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Volume 100, Issue 25

January 13, 2011 mcgilldaily.com

McGill THE

AN

OPEN LETTER

26 PROFS SUPPORT UNION DRIVE PAGE 8

DAILY

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The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

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Profs support AGSEM campaign Twenty-six faculty sign open letter; poster removal continues Michael Lee-Murphy The McGill Daily

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hen Derek Nystrom, a professor in the Department of English, received a phone call to his office from the building director instructing him to take a pro-union poster off his door, he had just come from a screening of Norma Rae for a course he teaches on social class and cinema. The seminal 1979 film portrays a union organizing drive in an Alabama textile mill. After receiving the call, Nystrom phoned the offices of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), the union currently seeking to add non-tenured course lecturers into its ranks, and asked the group for ten posters for his office door and to give to his colleagues. Nystrom has subsequently had four posters removed from his office door – one after another – owing

to a McGill policy that has banned them from McGill buildings. Now he has coordinated an open letter, signed by himself and twenty-five other professors, expressing support for the union and condemning what they call the administration’s “thuggish intimidation tactics.” Administration officials have consistently maintained that the directive to remove the posters was because the union failed to obtain proper approval before placing them. In October, the administration announced that it would increase course lecturer salaries to $6,000 starting on January 1 of this year per three-credit course, and to $7,200 in 2012. The pay raise brings McGill’s course lecturers’ salaries closer to the Quebec average of $8,000. AGSEM officials have claimed the pay raise as a pre-emptive victory for their drive. The letter, published in full on page 8, goes on to detail the lack of job security, low pay, and lack

of representation faced by McGill’s course lecturers. “I want the course lecturers to know that if they want to participate in the union drive, they have support from their tenured and tenuretrack colleagues,” Nystrom said, adding that many faculty were “taken aback” by the removal of posters. AGSEM’s campaign has also garnered motions of support from both of McGill’s student unions, SSMU and PGSS, along with letters of solidarity from the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ), the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The letter from CAUT “commend[s AGSEM’s] continued efforts to obtain certification and deems the McGill administration’s action toward the drive “deeply troubling.” AGSEM is currently seeking to obtain enough signatures to be certified to represent course lecturers under Quebec

labour law. James Turk, CAUT’s executive director, said that university’s growing reliance on contingent academic labour hurts the regular faculty as well, as the work around “the life of the department,” i.e. staffing committees and developing curriculum, is left to fewer and fewer tenured faculty. He explained that pressure increases as enrollment and class sizes increase (as was forecasted by McGill’s Strategic Enrollment Initiative). “It really isn’t a good situation for anybody, except for the [administration] which saves a lot of money,” Turk said. CAUT represents 65,000 academic staff at 121 schools across Canada. The AAUP became aware of AGSEM’s efforts to unionize McGill’s course lecturers this past summer at a conference of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour in Quebec City. The reliance on non-tenuretrack course lecturers by Canadian

universities has skyrocketed over the past decade. According to the letter, the percentage of these types of academics employed at universities in Canada has more than tripled since 1999. Since the tearing down of AGSEM’s posters, AGSEM has opted not to fight the McGill administration in the courts, but rather to focus its energy and resources on the organizing drive, according the Michal Rozworski, AGSEM’s VP External. The faculty support offered by the letter has shown that the unionization drive is “not just course lecturers looking out for their own interests but…an integral part of what the university should look like,” said Rozworski. He added that the letter represents more support than just the 26 signatures on it. “For each person who’s willing to put their name out on an open letter like this, there’s a much larger group … [who] don’t feel comfortable putting their name out publicly,” he said.

McGill and MUNACA exchanging demands Both parties hope to conclude negotiations by the end of the calendar year Henry Gass

The McGill Daily

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cGill officially begins negotiations with its largest union of non-academic workers today after several months of informal discussions. The contract between the University and the McGill University NonAcademic Certified Association (MUNACA) – representing over 1,800 library workers, technicians, nurses, and clerical workers – expired November 30, 2010. Kevin Whittaker, MUNACA’s president, identified salary and benefits as likely points of contention between the two parties, particularly the rate at which non-academic employees move up the pay scale. “At McGill, at the current rate that we have for [salary] progression, it’ll take you thirty years to reach the top of your scale,” said Whittaker. “In other institutions, it’s half that, if not less. So, that’s something that our membership are very upset about, and they do want something done to adjust that,” he added. In January 2010, McGill cut employee benefits by $1 million, prompting outrage among MUNACA members, who questioned the motivation behind the cuts. “The rationale for cutting [benefits] was to save the University money. It had nothing to do with the actual benefits plan,” said Whittaker. “It would be nice to have everything restored to the way it was. We understand that there are eco-

nomic problems with that, but we would like to see our benefits at least brought up to level with what our members want, not necessarily cutting it just so the University can save money.” Whittaker and Robert Comeau, Director of Labour and Employee Relations for McGill, both predicted that the first meeting would be a simple exchange of contract demands. Comeau described the process as “the normal way to negotiate.” Both sides were hesitant to identify their specific demands since they did not want to compromise negotiations, but a survey recently distributed to MUNACA members, and obtained by The Daily, outlines key issues in the eyes of MUNACA membership. Besides asking members how important the wage scale issue is to them, the survey also raised grievances over University staffing. According to the survey, McGill gives “positions to new hires over current unionized employees. There have also been problems regarding management not filling vacant positions.” The survey also alleges that, “McGill has been using loopholes in our collective agreement to take away union work and give it to managers and threatening our job security by moving positions out of the union.” Comeau felt most of MUNACA’s grievances would be unsurprising to the administration. “We’ve been discussing with MUNACA for a long time,” said Comeau. “We were able to get a

Stephen Davis | The McGill Daily Archives

MUNACA members, pictured here protesting in 2008, want changes to salary scale and benefits. sense of their approach with [Human Resources] within the last year and a half, so it wouldn’t be surprising if for the negotiations they come up with the same preoccupations.” But before major concerns could be discussed, Comeau said both sides would likely seek to clarify language in the collective agreement. Comeau also did not anticipate any major changes in the negotiating process though both parties have expanded their teams. The MUNACA negotiation committee has hired Morgan Gay as chief negotiator, from the Ottawa-based Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – one of Canada’s largest

unions – representing over 172,000 workers and with which MUNACA is affiliated. McGill’s new Vice Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa will oversee all negotiations between McGill and its unions, and report to the Board of Governors, but he will not engage directly in the process. The next meeting between MUNACA and McGill is scheduled for January 26, with seven additional dates set through February and March. Whittaker said he hopes to conclude negotiations by December, while Comeau identified June as his target date for final-

izing a new collective agreement. In the past, McGill and MUNACA have had a tense relationship. Last year MUNACA protested their benefit cuts during McGill’s open house, and in September 2008 a mysterious fire alarm pull prevented a MUNACA strike vote. However, this time around the University seems determined to reach an agreement quickly. “It seems that at this point the University is very eager to come to a resolution on the issues,” said Whittaker. “It’s good to see that they are very serious about this and that the process looks like it’s going to be quite quick.”


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The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Postdoctoral students to get taxed PGSS reallocates funds from its daycare program for support and legal aid; leaves program in limbo Humera Jabir

The McGill Daily

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GSS Council passed an emergency motion yesterday reallocating $40,000 from its budget to fund legal counsel and research for postdoctoral students affected by the federal government’s elimination of the postdoctoral education tax credit in 2010. Prior to 2010, postdoctoral students in Quebec were considered regular students. However, a change in federal tax law standardized the status of postdocs across Canada, categorizing them all as employees and trainees. “If you are not pursuing a degree, you are not a student, according to the federal government,” said PGSS VP External Ryan Hughes. According to Hughes, some McGill Postdoctoral Fellows have been audited by the federal government. As a result, their 2009 income has been declared taxable despite McGill’s issuance of the requisite T2202 forms to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), that nor-

mally exempt post-doc students from taxation. The motion feared that “the CRA have put an untenable financial burden on these PGSS members and their families, and stand to threaten all PGSS members.” It remains unclear how many postdoctoral students will be affected, and how much of their income may be collected as tax. “Since education is a provincial purview, the question is whether the federal government has the right to determine who a student is,” said Hughes. “Some students have been audited randomly at Laval [and] McGill, and will be taxed for this year and for the 2009 year. We are talking about thousands of dollars here, which will directly impact not only the students but also the families they support, “ Hughes added. Hughes argued for the necessity to have funds available to challenge the changes in federal tax law if needed. The motion called for $2,000 to be allocated toward hiring the consultants needed to further research the implications of the changes and potential responses.

The remainder was to be allocated for providing graduate students with needed legal aid and financial support if audited. The reallocation provoked heated debate at Council because the $40,000 was taken from the newly approved maternity and paternity program supporting graduate students with dependents. PGSS had initially hoped that the McGill administration would match their $40,000 allocation in order to support a daycare program. When this did not happen, however, the daycare program was left in limbo. PGSS Family Commissioner Hadley Myers, PhD Electrical Engineering, opposed the reallocation. Myers had planned on using the extra funds to buttress the current family care program, which currently receives $60,000, extending support to pregnant and ill graduate students. The current system only supports those who already have children. “This was money that would have been used to benefit people. We had programs ready to go that we worked really hard on,” said Myers. The PGSS Student Support

“If you are not pursuing a degree, you are not a student, according to the federal government” Ryan Hughes PGSS VP External Commissioner Ulrike Trojahn, MA Biochemistry, expressed concern about the reallocation of funding. “I’m worried about the message we are sending regarding student families. They are a minority in our student society, and fundamentally these people have been overlooked,” said Trojahn. “Last year, when the family care pilot project was launched, it was an exceptional step in terms of student societies taking care of their members, and I feel that this direction should be continued,” she added. The emergency motion contained a clause, however, which would see Council hold final responsibility for the allocation

of the remainder of the funds if legal action and financial support were not deemed to be appropriate responses, and would see the funds then funneled back into family care. Despite the clause, Myers was still concerned about the decision to take the money from a program which had received widespread support from Council in previous meetings. “It was an affirmative action program to support those who needed it. Taking it away now is unfair and many, many of the parents, a disproportionate number of them are in fact postdocs. So we are robbing postdocs to support ten postdocs,” said Myers.

Mini Courses overhaul showing signs of success Ostracized conservative students Customer focus turning the program into one of SSMU’s key revenue sources John Lapsley

The McGill Daily

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n ongoing eighteen-month revamp of SSMU’s Mini Courses has turned the program into one of SSMU’s most profitable and popular operations. Mini Courses – semester-long, publicly available evening classes in subjects as diverse as Japanese language, sketch, and Caribbean cooking – more than doubled its profits in the 2009-2010 school year and continues to generate strong profits in 2011. The courses have also drawn the attention of organizations outside McGill, including businesses wishing to subsidize Arabic language or public speaking training for their employees. Mini Courses Supervisor Nell Slochowski, who took charge in the fall 2009, has overseen an ongoing Mini Courses overhaul that has included implementation of online registration, reassessment of course profitability, and greater variety in Mini Courses’ offerings. “We’ve gone out [and] found new teachers for unique courses, changed prices around, and

improved the website significantly,” Slochowski said of the improvements. Slochowski also credits the increased interest in Mini Courses to the program’s higher focus on customer satisfaction. The Mini Courses team audits courses and solicits student feedback throughout the entire semester. “We are on top of our teachers and we keep notes on everything,” Slochowski said. “There’s a lot of commitment to making Mini Courses better.” Mini Courses sources both professional and student teachers in an effort to balance profitability, student involvement, and course quality. Slochowski has also sought to integrate Mini Courses with other McGill clubs, both to find knowledgeable teachers and to potentially provide the clubs themselves with a new revenue stream. Surbhi Gupta, a U2 Engineering student who taught Indian cooking during the Fall 2010 semester, found the teaching process daunting at first but ultimately rewarding. “I’ve never taught such a huge group, so it was a little bit of a challenge,” Gupta said. “[But] I thought

it would be a good idea to expose students to all of the varieties of Indian food…and it was a very good experience.” The Mini Courses team’s methodology has been accompanied by dramatic profit increases. Mini Courses revenue represented 18.7 per cent of SSMU’s Building operations revenue during the 2010 school year, up from 10.2 per cent the previous year. In March of last year, former SSMU VP Finance and Operations Jose Diaz cited Mini Courses’ profitability as a key factor in the balancing of SSMU’s budget. Although some of the improvements have resulted in operational snarls – including traffic-based stalls in the online registration and the cancellation of courses with low registration, such as LSAT Practice and Ukrainian for beginners – Mini Courses saw almost as much profit this fall as the 2009 school year’s fall and winter semesters combined. Slochowski stressed, however, that even as profitability climbs, the focus remains on student satisfaction. “It would be easy to let profit be the driving force behind all we do,” said Slochowski. “[But] I think we’ve really kept a sense of ‘customer comes first.’”

Fancy the truth? Write for news. Meetings Mondays at 4:30, Shatner caf

create Prince Arthur Herald

Zach Lewson

The McGill Daily

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fter feeling excluded from campus politics, U1 Political Science student and Conservative McGill Principal Secretary Brendan Steven and U2 History student Kevin Brendan Pidgeon have co-founded a new online newspaper called the Prince Arthur Herald. In an interview with The Daily, Steven described his feelings of exclusion from campus politics and highlighted what he sees as closemindedness around topics such as tuition. “The tone of rhetoric about tuition hikes has gotten a little ridiculous. ... In the roundtable in Quebec City, when government groups and student groups were talking about tuition increases, many student groups simply walked out and refused to discuss tuition increases of any sort. … There was no negotiation and there is no room for compromise… it’s things of that nature where I think conservative students feel ostracized, and so my hope is that the Herald will provide a space for conservative students to feel safe and to feel that their opinion counts.” The Herald’s online statement of principles outlines a right-wing mandate that includes “the belief in the limitation of state regulation to only the most fundamentally necessary areas of Canadian life;” “the importance of preventing the unnecessary

growth of the public sector to ensure the maximum productive potential of the Canadian economy;” and “a dedication to the free market system that has provided Canadian society with wealth, prosperity and opportunity for all.” Steven added that “we are a conservative newspaper consisting of many conservative writers, but we also have other writers consisting of [a] former President of Young Liberals of Canada, and another one of our columnists is on the board of directors for Queer McGill. … We have conservatives of all sorts, including Social Conservatives, Social Liberals, Classical Liberals, Old Tory Conservatives, and Libertarians.” Describing the Herald’s politics section, Steven commented that, “Our politics section is structured as an opinion section.” When deciding on the name for the Herald, Steven said, “ We settled on Prince Arthur for a variety of reasons, including the symbolic fact that the street Prince Arthur cuts through the centre of the McGill ghetto and we want to be a studentcentric news source.” Currently the Herald’s staff do not have plans to go into print, but are exploring the possibility of expanding to radio. The Herald has low operating costs and is completely volunteerrun; the current sections of the Herald’s website are administrative, campus life, culture, politics, and sports.


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The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

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“To give back for the people we lost” The Heavy Machinery Training Project for the Haitian diaspora living in Quebec

Erin Hudson

learned how to transport from one place to another, how to manipulate the machines to work in difficult areas,” he said. Tony Armenio, a public worker with the City of Montreal in St. Michel, observed the project from afar. “Everything they did [was] as if there was an actual earthquake, so they took some ruined pieces of cars and trucks and buried them under the stones. … Their goal is to open up the streets in Haiti, that’s what the practice was all about for them,” he said. Ian Bellavance is a CFPML instructor from Mont-Laurier who worked with the students in the quarry. “None of the students had ever operated [equipment like this]. This thirty came from different backgrounds. We had all sorts of people. The main goal for them is to help their family in Haiti,” he said in French. “I have never taught a group of students so motivated.” “A lot of us lost people over there so that was one of the main motivations of the group as a whole. It’s like to give back for the people we lost,” Presumé explained. “It was a really good experience and the group has a really good vibe. We would see each other early in the morning and feel happy and leave at five and still be happy. Time went by so fast…everybody had fun learning,” Presumé said, adding “It was great; something that I didn’t see enough in my life.”

The McGill Daily

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ne year since an earthquake killed 200,000 and left a million homeless in the island nation of Haiti, Sylvain Tremblay had an idea to use what he had to help. Tremblay described watching news footage of the earthquake, and seeing that the vast majority of rubble was that of former homes. “I said to myself: You cannot pick up all the debris there by hand with wheelbarrows and manual shovels, it will take heavy machinery. Then as a result of reflecting on it all in that moment I decided to see if our expertise that we have in heavy machinery could be beneficial for the people of Haiti,” said Tremblay in French. Tremblay is from the town of Mont-Laurier – a rural logging community in Quebec’s northwest – and is the director of the Centre de Formation Professionelle MontLaurier (CFPML), a heavy machinery operation training school. His centre is contributing to a project that seeks to train thirty HaitianMontrealers to operate construction equipment, and then go to Haiti for three to six months to assist in the reconstruction effort.

A place to learn Tremblay took his idea and went to the only person of Haitian descent he knew: Michel Adrien, Mont-Laurier’s Mayor. An important question was where the training program would take place. Adrien, in turn, thought of the Haitian neighbourhoods of Montreal, and reached out to city councillors Frantz Benjamin, Frank Venneri, and Emmanuel Dubourg in the Viau, St. Michel, Parc Extension, and Villeray boroughs. The neighbourhood is home to 11,000 Montrealers of Haitian descent. In collaboration with the City’s public workers, they picked the sprawling St. Michel quarry as the site of the program. “We provided the place and the technical support to have the access to the location and everything else that is required,” said a spokesperson for councillor Frank Venneri. “It’s a site we’ve used to train our own employees on using certain new equipment so this was an ideal situation for them.” Benjamin said he was “proud to welcome [the] project in St. Michel.” In the weeks following last year’s earthquake, St. Michel’s borough government responded to the needs of it’s Haitian diaspora population quickly, opening a call centre to direct calls from concerned family members, as well as a multi-service aid centre. Tremblay knew that it would be essential to involve members of the community, and had initial concerns that the program may attract those who wanted to learn to operate heavy machinery, but did not necessarily want to go to Haiti after

Looking ahead

Photos ourtesy of CNW Group

These Montrealers will spend three to six months helping to rebuild Haiti. their certification. Nina Colavecchio, the spokesperson for Venneri, agreed. “For an arrondissement like our own there is constant demand for people who have that kind of training and it’s not easy to find,” she said. The project – now christened the Heavy Machinery Training Project for the Haitian Diaspora living in Quebec – established a basic requirement: all applicants must be of Haitian background to participate in the training school. One-hundred twenty-five people applied, and out of the thirty accepted, most of them were born in Haiti. Tremblay and Benjamin explain that the project has two aspirations: to help in the reconstruction of Haiti and to provide job skills for members of the Haitian community in Montreal. “One of the concerns we have in the Haitian community is what we can do to reinforce the capacity of the young people of the

Haitian community to succeed at school and professional training,” Benjamin explained. Mackelly Presumé, one of the thirty students in the project, spoke about his job prospects after the project. “It’s a great opportunity for me in Montreal to actually work and contribute and to give back to the city for giving me this opportunity to have something that I would have never done,” he said. “Having more young people of the Haitian community who have a professional training diploma, it’s something really good for the whole Haitian community and for Montreal.” The Ministre de l’Éducation du Québec is funding the project through public money. However, as Tremblay discovered, there are limits to the funding available, describing the efforts to find continued funding as “door-to-door canvassing.” He has gotten some help from private industry, particularly John

Deer and Komatsu, who have provided Tremblay’s CFPML with discount rental equipment. Tremblay’s biggest challenge, however, will be to find thirty placements in Haiti for the students who will complete their training on February 11.

The training For the past five months, the training has been a combination of classroom sessions, intensive 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. days in the quarry and, currently, workshops with other Montreal organizations with relevant experience in Haiti – notably, police and firefighters who went to Haiti shortly after last year’s earthquake. At the quarry, students learned how to operate excavators, bulldozers, graters, loaders, off-road trucks, and backhoes. Presumé said that he has learned how to build roads, transport raw materials, and work in “difficult areas.” “We would build roads. We

“You cannot imagine how proud I am of my students; all the work they did, all the skills they learned, and [I am] very proud – maybe too much,” Bellavance laughed as he reflected on the training experience, “I know the end is coming.” Tremblay told The Daily of the enormous positive reaction the CFPML received from the Haitian community after a media event hosted on December 21. Looking to the year ahead Tremblay is optimistic. “If we succeed to put our students in action, yes, we can do a second group next year because the demand is there…that is undeniable. The people of Haitian descent truly want to help their fellow citizens.” But there is still a long way to go for Haiti. Tremblay noted that there are many different factors, among them the upcoming February general elections. “Following the results of the elections in Haiti, we will see if the political level there will make it possible to take more action because, actually, I think that [maintaining] the same Haitian politics will [result in] paralysis from instability,” he said. Presumé contextualized the project in the larger goal of reconstruction. “I think our project is just one of the small steps. I don’t think the impact is as big as we want it to be. We still do it and the impact that we are giving is good, we’re going to do our part. But it takes more than just the thirty of us to make a big change,” he said.


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The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Multi-billion dollar lawsuit begins in Quebec Defence claims cancer cases in Quebec town unrelated to Canadian military’s contamination of groundwater Melissa Wils-Owens The McGill Daily

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ne of the largest class action lawsuits in North America began in the Quebec Superior Court on Monday over contaminated water in Shannon, Quebec, a small municipality 24 kilometres north of the provincial capital. In a lawsuit that has been nearly a decade in the making, residents of Shannon and the Valcartier Canadian Forces Base (CFB) will seek compensation from the Department of National Defence (DND) and two ammunitions companies for damages suffered as a result of the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE) draining into the water supply from the 1940s to the 1980s. It was not until 2000 that residents learned they had been consuming the colorless and tasteless TCE, a solvent to clean World War II-era cannons and ammunition. Research has shown TCE causes cancer approximately 35 years after exposure, which coincides with the increasing prevalence of cancer in the area.

In December 2003, MariePaule Spieser, a Shannon resident, filed the lawsuit in the Quebec Superior Court. Spieser is the lead plaintiff representing some 3,500 past and present residents of Shannon and CFB Valcartier. The court will hear 120 witnesses from Quebec and 23 experts from around the world. “These are people who consider themselves victims of their own government. Many of them cannot be here this morning because they are dead,” said Charles Veilleux, the lead attorney for the residents of Shannon and Valcartier, in his opening statement, as reported by the Toronto Sun. According to the website shannoninfotce.tripod.com, administered by the Shannon residents themselves, the National Research Council formed the SNC Research Centre to develop ammunition in an “isolated laboratory” because of the dangerous materials. While the large population of Quebec City was a safe 24 kilometres away, the city of Shannon remained a negligible distance. The first traces of TCE were detected in a well near the SNC Research Centre in July 1992.

Residents, who mistakenly presumed they were living healthy lifestyles, have complained that they did not learn of the TCE contamination until 2000. Spieser experienced gastric problems, nausea, fatigue, and what her doctor believed to be an ulcer. She claims that upon leaving Shannon in 1998 and deciding to drink only bottled water, she saw drastic improvement in her health. Although the lawsuit is requesting $200 billion in compensation, the DND website “estimates the damages at $2 billion.” The gamut of damages for which the residents hope to be recompensed include physical, moral, and material hardship, damages to personal integrity, and harm to the environment. The defence stated in their document presented at court on Monday that “the study of Dr. Tremblay, epidemiologist for the plaintiff, was unable to show that there are more cases of cancer in Shannon than elsewhere in Quebec that are linked to TCE.” These cases include 440 instances of cancer, 200 of which proved fatal, in a town of 4,000. To receive this compensa-

tion, “the plaintiff must show fault, damages and a causal link,” according to the defence team’s court document. Francine Robichaud, the

that the minister of national defense gave Shannon $3.5 million to build an aqueduct after TCE was discovered in the water. While preventing further TCE contamination, the

“These are people who consider themselves victims of their own government. Many of them cannot be here this morning because they are dead” Charles Veilleux Attorney department of justice spokeswoman, told The Daily “that this is not the case. It is our intention to show that the class action has no basis in law, either scientifically or factually.” According to the Montreal Gazette, the government has given Shannon “$26.5 million to ensure an alternate, safe source of drinking water.” Veilleux acknowledged in court

aqueduct system left forty years worth of the toxic solvent in the groundwater. Despite the rising instances of cancer, Jack Siemiatcycki, epidemiologist for the defence, asserts in the defense’s document that “the science of epidemiology recognizes a link only between TCE exposure and renal cancer and possibly liver cancer and nonHodgkin lymphoma.”

American background check company under fire HireRight error almost costs McGill student his job; truckers sue over falsified background check reports Anna Norris

The McGill Daily

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ireRight, an American company that performs background checks on job applicants, is under scrutiny from several directions, including a former McGill student who claims that he was obstructed from a job in a retail store because of a background check report containing false information. “HireRight performed a background report for a prospective employer of mine...and on the report were certain basic facts about me that matched those of a serious convict,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I’ve never been in jail, I’ve never been arrested, but on that basis, my job offer was rescinded before I was supposed to start working. After weeks of contacting HireRight, the information was finally corrected and I got the job. I was lucky not to be desperate at that time, and everything worked out, but if it were someone who really needed the job...a few weeks could be whether or not they could feed their family.”

In this case, HireRight’s matching via name and birth date meant that a job applicant was matched with wrong information. Several recent lawsuits challenging HireRight’s policies have arisen from within the American trucking industry.

applicant. In one lawsuit, it is alleged that the company regularly failed to provide the report to the applicant until after a decision had been made based on the report’s contents. There have also been allegations that trucking companies

“I’ve never been in jail, I’ve never been arrested, but... my job offer was rescinded before I was supposed to start working.” Anonymous student Trucking companies use a HireRight report called Drive-aCheck (DAC) to make hiring decisions. The companies themselves submit reports to DAC on employees and former employees that later resurface in background checks on the employees. The company is required by law to provide a copy of the background check to the job

submit false reports to the DACs in order to control and blackball the careers of certain drivers. Allen Smith, of trucker’s association The Truth About Trucking, first became aware of the issue when false information was submitted to his own DAC and added to the report without question or investigation.

Want to be a News editor? Find out how on page 10.

“I was on a trucking company lease program, and I wasn’t getting the miles, so I was getting starved out. So I returned the truck, but before I did, I made $3,600 worth of repairs to the truck. And they ended up putting on my DAC that I turned the truck in in bad need of repairs. That’s when the light went off that this thing was really a problem,” said Smith. Another trucker, Bahir Smith, filed a suit in 2010 claiming that HireRight is in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires that the company take reasonable measures to ensure that its information is accurate and notify the applicant as they are being investigated. In February 2006, Smith was arrested and pleaded guilty to defiant trespass and public drunkenness. In 2009, he applied for a trucking job; when he received the report that had been provided to his prospective employer, it was nine pages long and listed the single February 2006 incident three separate times, making his criminal record history seem much more serious than it actually was. Because the report was not forwarded to him at the

same time that it was given to his potential employers, by the time he received the report it had already been used to make a hiring decision. For the next job he applied for, later in 2009, the report was 11 pages long and listed the incident four times. After a third 2009 job application, he received a report listing his convictions four times, and he initiated a class-action lawsuit. Allen Smith has created an online petition demanding that “the U.S. Government enact legislation that will protect truck drivers” from falsified DAC reports. Currently his petition has almost 2,000 signatures, many from drivers who claim that the companies they worked for submitted false information to their reports, which HireRight failed to confirm before adding the damaging remarks to a driver’s report. “When the DAC services were first formed, it was a good thing. It was to provide the trucking companies with information about employees...but what it has become is a retaliation tool against drivers,” said Smith.


Commentary

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

There is an alternative A consensual world is possible

The decline of broader education Slawomir Poplawski Hyde Park

T

Al Blair for The McGill Daily

All we want, baby, is everything Sam Neylon and Al Blair

sam.neylon@mcgilldaily.com

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onsensual relationships – relationships built with consent – are those where decisions are made through communication rather than coercion. Liberal democracy is built on the “consent of the governed,” but what if the ways in which that “consent” is secured are simply reproducing and perpetuating the power imbalances that make communication impossible? We should be asking: what stands between us and consent? What blocks, limits, structures, and redirects communication? But we don’t seem to be talking about those social inequalities and root causes that make so many relationships – from interpersonal to international – nonconsensual. Instead, we are increasingly shifting the onus onto the individual. For those who haven’t consented, not only is what happens to them their fault – it was their choice. You wouldn’t have been arrested if you hadn’t been at that protest. Nothing would have happened to her if she hadn’t worn that dress. He wouldn’t have been shot if he hadn’t been dealing drugs. The illusion of “choice,” or at the very least, the restrictions that limit our agency, appear as events in which we – unquestioning, unaf-

fected – offer consent. However, given the coercive nature of societal repression, the ideals of communication and respect that make up the foundations of consent are absent. Our unsafe and violent reality is the result. This “choice” that we never consented to is then used to justify our position. We are put in a cage, and now we are going to be responsible for managing it. As austerity measures are imposed in the wake of the latest crisis, we are seeing the world restructured through these power imbalances based on a lack of consent. One form this illusion of choice takes is debt. We are all more and more in debt. What for a moment and in some places seemed a mechanism to bring people out of poverty is, in the moment of crisis, being used to trap them within choices they were never given the chance to consent to. While debt in the high finance industry is being written off in hopes of social stability, debt is being collected rigorously and violently from those at the bottom. Though it seems dry, objective, and predictable, debt traces exactly the same violent and physical power imbalances that block consent. If consent is about communication – then what is predatory lending? Or student loan programs that are impossibly convoluted? Once you have “chosen” debt, your consent has been assumed. Speaking of the relationships of

debt naturally leads us to the precarious relationships of employment. Traversing these relationships – from sweatshop workers to janitors to government workers to graphic designers and investment bankers – is an erosion of consent. Productivity is to be ramped up, benefits (if there are any) are to be cut. While someone in Montreal can legally choose to be a sex worker, there are laws in place that criminalize those activities that would make this choice safe. The sex worker is not forbidden from choosing, but is caught in a structure that limits these choices through debt, punishes them through state violence, and invests them with unequal and unsafe power relations. So while we are held responsible for more and more of our choices – our agency, our capacity to choose, and our ability to consent are exactly what are being taken away. Everyone already knows this is going on. Knowing doesn’t make the reality of coercion any less real. These nonconsensual mechanisms affect us differently. They separate us into different interest groups – hierarchize our struggles. But in spite of these obstacles, we can work in solidarity on those interlocking parts that stand between us and consent: in everyday relationships with friends and colleagues, the way we run our organizations, in sex and intimacy, and when we critique state violence and capitalism. !

7

oday’s world recognizes the importance of societies’ educational excellence in economic growth. It is even treated as a measurable commodity and some international agencies have established education rankings by country based on results of students’ tests for reading, science, and math. Asian nations are leading and Canada is at the bottom of the top ten. Should we be worrying about this? This approach narrows the notion of education to the transfer of knowledge and skills in a few utilitarian fields at the expense of the liberal arts. Ignored is an increased transmission of values when pursuing a well-rounded education. Canada, with rich didactic traditions, is nowadays similarly overwhelmed by the promoted unification of educational systems, which makes it easier to enforce efficiency in teaching key fields, but compromises diversity. Similar processes are occurring at the university level. McGill’s Humanistic Studies program, created forty years ago in the Faculty of Arts, was cancelled last August. The fate of a planned similar program, called Liberal Arts, is unclear. Nobody protested the cancellation, which indicates that now, even at the university level, people are paying less attention to a broad education. It is tempting to say that the ruling financial spheres that control the Board of Governors aren’t interested in investing in the arts and humanities, because they would rather see even the best universities as a production line of narrow-minded specialists. Humanities programs focused on exploring the meaning, purpose, and goals of human existence are not only expensive, but also make the masses more difficult to control. Consistent with this approach, we now see administrative technocrats converting McGill into disconnected research units that produce alienated specialists. However, we must be careful with such generalizations and the demonization of political elements because even debates about pedagogy and the structures of our educational institutions are fraught with ethical uncertainties. Education is treated as a careeroriented and market-driven tool. It is very sad to see gifted students avoiding each other as competitors instead of developing warmer social bonds. Yet once the students are lured into never-ending dogfights, they are more susceptible to many social manipulations. In the present world, even Nobel Prize winners are

often treated as flashy marionettes in the hands of the media and bureaucrats who control research centres or universities. Do the most educated and wisest people play key roles in our modern, globalized world? If not, what kinds of people control the masses and which criteria are used to select these people? The most worrying is a devilish spirit of educational rivalry implanted in the earliest stages of education that pervades the entire school system. Unfortunately, many children from poorer families are more likely to fall into this trap of studying for a specific skill or profession, while a few richer students are more likely to select well-rounded studies designed to develop intellectual growth. The rivalry encourages top students to learn more, but simultaneously narrows their horizons and subdues the development of beautiful and free human minds. As such, many schools start specializing kids even from the middle of high school to maximize their educational achievements in narrowed fields. The consequences are catastrophic. It transforms the student into a repressed, highly stressed, robot-like entity, who is easily pushed around by market fluctuations. It is never too late, and these negative changes can be significantly defused in our universities by reinvesting in the arts and humanities. The Humanistic Studies program created in 1970 allowed students to build their own liberal arts program out of the humanities and social sciences. Unfortunately, their influence gradually eroded because of underfunding, and because of the diminishing interest of students, who began pursuing narrower specializations that offered them more stable careers. People with a wellrounded education can more easily predict and avoid dangerous future developments, but are also more tempted to lure others into such traps. Is it not clear that this system is built to exploit human weakness to enhance the fastest profits? Before directly fighting the many deep social injustices at work here, we need to transform the army of alienated specialists into insightful experts united by complex knowledge of our world. This can be achieved by hiring more people like Norman Cornett who “marry” arts and sciences, and even engineering. Proof: Our topranked McGill Medical School in recent years prefers students from a unique “Arts and Sciences” program at Marianopolis. Slawomir Poplawski is a technician in the Mining and Materials Engineering department. Contact him at slavekpop@yahoo.com.


8 Commentary

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

HYDE PARK

Admin’s behaviour in UDrive shameful An open letter from retired and current faculty

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e, the undersigned tenured and tenure-track faculty members of McGill University, wish to express our support for a campaign run by the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) to organize and represent course lecturers who teach at McGill. In addition, we strongly object to the administration’s disgraceful efforts to disrupt and silence this union drive by obstructing AGSEM’s efforts to publicize its campaign – efforts which threaten the free speech of all members of the University community. The need for a collective organization that supports and defends the interests of course lecturers at McGill is clear. At the present moment, McGill course lecturers are the only course lecturers in Quebec who are not unionized. Not coincidentally, they are among the worst paid as well. Even with the raises announced in October (and scheduled for 2011 and 2012), McGill’s course lecturers’ pay will continue to lag behind that of other Quebec universities. Course lecturers perform the same teaching labour as tenured and tenure-track faculty members. They often teach courses that are compulsory and/or fulfill undergraduate major requirements in the departments for which they work. Yet despite playing this crucial (and growing) role in undergraduate education, course lecturers have little to no voice in determining the conditions in which they work. Deprived of any role in faculty governance at the university level, and often excluded from departmental meetings, course lecturers are sometimes seen but never heard. Union representation can provide them with the voice they are currently denied at McGill. Moreover, without tenure or even its possibility, and forced to rely on the good graces of department chairs for their employment, course lecturers do not have the protections of academic freedom. Their precarious state is particularly troubling, since Canadian universities have greatly increased the proportion of teaching done by course lecturers in the past decade: in 1999, 15.5 per cent of faculty employed in Canadian universities were contingent faculty; by 2008, this number had risen to roughly fifty per cent. This astronomical rise in the use of non-tenured or non-tenure-track faculty is also a profound contraction in the percentage of university faculty who have the freedom to teach and research controversial topics without fear of politically-motivated reprisals. The unionization of course lecturers can provide them with a collective voice that would enable them to defend their academic freedom. Finally, the administration’s actions during AGSEM’s campaign to unionize course lecturers have been nothing short of shameful. On September 21, an email was sent to all University building directors ordering the removal of Union Drive posters “at the request of the Provost, Prof. T. Masi.” Union Drive posters on the office doors of tenured and tenure-track faculty were torn down repeatedly after this date. This is not simply an example of thuggish intimidation tactics (although it is very much that as well). It is an attack on the very idea of the university itself, as a place dedicated and committed to the free exchange of ideas – including ideas about how the labour of the university should be organized and represented. A university whose administration removes expressions of ideas with which it disagrees from the offices of its faculty is no longer worthy of the name. While we, the undersigned tenured and tenure-track faculty, support the unionization of course lecturers at McGill, ultimately it is not up to us. Nor is it up to Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, Provost Anthony Masi, or any member of the McGill administration. It is the decision of the course lecturers themselves. We simply ask that they be able to make this decision without intimidation or harassment, and with every avenue of information freely available to them. This is how democracy works. Signed,

Darin Barney

Brian Cowan

Steven Jordan

Calvin Normore

Carrie Rentschler

Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Associate professor, Department of History

Associate professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education

William Macdonald professor of Moral Philosophy, Department of Philosophy

Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Thomas LaMarre

Derek Nystrom

Tabitha Sparks

James McGill professor, Department of East Asian Studies and Department of Art History and Communications Studies

Associate professor, Department of English

Associate professor, Department of English

Ara Osterweil

Jonathan Sterne

Abby Lippman

Assistant professor, Department of English

Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health

Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Anthony Paré

Christophe Bedos Associate professor, Faculty of Dentistry

Shari Brotman Associate professor, School of Social Work

Jenny Burman Associate professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies

Aashish Clerk Associate professor, Department of Physics

Julius H. Grey Associate professor (retired), Faculty of Law

Jill Hanley Associate professor, School of Social Work

Michelle Hartman Associate professor, Institute of Islamic Studies

Adrienne Hurley

Bronwen Low

Assistant professor, Department of East Asian Studies

Associate professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Erin Hurley Associate professor, Department of English

Monique Morgan Associate professor, Department of English

Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Alanna Thain

Andrew Piper

Boyd White

Assistant professor, Department of German Studies

Associate professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education

Assistant professor, Department of English


Commentary

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

9

Politics of violence Alexander Kunev Hyde Park

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e’re faced with another dark chapter in the history of the United States, a tragedy brought on by a madman, a person so bitter in his political views that he was able to resort to such violence in order to demonstrate those views. This is not an isolated case: we just need to remember people like Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark Chapman, and most recently Timothy McVeigh who was responsible for killing 168 people and injuring another 450 in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing. On Tuesday, Americans mourned the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona, and now it’s a time to grieve and to reflect, with the sentiment that things can’t go on as they currently are. I too am shaken by this, and my thoughts are with the families of those who died or were injured by Jared Loughner – especially Gabrielle Giffords who is left in grave condition and faces a long recovery. But why should this tragedy be any different than all the other shootings and what is its meaning in the long history of political and social violence in the United States? Now everybody is blaming Sarah Palin for the already infa-

mous map of twenty Democratic districts indicated with crosshairs, inciting the opposition to “rebel” against them because they voted for health care reform. Of course, this is unlikely to result in a big backlash against Republicans, as in 1995 after Oklahoma, first because Obama, in the spirit of his fabled bipartisanship, is simply not going to use it to his advantage, and second, because as the liberal media are quick to blame Palin, others are remind us that the Democrats used the same violent rhetoric during the Bush years, with calls to murder George W. Bush. This doesn’t mean, however, that Palin isn’t socially responsible for what has happened. A direct link between her and the shooter is obviously a ludicrous idea, but bearing in mind that Loughner is suspected to be mentally ill, he may have been inspired indirectly by some of this hate rhetoric – if not by the map with the crosshairs itself, then maybe by some of the Palin Tea Party supporters who recycle her propaganda. I am always amazed to see how an act that is obviously wrong and unethical is perceived by Americans not for what it shows, but for what the person doing it says it is. It is incorrect to say that Sarah Palin is to blame for the terrorist act of a mentally unstable person, but

she should also take responsibility and acknowledge what her map showed. One of her aides said that those were not meant to be crosshairs of a gun, but “surveyor’s symbols” – the truth is, it doesn’t matter what they were “meant” to be, but what they actually show! It is one thing for a liberal commentator, however wrong, to indulge in hate speech, and it is a much different thing to be showing twenty representatives on a map with gun crosshairs pointed at them and a message that they “need to go.” When the violent rhetoric disappears and is replaced with a civil discussion about real problems, only then will the U.S. move toward a more sane society where individuals won’t use guns to kill innocent people. For this, two things need to happen: first, the media needs to start defending rationality and expose people who say hurtful things, whether they are liberals or conservatives. Second, there need to be stricter gun controls. Whatever the argument for “sticking to your gun” – for protection, natural right, et cetera – the fact remains if this person didn’t have easy access to a gun this tragedy wouldn’t have happened! Alexander Kunev, U3 Mechanical Engineering, can be reached at alexander.kunev@mail.mcgill.ca.

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Health&Education

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

11

Re-contextualizing the classroom Shannon Palus on critical pedagogy, and one McGill proponent

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eing a good teacher is difficult. Being a good teacher in the age of television and the internet, when Facebook is available at the click of a few touchscreen keys, in an age when entertainment and misinformation, and the opinions of Hollywood execs, and the opinions of whoever has the technical knowledge to set up a Tumblr account are always available – is even harder. “When Sesame Street does a segment, they bring in little children to watch it. If the children start wiggling before 17 seconds, they cut the segment,” explained Shirley Steinberg, co-founder of the McGillbased Freire Project. “Seventeen seconds. That’s what Sesame Street sees as a rational time for kids to give their attention. That tells me as a teacher, I have to be good.” But what qualities makes a good teacher, and a good lesson? And how do you put those qualities into a classroom – whether it’s a room of kindergartners jaded by too much television or an introductory science lecture in Leacock 132? Steinberg’s role is to work with teachers: to talk to them about media literacy and critical pedagogy, the philosophy on which the Freire Project is founded. She described the project as a global network of grassroots educators who question the standard curriculum: “Is this enough, should we have more?”

Where do politics fit in? I had arranged to talk to Steinberg via Skype – though she is based at McGill, she was in Spain when I contacted her collaborating with a group at the University of Barcelona. I hit the call button, and moments later I found myself facing Steinberg in her hotel room; I halfheartedly apologized for the fact that I was sitting in my room in a hoodie, my hair caked with grease. Steinberg’s red hair was pulled back into hundreds of tiny braids; she had two coloured rubber bracelets on her wrist. One reads “The Freire Project: Radical Love,” and the other is for Joe Kincheloe, the late co-founder of the project. I have notes scrawled on a single piece of scratch paper – the back of electronics lab instructions – which represent the sum -total of knowledge I have on critical pedagogy. Steinberg was surprised that I was even familiar with the term. I explain I picked up the article pitch because after interviewing Denis Rancourt, former Ottawa physics professor who was fired in the spring of 2009 for giving a senior class all A-pluses, I have been curious as to how education can be restructured. How could science class go beyond the carrot-and-stick grading system,

Olivia Messer | The McGill Daily

beyond professors who seem too wrapped up in research to freshen up their class notes from year to year?

Dismantling and reconstructing Quebec has a secondary curriculum that won’t fit into a standard-sized binder. The curriculum consists of pages and pages of what topics teachers need to cover, and in what year students should learn what skills. Critical pedagogy is in essence the opposite of the heavy and formal provincial outline. Pedagogy is the science of teaching – but critical pedagogy is not a method, not something which can be imposed or memorized. Furthermore, it’s not a one-size-fits-everyone-wholives-in-the-same-boundaries-on-amap mandate. “You teach rich kids differently from how you teach poor kids. You just do. If you don’t, you’re a liar, as a teacher,” said Steinberg. Critical pedagogy hangs on the idea that teaching happens within a social context, within a political context. Teaching may fall into power balances between students and teachers – this ought to be realized and fixed; and it has the power to examine power imbalances that students face in their own communities. Teachers need to understand where their students are coming from and incorporate this into the classroom. “If I were trying to work with you – and in fact, I probably will do it before the interview is over – but since your area is science, instead of talking to you about my area, I would try to bring science into it, and discuss it from your point of view... It’s about, number one, con-

textualizing – nothing is learned in a vacuum,” she explained. I think of the problems in an introductory mechanics class: massless pulleys, frictionless slopes, no air resistance – imaginary systems sheltered from even the slightest draft. But sometimes I like that politics – oppression, gender – have no business in the very fundamental laws of the universe. It makes physics class simple. “Shannon, you are killing me here,” wrote Steinberg, when we were discussing the issue later in an email exchange. “How can politics and oppression be ignored in science? The rainforest? And in gender – the issue of females in science?”

Oppressed peoples and old ways In the late 1960s, political activist Paulo Freire was teaching farm workers in Recife, Brazil how to read. He concluded that traditional education – the mere relaying of skills and facts – was not enough to get students out of poverty. “He realized they had to learn how to name their own oppression, that people had to understand that they are oppressed, and most oppressed people do not know that they are oppressed,” explained Steinberg. In the interest of correctly naming oppression, she avoids terms like “socially-economically deprived kids.” She explained later in an email that politically correct terms propagate a dangerous viewpoint: “Those in power do not want oppressed people emancipated”. Henry Giroux – ”the modern father of critical pedagogy,” Steinberg called him – brought the critical pedagogy philosophy into a North American context. And now, decades after Freire invented

the concept, critical pedagogy is applied to a context in which mass communication flourishes. “We are a media world. We are TV, we are computer, we are internet, we are digital,” said Steinberg. “People have relationships this way. The entire world is now cyber,” she continued. One of the centre’s recent projects is working with the Maison des Jeunes community center in Côtedes-Neiges, with whom they sponsored a conference last March on hip hop – how to use hip hop in the classroom toward media literacy. The centre has also done work with the Cree community on self-identity, and how First Nations people are portrayed in the media.

Staying sharp Steinberg discussed how if she were teaching middle-school girls how to write an essay, she would ask them to write it about a topic like Miley Cyrus – to examine the marketing forces, do research on Disney, and on the depiction of teenage girls in the media. “So how would you teach middle-school kids science?” I asked. “Science has become consumerized, so much. Even something simple like ecology – saving the world – has now been corporatized,” she said. “In a science class – maybe if we’re talking about chemicals, along with teaching about chemicals, I would teach about chemical spills, and about social responsibility, about how that conversation happens.” Critical pedagogy teachers should be scholarly, updated, the same way that dentists have to learn about new techniques for x-raying teeth, Steinberg explained.

“Professionals need to be constantly re-professionalizing,” she explained. “If someone is lecturing me with yellow notes that are falling apart, I think that person needs to stop lecturing.” I tell Steinberg about a physics class last year where we used a textbook that had to be ordered in copied course-pack form because it was out of print. Our edition was from 1986. “Students should just, en masse, drop the class. And make sure you always put out teacher evaluations. But you know, it’s just wrong. It’s wrong,” she offered. “Do we lose our souls just to get a class taught? I don’t think so.” But as a student – as someone who is potentially marginalized, as someone with course requirements and tuition and a degree to earn – critical pedagogy does not seem to offer much of a solution. Changing the system – whether the goal is to get students out of poverty, or get them to do more creative physics – is still in the hands of those in power. It doesn’t look like there is much support for departing from the standard curriculum. Rancourt didn’t have U of Ottawa’s support when he tried to remove the grading system. Steinberg emphasized that the current dean of the Faculty of Education does not support the Freire Project. As for keeping students interested? During our conversation, Steinberg brought up a concept that didn’t require fancy textbook packaging, TV gimmicks, or even a well-researched philosophy: “If all teachers loved their jobs, they’d probably have better students.”


12Health&Education

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Historical hard-drinking Peter Shyba traces Russia’s long-held struggle with vodka and alcoholism

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f vodka cost $1.50 for half a litre, how much of it would you drink? In Russia, where the price of vodka averages between $1.50 and $3.00, the answer is simple: a lot. Each year an average of 19,000 Russians die from alcohol poisoning and hundreds of thousands of others suffer the ill consequences of excess alcohol consumption – cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, increased risk of cancer, type-two diabetes, impaired mental development, and road accidents. Between 2.5 and 10 million Russians are estimated to be alcoholics, causing a ten-year difference in the life expectancy between genders (with men dying younger), the highest such gap in the world. The endemic effects of alcoholism are seen not just in Russia, but among the whole block of former Soviet countries. While the rest of the developed world has progressed in terms of life expectancy, former Soviet Union countries have largely lagged behind. New measures implemented by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev last winter that set a minimum price of vodka at $3.00 per pint (around half a litre) are meant to offset the detrimental effects that alcohol has not only on the international image of Russia, but also on its economic stability. According to a Time Magazine poll, an estimated $8 billion from the Russian economy is lost per year to drinking, due in part to the fact that roughly 25 per cent of Russians admitted to drinking before work, while another 20 per cent drink during work itself. While it’s too early to tell now if the measures have been effective, one can presume that the laws, meant to deter the poorest of Russians from imbibing too frequently will in fact backfire. Russians will continue to drink, and those who can’t afford the $3 minimum may turn to illegal vodkas. Bloomberg Business estimated that the black market accounts for 1.2 billion litres of alcohol consumption, half of the Russian yearly average. In addition, bootlegged vodka accounts for about 127.6 billion rubles (just over $4 billion) annually. There are two types of unofficial vodkas drunk in Russia. The first is alcohol that is made in factories “off book,” when factory workers manufac-

ture extra vodka to sell for profits above their usually low wages. The second and more dangerous is vodka which isn’t actually vodka at all, but rather chemicals like household products or medicines mixed with water. In 2004 the Yekaterinburg district of Russia suffered three deaths and dozens of hospitalizations when residents drank disinfectants passed off as vodka.

and socially) will, in turn, increase life expectancy, health, and wealth. Why then, did life expectancy peak in Russia in the 1960’s (arguably at the peak of the USSR)? Why then is the gap in male and female health outcomes continuing to widen even though Russia is becoming relatively more liberal? The answer may lie at the bottom of the vodka bottle. There are few things more stereotypically Russian than vodka,

very likely Poland that first brewed vodka, technically giving them the exclusive right to market the drink. The outcome of this battle would prove to be economically significant to the Russians. Vodka is now one of the world’s most popular spirits, with sales in the billions of dollars. Sales of top-shelf brands such as Grey Goose have risen particularly quickly, (the Frenchmade Grey Goose was sold for $2.2

Olivia Messer | The McGill Daily

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this problem is the seeming paradox it presents to the liberalminded international development community. Hobbes’s statement that life is “nasty and brutish and short,” true for many Russians (life expectancy for men is roughly sixty years old), has become an indelible call to arms for demographers and social scientists as a community, who constantly challenge this statement and implement policies with the primary intention of increasing life expectancy and disproving the verisimilitude of Hobbes’s famous claim. Logic follows that as liberal democracies have seen a dramatic increase in life expectancy and quality of life, then development strategies that encourage liberalization (economically, politically,

and the drink holds a fervent national significance. According to the Claremont Institute, in 1977 Poland filed a claim to an international trade court that its nation was in fact the inventor of vodka and as such was the only country with the right to market the drink. If the claim had been accepted, Russia would have been forced to market their vodka as “bread wine,” an idea that didn’t sit well with the USSR. This claim ignited a fierce battle between the two countries, with Russian “scholars” claiming the drink was first brewed in Moscow in 1440. In an era of intense domination by the Soviet superpowers, Poland was unable to present the facts fairly; according to research done by Vice Magazine, it was in fact it was

billion in 2002, the largest brand takeover in history). In the Soviet Union, alcoholism was touted as a “relic of capitalism,” where it was presumed that men were led to drink because of the exploitive nature of factory work. The belief was that through communism, alcoholism would eventually fade away. But the Soviets didn’t do their homework. Alcoholism has been an issue in Russia since about 986 CE, when Muslim Bulgars encouraged Grand Prince Vladimir I to adopt Islam. He declared “Drinking is the joy of the Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure.” Thousands of years (and many hangovers) later, Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, ordered a countrywide prohibition during the First World War. Already on the brink of

revolt, the Tsar’s decision further loosened his tenuous grip on power. In 1985, Gorbachev did the same as a part of Glasnost and Perestroika. He ordered limited hours on liquor stores and decreased the amount of alcohol restaurants could serve to patrons. Many began to drink cologne and rubbing alcohol and one woman was even killed in a liquor store stampede when a stiletto heel crushed her skull. Six years after that prohibition, the USSR was no more. Alcohol consumption seems to be a frequent and important aspect of Russian history, if not culture. This history of alcoholism may give us some answer to the question of Russia’s poor life expectancy. Those dwelling in the former Soviet Union have historically been prone to alcoholism, in part, because there have been few occasions in history when these countries have been ethnically and nationally determined. It would seem that without autonomous leadership, these countries fall victim to a sense of pervasive helplessness, which in turn leads to a dependence on alcohol to escape. Their alcoholism, in my opinion, is a somatization of their political repression. Even now, under what is called “democracy,” Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, and other former Soviet bloc dwellers live under intensely paternalistic governments. Russian people specifically rely on their government to set rules regarding consumption. There are few rehabilitation centres, support groups, or government policies to help with prevention. The Russian government, now officially a “democracy,” refuses to let go of Soviet-style paternalism when it comes to the health outcomes of its people. By extension, the stranglehold that Russia still has on its former satellites prevents them from truly liberalizing healthcare. Ukrainians are just now starting to get their footing as a free country. The Orange Revolution has signalled the Ukraine’s desire to end Russian dependence and join the European Union, and may be the exact freedom the Ukrainian people desire. Maybe then, once wealth can be created and the Russians lose their dominance over the region, will the former Soviets have a reason to stay alive, and sober.

The Art Issue is coming. art@mcgilldaily.com


Culture

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

13

Literature that ensnares Snare Books challenges publishing models with its fall line-up Amina Batyreva Culture Writer

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n a society where attention spans are getting shorter, where poetry reviews are scarce, with most new works published only to fall through the cracks and never be heard of again, Snare Books’ modus operandi seems a likely panacea. Established in 2004 by Jon Paul Fiorentino and the late Robert Allen, Snare Books was born into what the two men perceived as the yawning absence of creativity and literary innovation in the increasingly commercialized Canadian literature industry. Self-styled champions of experimental poetry and fiction, Fiorentino wrote by email that the pair dreamt Snare into being with the mandate to “publish writers who were doing strange and interesting things.” The five titles in Snare’s Fall 2010 lineup nestle comfortably within the bounds of these criteria. Three are from authors just making their debuts: Poets and Killers by Helen Hajnoczky, Hard Feelings by Sheryda Warrener, and The Lateral by Jake Kennedy. “We like to publish first-time authors as often as possible,” Fiorentino explained. As a young writer manning a publishing company that turned a youthful six years old this fall, Fiorentino seems willing to take chances more established publishers wouldn’t, in order to nurse young and up-andcoming talent. Two of the books – Hajnoczky’s Poets and Killers and Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler’s collaboration Update – are entirely devoid of original text, composed instead of non-literary material recontextual-

tent styles or genres – each of them ambitious, multi-genre collections. Proof of Snare Books’ enthusiasm for stretching the bounds of publication is also evident in Josip Novakovich’s Three Deaths a prime example of the press’s happiness to accommodate alternative writing style of multi-genre triptych. Novakovich’s editor at HarperCollins allegedly rejected expanding the personal essay, “Ruth’s Death,” into a full book in favour of publishing a more traditional novel. “A book of mixed genre like this one struck me as an alternative to the mainstream, and therefore good for a literary press,” Novakovich remarked. His praise for the publisher doesn’t stop there. While it took HarperCollins two and a half years to publish a collection of his stories, Three Deaths was out four months after its conception. On this, Novakovich says, “I admire that Snare can publish books quickly, that the whole thing is personal, and that I can promote it locally.”

Speaking on Snare Books’ role in the Canadian publishing world, Novakovich continued, “I think now that the big publishing world is almost falling apart with the printed word in crisis, Snare’s style of publishing might be the best alternative.” His confident pronouncement may just prove to be prophetic.

Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising – Helen Hajnoczky

ized in poetic form. The other three books contain no internally consis-

“Let’s say you walk in this office and talk to me, and you sit in that chair. Now, what do you want out of me? Fine writing? … Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?”

These lines stand out in the opening piece of Helen Hajnoczky’s debut poetry collection, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising. In a book where every poem has been carefully culled from Canadian advertisements from as early as the 1940s, these words seem to sum up the commercialization of the publishing industry against which Snare Books reacts. Poets and Killers tells the story of a man from his birth in the 1940s to his death in 2010 entirely through adverts from the period. As the nameless protagonist matures, the tone of the advertisements change. The voice of capitalism, embodied in the narrative voice, oscillates from childish and bullying to introspective and poetic. After the man’s divorce, the language becomes surprisingly melancholy, straining for a literary loftiness transcending its commercial medium and function. “It’s not just a city of hearts and diamonds, but the biggest and deepest cavity by a large margin.” An afterword by Hanoczky wraps up the collection, though it is essentially an academic essay, a justification of the preceding poetry. “While advertising takes the language of human experience and exploits it for profit, Poets and Killers appropriates the language of commerce and exploits it for feeling,” she writes. The analysis seems almost unnecessary, explicit, profane. Hajnoczky’s and Fiorentino’s academic backgrounds (Fiorentino is an assistant professor of creative writing at Concordia) become suddenly manifest, the innovation of this book turned clinical. It is literary experimentation done in a controlled environment, parametrized, so that its effect – its degree of innovation and emotional impact – can be measured.

Update – Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler Mathematic rigidity is inherent in the manner Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler’s Update was written – its words chosen by code and collected by machine, its playfulness carefully calculated. Each page of the book presents the collated status updates of the authors’ Facebook friends, randomized and assigned to canonical poets. The incongruity of seeing the likes of Keats, Kerouac, Dickinson, or Milton talking about playing Scrabble on iPhones, or writing emails, or laughing themselves sick while watching Tropic Thunder, is

at once hilarious and provocative. Like Poets and Killers, this book makes a comment on our society and the changing nature of text and communication. What is high literature? What is the future of literacy amongst the masses, the people – young and old – for whom Facebook is the extent of their daily reading and writing? Unlike Hajnoczky, Kennedy and Wershler provide no answers, stating simply, “this is yet another example of something.”

The Lateral – Jake Kennedy The irreverent appropriation of dead poets can also be seen in Jake Kennedy’s The Lateral. The cast of Wikipedia’s “List of Dead Poets” page parades riotously through the author’s ecstatic musings on, ironically, those things which constitute great poetry. Superficially fun, meandering and flippant, Kennedy is still unmistakeably desperate for answers. “When two roads diverge, and you… You? You climb a tree. Is that optimal contiguity?” he demands, and later, “And what of those cultures in which a distinction between artist and non-artist does not exist?! How much more beautiful would beauty be there?! How much less beautiful?!”

Illustrations Olivia Messer | The McGill Daily

Too fancy for News? Write for Culture! Meetings 5.30 Tuesday, Shatner B-24

Hard Feelings – Sheryda Warrener Sheryda Warrener’s Hard Feelings, in a similar hunt for poetic highs, dons a procession of styles like so many different masks. The collection spans a spectrum of emotions, an innumerable number of “little climaxes of disquiet,” as Francine Prose describes in the back blurb. Between one page and the next, these moments – these “hard feelings” – are poems neatly toeing the lefthand side of the page, then meandering streams of consciousness, then prose-haikus, then narratives. “I needed to work it out, find my style – prose poems got me a little closer,” Warrener writes in an interview with Alessandro Porco, who edited the book. “When it came to lyric, I wasn’t comfortable in the form – prose poetry loosened me up,” she says, explaining how she found a poetic voice she knew was hers. Considering that Hard Feelings is Warrener’s debut collection, her experimentation seems organic.

Three Deaths – Josip Novakovich Fiorentino’s fellow Concordia professor and celebrated author, Josip Novakovich, is the most seasoned writer in the line-up. His book, Three Deaths, is a triptych dealing with death and dying in his native Yugoslavia. Composed of “a personal essay, a short story, and a classic tale,” all three works tell the story of a death in the Novakovich family. Conservative and understated, the writing is the least experimental of the bunch, but Novakovich’s authorial voice is compelling in its quiet confidence. To the casual reader, Three Deaths is likely the most accessible of Snare’s line-up. Its major themes are near-universal: family, religion, death, and generational wars. Through this collection, Novakovich attempts to come to terms with the irrationality of death. At the end of the third act, he makes his way home after his mother’s funeral and hears a violinist playing in the street. He writes, “I loved the melodies slowing down, breaking down harmonies and keys, as though to say, the world is out of whack, it’s falling out of its orbit and straying, and it’s no longer turning on its axis.” Life and death are often absurd, and Novakovich manages to find, within that chaos, something beautiful.


14 Culture

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Happy birthday to art

CKUT pushes art’s boundaries in a celebration of the alternative art world Laura Chapnick Culture Writer

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dry sponge dropped in a bucket of water gave birth to art. So said French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou, when he and his followers declared January 17 to be the official birthday of art. Every year a bevy of artists and art lovers around the world relish in Filliou’s conjured holiday – for which he ambiguously did not give a year – in order to explore and evolve our notions of art, or simply to rejoice in the power art holds over the viewer. In 2007 CKUT radio decided to join the festivities and expose both McGill students and Montrealers to telecommunications art, and to unconventional art as a whole. CKUT’s Art’s Birthday Party encourages the McGill population to soak up various forms of art and immerse themselves in the independent art world. CKUT is giving an all day broadcast on art’s birthday, which hopes to acquaint the listener with sound art and its distinctiveness as an art form.

In celebrating art’s birthday, CKUT’s party will incorporate musical performances, a film room, installations, cake decorating and more. The party guarantees an experience of art that is lacking pretension; it publicizes an alternative variety of sincere and interesting artistic expression. For example, as CKUT’s Courtney Kirkby explains, there will be music performed by electric toothbrushes and sewing machines, a creative costume contest, and even an art of kissing booth. “It is important to extend art’s boundaries,” Kirkby said. This concept is exemplified by the audio art birthday card, which will play on a loop in the bathrooms, a segment of the evening that is unlikely to be expunged from one’s memory. At L’Envers, students will be able to discover the wonders of art in a fun loving atmosphere. CKUT describes the tone of the party to be “circus-esque and fun houselike,” a distinct departure from the haughty attitude too often associated with art institutions. Art’s birthday party is therefore the perfect opportunity to engage with art

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Advocating through art

But what does that mean? !an article a week, of about 600 words !freedom to post links, videos, and comments throughout the week !a dedicated section on our website, the widest-read in Canadian student journalism !a kegger in your honour* Send your pitches to

culture@mcgilldaily.com Please include: !a letter of intent, stating your theme !three writing samples, one of which should be your first column proposal

Submissions due midnight.

January 20

that does not take itself too seriously. As CKUT puts it, the party is for those who love art, who want to “make out with art.” One of CKUT’s goals in celebrating art’s birthday is to allow the McGill community to mingle with the wider art scene. Kirkby emphasizes the importance of creating a “bridge” between McGill students and the overarching Montreal community. To accomplish this, the all day broadcast on January 17 will incorporate sound artists from various stations and CKUT will be remixing the feed. As well, the station will be welcoming both amateur and professional sound artists to showcase their talents. Different from music or documentary style interviews, sound art is a form which explores the possibilities of the audio realm away from these typical radio approaches. From the broadcast to the party, this string of events will satisfy both the artsy eye and the merely curious. Expect a day full of surprises – at last year’s party, CKUT shocked guests when a woman dressed in a costume made entirely of sponges jumped into a large bathtub at midnight. This leap – a modern spin on Fillou’s

at

*we do not have a keg but if you do we will throw you a party.

Theatre Espace Libre’s newest production, a dramatic thriller entitled Nature morte dans un fossée, centers around an investigation into the mysterious death of a young girl and the subsequent discovery of unexpected connections between six seemingly isolated individuals. Raising serious questions as to what constitutes criminality, the play deals specifically with prostitution and the myths and prejudices surrounding it. In conjunction with the performance, Espace Libre is hosting two free educational events this week addressing these issues. The first activity is a panel discussion featuring Diane Matte, a community organizer for La concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (the Concerted Effort against Sexual Exploitation – CLES), and Léa Brière, a UQAM law student who is also a member of CLES’s youth committee, and serves as the “Minister” of Justice and Status of Women in the Quebec Youth Parliament. CLES is a coalition of individuals and organizations, including rape crisis advocates, sociologists, students, and street workers, who seek to raise awareness about the sex industry and how it causes and perpetuates violence against women. Matte acted, in many instances, as the organization’s spokesperson when the debate on prostitution was re-ignited by the Ontario Superior court’s historic decision to strike down three of Canada’s

inspiration for the holiday– encompasses an appreciation of the old yet a focus on the new and different, a celebration of the artistic frontier. As a result, CKUT does not wish to wash or scrub away art’s past, but to illuminate its present in a way that is anything but pretentious and clean.

sex trade laws this past fall. This decision also prompted Brière to respond by writing various articles on the subject. The second event is a screening of Le plus vieux mensonge du monde (“The oldest lie in the world”), a film produced by CLES to educate young adults about prostitution. Directed by award-winning documentarian Ève Lamont, the film follows two teenage girls as they learn about prostitution through the experiences of three other young women, ages 13, 15, and 21. Incorporating views from both remote and urban areas in Quebec and British Columbia, the film engages with the history of prostitution and present a broad picture of the various forms of sexual exploitation it promotes. It works to debunk the oft repeated notion that prostitution is the “oldest profession in the world” and that it therefore does not deserve critical examination. The film was designed as a prevention tool by CLES, fulfilling the organization’s mission to focus their awarenessraising and intervention activities on women’s personal experience in the sex trade. —Abby Plener

The panel discussion takes place on Thursday January 13, 6 p.m. Le plus vieux mensonge du monde is screening Saturday January 15, 6 p.m. Both events will take place at the Espace Libre theatre, located at 1945 Fullum near Métro Frontenac.

Olivia Messer | The McGill Daily

Events kick off January 15 at 8 p.m. at L’Envers and O’Supa, 185 Van Horne. Cost is on a sliding scale, $7 to $12. Tune in to CKUT 90.3 FM on January 17 between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. for the live broadcast.

CULTURE BRIEF


Culture

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

15

Draw it yourself

Cartoonist Lynda Barry on creation, imaginary friends, and mouldy basements.

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ynda Barry is a cartoonist, author, and teacher. Her recently ended comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek – syndicated for over twenty years – charted the lives of marginalized pre-teen Arna and her cousins. Despite often being humorous, the strip acted as a vehicle for social commentary on themes of intolerance and isolation. Barry has also written books – The Good Times are Killing Me was adapted into an off-Broadway musical play – and has published collections of her comics. Next Saturday she’ll be holding her workshop “Writing The Unthinkable,” and talking about her new book Picture This, a follow-up to 2008’s Eisner-award-winning What It Is.

The McGill Daily: An obvious sort of question is what is the creative process for you, but I don’t really like to ask what the creative process is for you because Picture This seems to be a reaction against the creative process. Lynda Barry: Oh no, no no no, not at all! No, I think it’s more like a playground for the creative process. Well actually, let’s find out what you mean by the creative process. MD: As in, you meticulously chart the course of learning that you can’t draw, and this seems to be a manual on how to accept that in terms of the exercises – in that most of them are based around letting the mind zone out and wander around. Like filling shapes with dots and tracing templates, rather than concretely thinking about what you’re producing. LB: Yeah. Well, to me, that is the creative process – it has something to do with the back of the mind coming forward. It’s not thinking very clearly. But it may be that I have a whole dif-

ferent idea of what that means. But it certainly is really different than planning things out. For me, the way that I start a new book is usually with a question. So with What It Is, the question was, what is the image? With this one it was, why do we stop drawing? So that’s how I started and I keep it really open-ended. The only thing I do when I work is that I do work for a certain amount of time every day, but other than that I just try to keep my hands moving, without thinking too hard about it. MD: Is there an autobiographical element to the books? In What It Is you use the first person a lot in giving an account of your childhood, whereas Picture This centres broadly around the characters Arna and Marlys, and their conspicuously absent mothers. Are the two themes connected in any way? LB: With What It Is I couldn’t figure out a way to tell that story without me being in it. In Picture This, I wanted to find some way where it wasn’t just me in it. Also, I had these characters Arna and Marlys who had always been in my comic strip, and when I quit doing my comic strip about a year and a half ago I wondered what was going to happen to them, whether they would show up. So they showed up here and I was really happy about that. MD: What led you to incorporate so many alter egos, for lack of a better word? LB: Oh you mean like the characters like the near-sighted monkey! MD: And Arna and the magic cephalopod, they all seem to be part imaginary friend and part selfcaricature. LB: It’s sort of like playing or toys, there’s a playfulness about it. When I’m drawing and messing around the characters make them-

Courtesy of Lynda Barry and Drawn and Quarterly

selves up, just like when kids are playing. If the book is modelled on anything at all, it’s modelled on what kids do when they’re bored or a certain kind of playing that goes on where kids will become really attached to stuffed animals or objects, and they are kind of like alter egos – I guess that’s what you’d call them – where they’re more like a container for something. So in this book it’s just really fun to have these characters that have been around for me for a while from my own life because I draw them a lot. But there is a whole lot of thinking that goes in to these books, I’ve gotta tell ya! MD: What’s the relationship between them and you as a selfportrait, who has such a presence in the books? LB: I don’t know... I definitely relate to [the near-sighted monkey] very much and I look a lot like her – but I don’t smoke. That was the fun thing with being able to have imaginary cigarettes instead of real ones. MD: This recurring image of the cigarettes, branded “Don’t” seems almost to be a character itself. LB: Yes, the “Don’t” cigarettes are a character. And you know what, thank you for saying that because I didn’t know how else to put it! But they are a character, that character of trying to convince you not to try something. I wanted to piggyback on the idea that everybody knows that smoking is bad for you, so I wanted to convey that maybe not drawing can be bad for you. MD: Both of the books are presented like scrapbooks with clippings from books and magazines

but re-formed into images that make you do a complete double-take. I’m looking now at a blue polar bear holding two rabbits in its humanoid arms. Where do you get this material from and how much thought goes into its reconstruction? LB: I’m kind of a paper-hoarder – anything that’s made of paper. I have a hard time throwing away. I’ve been collecting paper for a long time, piles of it. I live in the country in Wisconsin, I live on a farm, and our neighbours had an elderly aunt who passed and I went to help them clean out her place. In the basement there was a pile of paper almost as tall as I am and she’d just been stacking stuff for a really long time, and it had gotten wet, critters were running through it. They were going through it with shovels and putting it into garbage bags, and while I was helping I saw that a lot of these pieces of paper were children’s handwriting, or old magazines – even though it was in really bad shape I was able to take some of the garbage bags home with me. So images are from there, they’re from old magazines; they’re from old books that are falling apart. What I usually do when I work, again I keep a question in my mind. In both What It Is and in particular in Picture This there are probably, I don’t know, four more pages for every single page you see in the book. I just make lots and lots and lots of pictures without kind of knowing where they’re going or what it’s about. And eventually the book started to take shape but mostly it’s garbage. I mean I kind of wanted to make a book that was made out of stuff that was from the garbage, so that there wasn’t a feeling that I needed really, really fancy stuff

to make a book. MD: How would you like people to approach your books? I don’t expect that there is any one way, but is there an intentional self-help element in them? LB: There’s a hope that when people see the books they’ll start to itch to make something like it…that it makes people think about – without a lot of trying – makes people remember stuff about themselves and when they liked to make things. Because for most of us there was a period where we really did like to make things and we did it intensely, especially when we were little. MD: You’re doing a talk on Saturday at the Ukrainian Foundation, what can an audience expect? LB: It’s a talk and slideshow, and I’m mostly going to be talking about this whole idea of what an image is and the function that it serves. My feeling is that our work with images has an important biological function that has sort of been disregarded. So that’s what I’m going to be talking about, about my idea about how that in the same way our bodies have an immune system and a nervous system in order to keep our bodies healthy and alive, I feel that the arts are the corollary. —Compiled by Naomi Endicott “Writing The Unthinkable” will be held January 15, 6:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchison. Tickets are $5, available at lyndabarrymontreal.eventbrite. com. What it is and Picture This are available now at Drawn and Quarterly, 211 Bernard O.


16Culture

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Retrospective reflection Feminist artist from 70s does it with mirrors Christina Colizza

The McGill Daily

There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender...identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results. —Judith Butler

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n her 1990 book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler coined the term “gender performativity” – to describe the process by which men and women both create and reenact gendered norms. Butler’s seminal work, although groundbreaking, owes much to the work of the lesser known feminist and conceptual artist Martha Wilson, whose artwork investigated these issues twenty years earlier. In her early photography, Wilson uses makeup and clothing to play “dress-up” and explore her female subjectivity. “The Man,” “The Lesbian,” “The Housewife,” and “The Goddess” shot in Halifax, portray Wilson’s transformations between class, gender, and sexuality through the use of the camera lens as mirror. Such transitions are an integral part of Wilson’s forty-year career, now summed up in the retrospective “Staging the Self” at Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery. The exhibition presents Wilson’s career in three parts: a selection of her early solo photographic work; her work in the mid 1970s as a performance artist and member of the female

punk group DISBAND; and later as a director of the art collective Franklin Furnace. Concerned with the performative nature of femininity and all gender roles, Wilson’s film piece “Deformation” shows her transformation from attractive to ugly through makeup. Over the course of the film, bags develop under Wilson’s eyes, acne on her chin, and her hair is parted and greased. By the end of the film, the woman of the “before” period looks nothing like the aged and skin-pocked woman of the “after” shot. Wilson gives herself the antimakeover, satirizing the makeover culture women know all too well. This tongue-in-cheek performance elucidates one of Wilson’s most frequent themes: the idea that women’s external appearances do not perfectly correspond to their inner sense of self. This concept of the discrepancy between one’s outward appearance and their internal identity emerges again in a portrait Wilson comprised in the 1970s entirely of the features of other women. Using the cutout features of several different women, Wilson creates a new face, evacuated of personality and identity. These discarded facial features remind the viewer of the irrationality of the desire of another’s sleeker chin, blue eyes, or cute nose. Rather the photo emphasizes that our best features are the ones that we were born with. As well as examining the reflective abilities of photographs and films to look at oneself objectively, the portraits in Wilson’s piece “Composure:

Sarah Mortimer | The McGill Daily

Martha Wilson’s performance art challenges challenges the stability of appearances. Misery,” compare the differences in one’s expressions with and without the aid of a mirror. Although it is typically assumed that the best way to see oneself objectively is to look in a mirror, Wilson’s experiment proves this wrong. When taking photos both with and without a mirror, Wilson found that the photos she took without a mirror were more realistic. She explained that with the mirror her expressions were forced, whereas, without her expressions were truer. In her words, displayed on the wall of the exhibit, “My features are more responsive to internal “mirrors” than to real,

external mirrors.... To have composure is to be one’s own mirror.” The latter half of the exhibit covers Wilson’s career from 1976 onward as the creator and director of Franklin Furnace in New York City. A safe-haven for marginalized or “unpopular art,” Franklin Furnace is committed to serving emerging artists whatever the nature of their medium. “Staging the Self” exhibits many relics from the 1970s at the collective, showcasing the early works of now-famed artists such as Jenny Holzer, Shirin Neshat, and Ana Mendieta. With her ongoing work with

Those types of things

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am waiting for my bus to the hospital when I see her. Shuffling her feet forward and back in line for the restroom, biting her fingernails. Young eyed, face hard and rutted like a fist. Wears an old faux-fur coat, water-damaged nylons patched in silver tape. Small hands, fingers short, with sharp bits of hard keratin falling from her lips like pencil shavings. Shuffles out of line. She finds an empty cigarette pack on a bench by the payphones and fingers meticulously over the thin paperboard. Aluminum-paper lining tears easy, fingers every crevice of the casing: hunting. None left, anyone would have known at first glance, but still she keeps inspecting. I budge from my spot. “Cigarette?” I offer. She looks surprised by the gesture, perhaps also by my light-blue cotton uniform, white Keds tennis shoes. “Don’t smoke,” she says, smiling, touching her tongue to her nose. I think to ask about the box, but instead apologize, realizing only now how closely I have been watching. “You work at John Muir?” she says. I nod, smile.

“My boyfriend goes there for dialysis,” she says. “Kendel. You know him?” “I don’t know” I say, “I don’t…” “He’s the sweetest” she says, “but sick. Some days I ride the 51 all the way out there with him just so he’s got a bit of company.” Shift my weight to my good foot. Move my right hand in and out of my pocket. “But he’s so quiet about the whole thing,” she says. “Barely says a word. There’s something strange in it, ya know?” She sits with her back straight, her lap a pile of cigarette-box scraps, hands continuously ripping paperboard. Taps her feet lightly on the grey linoleum floor, peering around the busy terminal. “I’m sorry about your friend,” I say. “Those types of things can be very hard.” “They can be,” she says, standing, scattering scraps of paper. Looks me in the eye, then past me. “That’s me now,” she says, pointing at the #7 bus pulling up. “Oh.” Waves a small hand, fingernails bitten far back. Shuffles onto the bus. Morning passes slowly, uneventful. At noon I visit Patrick on the fourth floor. It is his fifth week here. I wheel him outside

to have a smoke. We sit facing the parking structure, holding hands, smoking. “What’s today’s news captain?” I say. Takes a deep drag and raises his eyebrows; shrugs. Finish the cigarettes. “Fettucini for lunch,” he says, “with mozzarella sticks.” I nod and stand to wheel him. “Geez, you tore your pack to bits Justine,” he says. “Look at it, all over the asphalt.” “Lunchtime,” I announce, already behind him, pushing. —Ariel Yehoshua

Inkwell

Franklin Furnace and continued solo performances, Martha Wilson remains an audible voice in the art world forty years after her beginnings in Halifax. If you’re interested in viewing Wilson’s work or simply getting a glimpse of life beyond facevalue, come hear the artist speak this Wednesday. “Staging the Self” is at the Leonard and Bina Gallery, 1400 Maisonneuve O., to February 19. Wilson and curator Peter Dykhuis will hold a tour of the exhibit on January 19 at 5 p.m., admission free.

And I’m giving you a longing look Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book Inkwell wants your creative writing! Submit short stories and poems to culture@ mcgilldaily.com - we’re always accepting your offerings. Word limit 500 words, or 50 lines.


Photo Essay

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

17

World Expo 2010 Shanghai

Andrea Zhu

Clockwise from the top left corner: the Luxembourg Pavilion, the Culture Centre, a performer of the Cirque du Soleil, opening fireworks display, an attendee with a bag purchased from the Canada Pavilion, a view from the top of the Saudi Arabia Pavilion To see more pictures, visit www.mcgilldaily.com/photos


Compendium!

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

Lies, half-truths, and the boiz are back in town

18

Piercing proves popular Conservative paper confuses body modification aficionados Télésphore Sansouci & MarieJosèphe Vaugeois The McGill Daily

M

cGill’s newest newspaper has taken advantage of the recent upswing in popularity of an arcane body-modification ritual, the Prince Albert. Within the first several hours of the online paper’s launch, the site received 800,000 hits from Google searches for “Prince Albert.” “I know it’s a strange choice for a conservative paper,” said editorin-chief Thorstein Wigglesworth, U1 Anthropology of Balls student, in an interview with this reporter. “But it actually refers to Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. “We’re trying to rep Victorian values.” “I think it’s fucking stupid,”

The Prince Albert Herald’s logo. Note the lack of a Prince Albert.

said Geneviève Bobowicz, U2 Medicine student. “I was looking for a dating site for WSMPA [Women who have Sex with Men with Prince Alberts] and I ran into this hogwash. “All I want is to play with the Prince’s Wand!” “Though I don’t like the things

crazy!” Since launch, the Prince Albert Herald has averaged 500,000 views a day. Five McGill students consider getting Prince Alberts each day; of those, three go through with it. Two of those three eventually have the piercing removed.

“All I want is to play with the Prince’s Wand!” Geneviève Bobowicz U2 Medicine student I see when I Google search for The Prince Albert, I am thrilled that there’s finally a conservative voice on campus!” exclaimed Barbara MacDonald, McGill parent. “But seriously, how you gonna pierce your urethra? That shit

Described by Wikipedia as “one of the more common male genital piercings,” the Prince Albert – or “PA” as its fans call it – “pierces the penis from the outside of the frenulum and into the urethra.” Courtesy of The Prince Albert Herald

Assassination / assassination attempt in Arizona

MINUS 100

Giffords still alive... but in critical condition One  year  since  the  Haiti  earthquake  –  pretty  much nothing’s changed

EVEN MINUS 300

Vacation’s over

EVEN

It’s fucking cold

MINUS 2

Days are getting longer though

PLUS  78

“Astronomers have restored the  original Babylonian zodiac,” reports  Gawker. I am now an Aries Wtf Ophiuchus???

TOTAL LAST FORTNIGHT’S TOTAL

EVEN MINUS 1 MINUS 325 MINUS 25

Welcome baaack! Tell us about your quality of life: compendium@ mcgilldaily.com. ART COMMENTARY

Straight White Male speaks out! “Untitled 1” An Engineering undergraduate and an Arts student c. 2010 Sharpie on blue bathroom stall 25in x 18in (63.5cm x 45.7cm) Trottier First Floor Women’s Washroom. Montreal, QC.

Here, a hopeful Engineering undergraduate has scrawled out the phrase, “Dear LIBERAL ARTS MAJORS, can I please get a Venti coffee w/ no foam? –Engineering Graduate.” In the unlikeliest of collaborations, an Arts student has eloquently posted his or her own blunt response: “RUDE.” The two were using different mediums, as the black sharpie of the former has a richer, darker, thicker style than the thin, faint response of the latter. The Arts student seems to have attempted to smudge the first four words of the Engineering student’s initial phrase to no avail, allowing us to become part of their frustration. The message remains clear, even through the smearing, and Arts students everywhere seem ready to fight back. —Bryanne Leeming

W

ill everyone please stop complaining about Carnival and listen to me? Who cares if your best friend made out with two girls in one night? What I want is a good night out, hanging out with my friends, and we just need to have really good conversations. The clubs are oppressive... oppressively loud! Ha, ha. Anyway, thanks for giving me all this space in the paper for my voice to be heard. It’s so hard for me to get people to listen.


19

The McGill Daily | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | mcgilldaily.com

volume 100 number 25

editorial 3480 McTavish St., Rm. B-24 Montreal, QC H3A 1X9 phone 514.398.6784 fax 514.398.8318 mcgilldaily.com coordinating editor

Emilio Comay del Junco coordinating@mcgilldaily.com coordinating news editor

Michael Lee-Murphy news editors

Rana Encol Henry Gass features editor

Niko Block

commentary&compendium! editor

William M. Burton

coordinating culture editor

Naomi Endicott culture editors

Oliver Lurz Sarah Mortimer science+technology editor

Vacant

health&education editor

Joseph Henry sports editor

Eric Wen

photo editor

Victor Tangermann illustrations editor

0livia Messer

production&design editors

Sheehan Moore Joan Moses copy editor

Courtney Graham web editor

Tom Acker cover design

Victor Tangermann le délit

Mai Anh Tran-Ho rec@delitfrancais.com Contributors

Amina Batyreva, Al Blair, Laura Chapnick, Christina Colizza, Flora Ourom Dunster, Erin Hudson, Humera Jabir, Alexander Kunev, John Lapsley, Bryanne Lemming, Zach Lewsen, Fabien Maltais-Bayda, Sam Neylon, Anna Norris, Abby Plener, Slawomir Poplawski, Peter Shyva, Melissa Wils-Owens, Arieh Yeshoshua, Andrea Zhu

EDITORIAL

Professors’ letter should spark university-wide solidarity Last October, posters encouraging course lecturers to unionize began to disappear from across campus. The removals followed an internal memo circulated to building directors on behalf of provost Anthony Masi, and resulted in a complaint to the Quebec Labour Board. Course lecturers, who perform many of the same duties as professors, live precariously on course-by-course contracts with no job security, earning $6,000 per course per semester. In what AGSEM claims as a victory for their union drive, salaries will be increasing to $7,200 over the next two years. Now, 26 retired and current professors from across five McGill faculties and ten departments have signed a letter in solidarity with the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), which would absorb course lecturers. Too often we think of faculty as having interests that are apart from those of other staff. This letter, then, is a rare example of activism across lines that can at times seem hard to cross and a strong show of support for a cause that desperately needs it. Even though the University administration tends to ignore the concerns of students and workers when the latter disagree with administration’s vision, professors’ views can carry more weight in institutional governance structures. Though regrettably not unionized, they have higher status within the university community. They’re the people who bring in research dollars, publish articles and books, and represent McGill at international conferences. When they speak out, they are more likely to force the administration into rethinking its actions. As the letter points out, course lecturers must be allowed to decide whether to form a union for themselves – free of harassment and with all the available information – if McGill is to be a democratic institution. In support of that goal, the leadership of two major teaching unions – the Canadian Association of Univeristy Teachers and the American Association of Univeristy Professors – have written letters urging course lecturers to exercise their right to form a union. Other faculty, students, workers, and members of the community should follow the example of these professors both at McGill and elsewhere, and speak out in encouragement of AGSEM. As the non-academic staff union, MUNACA, and the support employees union, AMUSE, enter into contract negotiations this year, hopefully academic staff will reach out to their non-academic counterparts just as tenured and tenure-track professors have supported their less permanent colleagues. It’s encouraging that faculty are speaking out for course lecturers, and that solidarity should extend to all university labourers – whether they be payroll clerks, janitors, or book menders – because they are all integral in the University’s functioning. With any luck this will be the start of professors – along with everyone else – speaking out about the direction McGill is heading.

The Daily’s Statement of Principles 2.1 The fundamental goal of The McGill Daily shall be to serve as a critical and constructive forum for the exchange of ideas and information about McGill University and related communities. The Daily is published on most Mondays and Thursdays by the Daily Publications Society, an autonomous, not-for-profit organization whose membership includes all McGill undergraduates and most graduate students.

3480 McTavish St., Rm. B-26 Montreal, QC H3A 1X9 phone 514.398.6790 fax 514.398.8318

Boris Shedov Pierre Bouillon Geneviève Robert Mathieu Ménard

2.2 Within this optic, the staff of The Daily recognizes that all events and issues are inherently political, involving relations of social and economic power. Further, we recognize that at present power is unevenly distributed, especially (but not solely) on the basis of gender, age, social class, race, sexuality, religion, disability, and cultural identity. We also recognize that keeping silent about this situation helps to perpetuate inequality. To help correct these inequities, to the best of its staff ’s abilities, The Daily should depict and analyze power relations accurately in its coverage.

advertising & general manager treasury & fiscal manager ad layout & design

dps board of directors

William M. Burton, Emilio Comay del Junco (chair@dailypublications.org), Humera Jabir, Whitney Mallett, Sana Saeed, Mai Anh Tran-Ho, Will Vanderbilt, Aaron Vansintjan

The Daily is proud to be a founding member of the Canadian University Press. All contents © 2010 Daily Publications Society. All rights reserved. The content of this newspaper is the responsibility of The McGill Daily and does not necessarily represent the views of McGill University. Products or companies advertised in this newspaper are not necessarily endorsed by Daily staff. Printed by Imprimerie Transcontinental Transmag. Anjou, Quebec. ISSN 1192-4608.

2.3 As an autonomous student newspaper, relatively free from commercial and other controls, The Daily can best serve its purposes by examining issues and events most media ignore. In particular, it should deal with the role post-secondary education plays in constructing and maintaining the current order. It should also assist students and other groups working for change in a critical framework, with the aim of empowering and giving a voice to individuals and communities marginalized on the basis of the criteria mentioned in section 2.2. The Daily’s methods should be both educative and active, and determined democratically by its staff. 2.4 Finally, we recognize that The Daily must remain accessible to the student community it comes from, and should abide by an ethic of fairness while maintaining its autonomy.

Olivia Messer | The McGill Daily


vol100iss25  
vol100iss25  

Volume 100, issue 25 of the McGill Daily.

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