting because how we perceive the world is so dependent on variables like height, size and how we move. Perception is influenced by our own biology.” Often, we leave big questions such as “what is art?” to scholars and academics with a vast background in art history and aesthetics. However, in this Fridge Door
Gallery exhibition, students engaged with this lofty question. This is important, as student voices are often ignored. Although it can be argued that they still have much to learn, it is refreshing to see these questions addressed by the student population through visual arts. “Perspectives / Perceptions” created an expressive and intellectual space in a university environment where we are often constrained by academic demands. To those who would usually disregard the arts, the exhibition offered a creative outlet. It did so especially well in light of its position at an academically rigorous university, where sometimes students do not or cannot consider art beyond a peripheral approach, due to a lack of time and motivation. Ultimately, the exhibition allowed students to voice their opinions on the substance of art through their own work.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
“Conversations are healing”
Cecile Emeke’s Strolling gives space to Black diaspora voices Taylor Mitchell The McGill Daily
he phenomenon of online storytelling is becoming increasingly commonplace, especially since platforms like Humans of New York have gained immense popularity. With online storytelling, people can discover art that would not necessarily be supported by traditional or mainstream outlets. One such work is Strolling, a YouTube documentary series by London writer and director Cecile Emeke. The series features stories from the Black diaspora. The people interviewed are from Jamaica, France, and England. Emeke was there in person to share the series with McGill on March 13 in an event hosted by the Black Students’ Network (BSN). The event began with an episode of Strolling that featured Kokab and Gladstone, two Jamaicans, who discussed the disproportionate amount of American media in Jamaica and issues of language in standardized testing. Emeke followed the episode with a short talk about her work, describing the motivation for her various projects – including the series Ackee and Saltfish, which is and a collaboration with the BBC. The artist also gave a behind-the-scenes look at Strolling. When asked what motivated her to create the video series, Emeke explained that she started it in response to the realization that there was “something [she] needed to express” and urgently. For Emeke, Strolling was an attempt to “open up the conversation” about racism and identity in order to connect mem-
Taylor Mitchell | The McGill Daily bers of the Black diaspora. Emeke hoped that her project would encourage members of the Black community to celebrate their identities. The majority of the event comprised of a lengthy question and answer period – but there was something extraordinary about it that made it feel more like an intimate discussion between the artist and audience on crucial topics. Instead of pointing and selecting raised hands, Emeke greeted everyone with a cool “hey.” This casual atmosphere led to discussions about race and identity in which individuals felt comfortable
sharing their own stories. Emeke talked about the beauty of self-expression, her travels, and emphasized the importance of nuance in conversations about identity. “Even talking about Black Britishness, that means nothing, really,” Emeke said in her talk. “Because I’m [...] actually talking about Black London, and then I’m probably talking about my part of Black London, Black Bristol.” Emeke said that although she understands why people generalize when talking about race and identity, she stressed that the only way to understand the complexities within the Black diaspo-
ra is through an emphasis on nuance to the point where “generalizations are almost useless.” Strolling aptly illustrates this idea. In one of the episodes focused on the Black diaspora in the U.S., Gabrielle, one of the interviewees,spoke about her “Americanness” and the privilege it may give her over others within the diaspora, which Emeke said led her to re-evaluate traces of privilege within her own British identity. After the event, Jamaican student Shannon Chen See spoke to The Daily about her reactions to the event and the screening of Strolling in particular.
She said there were some aspects she understood but some that seemed foreign to her. “I’m not Black, so I know it’s not ‘for’ me, but at the same time, it addressed the questions of race that I’ve grown up in, or those things that we take for granted,” she said. “It undercut three areas all at once: race, nationality, and class. I thought, ‘Wow, there’s certain questions you really just take for granted.’ [...] And this has really opened up dialogue for that.” In order to portray the deeply personal experiences shared by the people she interviewed, Emeke emphasized the need to examine the role film plays in the outcome of these global conversations. Emeke stressed the need to act with meticulous sensitivity in order to authentically portray Black voices. “I’m always learning,” she repeated many times throughout the evening. She also emphasized the powerful dynamics present in the process of discovering the stories of others, as well as discovering oneself. Emeke never appears or speaks in her videos, instead allowing the individual being interviewed to tell their story organically. The videos feel more like intimate conversations rather than interviews set-ups. And Emeke mantioned in her talk, “conversations are healing.” Near the end of her presentation, Emeke said that “even if [she] made 1,000 episodes of Strolling, it would still be just a drop in the ocean.” There’s no shortage of stories within the Black diaspora; the challenge is to use online platforms in ways that empower these voices, fostering connection and appreciation.
“Nature’s first green (fashion) is gold” EcoLUXE blends style and sustainability
Deanna Duxbury Culture Writer
reen has definitely become the new black, as environmentally sustainable ways of living are becoming widespread. Rarely do we see, however, the reduce-reuserecycle mindset applied to modern fashion. The fashion industry works diligently to attract consumers into a cycle of desire that perpetuates endless wastefulness. A sustainable fashion show, ECOuture puts a spotlight on this issue, using the runway to make an environmental statement. Showcased March 22 at Karina’s Club Lounge, ECOuture’s 2016 event “EcoLUXE” promoted green fashion, stimulated discussion on sustainability, and urged the audience to change the way we should look at our clothes. ECOuture is a philanthropic initiative that, according to its Facebook page, compromises neither glamour
nor style in promoting sustainable fashion. It has been for a few years within McGill and is sponsored by McGill’s Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) under the ECOLE project. This year EcoLUXE saw a roaring applause, greeting the guests in a black, white, and gold affair. Co-director of EcoLUXE Jenna Dilworth told The Daily, “This year we really tried to advertise the show as a little more glamorous. The idea behind this was to convey the message that you can still look stylish and fashionable while making environmentally friendly choices.” Models, music, dancing, and an entertaining monologue by members of the show’s committee made the evening a brilliant success, with all proceeds going to the NDG Food Depot. Dilworth continued, “This event is special because the cause we are raising awareness and money for is also represented by the clothes we
showcase.” ECOuture uses art and entertainment to educate about a serious reality by showing that style and environmental consciousness can go hand in hand. The fashion industry is a leading cause of pollution and the industry is unsustainable in a number of ways – in terms of material reuse, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness in trade and labour, to name a few. Dilworth noted that “the greatest success of ECOuture is [...] showing to the McGill student body that being eco-friendly isn’t an extremely difficult thing to do – just a few small lifestyle changes.” She explained that just recycling wasn’t enough. “Using less water and electricity are all very important, changing our clothing choices can also make a huge difference.” Environmental sustainability can come in many forms. For instance, used clothes repurposes materials without purchasing newly manu-
factured pieces. Choosing locally produced clothing also reduces the carbon footprint created by shipping clothing halfway across the world and means not supporting the inhumane labour used in clothing production in poor countries. Another sustainable choice can be using fabrics, dyes, and techniques of crafting clothing that don’t contribute to polluting water with harmful chemicals. The directors of the show emphasized in an interview that the problem with mainstream fashion is the promotion of “fast fashion” with clothing that “have to be replaced in a year or two.” ECOuture, therefore, focuses on finding brands that reuse materials, manufacture without sweatshop labour, and that are stationed locally in Montreal. ECOuture promotes a “very realistic cause,” model Natasha Chatur told The Daily.
In addition to having an ideological message, the show offered an impressive range of designers and entertainment. It featured brands such as Annex Vintage, Empire Exchange, RedMinded, INCIW, and Hoodini. INCIW’s curated vintage line comprised of reworked dip-dye and pops of vibrant colour with their signature chokers. Annex Vintage contributed unique thrift pieces from their shop, focusing on classic nineties wear. Singer-songwriter LIA also performed at the show,enchantingly, complementing to the work of the designers. EcoLUXE was elegant, thoughtprovoking, and entertaining, leaving the guests with the message that conscientiousness in fashion matters. While it is challenging for the fashion industry to conform to sustainable environmental standards, ECOuture hit the balance between mindfulness and creative expression.
April 4, 2016 The McGill Daily | www.mcgilldaily.com
Reinterpreting the Bible
Exploring religious obedience and women through comics Marc Cataford The McGill Daily
hile graphic novels have gained more exposure and popularity in recent years, it’s quite rare to see one whose author not only drew their inspiration from the Bible, but also chose to talk about some of its less discussed aspects, namely the role of sex work, religious obedience, and women in the Gospels. Acclaimed Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown, whose last nonfiction graphic novel, Paying for It, explored his experiences with sex workers, once again explores the subject, this time with religious context in Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus. While some may be skeptical at the sight of religious references, the subtitle alone – “Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible” – will surely create an irresistible desire to flip the graphic novel’s cover when it comes out on April 12. Beautifully illustrated in a nofrills ink-and-paper style, the book succeeds in making biblical stories accessible and fun for people who may not necessarily pick up a Bible for enjoyment. The adaptation especially focuses on reshaping the dialogue, making the characters speak like present-day folks without losing an understanding of the
religious meanings – a difficult task, to say the least. Through a series of short comics rarely longer than twenty pages, Brown shares stories handpicked from the Bible to support his argument that God doesn’t really have anything against sex workers, and that he neither rewards nor encourages absolute obedience. To that effect, one of the comics is about characters such as the servants in the Parable of the Talents and Cain in “Cain and Abel,” have actually been punished for their obedience. Brown also tells the story of Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, who either engaged in sex work or used their sexuality to their advantage while being hypocritically shunned by the same men who had lusted after them. Interestingly, one story, “Matthew,” differs from the rest and provides a meta commentary regarding the Bible’s writing process. In this chapter, the eponymous apostle tries, much like Brown with his novel, to find a way to subtly discuss sex work in his gospel without upsetting his readers. Brown develops his thesis further in the afterword, describing the lengthy research process that made this project come to life. He speaks of his Christian faith in relation to his positive views on sex work, discussing the work of authors such as Jane Schaberg and Yoram Hazo-
ny, whose analyses of obedience to God and of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy in biblical texts fuelled Brown’s musings. He mentions and the schisms between early Christian groups, some being pro-sex work, some being virulently against such a “sin” are things that have shaped how the Bible is understood today. Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus is a joy to read. The contemporary style of the dialogues and the lengths of the stories make the graphic novel a quick read, and the afterword fills in the gaps for the reader to understand the groundwork on which the comics stand. Even without any knowledge of the Bible, it’s easy to follow the stories and piece together the storyline of sex work in the Bible. Brown even includes a comprehensive set of explanatory notes associated with each comic at the very end of the book. These notes provide primary sources and details about the subtleties of each panel, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about what Brown is arguing, and potentially push the debate further. Overall, Brown’s analysis of biblical tales and emphasis on the subtle positive mentions they make about sex work and disobedience is well done and especially welcome now, as the church is renowned for the tight leash it keeps on its believers and their sexuality.
Manuela Galindo Carvajal | The McGill Daily
Look again for symbolism
Exhibit makes invisible perceptable through architecture and conté-on-paper Sabrine Mayada Maaz Culture Writer
eld at Parisian Laundry, “D’un objet à l’autre” and “Opaque Architectures” is a joint exhibition showcasing recent explorations of renowned Canadian artists Alexandre David and Jaime Angelopoulos, respectively. “D’un objet à l’autre” is a collection of four plywood objects, each spanning the length of a wall, and “Opaque Architectures” is a series of intricate paintings and sculptures which touch upon the theme of depression by highlighting the entrapment of the human spirit inside oppressive structures. Although at first glance I found it difficult to grasp what united the two works, further inspection revealed that both exhibits are a commentary on the subtle, covert nature of the power of common structures, whether physical or psychological. “D’un objet à l’autre” was easy to overlook: David’s ordinary-look-
ing plywood boards nailed to the wall looked so much like part of the gallery space that I bypassed the pieces entirely and went to see the other artwork first. Upon returning, however, I noticed differences in the sculptures that hadn’t captured my sight before: they each seemed to have slight modifications in the angles of the edges and in the cut of the plywood. After about half an hour of carefully navigating the room, I realized that the four slabs of plywood are actually very distinct from one another, despite the similarities that make them a coherent exhibit. The individual boards are full of character in and of themselves: everything from the pattern of micro-swirls formed by the cut of the wood to the way the light hits the surface of the sculptures is unique. The plywood structures turned out to be anything but background noise, although one has to be attentive and patient to grasp this.
Angelopoulos’s “Opaque Architectures” is much easier to interpret. Each of the six conté-on-paper works, a technique that uses compressed powdered graphite for drawing, featured a continuous, brightly coloured string trapped by black lines. At first glance, the pieces looked like explorations of form, but in an interview with The Daily, Angelopoulos explained that, “these pieces are part of an attempt to highlight the ubiquitous – [and] therefore invisible – structures oppressing our feelings, impulses, and desires.” One of the most representative pieces is called Parents, which features a continuous pink ray encircled by black lines. The black figures resemble parents stretching their loving arms out and limiting the span of the innocent pink thread, perhaps symbolizing their child, as if in an effort to protect it. Angelopoulos’s exhibit also features three black steel sculptures, bearing resemblance to the black ball and chain that traps the colour in her two-dimensional works. The
sculptures each reference certain oppressive frameworks, such as the way conscience limits our freedom, without directly representing any concrete object. Weight of conscience is visually and symbolically reminiscent of a whip or even a gallows, alluding to the way people’s thoughts torment them while driving their actions, much like a whip makes a horse run but also harms the animal in the process.
“These pieces are part of an attempt to highlight the ubiquitous [...] structures oppressing our feelings, impulses, and desires.” Jaime Angelopoulos, artist
Another of Angelopoulos’ pieces, You’re Hysterical, portrays a ghostlike figure with its arms up in despair, as if both acquiescing to the negative label imposed upon it by the piece’s title and rebelling against it through an active gesture. The sculpture made me think about mental illness, which can be both a consequence of an overwhelming environment and, perhaps, sometimes allowing the sufferer to dissociate from and push against the structures that oppress them. Both artists’ pieces in the exhibit achieved their goal of exposing invisible structures by highlighting their idiosyncrasies and oppressive nature while prompting viewers to reflect on them. If you decide to go (and you should), go twice: you will notice something different each time. “D’un objet à l’autre” and “Opaque Architectures” run until April 23 at Parisian Laundry gallery.
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Relaxed and easy since 1976 Santropol celebrates its 40th anniversary
Emily Huang Culture Writer
lose your eyes, imagine yourself at your favourite coffee shop, and feel the rush of energy after that first shot of caffeine. Now flash back forty years to a time when there were very few cafes, mostly pizzerias and five-star sit-down restaurants. This is what Montreal was like before Garth Gilker opened Café Santropol in 1976 on an inconspicuous street corner in the Plateau. It’s hard to imagine Montreal’s cafe culture as unexciting as it once was. Celebrating the cafe’s fortieth anniversary, Santropol and its owner Gilker are pioneers of the artisanal and small business scene in Montreal. It was first opened in an alternative to protect the Plateau’s history and landmarks. The stretch of buildings where Santropol is located today were earmarked for demolition in the 1970s; the entire Plateau was being cleared by developers so they could erect new buildings, infrastructure, and parking lots. Against the advice of those around him, Gilker started the cafe as a form of protest. “After being in Europe for over a year, I thought, there’s no cafes in Montreal and that looks like the perfect corner for a cafe. [...] If I open [it], then when they want to [...] demolish [the Plateau’s buildings], I can get my clients – if they like the cafe – out in the streets to protest,” said Gilker. It was a “business opened with other business intentions,” an important initiative which, in turn, also ended up creating a living for Gilker and for the cafe’s staff team. In an economic climate where small business ventures were virtually unheard of, Gilker faced significant difficulties in sustaining his enterprise. These difficulties included that permits didn’t exist yet for small businesses, outdoor terraces were illegal, and there were no preexisting cafe culture. People asked him: “What are you going to serve, Garth? Fries, soft drinks?” He replied, “Oh, hell no.” Out of his ambition to create something new came a menu of wholesome and affordable sandwiches, that has barely changed since 1976. When the cafe was at the peak of its popularity, it also functioned as a bar, serving as a hub for young people in the Plateau. Although the cafe has since evolved from being a night hangout where students shared drinks and partied, it has kept its relaxed and easy atmosphere. Moreover, Santropol has developed into a community landmark in its own right.
My friend’s mother, who first visited Santropol around 1982 while she was a student at McGill, shared her memories of the cafe with The Daily. “The first time I went to Santropol, I couldn’t take it all in. [...] I was so distracted by the small objects and pictures inside.” The furnishings and decor may look worn, but they each add tales and history to the establishment and have been curated and repurposed by Gilker throughout the years. The antique mirror with its chipped white paint on the back wall of the alcove near the entrance, for example, is from Expo 67. “I love the ambiance in Santropol,” McGill student Audrey Carleton told The Daily. “It’s very cozy, with dark lights and couches and paintings that look like you’ve walked into a very old house with a lot of history and past lives.” Santropol has managed to stay true to its eccentric character and relevant in the face of waves of change. Staying relevant can be intimidating for small businesses, especially since chain coffee shops such as Starbucks have become very popular in the past decade. However, McGill student Mandy Lam told The Daily, “People are more inclined to explore the [cafes] with unique decorations or layout.” “In comparison to other cafes, Santropol operates more [as] a restaurant. [...] However, I enjoy the freedom to roam around the cafe and pick a seat to my liking, and switch around at times.” It’s true that Santropol doesn’t have the regular characteristics of a coffee shop, such as an open space concept, a work atmosphere, and an eye-catching espresso machine. It isn’t where you want to go to churn out that 2,500-word essay due at midnight. In addition, Carleton noted that “Santropol doesn’t have that much space per table. [...] You’re not guaranteed the space to spread out all your stuff out on a very small table.” The cross between cafe and restaurant nonetheless provides a nice backdrop for socializing. When it comes to the food, Santropol continues to purchase ingredients from local farmers and producers, just like it did forty years ago. Keeping business ethical and sustainable works in favour of Santropol’s efforts to preserve its popularity amidst changes in customers’ tastes. “As a vegan and an environmentally-minded person, it is very important to me to buy ethically and locally sourced products,” Carleton told The Daily. Although the cafe pays attention to sustainable business, however, not many students are aware of this aspect of Santropol. In an age when
students and young people decide which cafe to visit using Instagram and other forms of social media, it’s time for Santropol to market itself more effectively to attract visitors beyond its circle of second-generation customers. For the time being, Santropol will no doubt continue to serve up homey tastes with its famous stacked sandwiches. The menu’s warm familiarity is especially appealing to long-time Santropol’s customers, some of whom came to school in Montreal, moved away, then came back. Santropol is a community hub and establishment which embodies the spirit of the Plateau Mont-Royal. But if it wants to continue to attract students, just being cozy will not be enough: the cafe culture in Montreal is no longer as solemn as it used to be. A new crop of independent coffee shops are springing up left and right and are changing the way we interact with our food by making cafe spaces creative environments suitable for both work and socialization. Santropol, with its long-standing history and rebellious origins,
Santropol stays cozy.
Sonia Ionescu | The McGill Daily
has transcended generational and seasonal changes with its eccentric yet warm and welcoming atmosphere. As of yet, no other cafe can rival its popularity and its deep roots in the city. Santropol will always be Montreal’s first. However, it is no longer the student hub it
once was. As it stands, it’s a place to share a wholesome, hearty meal and memorable conversations. Café Santropol is a time capsule filled with laughs and memories: as you deposit some during each visit, you also retrieve something from its past.
Coming soon to the Phi Centre April
Joe Walker Editor of Shame and Sicario April
Classic Parcours: Dirty Light With Quatuor Bozzini and Contact Contemporary April
14 — 16
Siembra Official Selection Locarno 2015 May
Blue Velvet - 30th anniversary
By Robin Pront
By David Lynch
Tickets and full programming at phi-centre.com 407 Saint-Pierre Street, Old Montreal
April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Thank you to all our contributors this year! AMUSE, Elisha Aaron, Astha Agarwal, David Aird, Zapaer Alip, Pam Austin, Vita Azaro, Jill Bachelder, Jess Banner, Jesse Bartsoff, Gregoire Beaune, Gelila Bedada, Ella Belfer, David Benjamin, Kiara Bernard, Nadia Boachie, Rafia Bosan, Gavin Boutroy, Laura Bowker, Harrison Brewer, Grace Brown, Julia Bugiel, Alexander Bullis, Mackenzie Burnett, Melis Çağan, Chelsea Cavanagh, Christopher Cayen-Cyr, Nina Chabelnik, Nick Chanko, CJG, Sybil Chen, Gee Hung Leo Cheong, Caroline Child, Choo Chiang, Young Jin Cho, Bailey Cohen-Krichevsky, Brittany Cost, Blare Coughlin, Alan Cox, Fritch Crandle, Luci Cui, Marina Cupido, Maxine Dannatt, Jason Da Silva Castanheira, Kevin Da Silva Castanheira, Max Dean, Patrick Demer, Victor Depois, Marina Djurdjevic, Hanna Donato, Deanna Duxbury, Erin Dwyer, Trent Eady, Students of EDEC 203-001, Lia Elbaz, Lara Esrey, Anne-Cécile Favory, Christian Favreau, Tony Feng, Amanda Fiore, Emile Flavin, Lillian Fradin, Victor Frankel, Na’ama Freeman, Panayot Gaidov, Daniel Galef, Manuela Galindo Carvajal, George Ghabrial, Mila Ghorayeb, Aidan Gilchrist-Blackwood, Ellen Gillies, Geneva Gleason, Fraea Graziani, Jacob Goldberg, Carly Gordon, Jordan Gowling, Fraea Graziani, Jennifer Guan, Rochelle Guillou, Michelle Guo, Josika Gupta, Zahra Habib, Ralph Haddad, rosalind hampton, Michael Han, David Helps, Eelis Hemberg, Nelanthi Hewa, Daniel Huang, Emily Huang, Francesca Humi, Jessica Hunter, Ryan Jamula, June Jang, Sophie Jean, Catherine Jeffrey, Rebecca Kahn, Katrina Kairys, Vaishnavi Kapil, Jeeventh Kaur, Céline Kerriou, Maya Keshav, Nadir Khan, Paniz Khosroshahy, Mert Kimyaci, Anya Kowalchuk, Clara Kyung, Marie Labrosse, Dylan Lamberti, Lucie Lastinger, Elroy Lee, Isabel Lee, Jasmine Lee, Min Ju Lee, Rayleigh Lee, Victoria Lessard, Andrea Li, Xiaoxiao (Alice) Liu, Luca Loggia, Rosie Long Decter, Leanne Louie, Grace MacEwan, Sabrine Mayada Maaz, Khatira Mahdavi, Camille Malard, Deboleena Mazumdar, James McCafferty, Sarah Mcfadden, Geneviève Mercier-Dalphond, Mia-Kate Messer, Siobhan Milner, Taylor Mitchell, Sean Miyaji, Munema Moiz, Alejandra Morales, Magdalena Morales, Katerina Mosquera-Cardi, Yasmine Mosimann, Claire Motyer, Ella Myette, Sivakami Mylvaganam, Jedidah Nabwangu, Rachel Nam, Stephanie Ngo, Christopher Jude Paraskevas, Anna Pearson, Ki-eun Peck, Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez, Julia Pingeton, Malaya Powers, Thy Anne Chu Quang, Camille Queen, Tiran Rahimian, Sepehr Razavi, Celia Robinovitch, Alice Rougeux, Katherine Rosenfeld, Inori Roy-Khan, Cassandra Ryan, Moataz Salim, Samanthea Samuels, Shaké Sarkhanian, Rebecca Scarra, Erica Skye Schaaf, Maya Schade, Mathew Schilling, Jacob Schweda, Maximillian Segal, Sarah Shahid, Joseph Shapell, Samiha Sharif, Zoe Shaw, Alexandra Sheffield, Alice Shen, Vincent Simboli, Aishwarya Singh, Robert Smith, Connor Spencer, Thea Spring, Louis St-Pierre, Tamim Sujat, Tristen Sutherland, Nadine Tahan, Harry Tainton, Ayesha Talreja, Kevin Tam, Victor Tangermann, Connor Tannas, Rackeb Tesfaye, Joseph Timan, Jules Tomi, Justine Touchon, Tom Tyler, Anna Vail, Alexandra Villalobos, Sarah Virgini, Xavier Richer Vis, Zoë Vnak, Mariya Voloshyn, Daniel Vosberg, Miranda Waibel, Priscilla Wang, Rhiana Warawa, Louis Warnock, Andy Wei, Zoë Wilkins, Johnstuart Winchell, Dana Wray, Chris Wrobel, Laura Xu, Constantinos Yanniris, Jehane Yazami, Nick Yeretsian, Ashley Yu, Syed Zain, Coco Zhou, Igor Zlobine
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hortly after beginning her term as McGill’s Principal in September 2013, Suzanne Fortier told The Daily that whatever her biggest project for the university would be, it would “come from the inspiration of its members – from the students, the faculty, the staff members, and alumni.” Fortier has repeatedly emphasized that she would listen to the McGill community and try to be a part of it. However, under Fortier’s leadership, the University has embodied the exact opposite of “community engagement.” The latest example of this was the Board of Governors’s refusal to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. In her follow-up email to students, and through her refusal to take Divest McGill’s subsequent demands seriously, Fortier made her position clear: no matter what the McGill community wants, the University will always prioritize shortterm financial interests. Fortier frequently parades McGill’s supposed commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, but ignores and invalidates the diverse concerns of a diverse student body. When Divest McGill organized Fossil Free Week in September and set up camp directly outside the James Administration building, Fortier said she didn’t see it. Furthermore Fortier sent condolences to the student body regarding the November 2015 Paris attacks, but failed to mention similar attacks that had occurred around the same time in Beirut, Baghdad, Yola, and Kano – locations to which McGill students are also connected. Fortier has also failed to meaningfully engage with issues prominently raised by the community in past years such as employment equity, campus Indigenization, opposition to military research, and fighting rape culture and sexual assault on campus. Fortier also chose not to schedule a meeting with campus media this year – something the principal has traditionally done – showing a clear disregard for the dialogue that she says she values.
When students attempt to effect change at McGill, they consistently hit a wall of bureaucracy. When they are loud and active, Fortier’s strategy appears to be to actively delegitimize and dismiss their perspectives. For example, when the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion from the SSMU General Assembly failed online ratification, Fortier wasted no time before sending a broadcast email to students, alumni, parents, faculty, and staff, displaying the University’s commitment to ignoring students’ concerns, while painting those students who voted in favour of the motion – as well as faculty and alumni who support those students – as fundamentally opposed to McGill’s “core values of equity and inclusiveness.” When Divest McGill staged a sit-in outside her office, Fortier responded condescendingly to students and continued to dismiss the impact of resource extraction on frontline Indigenous communities. Who cares about equity and inclusiveness for the students at McGill who are excluded and harmed by the University’s investments in corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine? About the devastating effects of climate change? Not Fortier, apparently. Principal Fortier, you keep disappointing us. If you say you are committed to McGill as a community, then you must act in a way that is consistent with what the community says it wants. If you say that you are here to “crystallize these goals and aspirations and visions of the different parts of our community,” we expect you to uphold your promise. If you have no intention of doing so, the least you can do is have the decency to be honest with us. Admit that McGill’s reputation and industry ties will always determine which parts of the McGill community you actually engage with, and stop wasting our time with empty words. —The McGill Daily editorial board
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April 4, 2016 www.mcgilldaily.com | The McGill Daily
Lies, half-truths, and love conquers all.
we found each other we battled for s s m u i lost the election but i didn’t lose you Ionia Sonescu | The McGall Weekly
Jay Vanput | Crossword Master 1
1. Italian automaker 5. Dear _____ “of course not” 10. Criteria: abbr. 14. Tibetan monk 15. Easting utensil 16. Pippin from The Lord of the Rings 17. Baltimore stick-up man in HBO’s The Wire 18. Earth in Quebec 19. Armed forces section 20. Desires 22. It may be picked 23. Type of graph 24. Seating for a child 27. Small intake 30. The Matrix hero 31. Military survey 34. “That’s cool!” 36. Cloud, to Francois 39. Like, with “to” 41. Elsa’s sister 42. ____ Speedwagon 43. Rice wine 44. “It’s me!” in Old English 45. “Give credit where credit ____” 47. Looked at 48. Accountant Figgis, from Archer 50. Business hybrid of a corporation and a partnership: abbr. 52. Snake’s sound 53. Patience 57. New England football team: abbr. 59. Sue Grafton’s “____ for noose” 60. Et cetera, when repeated thrice 64. Slick 65. “____ end of the day...” 67. Doughnuts 68. “It’s a ____!” 69. Free-for-all 70. Idylls of the King 71. To be, to Brutus 72. Toothpaste brand 73. “I don’t think so”
1. Current 2. Subreddit for all questions 3. “Are you a ____ or a mouse?” 4. Homeland of Brienne, from Game of Thrones 5. 5 per cent on a Canadian receipt 6. Operating time for a store 7. Column style 8. Kanye’s daughter 9. I 10. Dreaded after leg day 11. Actor: Rip 13. Location of the utopian pie 21. Ugly as ____ 23. Deception 25. Mil. title 26. “____ we there yet?” 27. What you might do to a fly 28. Charged, in a way 29. Viola 32. Approves 33. Sick kicks 35. Beehive, for example 37. Device used for cardiac arrests: abbr. 38. Hungarian stews 40. Homer Simpson’s neighbour, and others 45. ____ will 46. Giants quarterback 49. Makes an apple product work 51. Bawl 54. Prefix, between 55. Sir or madam 56. What prey avoids being 57. Pizzas 58. “C’est la vie” 61. “____ harm” 62. What icicles do 63. Assistant 64. Keats piece 65. Mad Men channel 66. Seven hours ahead of Montreal
Across: 1. Fiat 5. God no 10. Stds 14. Lama 15. Spoon 16. Took 17. Omar 18. Terre 19. Army 20. Wants 22. Nit 23. Line 24. High chair 27. Sip 30. Neo 31. Recon 34. Woah 36. Nuage 39. Akin 41. Anna 42. REO 43. Sake 44. ‘Tis I 45. Due 47. Eyed 48. Cyril 50. LLC 52. S-s-s 53. Solitaire 57. Pats 59. N is 60. Yadda 64. Oily 65. At the 67. Tori 68. Deal 69. Melee 70. Enid 71. Esse 72. Crest 73. Nope Down: 1. Flow 2. IAMA 3. A man 4. Tarth 5. GST 6. Open hours 7. Doric 8. North 9. One 10. Staircase 11. Torn 12. Dome 13. Sky 21. Sin 23. Lie 25. Gen. 26. Are 27. SWAT 28. Ionic 29. Pansy 32. Okays 33. Nikes 35. Hairstyle 37. AED 38. Goulashes 40. Neds 45. Ill 46. Eli 49. iOS 51. Cry 54. Inter 55. Title 56. Eaten 57. Pies 58. Alas 61. Do no 62. Drip 63. Aide 64. Ode 65. AMC 66. EET
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