The McGill Daily » News False twins since 1911 Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:30:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 PGSS Board of Directors censures Secretary-General, requests vote of confidence Mon, 08 Dec 2014 02:21:58 +0000 Grad students take action in support of fossil fuel divestment

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Having received multiple complaints from Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) staff, the PGSS Board of Directors has issued a motion of censure against Secretary-General Juan Camilo Pinto for “conduct unbecoming of an officer,” Council Director Régine Debrosse told PGSS Council at its December 3 meeting. The Board has also instructed the PGSS executive to take a vote of confidence on the continuation of Pinto’s mandate as Secretary-General.

Council also adopted a motion mandating PGSS to lobby the University to divest from fossil fuels, and former Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney announced that the court-ordered referendum on membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) will take place on January 15 and 16.

Censure of the Secretary-General

On November 13, the Board of Directors adopted a motion to censure the Secretary-General and withdraw all human resources (HR) responsibilities from him for the rest of his term. Debrosse explained that the decision followed complaints about Pinto’s conduct at several PGSS events from PGSS staff.

In delivering his report, Pinto gave his account of one of the events that led to the censure, which occurred at the PGSS Halloween party, and apologized for his behaviour.

“Two people […] were threatening staff members of PGSS,” said Pinto, and the police had been called. “I was at the party, and I had drunk a bit. When I saw five police officers entering, my first reaction – it’s part of my training – was to ask, ‘okay, why do we have five police officers here inside of [Thomson] House?’”

Pinto explained that, although the matter was being handled appropriately by PGSS staff, he intervened in the situation, persistently questioning a staff member “in a manner that is unbecoming of an officer of PGSS.”

“It’s clear that [Pinto] has been a very naughty boy on Halloween, but I think we’re going to see if we’re comfortable working with him on [December 10].”

“We received complaints following this event during Halloween,” Debrosse told Council. “We also received letters about other events that all pertain to management of staff and HR of PGSS.”

Graduate Law Students’ Association representative Eliza Bateman raised procedural concerns about the investigation, wondering if Pinto had a set time limit to respond to the complaints. Financial Affairs Officer and Board member Nikki Meadows responded that the decision was made in accordance with the bylaws, an opinion corroborated by Internal Director Ana Best in an interview with The Daily.

“The motion [of censure] was put on the agenda two days prior, so 48-hour notice as happens with any agenda item [as required by PGSS bylaws],” said Best. “It came with […] the document packet of statements [from PGSS staff] at that time.”

Pinto disagreed that due process had been followed. “This could have been dealt with in a very different way. […] I got two days to answer the accusations, I didn’t have time to [cross-examine the testimonies],” he told The Daily. “One of the principles of procedural fairness is that you have to face your accusers.”

Best noted that according to PGSS bylaws, Pinto could have sought Council’s support in contesting the Board’s decision, but chose not to.

As provided by the censure motion, the PGSS executive will hold a vote of confidence in the Secretary-General on December 10. Although the vote is not binding, the Board of Directors, which does have the power to remove the Secretary-General from office, will take the result of the executive’s vote into consideration.

External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet told The Daily that, although he had some concerns with Pinto’s work as Secretary-General, he remained undecided on the vote.

“I’m monitoring [the Secretary-General’s] progress and I can see that there’s been some improvements, but there’s still some things that I find require major improvement,” said Ouellet. “I just want to give him the benefit of the doubt and look at all the facts that have been accumulated [in the past] month. It’s clear that he’s been a very naughty boy on Halloween, but I think we’re going to see if we’re comfortable working with him on [December 10].”

Internal Affairs Officer Gesa, to whom Pinto’s HR responsibilities have been transferred, noted that he was generally satisfied with Pinto’s work.

“I think he’s given his best to do it, and there are accomplishments,” said Gesa. “I think he’s doing his job quite well. Of course […] no one’s never going to drop the ball.”

Meadows refused to say how she felt before the vote had taken place. “The Secretary-General has until December 10 to convince me one way or the other.”

CFS referendum date

On September 9, the Superior Court of Quebec mandated CFS to hold a referendum on whether or not PGSS members should remain members of CFS. PGSS first voted to leave CFS in 2010, but CFS refused to recognize the results of the referendum.

At Council, Mooney announced that the referendum will be held via paper ballots on January 15 and 16 at a number of polling stations on and off campus.

“[This] dispute has cost over $300,000, and it is very important that people realize that the vote coming up in January is a critical vote to finally bring clarity to the situation, and to determine, once and for all: are PGSS members part of CFS, or are they not,” said Mooney.

The campaign period for the referendum will begin on January 5, and the CFS bylaws prohibit campaigning before that date.

Divestment from fossil fuels

Biology Graduate Students Association representative and Divest McGill member Victor Frankel presented a motion mandating PGSS to lobby the University to divest its holdings in companies engaged in fossil fuel production.

“I think everybody recognizes that climate change is the central issue of our time. It’s a complex issue because it involves financial interests as well as public interests,” said Frankel.

The motion calls on PGSS to actively lobby for divestment at the Board of Governors, Senate, and other governing bodies, and mandates the External Affairs Officer to bring a motion to initiate a divestment campaign to the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), the student federation to which PGSS belongs.

“If, as a reactionary measure, fossil fuel companies threaten to sever […] connections that they may have with our university, I’d say: good riddance.”

Several councillors spoke in favour of the motion. Debrosse said that the motion was particularly “bold,” and asked “what the devil’s advocate would say in this situation.”

“If by the devil you mean the fossil fuel companies […] I would agree that we are sacrificing potential corporate relations,” said Frankel. “If, as a reactionary measure, fossil fuel companies threaten to sever financial support for the engineering department or any other connections that they may have with our university, I’d say: good riddance.”

Mining and Materials Graduate Engineering Student Association representative Frédéric Voisard took issue with Frankel’s response, arguing that Frankel seemed to be disrespecting students in engineering who work toward making fossil fuel combustion processes more efficient, and thus less harmful.

Frankel then agreed to add a clause to the motion in support of students and faculty “involved in the amelioration of issues with emissions related to fossil fuels” as a friendly amendment. The motion then passed.

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Examining the right to die Mon, 01 Dec 2014 02:05:57 +0000 Law students host discussion on physician assisted-suicide, Bill 52

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Last Wednesday, the McGill Journal of Law and Health hosted an event titled “Physician Assisted Suicide and Bill 52: A Discourse” at Chancellor Day Hall. The event featured a discussion between Daniel Weinstock, a law professor at McGill, and Patrick Vinay, the former dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Université de Montréal, on the controversial Bill 52.

Entitled “An Act respecting end-of-life care,” the bill was passed into law by the Quebec National Assembly in June, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in the province of Quebec. Quebec became the first province to legislate the right to assisted suicide in Canada.

Weinstock, a member of the Royal Society of Canada expert panel on end-of-life decision making, defended Bill 52 on moral grounds.

He first argued that we must situate physician-assisted suicide as part of a continuum of end-of-life care along with palliative care – or care that relieves symptoms, as opposed to the actual ailment – as specified by Bill 52. He clarified that “requests for euthanasia come at the very end of that continuum for a very restricted pool of patients” only after palliative care has exhausted its viable options.

Patients then must also be sufficiently competent in their decision-making abilities. This “autonomy-based justification” of physician-assisted suicide is Weinstock’s main argument for Bill 52, and he argued that the right to make momentous life decisions by ourselves as autonomous citizens, including how one should die, follows the spirit of Canada’s constitution.

In contrast, the UK justifies its assisted suicide practices on a “well-being justification,” which states that life should be lived at a certain quality, which is not met by the suffering of the terminally ill. The problem Weinstock identified in this case is that a third party makes the call for euthanasia, maybe a health expert or a judge, which takes the decision away from the patient. This approach is incompatible with the value we give to autonomy embodied in the constitution of Canada.
As an involved member of the drafting of the bill, Weinstock finally praised the process as “exemplar law-making” involving “intense democratic debate and deliberation.”

Vinay challenged Bill 52 from the perspective of doctors in charge of palliative care. He believed the criteria specified in Bill 52 for physician-assisted suicide are difficult to enforce, such as incurability and suffering. It is never certain that the illness is incurable, and suffering is always subjective and in flux.

Speaking in French, he argued that the law will also be encroaching on the “professional liberty of exercising medicine,” by subjecting doctors to either assist the patient in dying, or referring the patient to another doctor who is willing to assist them.

Moreover, euthanasia, an irreversible act depending solely on the patient’s competent decision, is against the essence of practicing medicine in palliative care, which is continuous engagement with the patients, said Vinay.

“We must have trust and faith in the practice of medicine rather than surrendering to physician-assisted suicide,” Vinay concluded.

Even though many audience members differed on their opinions on Bill 52, the question-and-answer period was conducted respectfully, with no major tensions between opposing sides. The audience members were also diverse in their educational or professional backgrounds, and each found Bill 52 to be relevant for different reasons.

“For students in the faculty of law, it is important for us to explore these ethical questions,” Kendra Levasseur, a co-host of the event and a first-year law student, told The Daily.

Diana, a first-year nursing student, found the event particularly relevant to her program. “At the end of the day, who is going to be administering the shot?” she told The Daily.

Massimo Orsini, a co-host of the event and a first-year law student, summed up the event. “I think this is a pertinent issue, since we are always talking about the intersection of law, politics, healthcare, and health policy,” said Orsini. “It’s always important to realize how certain theoretical issues actually influence tangible legislation that has real and profound impacts on human beings and society.”

Current situation of Bill 52

Bill 52 has yet to be fully implemented, and is currently facing legal challenges from Quebec-based movements who argue on federal grounds that it infringes sections of the Criminal Code and section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life.

Its fate is also pending on the Supreme Court hearing of an appeal of the separate case of Carter v. Canada (Attorney General). In the Carter case, the Supreme Court of British Columbia (B.C.) originally ruled in 2012 that outlawing assisted suicide violated the rights of the terminally ill Gloria Taylor, and thus is unconstitutional.

The trial decision was appealed by the federal government, and subsequently overturned by the B. C. Court of Appeal in 2013, which upheld the existing prohibition on assisted suicide. This decision was in turn appealed and is now in the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada, which began its hearing this October.

The Supreme Court decision on Carter v. Canada is expected to be released to the public in several months.

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Grad students decry increased workload, decreased hours for TAs Sat, 29 Nov 2014 14:57:32 +0000 AGSEM negotiates collective agreement in the face of budget cuts

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Around thirty graduate students rallied at the Y-intersection on Thursday afternoon to support their union’s demands in negotiations with the University about the teaching assistants’ (TAs) collective agreement. After its old agreement expired in June, AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union, which represents TAs and invigilators, is now pushing for protection of TA working conditions and improved quality of education for undergraduate students.

A leading grievance is that while McGill has increased student enrolment, it has reduced the number of TAs. AGSEM argues that TAs are often expected to work more than their allotted hours, and maintains that the University should provide more TA hours to guarantee educational standards, despite provincial cuts to education funding.

“I was speaking with a member just now [who said that] the course that he and his colleague are working for, as teaching assistants […] has something like 150 students, [but only] 3 TAs. A couple of years ago, that was 5 TAs,” said AGSEM President Justin Irwin.

“The amount of work that has to be done isn’t being decreased, it’s staying the same, or it’s increasing,” he added. “So the main thing we’re fighting for is […] to protect not only our members and their employment, but also the quality of education here.”

On top of an increase in TA hours and protection from unpaid work, AGSEM is bargaining over a salary boost. TA salaries have effectively been sliding for years: according to AGSEM promotional literature, McGill awarded TAs a 1.2 per cent pay increase last year, which is below the 2 per cent rate of inflation.

Eden Glasman, a Masters student in English, agreed that TAs are in an unenviable position. “You can’t help feeling that […] graduate students are used to the convenience of the institution in a way that’s not ideal.”

In addition to beginning negotiations with the University over pay conditions in the upcoming months, AGSEM will also argue that the standard of education at McGill will suffer unless cuts to teaching support are reversed. Angela Kalyta, a member of the AGSEM bargaining committee and a PhD candidate in Sociology, addressed the assembled students over a megaphone.

“All of us are familiar with this kind of thing: grading papers without giving a lot of comments, doing it really quick, stuff like that. Undergrads don’t like that, undergrads want better quality education, they want conferences with less than seventy people in them – but we can’t do that unless we have more hours,” said Kalyta.

Irwin also spoke to the crowd, expressing his frustration that McGill has chosen not to publicly condemn the current provincial budget cuts, even though it opposed the Parti Québécois cuts to higher education in 2013. He stated that “responsible belt-tightening” was McGill’s new “party line,” and urged union members to dispute it.

“I think our university should stand up to the province and say that they’re not okay with the cuts that are being proposed, like they did before when the PQ were in power,” Sunci Avlijas, a graduate student in Biology, told The Daily. “But now all of a sudden because the Liberals are in power they’re okay with it. […] How does that make any sense?”

“I hope that the administration will agree with us that [the proposed TA collective agreement] is a priority for our university and our community,” Avlijas continued. “But I hope that our fellow teaching assistants will agree that we have to protect the quality [of education] whatever it takes – even if that is a strike.”

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#BlackLivesMatter: Montreal stands with Ferguson Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:12:13 +0000 1,000 gather for vigil organized by McGill Black Students’ Network

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Members of the McGill community gathered on Tuesday evening at Lower Field to express their solidarity with the ongoing demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, and to mourn Michael Brown and other victims of police violence against racialized communities.

The event followed the November 24 announcement of a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August. The news sparked a wave of popular outrage, and hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and social media to protest the decision. Monday night’s demonstrations in Ferguson saw violent police repression, with heavily-armed police tear-gassing protesters.

The hour-long candlelit vigil, organized by the McGill Black Students’ Network (BSN), drew nearly 1,000 attendees from the McGill and Montreal community. Solidarity rallies took place in many other Canadian cities, with around 2,000 participating in Toronto and hundreds in Ottawa and Calgary.

“In light of the recent verdict not to indict Darren Wilson, and the death of Mike Brown, BSN is basically just creating a space […] to make an address and allow people to express their love for Ferguson and […] their support to the ongoing efforts [there],” said BSN VP External Maya Taylor.

Indeed, the atmosphere at the vigil was subdued, with people talking quietly or simply standing in contemplative silence.

“I have a 12-year-old nephew in Washington, D.C.. […] My mother is there, my siblings are there, my nephew is there, and there’s nothing telling me that they will still be there [when I get home].”

Speaking to The Daily anonymously, several of those present shared their frustration with the systematized racial inequality in American society, and spoke to an urgent need for positive change.

“I think that everyone feels wrong about this,” said one student. “This shows us that our justice system isn’t reflecting our moral values […] because if this is such a huge thing […] then obviously the laws aren’t reflecting what the public wants.”

“I’m from America,” said another. “We had 250 years of slavery, we had 60 years of Jim Crow in the South, our parents were born and there was segregation, and people in our country – people that I went to high school with – don’t believe that they have any privilege; [they believe] that they have equal opportunities with African Americans in our country. That’s pretty dumb.”

Shortly after the gathering began, executives from BSN, as well as other campus organizations such as the McGill African Students Society and the Caribbean Students Society addressed the crowd. In a series of emotional speeches, they expressed the groups’ profound grief and disappointment with the grand jury’s decision, and urged those assembled to remember that Michael Brown’s shooting was not simply an isolated incident.

“It is important for all of us here to realize that these instances of injustice are not isolated to Ferguson, Missouri, or to the U.S., but are seen and experienced by black people and other visible minorities within our geographical borders,” said one executive, prompting applause from the crowd. “We are here to declare that black lives matter […] and to pay our respects to all of our fallen brothers and sisters.”

Montrealers have drawn comparisons between Brown’s death and the 2008 shooting of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva by Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) officer Jean-Loup Lapointe.

After the organizers’ speeches, a brief list of black victims of police violence was read aloud, followed by four minutes of silence.

Before the gathering dispersed, a number of other students addressed the group to share feelings of grief, messages of encouragement, and poetry. Many of those gathered joined in singing “Amazing Grace” in memory of Brown as well as North America’s countless other victims of racial oppression and violence.

“It is important for all of us here to realize that these instances of injustice are not isolated to Ferguson, Missouri, or to the U.S., but are seen and experienced by black people and other visible minorities within our geographical borders.”

One student, speaking anonymously to the crowd, stressed the importance of acknowledging the fear that the grand jury’s decision had awakened in many.

“Last night, while everyone was watching the live cast […] I just stood there in front of the screen and cried,” the student said. “I have a 12-year-old nephew in Washington, D.C.. That is one of the most concentrated populations of black people in the U.S.. I honestly don’t want to go home for Christmas. My mother is there, my siblings are there, my nephew is there, and there’s nothing telling me that they will still be there [when I get home].”

“I just want to say that this moment here is the proudest I’ve ever been to be a McGill student on this campus,” said another speaker. “To see people of different backgrounds, different colours, different beliefs, all gathered here to say that oppression is wrong wherever it exists is a very powerful message.”

The speaker continued, “This campus also fought oppression during the [South African] apartheid regime, Montreal also fought oppression during the civil rights movement, and so inasmuch as oppression still occurs today […] it’s so important for us, as university students, to have the courage and the strength to come together and continue to say ‘no.’”

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Cuts to services worry student senators Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:09:25 +0000 Challenges to come for research institute’s transition to new Glen site

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The University Senate convened for its third meeting of the year on November 19, discussing potential cuts to student services, community engagement and out-of-classroom learning, and the effect on graduate students of the planned move of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) to the Glen site superhospital in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Cuts to student services

In her opening remarks, Principal Suzanne Fortier informed Senate that McGill’s share of the second round of mid-year cuts to the Quebec university system, announced by Provost Anthony Masi last month, will be $4.8 million.

In a written response to a question from Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan and Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, Masi indicated that “some programs requiring matching funds from the University’s operating budget will have to be postponed, reduced, or cut in light of cuts to our funding.”

Because Masi was not present at the meeting, Fortier responded on his behalf to a follow-up question from Greenspon regarding student consultation.

“There will be consultation with the students on any of the services currently offered that might be affected by the cuts,” she said.

However, Fortier was unable to answer more specific questions from student senators regarding which services are likely to be cut.

“We’re not yet at this level of details in our analysis of the impact of these cuts that we can say precisely what would be the level of any reduction,” she said.

Fortier also touched on the issue of sexual assault in her remarks, noting “the importance […] to provide a respectful and safe environment for members of our community.”

Community engagement and out-of-classroom learning

Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rose Goldstein presented the report of the November 4 Joint Board-Senate meeting on community engagement through research and innovation.

Stewart-Kanigan noted that many student senators took issue with the event’s focus on industry despite its promotion as community engagement-centred, and with the elimination of the question period.

Medicine Senator David Benrimoh also criticized the fact that “the most important thing echoed at every single table […] the importance of community agenda-setting” was not reflected accurately in the report.

A statement detailing student senators’ concerns has been published on SSMU’s website.

Senate also held an open discussion on out-of-classroom learning and research internships.

Many student senators brought up the importance of both remunerating and crediting out-of-classroom research internships to ensure their accessibility. “It’s really important to allow these opportunities for students who may not be able to access them due to financial needs,” said Arts Senator Kareem Ibrahim.

Arts Faculty Senator Catherine Lu disagreed, arguing that it is unclear whether students deserve credit for what they learn in an internship, and that out-of-classroom learning is valuable for students even if it is not credited.

Dean of Students André Costopoulos countered that, in arguing for formal acknowledgement of out-of-classroom learning,  “[students] are responding to real-world pressure” from graduate schools and employers.

Concerns with MUHC transition to Glen site

Seeking to address graduate students’ concerns about office and lab space at the MUHC’s new Glen sitew, Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) senators submitted a question about plans to ensure that graduate students have appropriate working space, and on whether student support staff would also be moved to the new site. The RI-MUHC is set to move to the Glen site in February 2015.

In his written response, Dean of Medicine David Eidelman stated that “it is the responsibility of each PI [principal investigator] to ensure that [their] graduate students […] are allocated appropriate working spaces.”

PGSS Senator Rui Hao Wang noted that, according to an internal MUHC memo, not all PIs will be eligible for working space, and further noted that support staff are supposed to move to a section of the site that has not yet been built.

Eidelman said that the University is working to resolve the issues, and instructed students to direct concerns to their graduate program supervisors. He explained that less space was secured than had been planned, and that the government has retroactively imposed restrictions on its use.

Student discipline

Costopoulos presented the 2013-14 report of the Committee on Student Discipline, which contains the data on disciplinary offences for the year.

“An indicator that our system actually works as a pedagogical system is that the number of second offences is extremely low,” said Costopoulos in response to a question on support resources from SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa. “We follow students afterwards […] we extend support as an outcome of the disciplinary process.”

Senate also approved a set of guidelines to harmonize definitions of academic entities (such as “Insitute” or “Group”) and a set of clarifications to regulations on sabbaticals and leaves of absence for academic staff.

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Confronting misogynoir in popular media Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:07:13 +0000 Panelists discuss stereotypes, hypersexualization of black women

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On November 14, the Black Students’ Network (BSN) hosted a discussion titled “My Anaconda Don’t: Misogynoir, Hypersexualization, and Black Feminism.” Attended by about 200 students, many of whom were people of colour, the event featured the screening of music videos as well as a discussion focused on black feminism and “misogynoir,” a term coined by queer black feminist Moya Bailey that refers to anti-black misogyny. Misogynoir is based on the inter-workings of race and gender in the oppression of black women.

“We want to tackle the issue [of misogynoir and the perception of black women’s bodies in the media] because […] a lot of people won’t realize that these things are offensive, and the history, and background that they have, and their oppressive nature, so that’s something also that we’re going to hit on,” said BSN Political Coordinator Isabelle Oke.

Oke began by providing some contextualization for the discussion. She explained that the institution of slavery is at the root of many of the problems that black women currently face. Black women were seen as the property of the slave masters, Oke explained; they were exploited and dehumanized, which led to assault and abuse.

“When it comes to the case of sexual assault, society propagates this stereotype in order to create doubt on [the woman’s] credibility,” said Oke.

Attendees viewed and discussed three pop song video clips from popular songs: “Anaconda” by black American rapper Nicki Minaj, “Pu$$y” by white Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, and “Hard Out Here” by white British singer Lily Allen.

One of the major discussion points surrounding Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” the first clip shown, was whether her depiction of sexuality in the video was empowering or objectifying.

One audience member said that Minaj “reclaims” her sexuality in the video, by showing her “big butt” even though it may be shocking.

“Is she really celebrating her sexuality, or is she buying into this trope of strong, black women with a predatory sexuality […] copying the way men have exerted this sort of predatory sexuality against women, rather than exploring something that is truly new and truly unique?” asked another student.

Many argued over whether this music video was made to appeal to heterosexual men. Students argued that this could be the case, considering that the video was directed by Colin Tilley, a young, white, male director from California.

The next media clip shown was “Pu$$y” by white rapper Iggy Azalea. Participants criticized the music video for its objectification of black women and appropriation of black culture, as well as the hypersexualization of the young child in the clip, who is depicted riding a rocking horse and clinging to Azalea with his legs around her neck.

The video at one point also depicts the child holding a toy gun, and other men in the film wearing shirts with the words “drugs not hugs,” which the attendees criticized as perpetuating stereotypes of young, black males being associated with crime.

Furthermore, students questioned why some of these hip hop music genre tropes that have been around for years are suddenly desirable when they are used by white female artists.

Lastly, a clip of white singer Lily Allen’s  “Hard Out Here” music video clip was shown to the attendees. Allen attempts to tackle misogyny and societal pressures on body image; however, some in the audience criticized the video because Allen assumes a sense of superiority over the backup dancers, who were mostly people of colour in the video. She is fully clothed, while the backup dancers aren’t, and she also says phrases such as “don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain” within the song.

BSN VP internal Richenda Grazette called the event a success, as an unexpected amount of students were present in the lecture hall and an active discussion was held.  The discussion still continued on the event page on Facebook, and according to their page, the BSN is already planning similar events and discussions that will be held in the future.

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Remembering the Sikh genocide Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:07:02 +0000 Concordia Sikhs host discussion of the events of 1984

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Warning: This article contains discussion of graphic violence and rape.

On November 13, the Concordia Sikh Students Association held an event to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the 1984 Sikh genocide, during which thousands of Sikhs in India were killed and displaced from their homes. Around twenty people, most of whom were Sikh, attended the event, which featured screenings of short films followed by a discussion.

Two of the videos shown described the events of 1984, when, in June, the Indian government enacted Operation Blue Star, a military operation intended to “break the backbone” of Sikh ‘separatists.’ It ordered the bombing of a prominent gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) and the massacre of the people inside, under the guise of combating a separatist, terrorist movement in the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab.

The following November, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. In response to the assassination, anti-Sikh mobs engaged in a genocide of approximately 30,000 Sikhs.

Participant experiences and collective knowledge

Many attendees had relatives in India at the time, and some described how their families had been directly affected by the events of 1984.

One participant said that her family lived in South Delhi at the time, and, for three weeks, did not leave their house, during and after the period of genocide. When they did go outside they saw that the gutters were filled with bodies.

“[The bodies] were dismembered, but the only thing you could tell was you could see kara [a metal bracelet Sikhs wear] and you could see the person had long hair.” She said they were left for around two or three months.

“My family had Hindu neighbours and tenants, so when the mob did come, when they were passing the street, these guys stood in front of the gate and warded [the mob] off,” said one participant.

Some of the videos played reflected participants’ experiences, as they depicted refugee camps filled with Sikhs displaced by the genocide, many covered in burns where mobs had poured kerosene on them and tried to light them on fire. Another video showed the aftermath of the genocide twenty years later, speaking to women in the “Widow Colony,” in Western New Delhi, where impoverished women whose husbands and children were killed in the genocide still live today.

All of the videos shown said that, in addition to the systematic killing of Sikh men, women, and children, Sikh women and girls were also targeted with sexual violence – many of the women who survived the genocide were raped while their husbands and children were killed.

An elder Sikh man present at the discussion, whom everyone at the discussion referred to as “uncle,” explained that the tensions between Sikhs and Hindus dated back to the independence of India from British colonial rule. He said that, when India received its independence from Britain, the Hindus asked the Sikhs to remain a part of India instead of splitting into their own country.

Sikh leaders sat down with prominent Hindu figures, including Mahatma Gandhi, and were promised that the Punjab would be an independent state. However, many at the discussion said that the Sikhs suffered great oppression as a minority: they were paid very little for their agricultural products, they had limited access to clean water, they were not allowed to list Punjabi as their first language, and they were forced to adopt Hindu customs.

According to one participant, the Indian government unofficially facilitated the genocide, sending buses full of jailed criminals, who were promised shorter sentences in exchange for their participation, to villages for the purpose of killing the Sikhs.

The prisoners were provided with addresses, voting lists, and other government information, and were authorized to stop trains to look for, and murder, Sikh passengers. Civilians were also encouraged to kill the Sikhs, storming their houses as police turned a blind eye.

Legacy of the 1984 genocide

Speaking to the legacy of the genocide, many agreed that it is important to raise awareness of it, and spoke against “forgiving and forgetting” the past. One participant noted that the Indian government actively tries to hide the truth from the general public.

“One thing I find that’s very shocking is, when you go to India and you look at their history textbooks in high school, even at the university level, there’s no mention of it at all, like absolutely none,” she said.

The uncle brought up the point that, while the Indian government may not want the world to know about what happened, the presence of the Widow Colony serves as a constant reminder for Sikhs about the injustice they still face, and may be intended to prevent further Sikh mobilization and activism.

Some mentioned the immense danger of speaking about the oppression of Sikhs in India. The uncle told the story of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights activist who was extremely vocal about the Sikh children who went missing in the years following the genocide.

Khalra discovered the cremation of around 25,000 unidentified Sikh bodies by the Indian government, and presented his findings to the Indian high court. In 1995, Khalra left India and traveled around Canada to present his findings. According to the uncle, Khalra returned to India knowing it would be a threat to his life, and within 15 days of his arrival, he was abducted by the police and killed.

Some said they had not known much about the genocide prior to attending to the discussion, or knew other Sikhs who knew nothing or were misinformed of the events. The information on the genocide has been coming out recently, and much is still not known, as the Indian government continues to cover up its actions.

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Deputy Provost shows no support for student-run food services Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:03:40 +0000 Councillors talk student engagement, reopening Redpath doors

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On November 20, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened to discuss the creation of a student engagement committee as well as student demand for reopening the Redpath Library doors. Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, who was present as a speaker, was also thouroughly questioned by Council about his commitment to food services on campus.

Dyens on food services

In his presentation, Dyens discussed his role as Deputy Provost, and spoke to the necessity of “finding a way to work together” with SSMU. A lot of the discussion surrounded the current food services on campus and student dissatisfaction about what is provided.

Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke asked Dyens about the lack of affordable food options on campus. “I know that’s a big issue for students,” said Dyens, going on to emphasize that McGill’s concern is directed toward “health and better food options.”

“We have fair-trade food now,” said Dyens, referring to the recent replacement of the Tim Hortons in the Redpath Library with a Première Moisson outlet. “Tim Hortons is a large corporation; it has no fair trade.”

VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette and VP Finance and Operations Kathleen Bradley both questioned Dyens on his support for student-run services. Dyens denied having ever claimed to support student-run services and told Council that the McGill administration is “not for these things.”

Moustaqim-Barrette asked Dyens whether his duty in a position representing students to the administration wasn’t “to represent the interest of students who are overwhelmingly in favour of student-run food services.”

“I represent the students, but we also have a business relationship,” Dyens responded.

Bradley was not satisfied with Dyens’ answers to the questions posed at Council.

“I think he is still new in his role and has a lot to grow,” she told The Daily. “Regardless of administrative difficulties, he is supposed to be the person who advocates on the behalf of students […] he has not demonstrated that in any capacity that I have worked with him.”

Creation of a student engagement committee

A motion was brought forth for the creation of an ad-hoc committee for student engagement, to be charged with identifying areas of miscommunication and improve SSMU’s communications strategy.

“It’s super important to create this committee because there’s a lot of rampant misinformation going about campus, and I think it’s our duty to address that and explore as many communication channels as possible,” Arts Representative Lola Baraldi, one of the movers, told The Daily.

Science Representative Omar El-Sharawy spoke strongly against the motion. “I have six hours of office hours per week and not a single member tries to come to me,” he said. “If [the constituents] want to be represented right, they need to put in the effort.”

“This committee is not for the purpose of re-identifying how SSMU communicates, but rather looking at a vision for how things can work in the future,” argued VP Internal J. Daniel Chaim.

Rourke expressed hope that the committee would improve SSMU’s response to “controversy on campus.”

“That is one thing we’ve failed to do,” said Rourke. “We communicate the least when we need to communicate the most.”
The motion passed.

Reopening the Redpath Library doors

Council also passed a motion calling on VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan to “prioritize the reopening of the Redpath doors in her negotiations with the McLennan-Redpath Library.”

Moustaqim-Barrette, one of the movers, told The Daily that the issue had been brought to her attention by a student, Alexander Elias, who started a petition and a Facebook group to gather student support for reopening the doors, which currently only function as an emergency exit.

“[This motion is] something that is a direct response from student needs and wants and motivations, [and] a great demonstration of SSMU being open, responsive, and efficient in addressing student needs,” Bradley said during the discussion.

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New position addresses equity in computer science Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:03:18 +0000 Since the creation of the Computer Science Undergraduate Society (CSUS) VP Diversity position […]

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Since the creation of the Computer Science Undergraduate Society (CSUS) VP Diversity position last September, the current co-holders of the position, Computer Science students Pascale Gourdeau and Gabriela Stefanini, have been aiming to make the program more inclusive for individuals of all identities and backgrounds through different events on campus.

The new role was created after a CSUS Facebook post proposing a VP Diversity position turned into a long thread with more than 200 comments. The suggestion initially came from an article on women in technology that was shared earlier in the same group.

“The position was put into place in order to create a space where there could be dialogue about [diversity] issues outside of Facebook, and because there was little mutual understanding [in the comments] about those issues,” Gourdeau said.

The co-holders of the VP Diversity position still rely on Facebook to promote their events, share resources, and receive feedback. They created a new Facebook group called “Diversity @ SOCS [the School of Computer Science],” on which they have successfully advertised four events so far.

While their first event served as an introduction to the position and a discussion of future ideas, their second event tackled the issue of inclusivity in the hacking community.

The attendees ended the meeting with a list of suggestions to McGill’s own hackathon, McHacks, an event that gathers programming enthusiasts to create small programs, such as computer and phone apps, in a limited amount of time. Suggestions included the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the conduct of these events, as well as the introduction of forms for attendees to fill out anonymously at the end of a hackathon to disclose how inclusive they thought it had been. “This creates accountability,” Gourdeau said.

The third event, on integrating humanities into computer science, also led to some new tasks. Computer Science students now add the names of researchers that they find in the Montreal area who are integrating computer science and humanities to a shared document. Researchers chosen from this list will be invited to give a talk about their work at a Computer Science Colloquium, a SOCS-organized event series.

The most recent event that the VPs co-hosted, the Computer Science Women Mixer, was organized by U3 Computer Science student Lei Lopez.

She said she got the idea when a professor pointed out that a lot of female students who are interested in computer science don’t end up pursuing it.

“[T]he female-male ratio in COMP 202, the introductory computer science class, is around one to one. However, in the actual program, the ratio is more like one to four. I think that having female peers and role models can encourage women in those classes to stay in computer science,” she told The Daily in an email.

Gourdeau is currently working on making graphs for women’s enrollment numbers in computer science.

“Sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and ethnicity [information] is not available. That’s a challenge,” she said.

Another challenge is the future of the VP Diversity position. U3 Computer Science student Emily Sager expressed concern that the position could be taken over by a hostile CSUS member.

“It is a little dangerous to have a VP Diversity position, because when it first came about, some people popped up saying, ‘I’ll be VP Diversity and do nothing,’” Sager told The Daily.

To mitigate the problem, the current VPs have made attending at least one anti-oppression workshop mandatory to hold the position in the future. Anyone who fails to fulfill this requirement will have to step down.

During their time in office, Gourdeau and Stefanini want to change the name of the position to Equity Commissioner to reflect the pattern on campus, and organize new events, including a diversity tech talk with Google engineers and a recruitment event targeting different underrepresented groups.

Stefanini told The Daily in an email that “writing news articles about technology companies in Montreal, both corporations and startups, and finding how they [are] tackling diversity issues and creating a more diverse workforce” is also on the VPs’ agenda.

“Bringing the [diversity] discussion to the forefront helps us inform people, decreasing discrimination at McGill, and hopefully also in both industry and academia,” she added.

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SUS councillors voice support for AGSEM union drive Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:01:58 +0000 Additional fees for projects and student space fund go to referendum

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Last Wednesday, the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) General Council (GC) passed motions from the November 5 General Assembly (GA), which could not pass them since it had not reached quorum. These included a motion to support AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union’s unionization campaign, and motions to increase the SUS base fee and create a new student space improvement fee.

Support for AGSEM union drive

The motion to support AGSEM’s union drive had been tabled at the GA because attendees wanted a more thorough understanding of what passing the motion would entail. At the GC, AGSEM Teaching Assistant (TA) Grievance Officer Benjamin Elgie explained the campaign and was available to answer the councillors’ questions. AGSEM is currently seeking to unionize currently non-unionized teaching staff, such as graders, undergraduate teaching assistants, and tutors.

As it stands, undergraduate tutors are not guaranteed any hours through their employment at McGill, Elgie said. Course notetakers are currently paid $100 per course, a contract that, according to Elgie, may possibly be in violation of Quebec’s labour code, as he said it is against the code to be paid per unit of production instead of by time.

Some concerns brought up included whether or not unionization would lead to higher fees and lower employment of undergraduates; councillors also asked about the effects that unionization would have on undergraduate employees.

Elgie said that, potentially, undergraduate TAs and graders could see a reduction in their hours, if the teaching support budget is not increased via linkage to undergraduate enrollment, which AGSEM is currently bargaining for. He clarified that it would be upon the newly unionized employees to decide what they would like from their contract.

SUS VP External Emily Boytinck spoke in favour of the motion, noting the importance of making students aware that they have the option to unionize.
“I think it doesn’t speak on behalf of the workers and it gives workers the choice of whether they want to be unionized or not, and if workers are unaware of this campaign then they are stripped of the right to have that choice,” Boytinck said.

Another councillor spoke in favour of the motion, saying that, as an undergraduate tutor, it would be valuable to have at least a guaranteed income.
The motion passed with 13 votes for, no votes against, and 11 abstentions.

Base fee increase and student space fee

The Motion to Increase the Science Undergraduate Base Fee and Motion to Introduce the Student Space Improvement Fee were also passed by the GC, to be voted on by SUS members via online ballot. For full-time Bachelor of Science (BSc) students, the base fee will increase from $7.50 to $12.50 per semester, and the student space improvement fee will be $7.00 per semester.

According to Boytinck, the increase in the base fee will be used to fund a variety of projects such as a possible SUS career fair and sustainability initiatives (such as recycling at Burnside, which currently just gets thrown in the trash). SUS VP Communications May Yin-Liao said the money might also be used to make an SUS agenda and handbook, and SUS VP Academic Jeremy Goh said it would also help with increasing the diversity of schools at the SUS Grad Fair.

The student space improvement fee will go to projects set out by the GC, possibly including renovations to the Burnside basement and additional lockers for Biology students. A portion will be dedicated to improvement of departmental student spaces.

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SSMU pushing early negotiations with University Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:01:22 +0000 Parts of legal agreement with University out of date, irrelevant, says president

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The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is attempting to open negotiations for its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University one year early. However, the administration has not reciprocated this interest in negotiating, and has no plans to officially open negotiations this year.

SSMU’s current MOA, which outlines the organization’s legal relationship with the University, was last updated in 2011 and will expire in 2016. According to SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, the duration of past negotiations was a major factor in  SSMU’s decision  to pursue them early.

“Like a lesson learned, it was very obvious to [the SSMU executive] that negotiating with the administration is a very slow process. The easiest thing to point to is the lease negotiations, which took four years. For us, we wanted to start as early as possible rather than waiting until the time for it to come,” said Ayukawa in an interview with The Daily.

According to Ayukawa, she and SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan have met briefly with members of the administration to discuss issues relevant to the MOA, but have not been able to open official negotiations.

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens told The Daily that the University, in fact, has no plans to open up negotiations with SSMU earlier than necessary. “That’s why we sign agreements – so we don’t re-open them every year,” said Dyens.

Despite its resistance to opening negotiations earlier, Dyens said that the administration recognizes SSMU’s concern with the timeliness of negotiations. “It is a concern for us too. We don’t want negotiations to drag on forever because it’s not good for either party. The longer it drags, the more complicated the relationships become because bitterness builds.”

Concerns with the current MOA

One issue that SSMU wants to see addressed in the new MOA is formalized access to student fee information. According to Ayukawa, student fees are collected by Student Accounts, which can make it difficult to determine exactly how fees are allocated and held by the University without excessive paperwork.

Ayukawa cited the SSMU Access Bursary Fund, which provides need-based financial aid to students, as an example of this problem.

“What SSMU really wants to see is, where is that money sitting? We know that it gets allocated to student scholarships, to student aid, and we know that the University matches this fee, but when this fee is actually matched and when this fee […] is even allocated is information that we would like to get,” she said.

There are also a number of things mentioned in the current MOA that are out-of-date and irrelevant to SSMU. “For example, the Red Herring [a satire publication] […] it isn’t very active and it isn’t really affiliated with SSMU anymore from what I can see,” said Ayukawa. “We’re looking to […] just generally update [the MOA] and sweep off some of the cobwebs.”

Plans for this year

Although the administration does not want to officially open negotiations, there may still be space for SSMU to air any grievances it has with the current MOA.

“If [SSMU] want[s] to send the irritants that they currently [have] with the MOA, and they want to send me stuff they would like to talk about next year, I would be more than happy to receive it. There might be stuff we can do right away [if there] is an irritant to them that could be solved easily,” Dyens told The Daily.

SSMU will be holding open forums to gauge student opinion on the current MOA, if and when official negotiations begin.

“In the meantime, I think what the student body can do is read the MOA itself and see the formalized relationship that SSMU has with the University,” said Ayukawa. “If students want more information as to what the MOA is […] just talk to their councillors, talk to the SSMU execs, come by anyone’s office hours, or just send us an email.”

Ayukawa said that, even if SSMU is not able to open negotiations in an official capacity this year, it hopes to build a framework for successful negotiations for next year’s executives.

“I’m pretty optimistic that we will at least be able to set the tone for how SSMU is going to proceed with these negotiations. […] We want to do things out in the open, and we want them to be transparent, and we want to publicize what is going on as things are progressing, and maybe not progressing.”

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Rape survivors plant Seeds of Hope Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:01:17 +0000 Documentary screening explores sexual violence in the DRC

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On November 18, the Montreal British Consulate General partnered with McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF) to screen Seeds of Hope, a documentary meant to shine light on the prevalence of sexual violence prevalent in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the women survivors who are working to rebuild their lives.

Seeds of Hope was filmed and made by award-winning Al Jazeera documentary filmmaker Fiona Lloyd-Davies, who joined Myriam Denov, a McGill professor of international social work, and Mélanie Coutu, the program director of the McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative, at a panel discussion held after the screening.

The film follows Masika Katsuva, a rape survivor who started up a centre within her home to provide physical and emotional support for other rape survivors and their children. When the survivors felt strong enough, Katsuva found them homes and jobs within the local community. Katsuva rented a field nearby where she and the other survivors could plant crops in order to sustain the centre.

Katsuva and her two daughters, who are also rape survivors, provide care to over 18 children as well, who were either orphaned during the conflict or abandoned by their mothers due to being “products of rape.”

The documentary follows the community for a two-year stretch over which the centre saw growth and success, until it was overtaken by a retreating Congolese army that happened to pass through the community. The soldiers raped many women, killing some at the same time.

“You have an army made up of militia groups, who have child soldiers who have no formal training, very little education and understanding of what a soldier should be doing, how they should be behaving, what their responsibilities are,” Katsuva said in the film.

“I found it very emotionally and intellectually challenging. It’s hard to cope with the knowledge that such horrendous acts are still committed today on a daily basis, and that little is being done by the international community,” U3 Arts student Franseza Pardoe, who attended the event, told The Daily.

“I had read widely on the conflict prior [to] going [to this event] but being exposed to the women’s personal testimonies was new and extremely moving,” Pardoe continued.

The documentary also showed the soldiers’ disturbing perspectives, who admitted to enjoying their actions, and justified themselves by claiming they had merely followed their commandant’s orders.

The panel discussion after the screening explored topics such as the re-victimization of rape survivors and the failure to include them in relevant policy-making decisions. Denov spoke about how the perpetrators of sexual violence are usually not punished for their crimes due to inadmissible evidence provided in international courts.

“What you have in many situations are victims who are forced to then see their perpetrators on a regular basis in the community, so there’s a process of re-victimization that often occurs,” Denov said.

“In terms of peace-keeping, the problem currently is that the peace negotiation process is very militarized – there are the head of states, there are the military men [who make the decisions],” Coutu said.

Some international initiatives have already begun to attempt to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual violence. This June, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was held in London. The summit was meant to address multiple issues relating to sexual violence in conflict, including coming up with a protocol as to how evidence should be collected when rape survivors wish to bring their perpetrators to court.

“Some of the problems in the past with international criminal trials have been that the evidence from women has not been admissible in court […] so they wanted to create a protocol that can be accepted,” Lloyd-Davies told The Daily.

According to Lloyd-Davies, there is still progress to be made. “I think we need to keep reminding them, keep pressuring them to ensure [that these human rights workers] who are already [helping survivors] do it in [such] a way that it can be used as evidence, and to try to end this perception of impunity that enables men to continue to rape.”

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Transgender Day of Remembrance highlights widespread transphobic violence Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:00:14 +0000 Vigil honours murdered trans people of colour

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On November 20, over forty people gathered at Norman Bethune Square to mark the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Organized by Queer Concordia, the event started with a candlelight vigil honouring trans people who have been killed as a result of transphobia and concluded with a discussion on the causes of and solutions to anti-trans violence.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils began in 1999 as a response to the brutal murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of colour living near Boston. A vigil memorializing her death the following day inspired the international Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event that has spread throughout North America and Europe, that collectively honours the thousands of trans individuals around the world that have been killed.

Shannon, who was attending the event for the first time, spoke to The Daily about the significance of the event. “[Trans] rights are human rights, and the fact that there is so much violence that permeates around the world that continues to this day deserves to be illuminated, deserves to be recognized, and deserves to be contested.”

During the vigil, one of the event organizers, Ché Baines, read the names of over eighty members of the trans community killed in the past year while candles were lit to commemorate their lives. Baines said that the vigil was a way to “continue on the legacy of people we’ve lost, and to remind those around us that events like these shouldn’t be needed.”

Looking at the circle of people formed around the candles, Baines reminded participants, “We gather on this day to remember that we also have living community members who face violence every day.”

“I kept telling myself, ‘Well, things would get better.’ […] No […] we’re getting killed on a regular basis.”

Each participant was also invited to read out the location in which and the age at which each individual died along with their names, to give a sense of the widespread nature of anti-trans violence. The list included girls as young as eight and men as old as sixty in locations from Brazil to Belarus.

What was common with most of the named victims was that they were “overwhelmingly trans people of colour,” said Baines. “And the fact that I am running this event, and not a trans woman of colour, and the fact that there are no trans women of colour here, is a shame on all of us,” Baines continued.

Participants were also welcomed to contribute their own personal experiences.

Alanna, a vigil attendee, shared, “I kept telling myself, ‘Well, things would get better. The group [of those killed] is going to get smaller. The event is going to get less important.’ No […] we’re getting killed on a regular basis, this event remains important.”

When asked why it was so important for this event to be held annually, Ash, another attendee, said, “It’s to remind us that when these things happen regularly, they also need regular attention, so they can stop happening.”

Baines added, “It’s not ending, which you would hope, by this time, the numbers would get smaller but they don’t. In fact, the list [of trans people who are killed] is getting longer every year.”

“Every year when I attend or help organize the event, I see more and more people on this list, and it makes me more and more angry, and more and more tired that we don’t take action, that we only remember and [remain] silent,” said Baines.

Baines emphasized that, in the future, events like the vigil should no longer be necessary. “[The point is to] bring our community together so that we can find ways to take action to make sure events like this don’t have to happen anymore.”

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Montrealers march against gendered and sexual violence Sat, 22 Nov 2014 11:00:56 +0000 Protesters call for survivor support, better university policies

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Last Friday, around 150 Montreal students and community members marched from Concordia to McGill to advocate for safer communities free of harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault for people of all genders.

The march, called “Take Back the Night!,” aims to raise awareness of gendered violence and demonstrate solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.

“Once you look around and you see that so many people share some of the same elements that are in your story, you realize that you’re not alone and that your voices together can become stronger, and together you can affect change,” said Lucy Anacleto of the Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) at the march.

The CGA hosted the march as part of its “A Safer Concordia” campaign. Since 1975, the march has been held annually in cities around the world. Guests from groups such as Accessibilize Montreal, Women in Cities, Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ), the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), Quebec Native Women, and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre spoke at this year’s demonstration.

“A lot of women are shamed for talking about what happened to them [during an assault], and I think that just having a huge amount of people come together and march to take back the night shows support for survivors, which I think is really crucial to make people feel comfortable enough to share their stories,” continued Anacleto.

The Reproductive Justice League Choir kicked off the demonstration with some gender-empowering Motown songs. Having rewritten the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” as “You Can’t Coerce Sex,” the choir led the crowd in chanting that only a “passionate yes” means yes.

Speakers from Accessibilize Montreal, Women in Cities, and Quebec Native Women followed before the march began.

Concordia student Sammy Fogel told The Daily what Take Back the Night! meant to her. “[It’s] a space for women and allies to show that they deserve a space in public to be respected and to be admired as human beings.”

Guest speaker Frances Maychak, an external coordinator at SACOMSS, echoed this sentiment. “For some people, being in a public space can be a dangerous or scary experience.”

According to Maychak, Take Back the Night! aims to “build an awareness for people who might not experience that personally, and who might feel particularly safe in public space, in recognizing that for a lot of people who have experienced violence […] those spaces aren’t safe and we need to be working toward making those spaces safer.”

This year’s march focused heavily on sexual assault policies in Montreal universities. “Few Canadian universities have sexual assault policies, and when they do, they are usually limited in their scope. School administrations must actively promote consent and support survivors of sexual assault, not the perpetrators by turning a blind eye,” Anaïs Van Vliet, CGA Board member, told The Daily before the march.

“We want to take back our campuses to make them safer, but university administrations must also do their job, implementing policies and practices to make such campuses a reality,” added Van Vliet.

A student-led working group at McGill recently released a draft of a university-wide sexual assault policy, something that the university has never had.

The controversy surrounding the recently dropped sexual assault charges against three former Redmen football players was also addressed. “Sexual harassment and sexual assault in public spaces is part of the same system of heterosexist, racist, disableist, colonial oppression and ideology. It all stems from the same place as other forms of violence,” said a guest speaker from Women in Cities.

The efforts to combat rape culture also extended beyond incidents on university campuses. Many demonstrators marched holding signs related to taxis in light of the recent news that 17 women in 2014 alone had been sexually assaulted in taxis by drivers in Montreal. They condemned the response of the police – that women should not take cabs alone at night, especially when intoxicated – as victim-blaming.

One demonstrator explained that her sign was her response to those assaults. “We’re here to say that taxis should be a safe place and there should be no victim-blaming, and we need to put the blame back on the perpetrators.”

Upon reaching McGill, guests from the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, ASTTeQ, and SACOMSS spoke. SACOMSS external coordinator Jean Murray concluded this year’s march by expressing a need at McGill for “a [sexual assault] policy that is survivor-focused […] so that survivors are not left with two options: say nothing or go to the police.”

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Sexual assault charges against former Redmen football players dropped Wed, 19 Nov 2014 19:48:29 +0000 Prosecution cites insufficient evidence as reason for withdrawal

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Updated November 22.

After a hearing on November 17, charges of sexual assault with a weapon were dropped against former McGill Redmen football players Brenden Carriere, Ian Sherriff, and Guillaume Tremblay. Carriere and Tremblay had also been charged with forcible confinement (these charges had been dropped for Sherriff); these charges were also dropped.

The Crown withdrew the charges because it did not feel it had a case with the evidence submitted, Tremblay’s lawyer Debora De Thomasis told The Daily.

“When the Crown attorney, who has a particular role to play in prosecutions, examined his entire file, he concluded that with the evidence he had he should not go forward with his prosecution,” Richard Shadley, Carriere’s lawyer, told The Daily.

The three ex-Redmen were charged in April 2012 with sexually assaulting the plaintiff, who, at the time of the alleged assault in September 2011, was a student at Concordia.

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) has decided not to issue a statement regarding the events of the hearing. However, in an email to The Daily, SACOMSS external coordinators Jean Murray and Frances Maychak said that they “would like to reiterate that we always believe and support survivors, regardless of legal proceedings.”

“We remind everyone that our services are open to all, and we can be reached at 514-398-8500 or,” wrote Murray and Maychak. SACOMSS had previously released a statement after the charges were originally brought to the public eye.

The hearing for the former players was scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. on November 17. However, it quickly went into recess, and commenced again at around 11:30 a.m., at which time one of the three defense lawyers told the judge that the Crown attorney was not present because he was scheduled to speak on the phone with a witness from whom he had received testimony over the weekend via email. The witness’s name, he said, had come up during cross-examination at a previous hearing.

The hearing was adjourned until 2 p.m., at which time the Crown attorney said that he still had not been able to contact the witness, and in light of the new email testimony, asked that the accused be discharged. The judge and the other lawyers agreed to the Crown’s request, and the three players were discharged.

De Thomasis said that she and her client were looking forward to moving on from the events. “We are satisfied with the result, and are ready to turn the page on this,” she said.

In the days following the hearing, the survivor has come forward to give her side of the story of the events of the trial, as well as what happened during the original assault.

According to a Montreal Gazette article, the witness who testified via email the weekend before the hearing was a resident student advisor in whom the survivor confided the morning after the assault.

The testimony was a four-line email, in which the witness claimed that the survivor had agreed to have sex with the men. After the Crown had failed in contacting the witness, the prosecution decided that the survivor didn’t have enough evidence for the case, and withdrew charges. The witness was never cross-examined on her testimony, according to the article.

The survivor also recounted to Global News the events of the night when she was raped, saying that after meeting two of the players at the Korova Bar, she went to an apartment and was given an opened beer can, which she believes may have been drugged. She remembered being on a bed with the three men and telling them to stop; she woke up in the morning to her clothes being thrown at her, and was asked to leave “because [the players] had to go to practice,” she said.

“The way the trial was dealt with wasn’t fair at all,” the survivor told Global News.

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