The McGill Daily Strong and delicious since 1911 Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:13:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 The “War on Journalism” Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:25:45 +0000 On Thursday, September 22, Mohamed Fahmy gave a talk at Concordia University about his imprisonment in Egypt. The talk, entitled “Media in the Age of Terror: How the war on terror became a war on journalism,” was Concordia’s 2016 Homecoming Keynote lecture.

Fahmy is an Egyptian-Canadian journalist who has worked extensively in conflict zones throughout the Middle East. He has reported for several media networks such as CNN and the BBC. Prior to his arrest and incarceration, Fahmy served as Al Jazeera’s English bureau chief in Cairo. The last story he remembers covering was the branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, he said.

In December 2013, a police officer told Fahmy “‘you are a member of a terrorist organization, you have fabricated news, you were operating without licenses.’” He and two of his Al Jazeera colleagues were also falsely accused of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ultimately incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Egypt for over 400 days, including a month in solitary confinement alongside members of Al-Qaeda and Daesh (also known as ISIS).

At the event, Fahmy described his days in the prison. “Like many people who go to prison […] you think this is just a mistake, it will be over in the morning, it’s not a big deal. But it turned out to be a huge deal,” said Fahmy, recalling his earliest memories of the trial where he was sentenced to imprisonment. “This is the nastiest prison I have ever seen. You’re underground in a room, in a cell, basically solitary confinement. No access to light, no toilet flushing, [and] lots of insects.”

“All you [had] in that cell was a hatch where you could look through in the corridor to see the other cells,” continued Fahmy.

According to Fahmy, there are about 200 journalists missing or unjustly arrested in various parts of the world. “I believe that this is an unprecedented attack on journalism that we’re witnessing now,” he said.

“All you [had] in that cell was a hatch where you could look through in the corridor to see the other cells.”

While in prison, Fahmy realized the power of the internet in mobilizing people to help free himself and his colleagues. People tweeted with hashtags such as #FreeAJStaff and #HarperCallEgypt, shared information on Facebook, and pressured politicians to raise awareness about the journalists’ plight.

Following his release, Fahmy and his wife Marwa Omara created the Fahmy Foundation which, according to its website, aims to “provide advocacy and financial assistance to journalists and prisoners of conscience who are unjustly imprisoned around the world.” The foundation raises funds and awareness for these people, and persistently calls attention to their situation, challenging governments and individuals to help free them.

The Fahmy Foundation supports families of the wrongfully imprisoned, and, along with Amnesty International Canada, is trying to persuade the Canadian government to adopt a Protection Charter. The charter proposes a system of protection for journalists from vague anti-terrorism laws.

“I believe that this is an unprecedented attack on journalism that we’re witnessing now.” 

“My biggest motivation to do my job as a journalist is to pursue the truth and give people a voice,” said Fahmy.

Nahka Bertrand, a graduate student in Concordia’s department of journalism, shared her thoughts with The Daily after the lecture. “As an Indigenous student, I resonate with his story,” said Bertrand. “Getting the voices of Indigenous people is very important. We have a history of persecution […] but we are trying to get representation in this democracy.”

Bram Freedman, Vice-President of Advancement and External Relations at Concordia, spoke to The Daily about Fahmy’s impact on the university’s solidarity campaign with Homa Hoodfar, a professor imprisoned in Iran.

“My biggest motivation to do my job as a journalist is to pursue the truth and give people a voice.”

“It’s a pleasure to have Mr. Fahmy here today,” said Freedman. “I think he particularly resonates with Concordia because [of Hoodfar’s imprisonment]. We think it’s a particularly compelling story for Concordia now and if he can encourage people here to advocate for her release through social media, and so on, then I think that will have a big impact.”

Protesters march for Hoodfar Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:11:26 +0000 This article was updated on Tuesday, September 27, at 10:33 a.m. 

On Wednesday, September 21, demonstrators gathered in Norman Bethune Square to raise awareness for Concordia anthropology and sociology professor Homa Hoodfar’s illegal imprisonment in Iran. Around 300 participants came to the demonstration, which lasted two hours and ended with the collection of signatures for a petition demanding Hoodfar’s immediate and unconditional release.

Hoodfar was arrested and detained during a familial and research visit to Iran in March, and has been held in solitary confinement at Evin prison since June. According to the Tehran Public Prosecutor, Hoodfar is being investigated for “dabbling in feminism and security matters.” She has been denied access to legal support.

The demonstration was held on the 107th day of her imprisonment. Each passing day raises more concerns for her health, as Hoodfar has Myasthenia gravis, a serious neurological condition that requires frequent care and medication.

Hayley Lewis, Hoodfar’s former student, organized the rally through social media and word of mouth.

“I hope that more people become aware of what the situation is,” said Lewis in an interview with The Daily. “I think that visibility is a huge factor – the more people who know about it, hopefully the more pressure there is to bring her home.”

Canada currently has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran. However, as Hoodfar is also an Irish citizen, activists hope to reach Irish embassies internationally through petitions and call for more action.

“We’ve gotten a lot of signatures today to add to our petition, which is one of the only tools that we have in such a delicate situation,” Lewis said.

During the demonstration, attendees chanted “Free Homa,” and “Liberez Homa,” calling for action. Students, colleagues, and friends of Hoodfar carried homemade signs of support and wore t-shirts featuring the Free Homa logo.

Speaking to the crowd, Alex Tyrrell, an environmental science student at Concordia and the leader of the Green Party of Quebec, said, “Members of the Concordia community and the public should not underestimate the gravity of what’s taking place here. Her life is on the line. We as a community have a collective responsibility to ensure her prompt release.”

Professor Martin French, Hoodfar’s colleague in the sociology and anthropology department at Concordia, spoke to The Daily about the importance of raising awareness.

“Everyone’s here to raise awareness and bring some pressure to bear on our governments [and] the Iranian government, of course, and the Irish government,” he said.

In an interview with The Daily, Tyrrell expressed how he felt “very encouraged” by the turnout at the demonstration. “But it’s also only the beginning of what could be a very long battle to get her back,” he noted.

Hoodfar’s imprisonment is “a huge blow to academic freedom,” he continued. “When it touches home, you feel it particularly strongly.”

When asked to describe Hoodfar, Louise, Hoodfar’s long time family friend, told The Daily, “She just loves people, she was a great professor, and loves her students. She just wants to do the best research possible.”

“I’m hoping that the government will see that they can’t just say, ‘Well, yeah, we’re doing everything that we can.’ That they will do everything that they can and […] other organizations [like] Amnesty should get her out on humanitarian reasons,” she added.

For Lewis, Homa’s imprisonment is “devastating and shocking and wildly unjust. It’s the kind of injustice that you know exists in the world, but I’m learning what it actually feels like to have someone you know be subjected to political prisonership.”

Update: On September 26, Hoodfar was released from Evin prison in Iran. 

The leaky pipe problem Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:17:28 +0000 In certain ways, feminism has turned into a cliche – and I say this as a feminist. That is absolutely not to say that feminism is not vital to the progression of society towards equity and equality, because it is, no questions asked. But since we’ve tackled the glaring inequities like women’s suffrage, feminists who continue to draw attention to subtler instances of sexism today are accused of simply complaining, or ‘playing the victim.’

Addressing women’s representation – or the lack thereof – in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is one such issue. One of the biggest issues that the STEM fields face is the “leaky pipe problem,” the term that describes the chronological decline in number of women that enroll, advance, and remain in the sciences. The source of the problem stems from a lack of a female community and role models, pressure to start a family during the course of their education and research, and internalized sexism. While the under-representation and misogyny in STEM are daunting, I find that focussing on the successes of my female peers and superiors, as opposed to dwelling on instances of sexism, gives me a better sense of motivation and empowerment. I spoke with four women (three professors and one undergraduate student) from different departments at McGill in order to present the variety of possibilities that exist for women in STEM.

I want to add a disclaimer to my article: even considering the challenges I face as a woman in STEM, I fully acknowledge my other forms of privilege. I am lucky to say that I have never felt disadvantaged because of my gender; I was raised with an enormous amount of support from female and male figures in my life. I’m white, my family is upper-middle class, and I grew up in a liberal community. I believe that by recognizing privilege and its effects, we can strive to diminish the arrogance and ignorance that often stems from a closed mind.

The notion of privilege arose in my interviews when each woman told me that they had not felt targeted by explicit sexism – keep in mind these are highly educated women, three-fourths of whom are white, working and studying in Canada. There was a sense of self-definition and self-reliance, the acknowledgement of sexism within the system, but the decision and ability to look past it.

One cannot discuss the general topic of women in STEM without laying down some very real, disheartening numbers, so bear with me: in 2011, Statistics Canada reported that only 39 per cent of all STEM graduates were women. Women made up only 23 per cent of engineers and 30 per cent of those who earned mathematics and computer science degrees; the total Canadian STEM workforce consisted of a mere 22 per cent female professionals. All of the women I spoke with made it clear that by the time they were taking high school science classes, the gender gap was apparent to them.

There was a sense of self-definition and self-reliance, the acknowledgement of sexism within the system, but the decision and ability to look past it.

Sometimes sexism in STEM looks like a classroom full of mechanical engineers, where only three are women. But more often today, sexism becomes so subtly ingrained in a culture that it is barely noticeable – or at least, women feel it doesn’t deserve comment. For the women I spoke with, their choice to study sciences appeared natural, effortless – there was no feeling of having to swim upstream in order to progress in STEM. Perhaps there is a correlation with a lack of obvious barriers, and an obliviousness to the existence of the ‘leaky pipeline.’ But when I pressed them, many of the women recalled incidents of microaggressions or double standards that, perhaps, they deemed too trivial to name ‘sexism.’

Subtle sexism is arguably even more pernicious than overt sexism, since there’s no obvious obstacle to rail against, just the friction of daily invalidation. Jokes among peers that may seem harmless – even to the point where we, as women, laugh along – have a lasting, subconscious effect. The question I was left wondering after the interviews was “what can be done to ensure the initial enthusiasm of young girls in STEM is not trampled by a fear of comparison to one’s male counterparts?”

features_lui_web-copyMarina Djurdjevic and Kevin Tam
Yajing Liu

Yajing Liu

I met with Yajing Liu first. Liu grew up and completed her undergraduate education in China at Peking University, followed by a PhD from Harvard University and postdoctoral research at Princeton University. She told me that she knew she wanted to study physics in high school, by the time she was to take her university entrance exams, and later built upon her initial love for geography by pursuing a geophysics career. Before teaching at McGill, she did research at the Wood Hole Oceanography Institution, which had a teaching affiliation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The gender gap was something Liu claims not to have noticed. She mentioned that her geophysics department at Peking University was unique in its relatively good gender ratio of 7:13 women to men, as opposed to the 1:11 ratio in the neighbouring astrophysics department. Liu said that her undergraduate advisor encouraged her, and other women in the department, to include themselves in research. Even so, because geophysics field work involves long hours of driving to remote areas, and the heavy labour of setting up geophysics instruments, Liu told me “some geophysics profs – even though they don’t say it – prefer to not have women, or not many women, in the group for logistical reasons.”

Despite the encouragement from her advisor, Liu noticed the lack of female role models during her studies at Peking University. “Looking back we only had one female prof – who wasn’t even a full prof, and she didn’t do much research,” said Liu, noting that she “wished that my fellow students would have a stronger woman role model on faculty to look up to.”

“Some geophysics profs – even though they don’t say it – prefer to not have women, or not many women, in the group for logistical reasons.”

I asked Liu about when she thought women in STEM were the most prone to “leak out” of the pipeline, so to speak, and she explained that the postdoctorate period is probably one of the most turbulent periods for women. “In grad school you are protected by your advisor, so you’re in a big group, a very supportive environment. By the time of postdoc you’re on your own with an advisor who has their own group, their own students to take care of, and you’re deemed to be independent, self sufficient, because you already have a PhD, so you should be able to support yourself,” she said.

“I think that’s a very critical period for a woman – for everyone, but especially for a woman – because by the time you’re a postdoc you’re probably in your late 20s where most women, at least by current standards, are expected to start a serious relationship or a marriage or a family,” she continued. “There are choices facing you in those two short years: should I do another postdoc if I don’t find a permanent job in academia, because it’s very hard to find faculty positions […] or should I start [looking] for industry jobs, or should I put more time into starting a family? It could be very critical.”

Valérie Orsat

Valérie Orsat is a Montreal local; McGill is both her undergraduate and doctoral alma mater. She decided to pursue engineering as a CEGEP student, and stumbled upon bioresource engineering at a symposium at the Macdonald Campus. Bioresource engineering intertwines engineering and international development; currently, her research is based in southern India. She works with agriculture technology and in the food production industry, as well as micro-companies that focus on empowering women in the agriculture industry. Today, she teaches undergraduate engineering courses at Macdonald Campus.

Orsat recalled and remarked on a lack of self-confidence for women in STEM. “When I started university I had lots of doubt about whether I could perform. I would compare myself to my male counterparts, and they [would] always seem to know things much greater than me, they [knew] how to do everything,” she admitted. She described her engineering undergraduate class as “still a bit of a male-dominated field,” remembering that she “was definitely laughed at a little bit by colleagues: ‘Oh yeah you’ll look funny when you drive a tractor,’ type of attitude.”

“I would compare myself to my male counterparts, and they [would] always seem to know things much greater than me.”

Twenty years later, a similar trend persists in the courses she teaches at McGill: “I see it in the kids that I teach now. […] Girls will be like a deer in headlights, [and admit] ‘I just don’t know,’ while the boys prefer to pretend they know.”

“I know they’re equally scared, but some boys will pretend: ‘ha, it’s easy, I can do this,’ when they’ve never done it, and the girls will all just be scared, period,” she explained. “And then [the girls] get scared that ‘I don’t have what it takes,’ that ‘I don’t have the basics,’ ‘the boys seem to know it but I don’t,’ and that’s not the case, it’s just your attitude and how you approach a problem.”

“We still have work to do in keeping women in the work force, in the professional field,” she noted. “We have no problem right now getting females to register in the program, and they graduate, but many of them [then] move on to something slightly different; they’ll go get an MBA and get more of a management position or go into HR. They’ll kind of deviate, and they won’t really work in the nitty-gritty of an engineering profession.”

features_watt2_webMarina Djurdjevic and Kevin Tam
Alanna Watt

Alanna Watt

Alanna Watt is a researcher and assistant professor of molecular biology at McGill. Her research focuses on neurological signals, and she is active in supporting women in STEM through her role as faculty mentor for Scientista, an upcoming club at McGill that hopes to empower female students in STEM. She received her PhD from Brandeis University in the U.S. and completed her postdoctorate research in London before starting her own lab at McGill.

As a professor in molecular biology, as well as a mother, Dr. Watt describes the state of math and physics departments as intimidating to young girls, saying that “It’s hard for women, and maybe it’s hardest at those ages when you’re just being evaluated on how well you can memorize things or how brilliant you can be with just math.”

She described working in her first lab, starting out intimidated but gaining confidence. “I remember being really intimidated and going to a lab meeting and saying nothing, and being like ‘oh my god, I hope they don’t expect me to say anything.’” But she found that working in the lab was “a very empowering feeling,” adding that “it gave me something that actually I seemed to be good at, or you know, at least could hold my own.”

In terms of role models, Watt spoke of her female PhD advisor. “It was really, really important to me to be able to see that there were women doing what I did,” Watt explained. “She had kids, she was married, she was a very fantastic scientist. […] So getting to see someone be so successful both professionally as a scientist, but also as a whole human being is really instrumental.”

Watt said that she found McGill and her department a “very supportive place,” referencing the number of women and mothers in the department. “I remember going to one of the meetings where one of the faculty members, she said so matter-of-factly ‘I’m home with my son who’s sick, so I’m just gonna Skype in for the meeting’ and that was just perfectly fine and I was so happy to be in this environment where you don’t have to hide something like that,” she mentioned.

christinaMarina Djurdjevic and Kevin Tam
Christina Santella

Christina Santella

Christina Santella is a U3 neuroscience student from Montreal. Pushed to pursue medicine directly from CEGEP, she chose to follow her passion for research, and currently works in the Mogil Laboratory, researching individual pain. A member of Scientista as well as the Neuro Council, she found a community within McGill through her program, clubs, and community, after a difficult transition from CEGEP.

Santella first noticed the gender gap in high school, when she realized that “in physics, it was mostly the guys who were more interested, and in chemistry it was mostly the girls,” a trend which discouraged her from pursuing physics. However, she also said that she never discussed the gender gap before university, noting that “even if there was a gender gap, I just accepted it.”

It wasn’t until Santella was exposed to lab research that she made the decision to pursue graduate school. We discussed how younger academics often have more liberal views than their older counterparts: “That’s where a lot of the issues happen, between PIs [principal investigators] or maybe between postdocs or research assistants and our generation,” she noted. “I feel like our generation itself, inside the programs, are very open.”

When I asked her about sexism in the lab, she brought up more subtle examples: “people are like, ‘Oh, did you flirt with the PI to get into that lab?’” In reaction to those comments, she told me “I guess I laugh along with it because they’re my friends and I know that they’re joking, but I can see how if I were to think about that a little more and let it marinate, it is offensive”

“People are like, ‘Oh, did you flirt with the PI to get into that lab?’”

Patching the pipeline

In my interviews with them, all of the women mentioned the importance of female representation and role models in STEM. Seeing women hold professional research and academic positions makes it easier to imagine yourself in a similar position. For Christina, as an undergraduate student, seeking out people who could be of help was a learning process in itself – one that opened doors to further opportunities at McGill. I wanted to give space and weight to the voices of women in different areas of STEM at McGill, in the hopes that they will serve as role models and positive representation for female students in STEM who don’t know where to turn.

We need to offer the women who want and strive to be in STEM equal opportunities to contribute, and patch up the leaks in the pipeline. Science benefits from differing perspectives and creative processes that people of all genders can bring to the table. If science aims to address universal truths, the entire population must be equally involved in the inquiry.

Cabot Square ‘safety’ redesign actually anti-homeless and anti-Indigenous Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:52 +0000 In August, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) announced a plan to shut down and remodel the Atwater metro entrance in Cabot Square starting January 2017, citing security concerns as the reason behind the project. Supporters of the initiative have complained about the presence of people who are homeless, and who regularly gather in and around the building. These people are said to be solely responsible for high rates of crime in the area; almost a third of all crimes committed in the STM network between 2011 and 2013 took place at Atwater station. Due to ongoing systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples by the Canadian settler-colonial state, a disproportionate number of people who are homeless in Montreal are Indigenous; hostile architecture and the destruction of spaces which provide shelter are classist and discriminatory against them. The proposed solution, far from addressing the root causes of crime and homelessness, will marginalize and endanger the people who take shelter in the metro entrance.

These renovations comes barely two years after the completion of another massive construction project at Cabot Square, which made the space less welcoming to those who spend time and sleep there. Areas of grass were paved over, and benches were fitted with railings that deter people from sleeping on them. These changes were especially harmful to Indigenous peoples who are homeless, as Cabot Square serves as a place of gathering and hosting activities centered around Indigenous culture and heritage.

The marginalization of these communities renders them ‘criminal’ and unwelcome in what is supposed to serve as an inclusive public space. Moreover, the $3.3 million STM plan to refurbish the Cabot square metro entrance paves the way for greater police scrutiny of the area itself: the metro entrance is being outfitted with glass panels so police can observe the interior at all times. Local authorities have a poor track record of dealing humanely with homeless communities, especially those who are Indigenous and racialized.

These initiatives are hardly surprising in a society that demonizes the homeless at every turn, and whose very foundations rest on the disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples. Without consulting these marginalized communities, the city and the STM are not striving for a solution that would include marginalized peoples who regularly use the space, but rather choose to adopt a solution that puts them at greater risk of police scrutiny and displacement. It is unacceptable that the City of Montreal and the STM did not consult all the communities directly affected by the reconstruction of the Atwater metro station entrance. In the future, consultations should ensure that resources are spent in ways that prioritize the well-being of marginalized groups, who most need the space.

The McGill Daily editorial board

McGill DueNORTH launches Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:44 +0000 McGill students Eva Von Jagow, who is a second year environmental studies student, and Liam Allman, a U2 mechanical engineering student, are starting a DueNORTH university chapter here on campus. DueNORTH Canada is an Ottawa-based, non-profit organization, dedicated to addressing the issue of food insecurity in Canada’s Far North.

Von Jagow founded DueNORTH in 2015, which funds a breakfast program in the Sakku School in Coral Harbour, Nunavut to help provide children with a nutritional start to their day. The breakfast program now feeds 250 students daily. The organization has expressed concerns in the past with addressing food insecurity in Nunavut, because of the “exorbitant food costs and logistical challenges of transporting food to that region of Canada.”

The elevated food costs in the region have been attributed to an increasing dependence on imported goods and the rising costs of food harvesting.
The organization began raising funds through a jewelry sale in Ottawa in the months before the Christmas season last year. People donated gently used jewelry to the fund, which was then sold. The proceeds went towards funding the breakfast project at the Sakku School.

“I honestly thought I would just have a small contribution. I thought I would raise like $1,000, but within three years we’ve already raised almost $85,000,” said Von Jagow, a second year environmental studies student at McGill, in an interview with The Daily.

Von Jagow first learned about food insecurity in northern Canada working on a research paper in Grade 11.

“I’m from Canada, I’m from the capital of Canada, and [the food crisis] is something I really had no idea about,” she said. “I think it’s honestly pretty messed up that it took me 18 years to learn about this issue. I don’t really want other people to go as long as I did without knowing.”

“I thought I would raise like $1,000, but within three years we’ve already raised almost $85,000.”

Indigenous Education Advisor Allan Vicaire, from McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Office, agreed that recognition of an issue is crucial in addressing it.
“I think one of the ways to create change is more awareness, and when you become more aware, then you become more active citizens, [put pressure on] the governments to say ‘look, there is a problem,’” Vicaire told The Daily.

The McGill chapter of DueNORTH is the organization’s first chapter on a college campus. “McGill is kind of the test run and if it goes well this year, then we are hoping to expand it to other schools,” Von Jagow explained.

By bringing the organization to university campuses, Allman and Von Jagow hope to reach a new demographic of activists.

“I think one of the ways to create change is more awareness, and when you become more aware, then you become more active citizens, [put pressure on] the governments to say ‘look, there is a problem.’”

“We kind of saw it as an opportunity to reach out more outside of Ottawa, which is where we are from, and grow awareness of the brand and use McGill and the student life and the culture here as a means for that,” said Allman in an interview with the Daily.

While raising funds is an important objective of DueNORTH, Von Jagow stressed the importance of informing people of what is occurring. “As much as it is about raising money to implement these programs, it’s also about raising awareness, just making more people aware on the issue and the cause,” Von Jagow elaborated. “In a country as wealthy as Canada, it’s [ridiculous] that food isn’t a right anymore, even water isn’t a right.”

Vicaire said he thinks programs like DueNORTH are a good start, but more needs to be done to fully address the systemic problems facing Indigenous communities in Canada.

“As much as it is about raising money to implement these programs, it’s also about raising awareness, just making more people aware on the issue and the cause.”

“I think these are great initiatives, but at the same time I think we need to start thinking […] in the long term because this is just helping the community […] for a certain amount of time,” stated Vicaire. “But then how can we start to look at the system, critique the system, and figure out how we’re able to improve lives of Indigenous peoples?” Vicaire asked.

The club has already gone through the process of choosing the executive positions for the year, but is looking for members to join. “I think it’s really a club that everyone can bring their strengths into,” Von Jagow said. “I feel like everyone, no matter what your skills or your knowledge are, there’s definitely a way you can contribute.”

“The fact that it’s happening so close to us is something that really hits home because it’s where we are from, and it’s just [ridiculous] to think that everybody is aware of what’s happening in other countries, but no one is aware of what’s happening in Canada,” Allman concluded, highlighting the importance of this issue.

“But then how can we start to look at the system, critique the system, and figure out how we’re able to improve lives of Indigenous peoples?”

Get in loser, we’re going to Aida Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:43 +0000 The drama of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida is all a bit high school: Princess Amneris, a domineering Regina George type, has eyes only for Radamès, hero of the Pharaoh’s army and about as interesting and intelligent as jock Aaron Samuels. Radamès, meanwhile, is in love with Aida, a former princess of Ethiopia who was captured during war and forced to serve as Amneris’ lady-in-waiting and friend-for-hire. Sweet Aida, much like high school newcomer Cady Heron, is head-over-heels for Amneris’ man — which, as Gretchen Wieners warns, is “just off-limits to friends. I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism.”

Radamès and Aida sneak off for a midnight rendezvous. Amneris gets jealous (her cry of “Tremble, vile slave!” is definite Burn Book material). Trouble ensues — standard love triangle fare. That is, until Radamès’ love for Aida leads him to spill military secrets and stand trial for treason.

Opera de Montreal’s production of Aida, which opened at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on September 17, captured all the romantic melodrama, musical grandeur, and exoticized spectacle for which this operatic staple is known. Though lacking in live elephants (the opera’s 1871 premiere boasted twelve), the Montreal performance featured towering statues of Egyptian gods, blazing fire-lit torches and an elaborately costumed yet alarmingly homogeneous cast of over a hundred. As wide-eyed Karen would ask: “Wait — if you’re from Africa, why are you white?”

While the traumatic legacy of colonialism is still potent, no context remains to encourage such an exoticized representation of Aida.

“Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white.” Except, you can, when the white person in question is costumed in a braided wig that is definitely appropriative, singing prolonged arias about her besieged, and supposedly Ethiopian “homeland.”

Troublesome tropes abound in opera: anguished women die in the arms of their lovers (think Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata), mental illness is depicted in a comedic light (as the Comtesse from Opera de Montreal’s recent Les Feluettes), and characters of colour are either bumbling (Ping, Pang, and Pong in Puccini’s Turandot), villainous (Monostatos of Mozart’s Magic Flute), or sexualized (Bizet’s titular Carmen). It’s to be expected — not acceptable, but expected — in an art form that peaked at the height of the African slave trade, a time during which Charles Darwin proclaimed women to be of inferior “mental disposition.”

In fact, when Aida premiered in 1871 at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House, it was not a symbol of racism, but of Egyptian nationalism. True, the entire debut cast was Italian, the music and lyrics were composed by white men, and costumes were designed (or possibly plundered) by a French Egyptologist — but in the face of rampant European colonialism, Egypt sure knew how to put on a show, elephants and all. The plot depicts Egypt in a patriotic light: while the Egypt of 1871 was under the shadow of British imperialism, the ancient Egypt of Aida was itself an imperialist power, conquering Ethiopia and showing off its pillaged riches to the tune of Verdi’s iconic “Triumphal March.”

The 1871 Aida was by no means progressive: after all, the opera depicts an oversimplified ancient Egypt using Orientalist tropes, deliberately designed to feed the European colonial appetite for a primitive and exotic Other. But the circumstances of Aida’s premiere offer some context — not an excuse, but certainly an explanation.

“Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white.” Except, you can, when the white person in question is costumed in a braided wig that is definitely appropriative, singing prolonged arias about her besieged, and supposedly Ethiopian “homeland.”

Egypt’s viceroy, Ismail Pasha, who oversaw his country’s increasing entanglement in encroaching European colonial powers, had ordered construction of the Khedivial Opera House to celebrate the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal, and to fulfill his grand vision of a (Westernized) globalized Cairo that could compete with the burgeoning ‘cultural hubs’ of Europe. To further this goal, he commissioned Aida from one of Europe’s foremost operatic composers, Giuseppe Verdi. On opening night, the audience was filled with dignitaries, journalists, and politicians, but a decided absence of the general public — signaling that, despite the subversion of portraying ancient Egypt as the colonizer rather than the colonized, Aida was, from its inception, intended to diminish and legitimize modern Egypt to Europeans.

Opera de Montreal’s rendition comes nearly a century and a half after the Cairo premiere, and while the traumatic legacy of colonialism is still potent, no context remains to encourage such an exotic representation of Aida. Nonetheless, several of Opera de Montreal’s production choices were baffling: a phalanx of predominantly white warriors wearing “natural-hair“ wigs was cringe-worthy, as were the servant girls’ braids — but then, at least they weren’t in blackface, which is an occasional practice among opera companies even today. New York’s famous Metropolitan Opera only decided to ban blackface in 2015.

Following the Met’s decision, Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette curated a conversation between prominent opera singers of colour regarding the practice of blackface and racism in opera. The singers all agreed that blackface, though problematic, is not opera’s biggest problem.

While the traumatic legacy of colonialism is still potent, no context remains to encourage such an exoticized representation of Aida.

“The conversation about blackface is a distraction,” said tenor Russell Thomas. “It’s not about whether or not [Met Opera tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, in the role of Othello] was painted dark […] It’s about this: why aren’t the stages representative of the communities in which they are located?”

Soprano Alyson Cambridge added, “There are black singers who are qualified to sing these roles. Why don’t they get cast?”

Opera de Montreal’s mostly white cast delivered a musically successful performance. Although Radamès, portrayed by tenor Kamen Chanev, was stiff, soprano Anna Markarova as Aida hit some impressive high notes, and mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova offered a regal and robust Amneris. Soprano Myriam Leblanc stood out as the High Priestess — a small role, with brief appearances in only two scenes, but demanding a virtuosity of tone colour that Leblanc captured with impressive ease.

And yet, the question remains: what awaits the singers of colour who weren’t on stage? It’s time for opera companies to interrogate the twisted and often subtle channels of privilege and systemic oppression that influence production decisions from programming to costuming to casting.

Because an opera world in which singers of colour can feel safe and celebrated? Well, that would be totally fetch.

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:42 +0000 The words “stand up comedy” and “open mic” often denote cringing at poorly timed jokes. This apprehension, however, was absolutely uncalled for at The Centre for Gender Advocacy’s 2nd annual Feminist Stand-up Comedy Night which took place on September 16. Those who had attended last year’s event would have known that they were in for a great night, and Reggie’s Bar was packed well before the evening had even kicked off.

The open mic comedians started the evening off, and it quickly became clear that no topic was off-limits. Dating, sex, family life, sexism, racism, and ableism were all explored. As several comedians expressed, comedy can be cathartic for both audience and performer. Or, as another commented, pouring your heart out on stage is “cheaper than therapy.” The night showcased a diverse range of eight women and femmes, all incredible comedians with great delivery. While some were fairly new to the comedy scene, others were seasoned performers.

[Comedy] can be cathartic for both audience and performer.

Toronto-based Ify Chiwetelu was the night’s headliner. Nigerian born and Calgary raised, Chiwetelu was winner of the 2015 Bad Dog Theatre Breakout Performer award. She brought the house down with a combination of laughter and empowerment. Ify drew attention to our society’s seemingly relentless need to categorize others’ gender and sexuality by relaying her own experience of individuals trying to “work out” her sexuality.

As the daughter of Biafra war survivors, Ify may have had an unconventional and complex upbringing, but managed to communicate her story to the audience in relatable terms. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a parent forbid you from doing something with friends, such as going camping in Ify’s case, but the reasons might not usually include “we didn’t escape the war and move to Canada for you to sleep outside!”

Like many of the other performers, Ify touched on her dating experiences, particularly having to navigate the dating scene as a woman of colour in a racist world. This world, oftentimes, is ignorant of its own racism, as illustrated by the stellar “pick up line” that cause her to delete her Tinder account: “I’ve never been with a black woman.” The evening’s goal wasn’t only to make the audience laugh, but to question society’s norms surrounding the objectification of women, the exoticization of women of colour, and the need to categorize people into neat, binary boxes.

As the event organisers pointed out, feminists can be hilarious, and it’s good to keep a sense of humour when fighting for social justice.

Kalyani Pandya, whose biography introduced her as holding the title of “Ottawa’s Funniest Dyke,” stood out in particular among a lineup of incredible performers. Kalyani’s set up, delivery, and in particular her character portrayal, was impeccable, making it clear she was very comfortable on stage.

As someone who is able-bodied and experiences white privilege, there were times during the evening where I felt uncomfortable as subjects of ableism and racism were touched on. However, I think this was a necessity. It helped me to question myself. Why do these things make me uncomfortable? How do I contribute to the perpetuation of these negative stereotypes or societal norms? Have I unwittingly been continuing to behave in a way that harms others?

As the event organisers pointed out, feminists can be hilarious, and it’s good to keep a sense of humour when fighting for social justice. The Center for Gender Advocacy organized an entertaining and informative night of comedy with a stellar line up. It’s exciting to see so many up-and-coming comedians from Montreal and the surrounding area, and refreshing to attend a comedy show that represented a multitude of voices.

Outremont referendum creates tension Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:38 +0000 A controversial by-law passed by the Outremont borough council last December, which banned the building of new places of worship on Avenue Bernard, an often congested road in the neighbourhood, will now undergo a referendum after the Avenue Bernard public registry garnered the necessary 367 signatures to force a referendum. The by-law also applied to Avenue Laurier, but the street’s public registry only received four of the necessary 176 signatures to force a referendum.

If the by-law were to be implemented, the construction of new places of worship would be banned throughout the entire borough, as a ban on new development already applies to residential streets and Avenue Van Horne, another high-traffic commercial avenue.

Officially, the by-law does not discriminate based on religion, but it would theoretically restrict the construction of any religious edifice in the neighborhood, regardless of religious affiliation. However, in practice the law would disproportionately affect Outremont’s sizeable Hasidic Jewish population, which comprises about a quarter of Outremont’s 25,000 residents: there are only four synagogues in the borough, servicing a combined capacity of approximately 400 Hasidic Jews.

On December 7, 2015, at an Outremont borough meeting, councillor Jacqueline Gremaud defended the council’s vote. “Only small sections of the street are being regulated,” she said in French. “On [Avenue] Bernard, we are talking about 200 or 300 meters.”

She explained that their intentions are to keep commercial streets free for everyone to use. “What we hope to accomplish,” Gremaud said, “is to assure that undeveloped parcels of land on commercial avenues [in Outremont] be reserved for businesses, coffee shops, restaurants and cultural spaces – open to everyone and anyone regardless of their religion.”

Objections to the by-law

Mindy Pollak, the only borough councillor out of the five to vote against the proposed by-law and a Hasidic Jewish woman, objected to Gremaud’s intentions in a phone interview with The Daily. She pointed out how the drafting of the by-law failed to take into account the public’s reservations.

“Only small sections of the street are being regulated. On [Avenue] Bernard, we are talking about 200 or 300 meters.”

“The bylaw project has been badly mismanaged,” she stated. “The borough refused to sit down with people that should have been consulted, people that would have been affected by the bylaw […] during the first public consultation, over 70 per cent of the people who came out were against the by-law project, and [the Outremont council] ignored that.”

Pollak believes that synagogues would actually enhance the economic vitality of surrounding areas. “The best proof that I can give you [is this]: on Avenue Parc, between Avenue Bernard and Avenue Van Horne, the Plateau approved a few new synagogues, [and] there’s businesses that are booming now, new stores have opened up,” Pollak said.

Pollak also pointed out that unlike a number of other boroughs in Montreal, Outremont doesn’t have “Projets particuliers de construction, de modification ou d’occupation d’un immeuble” (PPCMOI) procedures in place, a derogation tool that would allow requests for building permits to be examined on a case-by-case basis, even if zoning laws would normally prohibit the development of certain buildings. This means that if the by-law passes, there would be no way for a new synagogue to be built quickly to service the growing Hasidic community’s needs, except for repealing the law itself.

“The borough refused to sit down with people that should have been consulted, people that would have been affected by the bylaw […]”

Legality of the by-law

Montreal lawyer Julius Grey, who sent a letter to the borough last December threatening legal action if the by-law was adopted, believes that the by-law is not only inconvenient, but also unconstitutional.

“The [Hasidic] community is one of the fastest growing communities [in Outremont]. They often have ten or 15 children per family, and demographic studies show that they might become the majority in Outremont by 2025, 2030,” said Grey in an interview with The Daily.

“[The Hasidim] have an absolute prohibition on taking a vehicle or any other mechanical form of transport on a Saturday, or Shabbat [Jewish high holiday], he continued. “In those circumstances, […] because there are [few places] where you can still build a synagogue [in Outremont], it means […] a 30 to 45 minute walk away from their synagogue, and given the fact that they’re families with small children, given the fact that […] Montreal winters are not made for traipsing around with ten children, given the need to expand, the result is that Outremont is attacking a real and pressing need.”

“In those circumstances, […] because there are [few places] where you can still build a synagogue [in Outremont], it means […] a 30 to 45 minute walk away from their synagogue.”

“Municipalities have the power to legislate, including to restrict where places of worship are to be found,” continued Grey. But, he said they “must provide a reasonably easy, convenient place [of worship, and] cannot legislate in such a way to virtually ban communities.”

If the forthcoming referendum rules in favour of upholding the law, Grey is still prepared to take legal action against the borough.

Upcoming developments

The date of the upcoming Avenue Bernard referendum is expected to be announced before or during the next council meeting on October 3. Members of the Hasidic community say they will not be the only ones voting to reject the by-law, as many non-Hasidic neighbours have also taken issue with the ruling.

“[Municipalities] must provide a reasonably easy, convenient place [of worship, and] cannot legislate in such a way to virtually ban communities.”

The Daily reached out to three other Outremont councilors who supported the by-law, but they did not respond in time for publication.

A questionable sainthood Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:38 +0000 This year on Sunday, September 4, Mother Teresa, praised by many as the “saint of the gutters”, was officially canonized by the Catholic Church. In her stead, she has left a network of charities, with work spanning more than half a century and 130 countries, united in opposing disease and suffering in the world’s most poverty-stricken areas. Her name and her life story are often understood to represent a narrative of altruism.

However, upon critically examining her life’s work from a different perspective, this common impression can in fact, be contested. Examining the dualities between Mother Teresa’s life and her public image can reveal her to be a figure who was just as much a friend of poverty as she was believed to be a friend of the poor.

Born in 1910 as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, Mother Teresa spent her first eighteen years in the city of Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia then part of the Kosovo Vilayet, an administrative division controlled by the Ottoman Empire. At eighteen she left for Ireland to train with missionary nuns, after which she arrived in India and began teaching at the St. Teresa School in Kolkata. By 1931, Anjezë had taken her first vows as a nun.

One fateful day in September 1946, a train ride to the Loreto Convent from Kolkata would prompt the charity work that she would continue to do in the next half-century. In what she would later describe as a “call within a call,” Mother Teresa decided to leave the convent to help and live with those inhabiting the poorest parts of Kolkata. This charity work would subsequently garner her the praise of members of the Indian government, and, in 1950, the permission of the Vatican to solidify the Catholic Church’s influence in the country by establishing a diocesan congregation that would later be known as the Missionaries of Charity.

Despite its name, it was through this congregation that Mother Teresa would become an agent for the poverty that she claimed to be against. While most people would see a charitable woman on a mission, one could alternatively see a person who received her funding from politically immoral and dubious sources, perpetuated the suffering she was believed to have addressed, and frequently did more harm than good.

In 1981, Mother Teresa flew to Haiti to receive the Legion d’Honneur, the highest French order for military and civil merits, from Jean-Claude Duvalier, the country’s dictator. It would have otherwise been a one-off encounter only it wasn’t just the honour she intended to receive. Also included, courtesy of the Duvalier family, was money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they had wrung from the Haitian poor and from the country’s illicit drug trade. And all this, according to Christopher Hitchens’ book The Missionary Position, was in exchange for an endorsement from the late mother to further the facade of good relations between the family and the impoverished population, which was gladly given.

Mother Teresa would also have a similar exchange with Charles Keating, who was convicted in the United States in the early 1990s on multiples account of fraud and racketeering, and who was personally responsible for among other things the loss of more than 21,000 elderly Americans of their life savings. During his trial, Mother Teresa described Keating as having “always been kind and generous to God’s poor” in a letter she wrote to the judge on his behalf. In exchange for her kind words, Keating gave more than $1 million to  her charity. When called upon by Californian courts to return Keating’s donation, she refused.

Unfortunately, the danger of giving off a charitable impression is that it appeals to credulity. It instills an almost automatic mechanism for justifying even the most suspicious acts. Supporters of Mother Teresa may defend her against this charge by arguing that taking money from bad people, to use for good, is an honourable thing. After all, who better to take it from? However, if one were to follow these funds, one would immediately discern that it was not spent on the poor, nor the building of shelters or hospices, but on nunneries and brothers’ homes. Surely, it was not to that end that people, even criminals, were making their donations.

Moreover, Mother Teresa’s actions came under criticism for their inefficacy as well. Her shelters and hospices in Kolkata were not purely havens for the poor, as they were often touted, but were instead aptly named “dying shelters” where suffering was venerated as a kind of blessing. Speaking on the suffering in Kolkata, Mother Teresa  once said, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” There have also been several claims that in the dying shelters, Mother Teresa and her fellow nuns would baptise non-Catholics on their deathbeds, without their knowledge or consent.

In 1991, Robin Fox, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, visited Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes (the name has since changed to the friendlier “Home of the Pure Heart”). His investigation condemned the home’s lack of medical expertise and the blatant disregard for pain by the attending sisters. There have been multiple reports of negligent medical care, including the reuse of unsterilized needles, administration of expired medicine, and confinement of ill people to small spaces where the risk of cross-contamination increases. In 2013, a similar investigation by faculty members of the University of Montreal concluded that Mother Teresa’s institutions “[cared] for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it.”

The greatest detriment to Kolkata, where Mother Teresa spent most of her “charitable” time, was perhaps that she spent her entire career campaigning against family planning and birth control under the notion that AIDS may be bad but not as bad as condoms. Moreover, she also advocated relentlessly against abortion rights, stating when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 that, “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion.” This was during the height of the Cold War, yet it seems that abortion posed more of a threat to peace than nuclear warfare.  Throughout her lifetime, she stood in staunch opposition to reproductive rights for women, thereby denying  them the means by which they could assert bodily autonomy. The right to family planning, along with access to education, is a fundamental necessity for generations of women to move forward from the patriarchal conditions of the past to deny women this is to perpetuate one of the causal factors of millennial poverty around the world.  

We judge people by the fruits of their labor, as we ought to, and Mother Teresa should be no exception. An important question is why it is so difficult to open Mother Teresa’s life to criticism. The answer is two-fold. The first reason is because Mother Teresa provides, as author Vijay Prashad puts it, “the quintessential image of a white woman in the colonies, working to save the dark bodies from their own temptations and failures.” It is this white saviour complex that titillates media coverage all the while ignoring the often more important work done by an ex-colony’s own people and cushions the blow of any criticism levelled against the white saviours themselves.  

The second reason is because one’s instinct is often to trust figures who, even if they may be acting out of their own personal agendas, are able to do so under the guise of altruism and charity. Mother Teresa’s presence in the colonies occurred at a time when many struggled with disease, poverty, and oppression in the aftermath of colonial settlement she was, for many, a reinstatement of the ideals of faith and kindness. We tend not to scrutinize those who thus capture our imaginations, but nonetheless it is crucial that we hold them accountable for their actions, whether it be for the sake of reminding them of their moral duties, or for the good of the people they are to serve. This can be said not only of religious figures, but of all who fall under the public eye: politicians, celebrities, creators, and the like.  

Preconceptions are a dangerous business. Words like ‘charity’ and ‘faith’ appeal to softer sides and elicit praise, but it is necessary for us not to let the goodwill associated with these words impair our ability to think critically about those who we hold up as pillars of our communities. For better or worse, they should still be held accountable and judged by the fruits they bear.

The life of Mother Teresa is a controversial one, and her canonization begs a re-evaluation of our perceptions of charity. The question arises of whether we shall exercise our skepticism, as we should, or allow the notion of ‘charity’ to fray unnoticed, as it will, until it is too late.


Selective remembrance Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:34 +0000 Every year on September 11, we are prompted to “never forget.” As numerous news specials, online articles, and social media posts make it impossible not to recall the events of that day, the sentiment of “never forget” is still just as strong as it was more than a decade ago.

To call September 11 a day that changed the U.S. would be no understatement. Having grown up only thirty minutes away from Washington D.C., I remember how, even as a child, I noticed the sudden increase in airport security, and the new sensational headlines, all centered around the fear of a people I had never thought of as the ‘other’. It has been fifteen years since 3000 people were killed in the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon, sparking an ongoing fear of terrorism that has lasted more than a decade. However, it has been less than two years since Boko Haram carried out a massacre that ended the lives of more than 150 innocent Nigerian citizens in Baga. It has been merely three months since a coordinated bomb attack in Baghdad killed approximately 300 Iraqi civilians. Why is only the first one ever acknowledged?

On the anniversary of 9/11, some Facebook-users chose to use profile overlays or trending hashtags to pay their respects, resembling previous profile overlays made to support the victims of the Paris attack in 2015 and those of the Pulse nightclub shooting earlier this year. The horrors of the aforementioned tragedies should not be ignored. However, there is something to be said about which tragedies are chosen to be spotlighted and which are not. As a result of 9/11, and recent events that have unfolded in other parts of the world, Western media has created a climate of fear by perpetuating a one-dimensional narrative where white civilians are victims and people of colour are perpetrators.

By doing so, the general public is only aware of Western tragedies and are made ignorant of horrors of a similar magnitude occuring frequently to people of colour around the world. As an American, I have found that the only way to find full coverage of events outside the U.S. is to search for them myself on the internet. It shouldn’t be so hard to receive a truly global view of the world’s news. When the local news channels broadcast only what affects white Western viewers, it is frustrating to see the lives of people of colour around the world (and within the United States) continuously ignored and put on the backburner. Obvious racism and acts of terror toward people of colour, including the LGBTQA+ community of colour, are always marginalized in favour of allowing the dominant white population to remain comfortable.

Corporate social media, dominated by large-scale mainstream media organisations and companies like Facebook and Twitter, caters almost entirely toward a Western audience. The ongoing violence that occurs on a regular basis throughout the Middle East at the hands of Western militaries and local Western-sponsored regimes remains unbroadcasted, unrepresented, and unacknowledged by Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, ultimately misinforming the West. It is not, of course, the fault of social media that thousands of lives are lost every month with little to no recognition; nor is it responsible for what, according to Al Jazeera, is the loss of “at least 1.3 million people [who] have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from direct and indirect consequences of the U.S. ‘war on terrorism.’” By choosing not to focus on stories that occur outside of North America and Europe, social media allows its Western audience to skim a clickbait article, feel mildly disturbed, and then promptly forget, especially when the tragedy does not directly relate to them. A death should be mourned regardless of race, sexuality, or religion.

This willful ignorance perpetuates Islamophobia in a devastatingly effective way. When news relating to the Middle East and Islam focuses more on the radical factions of Daesh (also known as ISIS) and Boko Haram than it does on the victims who were killed, our view of Islam is immediately restricted to the terrorists, rather than the terrorized. More importantly, when militaries from the West are deployed on foreign soil, we turn our heads on the innocents who are killed as a result of this violence, and claim it to be in the name of the “war on terror.” We remember the suicide bombers and the ‘radical’ jihadist leaders who we percieve as threats, ignoring the fact that our own government regularly commits atrocities against ordinary citizens in the Middle East, turning their home into a battleground.

Islamophobia perpetuated by ignorance has been asserted through hate crimes, anti-refugee rhetoric, and direct accusations of terrorism hurled towards an entire religion, whose adherents are the most affected and harmed by terrorism. Such ignorance spreads far and wide. Even in elementary school, I witnessed children too afraid to sit next to their Muslim classmates, some using ‘terrorist’ as a racial slur.

The belief that Muslims are inherently dangerous has justified the killing of hundreds of people across the Middle East and northern Africa, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, with drone attacks by the U.S. government claiming to target ‘terrorist cells’ and recieving little to no opposition. According to a report published by The Intercept, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” In Yemen, the hunt for seventeen men led to the deaths of 273 people, including seven children. In Pakistan, the death of a single Taliban deputy commander cost the lives of 128 others. When social media glosses over such topics, it is easy to think of these lives as just another statistic, or simple casualties that were the necessary consequence of eliminating ‘Islamic’ terrorism. It leads us to forget that these lives are just as valuable as the lives lost in the attacks on 9/11. The lack of social media coverage on casualties occurring anywhere outside of the West dehumanizes the victims involved and proves how willing we are to ignore human suffering, when the affected group does not relate directly to white society.

It has been fifteen years since the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon. Fifteen years since the United States was shaken by a disaster so powerful that it now serves as a marker of time, as we now refer to things pre- and post-9/11. As an American, I recognize just as much as everyone else how horrible that day was for our country. When I see pictures of bodies dropping from the towers and hear personal stories of those who lost family members in the carnage, it pains me to think that there are people who could even think of executing such an awful act. However, others are still living this nightmare; while the United States can look back on 9/11 and commemorate it with hashtags and profile pictures, the terror of 9/11 continues elsewhere in another form, unrecognized and ignored, without much hope of it ever becoming only a memory.

“What even IS bisexuality?” Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:24 +0000 There was never a specific moment of revelation in my life where I realised that I wasn’t straight. Instead, it took me a long time to recognise that I was interested in girls. At that point in my life, I knew what a lesbian was. Ellen Degeneres had just gotten her own talk show. A woman that loved other women was a lesbian – but I didn’t feel like a lesbian.

I had crushes on boys, too – though not as often or to the same degree as my crushes on other girls. How could I be a lesbian if I had a crush on the boy who rode the same bus home as I did? Did lesbians get butterflies in their stomach when they saw a cute boy?

After a few more years of deciphering my attraction to various people, cautious experimentation, and falling head over heels for at least one woman and one man, I stopped keeping it a secret. By the end of my senior year of high school everybody knew I was bisexual, and I was damn proud of it.

After breaking up with my first boyfriend, however, I suddenly felt myself losing interest in men. And maybe that’s part of the reason I left him; I’m still not sure. About a year and a half later, I had just broken up with my first real girlfriend, and all I knew is that I was wildly conflicted. I was attracted to women but I wasn’t really attracted to men. Surely that made me a lesbian, right?

So I came out, again, as a lesbian. While it felt nice to let the world know I wasn’t interested in men anymore, the label itself still didn’t quite sit right with me. “Bisexual” continued to feel like a better fit – but I felt like a ‘bad bi’ for not liking men. I knew that you could be bisexual and have different levels of attraction for different genders, but my attraction to men seemed to be at 0 per cent and my attraction to women 75 per cent. What about the other 25 per cent?

So now, at the end of Bisexuality Visibility Week, here I am coming out for a third time. I am a bisexual woman who is not attracted to men.
I know what you might be thinking: “how can she be bi if she doesn’t like men?”

The Bisexual Resource Centre (BRC) defines bisexuality as “an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their capacity for sexual, romantic and/or emotional attraction to more than one gender.” Wikipedia still uses a more outdated definition, calling bisexuality the “romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females.” This latter definition assumes that the gender binary (the belief that there are only two genders) is true – which it is not. Some bisexual people may indeed only be attracted to men and women. Others may be attracted to men and other genders, but not women. My bisexuality means that I am attracted to women and other genders, but not men. I can only speak from my own experiences, and I certainly don’t intend to speak for all bisexual people – every person experiences their attraction differently.

“But doesn’t bi mean two?”

Technically, yes. This is why, oftentimes, bisexual people describe their sexuality as an attraction to two or more genders. Being bisexual doesn’t mean that your attraction is limited to two specific genders, or that the only two genders you can be attracted to are men and women. Some bisexuals are attracted to only two genders, some are attracted to more. Some bisexual people describe their attraction to two groups, the first group being people of the same gender, the second group being people of other genders. Each bisexual person can have a unique definition of their bisexuality.

“Wait a second, how can there be more than two genders? I thought there were just men and women.”

To put it simply, gender exists on a spectrum in a similar way to sexuality. Some people don’t identify as a man or a woman. Some peoples’ gender fluctuates. Some people don’t have a gender at all. You can be a man with a vagina, or an agender person with a penis. Your gender is yours, you know it best, so only you know how to define it.

“How can you know that you’re bi if you haven’t had sex with different people with different genders?”

You don’t need to have sex with somebody to discern whether or not you’re attracted to them. Plus, you can be bi and asexual, which means that you experience reduced or no desire to have sex.

“Okay, so then what’s the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?”

In short, bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, while pansexuality is attraction regardless of gender. A bisexual person may be attracted to any/all genders but feel more comfortable identifying as bisexual than pansexual. Some bisexual people use bisexual and pansexual interchangeably.

“So if pansexual people are attracted to all genders, but bisexual people perhaps aren’t, does that mean pansexual people are attracted to trans people but bisexual people aren’t?”

No. This is another common misconception which assumes that trans men and trans women are not ‘real’ men or ‘real’ women. Take a bisexual person who is attracted to men and women. Because trans men are men, and trans women are women, this particular person would be attracted to trans men and trans women the same way they would be attracted to cis men and cis women.

“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, because bisexual people always end up picking a side.”

Not true! While some bisexual people will one day be married or decide to spend their life with one specific person, this does not mean that they have ‘picked a side’. A bisexual woman who ends up with a woman is not a lesbian, she is still bisexual. A bisexual man who ends up with a woman is not straight, he is still bisexual.

“But I know several lesbians and/or gay men who used to be bisexual! Bisexuality is just a phase, a stepping stone to coming out as really gay.”

Yes, this happens! I also know several bisexual women who used to call themselves lesbians, and several bisexual men who used to identify as gay. Sexuality is fluid. Changing how you identify just means that you’re getting to know yourself better, not that bisexuality is a phase.

“Well, I know some bisexual girls who are actually straight, they just make out with other girls or have threesomes sometimes, it’s probably so guys think they’re hot.”

I’m guessing the girls you’re talking about know their sexuality better than you do. Who’s to say that making out with girls and having threesomes isn’t bisexual? Who says you must have relationships with all the genders you’re attracted to in order to become a Licensed Bisexual™? No individual has the right to scrutinise or call into question how someone else chooses to identify their gender or sexuality. In fact, hiding under the “straight girl just making out with other girls to get attention from guys” stereotype can be a safe way for questioning girls to experiment with other girls without ‘officially’ coming out. Instead, question why guys think girls make out at parties just to grab their attention.

“Okay, okay. I get it. Bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, and each bisexual has their own definition of and experiences as bisexual. So why do bisexuals need a visibility week, or even a visibility day? Isn’t Pride enough?”

We need visibility because, while we are not straight, we’re oftentimes excluded from the LGBTQA+ community because we’re “not really queer,” because we can be in relationships that appear to be straight. Bisexual Visibility Week helps to combat stereotypes and misconceptions that can be harmful to the bi community. It also helps draw attention to the struggles that bisexual people face, like how around 50 per cent of bisexual women will face sexual violence in their lifetimes, or how bisexual people are more likely to consider suicide than their gay and lesbian counterparts. Bisexual women are also often accused of being more “sexually available” because of their attraction to multiple genders, which leads to victim blaming and slut shaming. Bisexuality visibility events allow us to meet and connect with other bisexuals near us and all over the world, and help foster a sense of community that we might not otherwise have access to.

Bisexuality is broad and beautiful and badass. We exist across space and time – that is, throughout the world and throughout history – and our presence is valid. There is no one way to be bisexual, and your bisexuality is perfect just the way it is. There is no one in the world who has the right to question your bisexuality, however hard they might try. Happy Bisexual Visibility Week!

First Senate meeting focuses on equity Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:20 +0000 On Wednesday, September 21, the McGill Senate convened for its first meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year in the Redpath Museum auditorium.
Principal Suzanne Fortier’s opening remarks included a brief outline of McGill’s enrolment numbers for this year. The total number of students currently enrolled will not be disclosed until the second week of October, but Fortier explained that the figure has increased by roughly 2.6 per cent compared to last year. Fortier added that “this is the biggest increase” in enrolment that she has seen.

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Erin Sobat and Science Senator Sean Taylor submitted a question concerning course assessment technologies. More specifically, the question focused on whether students must purchase programs required in certain courses for practice or extra credit, such as the McGraw-Hill Connect homework program. It was generally agreed that these programs are not mandatory but provide students access to extra resources when needed. The proposed solution was to encourage professors to communicate with students, and work together to provide the necessary support and to resolve any problems arising from extra-curricular homework.

“This is the biggest increase” in enrolment that she has seen.

Policy on harassment

Associate Provost Angela Campbell brought a memorandum to appoint geology professor Natalie Oswin as an assessor under the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law (not to be confused with the recently released Draft Policy on Sexual Violence). The Senate approved Oswin’s term as assessor beginning October 1 of this year and ending September 30, 2019. Oswin will replace Professor Robert Leckey, who was recently appointed Dean of Law.

The annual report on the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, which Campbell presented, showed an increase in the number of assessors in the last year, from the minimum of eight assessors to ten, along with increased assessor training. She noted that there had been an average of 36 cases per year over the last ten years; the majority concerned harassment. There were four possible outcomes to each case, with 72 per cent of the cases stopping at inquiry only, while the others were either informally resolved, formally resolved (which may or may not have included disciplinary action), or withdrawn.

Sobat questioned why a majority of the complaints had stopped at the inquiry stage, to which Campbell responded that most people prefer not to proceed with a full investigation, and that many of the inquiries were simply questions.

There had been an average of 36 cases per year over the last ten years; the majority concerned harassment.

Joint Committee on Equity

A major focus of the meeting was the annual report of the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity (JBSCE). The report revealed that the JBSCE has been advocating for the implementation of McGill’s own Employment Equity Policy for the coming academic year, as well as an increase in the number of gender neutral washrooms on campus.

A brief debate followed about how those who identify as female at McGill account for 58 per cent of the population, but the female gender is still considered under represented. Campbell noted that she would like to focus on the specifics of each faculty, such as engineering, in which women make up 27 per cent of students, an increase of six per cent over the past five years.

Campbell stated that, personally, she does not believe that men are underrepresented on campus, in terms of the cases and inquiries that the JBSCE receive. In response to a question about whether there is an absolute number that defines under representation, Campbell said, she does not believe there is. “I don’t think it is a fairness question in respect to men’s representation on campus. That’s my own personal take on this,” she said.

“We look at what’s happened historically and which groups continue to face barriers due to historical exclusion or ongoing difficulty accessing a full experience as a student or staff at the university,” Campbell further elaborated. The human rights principle and the Quebec charter on the grounds of discrimination are also taken into account.

“I don’t think it is a fairness question in respect to men’s representation on campus.”

Principal Fortier also brought up the “scissor effect,” which describes how there is a higher percentage of women in undergraduate studies, but there is a higher proportion of men in the higher graduate degrees.

White tears increase on campus Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:14 +0000 According to a recent study conducted by StatsMcGall on the undergraduate student body, white tears on McGall campus have significantly increased since last year. According to the organisation, there has been an estimated 40 per cent increase: “and this is just for the month of September,” read the report. The results were announced at the recent McGall Block Party, which was held on lower field and hosted by none other than Principal and Vice Baroness Suzie Forte herself.

“We are befuddled by this rise in white tears,” said StatsMcGall head coordinator Bevan Jerry, himself a student and activist on campus, and a self-identified witness to many white tears. “We thought they had reached their apex last year after students voted overwhelmingly to adopt a motion at the SHMU Winter General Assembly to set up an ‘an actual safe space for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of colour] students on campus.’” The motion failed online ratification shortly after. According to the study, cis white male tears account for around 95 per cent of the overall increase of white tears on campus.

Baroness Forte started chanting “All Lives Matter!” shortly after the announcement of the updated campus white tears index. Her chant was greeted with scattered applause and scowls from students of colour who were caught off guard by yet another microaggression, as they simply wanted to “get to class without having to be constantly reminded that McGall doesn’t give a shit about us,” according to bystander and campus activist Chantal Jules.

In an interview with The Weekly, Jules highlighted that the most recent instance of the resurgence of white tears on campus is the petition “We’re Relevant Too,” on the popular website www.change?.net. The petition calls on SHMU to ratify the We Love Legal Procedure Board’s decision that setting up a safe space in SHMU “just for BIPOC” is unconstitutional. The petition, the launch of which coincided with International Day of Peace, stated “white students on campus are uncomfortable with recent divisive politics,” and that they “don’t see race or colour” – echoing Marc Jacobs’ historic announcement following criticism of the white models with dreadlocks used in his show earlier this week.

“Being back home in the Middle East this summer really made me forget about white people,” said student activist Rami Shmalek. “I got so used to not being told by white people that I’m being ‘too emotional’ or ‘reverse racist’ when I was pointing out human rights abuses to them […] When I landed at King Trudeau International Airport earlier this month and saw all these white people, I said to myself, ‘Shit, I’m going to have to do some readjusting.’ This morning’s announcement was a stark reminder of that too.”

Bevan Jerry, also a self-identified BIPOC ally, said that the StatsMcGall results should not distract the administration from listening to its BIPOC students as well. “Yes, there is a significant increase of white tears and we should address that, but the McGall administration can’t only concern itself with these tears. What about others?”

When approached for comment after the semi-successful Block Party, Baroness Forte seemed confused. “I had no idea students were this upset,” she declared. When asked whom she meant by “students,” she replied, “well… the white ones, that’s where all the tears are coming from, right? We should probably do some damage control.” However, it remains to be seen whether this damage control involves throwing BIPOC students under the bus, again.

Indigenous Awareness Week Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:11 +0000 Why IAW?

McGill’s sixth annual Indigenous Awareness Week, organized by the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), launched on September 19. It was immediately preceded by the 15th annual McGill Pow Wow, organized by the First Peoples’ House, on September 16. The week typically consists of a series of events featuring prominent members of Indigenous communities, and aims to raise awareness about the challenges that these communities have faced and continue to face, and to facilitate communication on and off campus. It also serves as a valuable platform for educating McGill students and staff about Indigenous cultures, practices, and ceremonies.

This year’s Indigenous Awareness Week featured 15 events, including the opening ceremony, a presentation by Dr. Taiaiake Alfred on the effects of environmental pollution on Indigenous peoples’ culture, a screening and discussion about the pass system, a discussion on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in relation to religious communities, a reconciliation ceremony, and the launch of the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education.

Indigenous Awareness Week is particularly important for the McGill community, given that the University is located on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka (or “Mohawk”) land. McGill’s administration still refuses to officially acknowledge this, and has faced criticism from a variety of groups over its continued failure to adequately recognize and honour Indigeneity. Significantly, Indigenous groups and individuals from McGill and elsewhere have been at the forefront of organizing Indigenous Awareness Week since its inception.

Opening Ceremony

On Monday, September 19, McGill’s sixth annual Indigenous Awareness Week officially began. Allan Vicaire, the Indigenous Education Advisor at SEDE and First Peoples’ House, welcomed attendees to the Opening Ceremony by acknowledging that the land on which McGill stands is unceded territory belonging to Indigenous peoples. “We are meeting together on land which has long served as a site of meaning, meaning and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples […] and we recognize them as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today,” Vicaire said.

Several notable figures participated in the ceremony, including Elder Delbert Sampson of the Shuswap First Nation in British Columbia, Elder Jean Stevenson from Cree of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, and two members of the Indigenous band Odaya, who performed three songs for attendees. The Elders extended a blessing to the attendees and the land on which Montreal rests. They also emphasized the significance of learning about Indigenous culture and the necessity of incorporating it into society.

“When we talk about reconciliation, the important thing is that Indigenous peoples’ voices are being heard,” said Stevenson, “and it’s important to listen to those voices, to have some understanding about the history and what has happened, and what is going on today, and what the plans for the future are.”

“When we talk about reconciliation, the important thing is that Indigenous peoples’ voices are being heard.”

The ceremony celebrated the efforts of various organizations at McGill, such as the First Peoples’ House and SEDE, for raising awareness and building a stronger Indigenous community on campus. Kakwiranó:ron Cook, Aboriginal Outreach Administrator of First People’s House, concluded the ceremony, noting that the number of incoming Indigenous students at McGill has increased from twenty in 2010 to one hundred this year, which fulfills SEDE’s target for Fall 2018. “It’s exciting to see more awareness of McGill programs, making McGill more attractive and inclusive for Indigenous learners.”

“It’s exciting to see more awareness of McGill programs, making McGill more attractive and inclusive for Indigenous learners.”

The keynote speaker of the event, Dr. Taiaiake Alfred, was unable to make it to the ceremony. He delivered a powerful lecture on reconciliation and justice later that day, however, at the Moot Court in New Chancellor Day Hall.

Examining the pass system

The first day of Indigenous Awareness Week concluded with the screening of the film “The Pass System,” in partnership with the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
The room was filled to capacity, with a strong turnout from McGill staff and students alike.

“The Pass System” centered on Canada’s systemic segregation of its Indigenous population through the historical pass system on reserves. Implemented in 1885, this system prohibited Indigenous people from leaving their reserves without a pass signed by a so-called “Indian agent,” a state-appointed official who wielded immense power over the Indigenous communities within his jurisdiction. Although it was never formally written into Canadian legislation, this was the grim reality for many Indigenous people.

Director Alex Williams interviewed Cree, Soto, Dene, Ojibwe, and Blackfoot Elders of the regions where the film took place in order to share their experiences living under a system that limited their basic right to mobility.The documentary also used historical documents to show the injustices inflicted under the pass system.

A panel discussion on “silenced Indigenous histories” followed the screening, with Allan Downey, an assistant professor in the McGill department of History and Classical Studies, whose specialization is Indigenous History, moderating the discussion.

The panelists, including director Alex Williams, Ellen Gabriel, Sandra-Lynn Kahsennano:ron Leclaire, and Orenda Boucher-Curotte, discussed their take on the pass system and the modern struggles Indigenous people face today.

Gabriel, an Indigenous human rights activist, emphasized the need to share these stories with Indigenous youth as the voices in the film have so far remained largely unheard.
“Not much has changed. We still feel like we only belong in reserves,” Gabriel told the crowd.

“Not much has changed. We still feel like we only belong in reserves.”

Boucher-Curotte, who is part of the McGill Institute of the Study of Canada, echoed that sentiment. “The Canadian government is still restricting us, just in different ways,” she said.

Reconciliation and dialogue

On Wednesday September 21, a group of around 50 McGill students and staff gathered on the front lawn outside of New Chancellor Day Hall for a reconciliation ceremony. The ceremony focused on Indigenous law, justice, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The ceremony was led by Algonquin Elder Dominique Rankin and his partner Marie-Josée Tardif. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School, along with fellow University of Victoria law professor Rebecca Johnson, also participated in the ceremony.

Generally speaking, ceremony forms an important part of Indigenous law, and the event was set up to reflect that. Elder Rankin began the ceremony by explaining the significance of the fire, the “sacred fire,” he said in French, that was in the center of the circle formed by attendees and speakers.

Borrows then performed a song which he said Justice Murray Sinclair used as guidance when asked to be the chair of the TRC.

“Law can actually be expressed not only through story and other fashions, but it can also be expressed through song. So this song is one way that law can be communicated in the Anishinaabe legal tradition,” Borrows said.

“Law can actually be expressed not only through story and other fashions, but it can also be expressed through song.”

Elder Rankin shared his experience in a residential school: “The first day in the residence school, they took my clothes, my hair, my moccasins, and my feathers. They burned everything,” he said in English. He described how he was taken away from his parents, how he was not allowed to speak the Anishinaabe language, and the effect this had on him physically and psychologically. “I judged a lot. I judged everyone,” he said in French.

“You can’t forget that,” he added in English.

“The first day in the residence school, they took my clothes, my hair, my moccasins, and my feathers. They burned everything.”

But for Rankin, “today is a difference. For my vision is a difference. Everything comes back to see me. The creator [….] I listen to him,” he said. He shared how his mother saved him, how she found him and told him to come back home.

“I am Anishinaabe today. Pas une victime. No more victim. Je ne suis plus une victime […] I am a winner. Je suis gagné et la vie est belle,” he concluded in both English and French.
Tardif expressed how the event gave her hope, saying, “We heard about […] what you’re trying to implement here slowly and surely, and that really is touching.”

Speaking to The Daily, Borrows concluded that “the ceremony is a representation of how people can gather in a way that’s patient and takes the time needed today to engage in conversation and understanding.”

Provost’s Task Force Launches

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 22, a ceremony was held to mark the relocation of the Hochelaga Rock, a cultural landmark established by Parks Canada to commemorate the Iroquois settlement that once existed on the land currently occupied by McGill’s downtown campus. Voices on campus had been advocating for the relocation since 2012, on the grounds that such a crucial piece of the region’s history should be displayed in a more prominent location.

During the ceremony, the administration also officially launched the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Issues, which Provost Christopher Manfredi described as “being animated by two core themes: recognition of Indigenous history, contemporary presence, and ways of knowing and learning; and reconciliation, by heeding the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically through educational and institutional efforts, aimed at redressing historical legacies of injustice, and restoring relationships with Indigenous peoples.”
Manfredi explained that he had instructed the Task Force to address a number of things, including, but not limited to, increased physical and symbolic representation of Indigenous history, facilitation of Indigenous student access to McGill, more effective recruitment of Indigenous staff, and incorporation of Indigenous perspectives and issues “within McGill’s curricular and research mission.”

Indigenous rights activist Ellen Gabriel of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation and Turtle Clan, and a former employee of McGill’s First Peoples’ House, was one of many Indigenous leaders invited to speak at the ceremony.

“This [Task Force] isn’t something McGill did willingly,” said Gabriel to the crowd. “There was a lot of resistance at the beginning, so I’m glad to see the door open a bit, because there’s a lot of work [left] to do.”

“Education in Canada’s dark history, in its colonial past, was used as a weapon of assimilation and genocide against Indigenous peoples and their nations,” she continued. “If there is to be true reconciliation, and if McGill is to be part of that, there needs to be restitution, and there needs to be some help, understanding, and compassion, because as the former Auditor General of Canada [Sheila Fraser] said ‘It’s going to take 28 years for [Indigenous] community schools to catch up to the quality of education that you see in the rest of Canada.’ And that’s a lot of work.”

“If there is to be true reconciliation, and if McGill is to be part of that, there needs to be restitution, and there needs to be some help, understanding, and compassion […]”

“We are looking forward to the [Task Force’s] recommendations, so that we can take concrete actions to accomplish those goals,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier in her address to the crowd. “I am convinced that with such highly committed people […] who will be participating in the work of this Task Force, and our very engaged campus and community, we will be able to make great steps in acknowledging the presence of Indigeneity on our campus.”

Cosmic rays and meteorite strikes Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:08 +0000 Astérismes, or asterisms in English, refers to “constellations created without scientific basis.” Renowned Quebecois artist Nicolas Baier uses this concept, as evocative of the celestial as it is idiosyncratic, to explore how “natural and man-made systems” merge into epistemological frameworks that construct meaning. Hosted by Division Gallery, Baier’s solo exhibit, “Astérismes,” raises an important question: with recent technological developments, can mankind recreate nature’s sublime?

Division Gallery is a strange, swanky contrast to the brownstone buildings and abandoned lots that surround it in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal. Its high ceilings allow plenty of wall-space for Baier’s sprawling works. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer encounters Rayonnement fossile, which was stippled black and white to evoke the static of a television screen. In the label beside the piece, Baier informs us that the traces of cosmic rays, dating back to the Big Bang, are still perceptible in television monitors. The work was also reminiscent of a grainy photo of a wind-blown and choppy sea, suggesting that Baier undermines rigid distinctions between the man-made and the natural by making us recall that everything — from televisions to oceans — is the progeny of the Big Bang. The piece forces viewers to acknowledge the awe-inducing immensity that lurks all around us, even in those parts of our lives that we consider the most banal.

[With] recent technological developments, can mankind recreate nature’s sublime?

The piece beside it, Forêt, reflects on the immensity and infinity of both time and knowledge. The piece, in bas-relief and made of mousse and epoxy paint, was a monochrome white that, according to the label, “evokes the untouched, the original, the initial, and thus the unfathomable: colour without data, void of even zeros.” The piece depicted bookshelves stretching back eternally and crammed with dossiers representing “a forest of information storage devices — knowledge accumulated in an infinite library” reflecting the eternal “quest for knowledge.” If Rayonnement fossile excavated the fossils of the Big Bang embedded all around us, then Forêt was a metaphysical thought-experiment (What was there before the Big Bang?) meets the Library of Babel, Borges’ universe-as-library.

In Réminiscence 05 and Réminiscence 06, Baier shows the extent to which our ceaseless quest for knowledge has developed. We’ve gone from gawking at the sublimity of eons-old fossils to tackling the task of conjuring epochal immensity in all its majesty. The works are computer generated images of the moment 66 million years ago when a meteorite fell to Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Réminiscence 05 shows a crimson cloud-bed, roiling and tumultuous, looming in angry pillars. The dramatic shadows and yellow haze add to the sense of fatal grandeur. On the other hand, Réminiscence 06 is beautiful for its serenity. It depicts gently rising and falling, sediment-brown clouds stretching back to misty sunlight.

We’ve gone from gawking at the sublimity of eons-old fossils to tackling the task of conjuring epochal immensity in all its majesty.

With displays like this, “Astérismes” draws our attention to how advances in technology are opening up a new dimension of experience and meaning via its ability to reconstruct nature in all its grandeur, capturing moments that may not be registered by the human eye. But it also raises the question: just how genuine are these digital analogues of the natural sublimeÉ Baier even admits that the two Réminiscence pieces, though they give us the “point of view of God,” are “only artifice since this image is but a supposition of what the sky looked like.”

Perhaps “Astérismes,” with its large amount of research on physics, would answer the question of whether mankind can create a sublime to match nature’s by reminding us that the universe is ever-expanding, its circumference an eternal elastic, and that though humanity will invent new technologies to simulate its grandeur, it is the universe that will implode and destroy all. And what’s more sublime than that?