The McGill Daily MORE NUANCE since 1911 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 02:09:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 Quebec researchers unite at inter-school Neurosymposium Sun, 25 Jun 2017 10:00:24 +0000 “Red…green…blue…yellow” the crowd chanted. They had been instructed to shout the colour of each word written on the screen, as fast as possible. However, the colour and the words did not match;  on a slide at the front of the auditorium was the word “BLUE” written in red, the word “YELLOW” written in green, and so forth. The struggle was audible, the chanting slightly out of sync as audience members tried to block out the content of the words.

This task demonstrated the well-known Stroop effect; it is much easier to read out the colour of a word when its text and colour do not clash. When the two are different, we take significantly longer to read out the correct colour of the word. Reading comes more naturally and automatically to us than naming a colour, which takes more mental effort. Because we automatically read the text before we try to name the colour, we experience a delay in reaction time, as our brain struggles to suppress what we read. This phenomenon is known as interference.

The colour-shouting audience consisted primarily of graduate students participating in the second annual Neurosymposium, held at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal. It was a one-day conference, providing opportunity for students to share their cutting-edge brain research in a relatively informal setting. The theme of the event was the role of neuroscience in society, with a focus on applying new discoveries to clinical treatments.

The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Rita Goldstein, a professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.  The Stroop effect experiment was a part of her keynote talk on the neuroscience of drug addiction. She explained how an altered version of the Stroop effect was used to study addiction in her research.  “You’re not off the hook yet”, she joked. She instructed the crowd to identify the colour of the words like the first experiment, but with words that were drug-related. “HIGH” written in green, “PIPE” in red.

The second, altered version of this task has been used in Dr. Goldstein’s research to show how people addicted to cocaine process drug-related words differently than people who are not addicted. Research participants with drug addiction performed this task in an fMRI brain scanner, and were found to perform better than controls on the task. The scanner also revealed that individuals with addiction receive a rush of dopamine, representing desire for the drug, upon reading out the colour of a drug-related word.

A horizontal conference

The Neurosymposium aimed to bring together graduate neuroscience students from across the province to network, discuss, and present new ideas, fostering a Quebec-wide collaborative neuroscience community. Unlike a standard neuroscience event, this inter-university student-led project was “horizontal” in nature, meaning it consisted mostly of students presenting to other students. This provided the unique opportunity for young researchers to share their knowledge with like-minded students from different schools.

Presentations were quick and topically diverse, with students sharing novel research into pain, language, eating habits, autism, epilepsy, and even American voting habits. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s were also the focus of several talks. The event was organized by students in McGill’s Graduate Student Association for Neuroscience (GSAN), along with the graduate societies of other schools in attendance.

Participants included delegates from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), McGill, Université de Montréal, Laval, Sherbrooke, Concordia, as well as researchers from as far as Trois-Rivières and Outaouais. The Neurosymposium’s horizontal nature was intended to encourage greater collaboration among emerging scientists, and to allow brain research to progress faster through knowledge sharing.

The conference was also open to numerous undergraduate students, who attended featured talks and individual presentations by graduate researchers. Interested parties were encouraged to explore a diverse range of neuroscience sub-fields through one on one discussions with researchers. “You get to network with people who are more experienced than you” said Noga Aharony, an undergraduate neuroscience student at McGill, explaining that these events can provide very valuable insight for students thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in the field.

Translational vs. foundational research

Dr. Rita Goldstein’s keynote on practical, neuroscience-based interventions for drug addicts highlighted the event’s primary theme: the relationship between neuroscience and society.

The ideal intentions behind neuroscience research were debated during an early panel discussion. Some panelists agreed that scientific research should always be translational: research conducted with the intention of having practical uses to society. Others advocated for foundational research, done for the sake of research itself and for the expansion of knowledge.

Proponents for translational research argued scientists have a responsibility to focus on research that will lead to the development of useful medical tools. They mentioned that the most beneficial research to society may not always be the study a researcher finds most interesting.  

“It’s always important to think about how your research will affect people,” noted panelist Julie Savage, a postdoctoral fellow at Université Laval. “Take a few steps back and ask about how this will affect the future.”

Supporters of foundational research highlighted the importance of studying basic concepts with the primary goal of increasing our pool of knowledge. They emphasized that countless discoveries, from Penicillin to radioactivity, have been accidental. Scientists often make ground-breaking discoveries simply by following hunches and exploring their passions.

“There’s a middle ground” said Shadi Hadj-Youssef, a neuroscience undergraduate student at McGill. “If you solely focus on doing things for the sake of applicability and usefulness, there’s a clear impedance to your creativity.”

In the end, panelists agreed that there is a place for both foundational and translational research in modern neuroscience. Research application is more important than ever, and translational neuroscience can help improve the lives of people living with a range of mental illnesses, including addiction. At the same time, foundational research is also important, as there is still much work to be done in understanding the fundamentals of the brain’s function. Even if they do not immediately intend to, these foundational studies can also lead to future applications.

The collaborative future of neuroscience

With many unique areas of study, neuroscience has become increasingly specialized. Researchers may dedicate their entire lives to studying one particular protein, or a single region of the brain. Today, researchers recognize that it is rarely possible to advance our understanding of the brain through individual efforts alone.

Robin Sawaya, an MSc neuroscience student at McGill and an organizer of the event delivered a closing statement. “Collaboration is the future,” he stated, explaining that the stereotype of the lonesome neuroscientist toiling away in the lab is outdated. Modern researchers need to work together if they are to overcome the challenges posed by the deep complexity of the human brain.   

A recent emerging trend in the scientific world is “open science”: shifting focus away from competitive and private research, and towards the sharing of knowledge between labs and researchers for the sake of speeding up scientific progress. The Neurosymposium embodied this philosophy, encouraging collaboration, rather than competition, between schools.

Interdisciplinary work is the key to scientific progress. Brain scanners rely on concepts worked through by physicists, devices built by engineers, and software developed by computer scientists. Successful treatment relies on scientific knowledge from researchers being translated into diagnostic tools for clinicians, and drugs from chemists and pharmacists. It is through collaboration within neuroscience and across other fields that scientists can hope to pave the way for a better understanding of the brain, and a healthier future.

Kadeisha Buchanan’s European victory inspires at home Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:35:22 +0000 On June 1, 2017, Paris Saint-Germain took on Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Women’s Champions League Final in Cardiff. Both French teams featured talented Canadians: Kadeisha Buchanan started for Lyon, while her friend and national teammate Ashley Lawrence played for Paris Saint-Germain. The game ended with a close-fought 0-0 draw, and Lyon won 7-6 on penalty kicks.

Many Canadian soccer fans are hoping the win for the young Canadian star will bring more awareness to the women’s game back home. In recent years, Canada’s women’s team has been far more successful than the men’s, yet women’s soccer is still often overlooked. McGill goalkeeper Hannah Boshari told The Daily that she’s “not too sure how many people in Canada are actually aware that there is the UEFA competition for women’s club teams.” The men’s Champions League Final is one of the most watched annual sporting events in the world, while (as Boshari points out) many are unaware that the women’s version exists. Now, however, the women’s final may grow in popularity as more and more Canadian women are shunning the American women’s league to play in Europe – and finding success there.

“You mostly just hear about the American [Soccer] League and especially the fact that women’s soccer players can’t make a living from playing soccer, so hopefully with this win it will start inspiring more young Canadian girls that there are other opportunities than just the American League for them to go pro and have a go at professional soccer,” says Boshari.

Buchanan’s victory in Europe is proof that the Canadian women’s game continues to grow outside of North America, and into Europe – which is traditionally seen as the world’s main soccer market. Success in Europe for any Canadian is bound to inspire and encourage young Canadian players back home, and certainly improve our national team’s ability.

“Since the famous bronze medal at the Olympics, a lot more people are tuning in to watch the women’s team, so hopefully with more club success of individuals, our national team will keep gaining more supporters,” concludes Boshari.

Justin Trudeau is “a scrub with fuccboi tattoos” Fri, 19 May 2017 03:21:26 +0000 Amidst the clusterfuck of the Trump administration and Canada 150 propaganda, Canadians have been marinating in what journalist Jesse Brown calls our “Canadian humble superiority” – the widespread belief that Canadians are kinder, cleaner, and more rational than our billionaire machine-gun-toting neighbours to the South. Every Canadian’s wet dream “would be if you considered us just like you, but a little bit better,” he writes. But Brown thinks it’s time to shake Canadians out of that smugness. 

Jesse Brown is the journalist at the helm of the popular media criticism podcast Canadaland. With his new book, The Canadaland Guide to Canada, he’s aimed his criticism – usually reserved for Canadian media – at the rest of the country. The result is a scorched-earth satire policy that leaves no aspect of Canadiana and no member of the Canadian elite untouched: from our “drunk, racist dad” John A. Macdonald to the “union-stomping, queer-hunting, barn-burning posse of farm boys” known as the Mounties. And if you’re not already sold, there’s an entire section ranking our venerable Prime Ministers from most to least fuckable.

The Canadaland Guide to Canada delights in exposing the hypocrisy of Canadian image: “You can dig up the world’s dirtiest oil and be known as environmentalists! You can sell billions of dollars of weapons to murderous tyrants and be known as peacekeepers! You can deprive Indigenous people of clean drinking water and be known as multiculturalists!” This book isn’t just funny – it’s full of little-known facts, sordid history, and merciless commentary on topics that many Canadians would rather avert their eyes from.

The Daily spoke to Brown, who’s currently touring across the country for a stage show to promote the book.

The McGill Daily: At the beginning of the book, there’s a key to how to read it and decipher the difference between a joke and a fact – for example, jokes are often in blue italics and facts are in infoboxes. But when those sorts of stylistic cues aren’t present, there’s the assumption that the reader will use basic common sense to determine that something that sounds absolutely absurd is meant in jest.

What are the dangers of writing funny stuff these days – in the days of “fake news” and low media literacy?

Jesse Brown: The kind of book we wrote is of a tradition that we grew up reading. I grew up reading Mad Magazine, Spy Magazine, The Daily Show’s book about America – just funny and mean and absurd joke books that are all about taking shots at the most powerful people. And that’s nothing that has been done in Canada. It’s kind of shocking – you can’t really point to a Canadian version of that. And that’s why we wanted to write the book.

But what I found out is there’s a reason why those books haven’t been made in Canada. And going through the process of dealing with the libel lawyer and permissions for copyright – there’s this perception in Canada that we’re actually not allowed to do that kind of humour. It’s why I wanted the book to be published in America – to get around that kind of stuff. We still ran into it and we just fought, and the publisher ultimately could be swayed and I didn’t want to do it if we couldn’t really do it. So I feel like we got there, and I insisted that the book be as vulgar and profane as it is. I thought that was really important.

MD: Is it to challenge the image that Canadians are restrained, or more sophisticated than Americans?

JB: Absolutely. First of all, if you can’t depict the most powerful people in your country fornicating, how free are you?

And also, yeah, the book is an assault on this phony notion of Canadianness that we’ve been telling ourselves and the world. And part of that is always trying to be gentle and fair and decent – sometimes at the expense of telling the truth.

MD: Right, and it’s not just that the book is vulgar or funny – it’s that it also brings up a lot of uncomfortable facts. It mixes facts seamlessly with satire – which I imagine would be nerve-wracking to publish, when you’re considering whether you’re going to face a libel claim.

JB: It’s not so much [that Canada] is so litigious as it is that it’s so sensitive and everybody knows each other. America is litigious. People sue each other all the time and they get huge payouts – like the Gawker [verdict] was over 100 million dollars. There’s never been a libel ruling like that in Canada. […] So the answer’s something else: we’re afraid to criticize one another, and it’s not because we’re so litigious but because we’re so interconnected, we know who the powerful are.

Everyone knows everyone and everyone works with everyone – like Simon & Schuster [the publishing house for The Canadaland Guide to Canada] also published a book about hockey by Stephen Harper.

“First of all, if you can’t depict the most powerful people in your country fornicating, how free are you?”

MD: In the past you’ve been criticized by Simon Houpt in the Globe and Mail for having “a track record of playing fast and loose with facts” on Canadaland. Is this book, in any way, a response to that?

JB: [Laughs] No, this book was written with Simon Houpt about as far from mind as could be imagined.

But it’s definitely a fair question, because I think that there’s been this category confusion of “what is this Canadaland thing?” and “Who is this Jesse Brown guy? Is he a reporter? Is he a pundit? Now he’s doing satire.” There’s this feeling that you can’t do all those things – I’ve been told you can’t do all those things. And I don’t know why you can’t.

I appreciate that the responsibility is on me to very clearly communicate when I’m reporting a news story, when I’m telling rude jokes, and when I’m just offering my opinion – and make sure that those are not confused with each other – so that’s why we have a very deliberate, almost hilariously didactic “how to read this book” section. But it feels ridiculously limiting to me that I have to choose one role and stick to it throughout my career. One of the nice things about being an independent media company is that we can kind of do what we want.

“Who is this Jesse Brown guy? Is he a reporter? Is he a pundit? Now he’s doing satire.”

MD: One of the things I loved about the book was that you declared Justin Trudeau “absolutely unfuckable.” You called him “a scrub with fuccboi tattoos.” I love it! Do you think the Trudeaumania 2.0 fever has broken?

JB: [Laughs] Yeah, I think we’re starting to get the sense – the way that you do after a few months where you’re sleeping with somebody who looked too good to be true, and then you start to think “oh, didn’t he promise that thing?” And not just that, but the smell of their Axe body spray starts to grate on you, and there’s a patchouli scent on your pillow that you can’t quite get rid of – you just start to see through the whole thing. I think Canada is experiencing that right now with Justin Trudeau.

MD: Yeah, it’s incredible how fast the winds shifted; though the criticisms of him are very, very valid.

JB: Yeah, the whole thing about having, like, an Indigenous tattoo – like, have you ever met a white guy who had an Indigenous tattoo, or an Asian tattoo, who’s actually been a decent dude? It’s impossible!

I think he just let a lot of people in Indigenous communities down with some of the dumbass shit he said about Indigenous kids just wanting “a place to store their canoes.” You know, it’s all surface.

“We’re afraid to criticize one another, and it’s not because we’re so litigious but because we’re so interconnected, we know who the powerful are.”

MD: How is this book situated in the midst of Canada 150 celebrations? Especially given this book is really honest about Indigenous issues, at a time when Canada 150 is being dragged for being a very clear manifestation of the colonial imagination.

JB: Well, we wrote the book knowing that there was going to be this massive half-a-billion-dollar propaganda campaign for Canada 150, and we thought, “somebody needs to push back – we’re going to be drowning in maple syrup, and we need a little vinegar.”

I guess what I didn’t anticipate was that the propaganda would be so ludicrous, and so factually and historically incorrect that it would essentially spur the most hilarious and amazing and righteous [backlash]. It is incredible to see Indigenous Canada just dragging – that’s exactly the right term – just dragging the CBC and the government. […] This book is just a minor part of what we’re seeing – [the Canadian government has] opened the door in addressing Canada’s history, and they kind of want to point people down one path and they try to create a little bit of space like, “yes, we acknowledge that there are bad things that happened” and that door’s just being blown up. And it’s awesome to see.

It pains me to say it, but this actually may be a good thing when it’s all said and done. Because these festivities that they want us to patriotically enjoy – which most Canadians just ignore completely, because one good thing about Canadians is that we don’t do patriotism – but their insistence that we try it on for size is actually having this reverse effect, and the backlash is getting stronger than the propaganda campaign. So we’re a silly part of a very serious resistance.

“Somebody needs to push back – we’re going to be drowning in maple syrup, and we need a little vinegar.”

MD: I’m interested in that idea of backlash, satire, or opposition being stronger than whatever’s earnest or original. For example, I’ve noticed a really sharp uptick in quality in The Beaverton in the last year.

JB: Yeah, the Beaverton got good, that’s true.

MD: Right – I’m curious about what the health of a country’s satire says about the health of the country and its politics.

JB: I think that for a long time, the satire was as thin and vapid as the Canadian narrative itself. So when the Canadian narrative was just “oh, donuts n timmies, and we like to say sorry a lot,” then you get Rick Mercer and you get Air Farce, and you get This Hour Has 22 Minutes. But if we’re actually gonna go there – and talk about the history, even when you get it wrong you’re creating a really good setup for a killer jagged punchline.

So, yeah, CBC wants to do “the story of us” – well, there’s a lot of people who would really like to have a crack at the story of us.

“I think that for a long time, the satire was as thin and vapid as the Canadian narrative itself.”

MD: Do you have a favourite scandal or surprising fact that you learned during the course of writing this book?

JB: I think that my favourite thing is actually something that happened as a result of the book. I was tweeting about how crazy it is that our charter of rights and freedoms had to be signed to us by the Queen of England in 1982, and all of these Queen-loving Canadians were so angry with me, which is nothing new to me. But the fucking former Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, called me a “wingnut.”

That was my favourite thing – it just proved to me that the desire to maintain the status quo is just so important to a lot of people in Canada. And it really stops us from getting anywhere, in a lot of cases.

“The backlash is getting stronger than the propaganda campaign. So we’re a silly part of a very serious resistance.”

MD: So what can we expect at your show on Saturday?

JB: I’ll be doing a night of comedy, which is well outside my comfort zone. But I didn’t just want to go to bookstores and do readings. The book is really visual, and it’s a humor book, so I thought “okay, I want to do a funny show” and I’ve been taking it across the country. And it’s so much fun on stage.

I’m really excited that Montreal’s own Josh Dolgin will be on stage with me, playing some music, and I’m gonna leave in the Quebec stuff, and see what happens.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Brown will be performing in Montreal at the Rialto on May 20; tickets are $28 at the door. You can buy his book, written with Vicky Mochama, Nick Zarzycki, and other contributors, on Amazon.

Convicted rapist living in Milton-Parc Sat, 06 May 2017 01:17:22 +0000 Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual violence that may be triggering for some readers.

Recent reports confirm that Michael Giroux, a convicted rapist released from prison in the fall of 2016, is currently living in the Milton-Parc neighborhood adjacent to McGill.

A National Post article about Giroux’s current residence, published on May 2, was shared within McGill groups on social media. One student, Julia Métraux, provided a link to the article and included a plea for students to stay safe.

In the days that followed, dozens of other students repeated Métraux’s sentiment, tagging friends and warning each other of the possible threat.

Giroux sexually assaulted women in Toronto in the 1980s, and became known as the “High Park rapist.” He stalked women ranging from 23 to 42 years old, broke into their homes, and sexually assaulted them after threatening to kill them.

Giroux sexually assaulted women in Toronto in the 1980s, and became known as the “High Park rapist.”

In 1996, Giroux pled guilty to five counts of sexual assault and over 30 related crimes. After serving 13 years, annual hearings of Giroux’s case were held, considering statutory release until the end of his sentence. Statutory release, which allows an individual to serve the final third of their term in the community, is applicable for federally-sentenced prisoners who have already served two-thirds of their term. However, the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) may issue a detention order, keeping the individual incarcerated, if it finds there to be a strong likelihood that they will do further harm.

Despite yearly hearings with the PBC, Giroux was denied statutory release all seven times. He served a full sentence of 20 years in prison, during which the PBC noted that Giroux demonstrated little remorse.

According to the National Post, “Giroux refused treatment during his imprisonment and continued to minimize the harm caused to his victims.”

Apparently, both the PBC and Correctional Services Canada found that Giroux was “considered at high risk to reoffend.”

According to the National Post, “Giroux refused treatment during his imprisonment and continued to minimize the harm caused to his victims.”

Giroux’s unwillingness to accept treatment sparked debate on social media. Some McGill students felt that Giroux’s sentence should have been longer in order to protect the public. Others felt that his lack of remorse demonstrates failures within the Canadian prison system.

“Prison needs to be as corrective as it is punitive. The fact that this guy didn’t change after 20 years can be rectified by locking him up for longer, or we can reform our system so that guys like this fundamentally change and can rejoin society,” wrote McGill student Tim Min.

Another student, Andrew Figueiredo, responded, “It’s easy to start pontificating about the ethics of punishment, but the fact of the matter is that a serial rapist who refused treatment is now living near McGill students.”

Since his release, the authorities have imposed 21 restrictions on Giroux’s behaviour under a peace bond. He must stay at the address informed to the court between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and must obtain permission to leave Quebec. Giroux is forbidden from contacting his victims, or anyone under the age of 16 without supervision. Other precautions include restrictions on possessing or using firearms, weapons, alcohol, drugs, internet access, and pornography. However, Giroux will reportedly be under these terms for only two years.

“It’s easy to start pontificating about the ethics of punishment, but the fact of the matter is that a serial rapist who refused treatment is now living near McGill students.”

According to the National Post, Giroux is currently living in four-story building on the edge of the McGill Ghetto with a banner outside that reads “Welcome McGill.”

The Daily contacted Graeme Hamilton, who wrote the National Post article in question.

“Since the article was published,” wrote Hamilton, in an email to The Daily, “I heard from people in the McGill community who had established where [Giroux] was living, and have been informed by the landlord that he is moving out as early as this weekend so the information may soon be out of date.”

The McGill administration, meanwhile, is aware of the situation and has made an announcement to the university population.

“We [have sent] a message to our community reminding them of safety precautions they should take,” said Doug Sweet, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications, in an email to The Daily. “We cannot legally send a message around identifying a specific individual or sharing a photo.”

“I heard from people in the McGill community who had established where [Giroux] was living, and have been informed by the landlord that he is moving out as early as this weekend.”

This message to the community came in the form of an email from Pierre Barbarie, the director of Campus Public Safety. The announcement, sent to all students and faculty on May 4, detailed general safety precautions. While the email did not explicitly mention Giroux, the timing of the email indicates potential safety concerns for students in Milton-Parc.

The administration’s response is similar to another safety reminder sent last November, concerning “reports of a small number of incidents near the northern portion of the lower downtown campus.” That email referred to the experiences of several women who were verbally assaulted and, in some cases, chased by a sexual predator. In both cases, McGill’s email failed to mention the gendered nature of the violence involved.

Erin Sobat, VP University Affairs of the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), responded to the administration’s handling of the situation in an email to The Daily.

“We are concerned that this information [about Giroux’s residence in Milton-Parc] was not communicated directly to students by either the police or the university,” wrote Sobat. “[SSMU] members should not be expected to learn about something like this through the press, social media, or word of mouth. If the authorities are expecting students to take their own security precautions, they at least deserve to have a real sense of the threats present.”

In both cases, McGill’s email failed to mention the gendered nature of the violence involved.

In a follow-up conversation with The Daily, Sweet stressed the difficult nature of this situation. Even though Giroux may pose a threat, he is a free citizen as long as he meets the conditions of the peace bond. While breaching conditions have legal consequences, thereby have a deterrent effect, peace bonds are not permanent. There is little the administration can do, said Sweet, as authorities are not required to inform the public of the convicted sex offender’s presence in their neighborhood.

Update: According to La Presse, Giroux was scheduled to report his new address at the Montreal Courthouse on Friday May 5. However, he failed to appear for unknown reasons. Under the Canadian Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the offender is obligated to report their new address within seven days of changing residence. Failure to comply can result in fines or imprisonment for up to two years.

Hundreds protest capitalism on May Day Wed, 03 May 2017 15:04:49 +0000 Content warning: violence, police brutality

On Monday May 1, several hundred people gathered in Phillips Square to participate in a May Day protest through Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. This year’s demonstration was the tenth annual May Day march organized by the Convergence des Luttes Anticapitalistes (CLAC), a Montreal group committed to opposing capitalism through direct action.

Unlike other demonstrations held concurrently around the city, including a large union march in Côte-des-Neiges, the CLAC’s event was explicitly anti-capitalist. Most prominently, the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR) and Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) were in attendance, and handed out red flags symbolic of the communist movement.

Contingents from across Montreal and Quebec assembled to hear speeches from organizers prior to the march at 6PM. One speech addressed the intersections of capitalism, imperialism, and racism:

“People from the global south have paid the highest price of global capitalisms and imperialisms expansion, falling victim to not just the occupation in Iraq, not just the occupation of Palestine, not just what’s happening in occupied Kurdistan, not what’s happening in Yemen, and also now Syria.”

“When [immigrants] come here they’re met with racism and xenophobia to ensure that migrants and immigrants remain exploited simply for the needs of capital,” continued the above organizer. “Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”

“Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”

Diverse participation

McGill Against Austerity (MAA) was one of the many groups to participate in this year’s march, with a contingent of approximately a dozen students. The Daily spoke to a member of MAA who chose to remain anonymous.

“Being an economics student, I see how capitalism is made to look attractive, and I […] read a lot of other scholarship that really disagrees,” she said. “I feel that especially right now in the current [political climate] with […] head of states being right-wing, nationalist, and the rise of religious intolerance.”

“Where I come from, May Day is a recognized formal holiday. […] People openly talk about the history of May Day in the newspaper,” she continued, explaining that she referred to her Bangladeshi heritage. “I found it very surprising that Canada has a very different labour day and it’s not May Day. Even in America it’s called loyalty day which is weird. […] I find it strange that North America is so uncomfortable with the actual history of May Day. And that’s kind of another reason why I [am here] today: […] because I feel very strongly about workers’ rights and I feel it absurd that North America tries to distract people from a significant point in history.”

Another member of MAA who participated in the march, Kyle Shaw, spoke to The Daily about the event’s heavy police presence.

“As always, [the police presence] is excessive, but it’s sort of in the nature of these demonstrations,” said Shaw. “That’s because fascism doesn’t quite conflict [with] or contradict capitalism as thoroughly as communism or other anti-capitalist ideologies. May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”

“May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”

At around 6:30 p.m., the PCR  set off flares to mark the start of the march. They initially led the crowd east along Saint Catherine Street, before circling back towards the downtown core chanting anti-capitalist slogans and flanked by dozens of police officers.

As the crowd made its way through the Golden Square Mile, the Daily interviewed Nathan McDonell, a member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal.

“We’re here because we want to change the world and we’re inspired by […] the Kurdish movement in the Middle East and in particular the social revolution happening in Rojava which is in the northern part of Syria,” said McDonell. “It’s an incredible society based on direct democracy, ethnic harmony, women’s empowerment, and going beyond the state and capitalism, and it’s an example for all of us to be inspired by. It’s in such a delicate situation […] surrounded by the Syrian civil war, [Turkish attacks], ISIS […] so it really needs our international solidarity [and] it’s important for us to be here to show that.”

Another member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal, wishing to remain anonymous, also emphasized the importance of mobilizing support internationally.

“I am originally Kurdish from east Turkey,” he said. “The people who are here, they are the voice of the people right now under the occupation of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. […] I believe it is a very important issue, bringing their voices to the world. I see these people around here, and it’s making me so happy as a [Kurdish] individual and Canadian second.”

Confrontation with the police

Roughly half an hour into the march, a brief confrontation occurred between police officers  and a small subsection of protesters. The crowd had been moving west along René-Lévesque Boulevard when they encountered a cordon of police officers from the Sureté du Québec (SQ) in full riot gear, who appear to have been guarding a TD bank building. A few protesters began throwing projectiles at the police, consisting mainly of smoke bombs and rocks. In response, a group of officers attacked the individuals involved with batons and tear gas, arresting at least one person and violently dispersing the rest.

An anonymous protester who was injured in the incident described their experience in a message to The Daily.

“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons,” they wrote. “I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion. As I was trying to get away, a cop tripped me up and I fell onto a staircase.”

“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons […] I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion.”

Following the confrontation, the protest was temporarily scattered into several small parties, most of which eventually regrouped on McGill College Avenue. They were soon joined by another large group of CLAC supporters that had assembled at the Frontenac metro station, and had marched downtown from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The demonstration then continued without further incident, counting close to a thousand members.

Last year’s May Day was dispersed after a police station window on Saint Catherine street was smashed. The police used stun guns and copious amounts of tear gas in response, violently scattering the crowd. This year, police cordons were preemptively set up whenever the march approached a police station, but the march consistently changed course to avoid them, and no major stand-offs took place.

Indeed, apart from the altercation on René-Lévesque, police intervention was considered relatively minimal this year. Protesters marched for approximately two and a half hours despite heavy rain, before entering the metro at Place des Arts and dispersing peacefully after some exuberant cheering inside the station.

May Day as a McGill issue

Connor Spencer, VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and a member of MAA, spoke with The Daily about the importance of May Day and its relevance to McGill students.

“The austerity measures that the province is facing right now specifically target bodies that are already in precarious positions and makes profit off of them,” said Spencer. “So, today being May Day, […] this is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”

“This is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”

“It’s a McGill issue as well,” Spencer continued. “It’s so often that we think we live in this bubble that separates us from the rest of Quebec, when the things that these people are protesting right now and that we’re on the street protesting is something that affects McGill students directly.”

SSMU forum addresses gendered and sexual violence Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:59:47 +0000 On Tuesday April 11, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Community Disclosures Network (CDN) hosted an open forum addressing gendered and sexual violence. The purpose of this forum was to discuss new reporting and recourse procedures for survivors within the context of the SSMU. New measures were outlined, including mandatory response training for SSMU leadership, a “pro-survivor framework”, and a transformative justice approach toward abusers. This presentation was followed by a discussion period, during which attendees gave feedback, asked questions, and introduced their own ideas.

The open forum followed two high-profile resignations within SSMU’s executive team this semester. Within weeks of each other, Ben Ger and David Aird both resigned from their respective posts as President and VP External of the Society amid allegations of gendered and sexual violence. In the wake of these incidents, SSMU has faced intense scrutiny over its failure to handle systemic misogyny more effectively.

At Tuesday’s open forum, a representative of both the CDN and SSMU summed up the current situation: “It is important at this time to recognize that SSMU is complacent, whether intentionally or not, in perpetuating gendered violence. For that we are truly sorry.”

A pro-survivor approach

Following this statement was a presentation that highlighted SSMU’s planned course of action, formulated from information collected in survivor focus groups. This new policy outline rested on what the presenters called a “pro-survivor framework.”

The presenters defined this pro-survivor approach as “[being] able to support the survivor in their experience and assist them in the exploration of avenues as well as acting with integrity.”

“You have to 100 per cent believe the survivor,” a CDN representative explained, “and fully be there for them, and if for whatever reason you don’t think you are able to do that, to […] help them find someone else who could help them navigate any of these avenues.”

“It is important at this time to recognize that SSMU is complacent, whether intentionally or not, in perpetuating gendered violence. For that we are truly sorry.”

The presenters then outlined some concrete measures for implementing this pro-survivor strategy. These included the possible suspension of abusers from SSMU, training for SSMU executives on the handling of disclosures and reports, and the creation of a public guide outlining the disclosure and reporting process.

“We want to really emphasize a step-by-step, ‘if you choose this avenue this is what will happen’ [approach],” explained a presenter. “We spoke about the creation of a guide that will complement [a soon-to-be-developed] policy […] on how to deal with situations of disclosures and reporting.”

Discussing challenges to implementation

The CDN members later facilitated an open discussion with attendees in order to receive feedback and suggestions. The concept of temporarily suspending an alleged abuser from the SSMU became a point of concern.

“I’m concerned that there’d be backlash against the survivor,” explained an attendee. “Let’s say you have this person removed. If you do an investigation and you don’t find anything you can act on and you have to just revert back to the status quo, […] that might make everything worse.”

Presenters were unable to offer a solution to this potential issue, admitting that it must be addressed before a policy is implemented.

The conversation later evolved into a discussion about the role McGill Athletics must take in the area of sexualized and gendered violence. With a history of inaction in cases where players were accused of sexualized and gendered violence, such as in the Redmen sexual assault scandal of 2013, students have expressed concern over the future of disclosures and reporting. One student asked whether or not there were current conversations happening between the administration and McGill Athletics on this topic.

According to a member of the CDN, “one conversation between Athletics and the administration is […] ‘why are you pointing all your fingers at [McGill Athletics] when you have frosh?’”

“There’s kind of an animosity right now,” they continued, “that Athletics is getting a lot of the pressure. […] They’re a little resentful that they […] were targeted first.”

“You have to 100 per cent believe the survivor, and fully be there for them.”

Another student condemned this claim, calling it “deeply problematic.”

“I don’t know how they can continue to have these events functioning the way they do,” the student continued, “and say they care about gendered and sexualized violence.”

The discussion also touched on topics of current and new ways to educate students on sexualized and gendered violence, particularly involving the pre-frosh consent education video and Rez Project.

“A lot of people,” commented The Daily’s reporter, “were way more willing to find ways to get around the video, skip through the video…there needs to be a more full-proof plan of how to get people to [participate in consent training] without finding loopholes.”

Rez Project – the training programme on issues of gender, sexuality, and sexual violence which students in residence are ostensibly required to attend – was criticised for similar reasons.

“It’s a really good start,” said one attendee, “but that doesn’t even address any of the off-campus students or anybody that isn’t in rez, and I know that is a vast majority of students. We need to find something else as well.”

The proposed “transformative justice” approach to taking action against abusers sparked debate. This term was defined by the presenters as “purposely trying to keep someone within the community, but change their behavior,” or more colloquially, “love the person, hate the behavior.”

“I’m concerned that there’d be backlash against the survivor.”

One student saw major faults in this approach:

“At what point, when someone refuses to take responsibility, do you say that transformative justice is not working?” they asked. “Doesn’t [this approach] just open up the possibility of [violence] happening again? […] Couldn’t that possibly be taking advantage of the survivor’s benevolence in the first place?”

“There could be repetition of behavior with either option,” a CDN member responded. “Ultimately, it is a decision the survivor has to make.”

Training measures are also expected to be implemented, according to the CDN. There is a possibility that this training will be added to the workshops which club executives are required to attend in order to maintain “active” status. If the executive members fail to attend these workshops and a club remains inactive for more than two years, the group will lose its club status.

After concluding questions, comments, and remarks, a presenter from the CDN finished the event with an open question to consider.

“Right now we are in a campus crisis” she stated, “How do we continue these conversations when this is not the hot topic in September anymore?”

The final decision was to create a listserv of interested parties to which information could be relayed and conversation could continue into next year.

Pregnant Concordia student stuck in Gaza Sun, 16 Apr 2017 09:10:44 +0000 Bissan Eid, a 24 year old Concordia graduate student, has been prevented from leaving the Palestinian territory of Gaza for four months. Her family launched #BringBissanHome, a campaign appealing to the Canadian government to intervene on behalf of Bissan, a Canadian citizen since 2005.

On Thursday April 13, Bissan’s father, Hadi Eid, held a press conference alongside two supporters: Norma Rantisi, a Geography professor at Concordia, and Rami Yahia, the Internal Affairs Coordinator of Concordia Students’ Union (CSU). “We’re asking the Canadian government to help us, to let Bissan come back to Canada as soon as possible,” said Hadi Eid.

Bissan travelled to Gaza in June 2016 to visit her grandparents and get married. She is now eight months pregnant and due to give birth in the first week of May. According to a press release, when Bissan tried to travel back to Canada, she was prevented from leaving due to the slow processing of her exit visa by Israeli authorities, “who seldom prioritize the applications of Palestinians from Gaza who hold other passports.”

“She needs [medical] support because her doctor told her that she has a difficult pregnancy. It’s better that she gives birth in Canada,” said Hadi Eid. In 2009, according to data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the infant mortality rate in the Gaza Strip was 21.5 per 1000 live births – compared to 4.9 per 1000 live births in Quebec in 2013.

“We’re asking the Canadian government to help us, to let Bissan come back to Canada as soon as possible.”

“In December, Bissan contacted the Canadian embassy at Tel Aviv, and she told them about her situation, and they told her, ‘We can’t help you,'” explained Eid. Eid has also contacted his Member of Parliament, Pierre Nantel of the New Democratic Party with Bissan’s medical reports, to no avail.

Entry to occupied Palestinian territories is controlled by Israeli authorities. Travellers must apply for entry and exit, and even if approved, Israeli authorities can turn them away with no explanation. Since 2007 there has been a land, air, and sea blockade that restricts medical supplies, construction material, and certain food items from entering and leaving the Gaza strip. 1.8 million Palestinians are currently being held captive in the Gaza strip, unable to move freely within the rest of the territory.

“The movement of people into and out of the Gaza strip is highly restricted,” explained Rantisi. “Residents are largely cut off from the outside world and from access to some of the most essential services like healthcare and education. At the same time, Gaza has been subject to recurrent bombings – and this includes bombings that have occurred since the time that Bissan had arrived there.”

“This is an ordeal that no Canadian – or Palestinian – should have to endure,” continued Rantisi. “And yet, after trying again and again to leave for the past four months, she’s been denied an exit permit.”

“This includes bombings that have occurred since the time that Bissan had arrived there.”

The CSU and the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) are also calling on Concordia to support Bissan, by pressuring the Canadian government to intervene. Concordia has a responsibility to “a member of its own community – a member whose freedom of movement and even physical health is being compromised because of their Palestinian nationality,” said Rantisi.

In December 2014, Concordia’s undergraduate students voted to approve the CSU’s support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. “After the massacre in Gaza [Operation Protective Edge], the CSU was given the mandate by the students through Council to hold a position against illegal settlement and disproportionate use of force, as well as the blockade on Gaza,” explained Yahia.

“This is an ordeal that no Canadian – or Palestinian – should have to endure.”

Though the Canadian government says that “Canadian consular officials have very limited ability to intervene on behalf of Canadians who choose to enter or remain in the Gaza Strip,” there is precedent for government intervention for Canadian citizens in Gaza. In August 2014, Canadian officials escorted 8-year-old Salma Abuzaiter out of Gaza, after she became trapped in Gaza city when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.

“The Canadian government can make an appeal to the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv, the foreign affairs department, and resolve the situation,” said Stefan Christoff, a community organizer who has been helping the Eid family with their campaign. “It’s been done before, and it can be done now.”

Fighting fire with words Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:19:11 +0000 In 1982, the pioneering hip hop group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message,” a six minute track that vividly depicts the struggles of life in inner-city America. The song quickly rose to iconic status, not just for its indelible beat, but also because it was one of the first to mobilize the expressive force of hip hop to tackle police brutality against Black people in the U.S – and that shit picked up.

Four decades later, the haunting lyrics of being “close to the edge” and of trying to keep one’s head up despite generations of marginalization have a continued relevance. Police violence against Black people has escalated in number and resulted in more fatalities in recent years. Although many of the most publicized cases are from the U.S., Canadians – especially those in Quebec – would be amiss to think that the problem is less severe here in the north.

The Rap Battles for Social Justice are a collective of local Montreal artists, musicians, activists, and organizers who use music to turn the limelight on these realities. On February 15, the Battles challenged the very existence of police violence in their event, “Rap Battle Against Police Brutality.” Here, activists and survivors of police brutality battled fiercely against this unjust form of systematic oppression with clever rhymes, smooth beats, and even some comedy. Hundreds came out to Le Belmont that evening, making the venue a full house. While most performances were rhyming face-offs, performers also expressed themselves through spoken word poetry, group performances, and towards the end of the night, freestyling.

Canadians – especially those in Quebec – would be amiss to think that the problem [of anti-Blackness] is less severe here in the north.

The atmosphere was welcoming, as was the program, and members of community groups like Montréal Noir came on stage between acts, offering brief but sobering reminders of the need for such events by talking about their organizations efforts for the community, and what remains to be done.

Topping off the night was veteran Montreal emcee Scynikal, battling on a ‘pro’-police front for the final showdown of the night. Complete with a plastic badge, leather jacket, and verses that revealed the darkest side of police brutality, Scynikal’s flow was impressive and jarring in its revelation of the deep hatred and fear of racialized bodies entrenched in state institutions and the minds of authorities. The performers who took the mic against him expressed intense frustration with police violence and racism.

To be clear, no professional police officers were rapping that night, nor were any of the costumed ‘pro-police’ performers actually trying to defend police brutality. Some used their blue hats to bring some comic relief to the night, like Marley C’s ‘Officer Cocopuff’ who claimed he had “never heard of” police brutality. According to organizer Vincent Stephen-Ong, who also founded the local musical collective Urban Science, part of the purpose of the battle was for the musicians to “play a role” in order to keep in line with the “theatrical side to the Rap Battles for Social Justice.”

Activists and survivors of police brutality battled fiercely against this unjust form of systematic oppression with clever rhymes, smooth beats, and even some comedy.

Everything about the event was focused on engaging with and empowering the community of listeners. To foster an atmosphere of unity, the vivacious emcee Meryam Saci encouraged audience participation in the performances and even coming on stage. Some performers turned the space into an intimate setting by sharing testimonies of their personal experiences with police brutality. It was clear that the goal wasn’t only to have a good time or showcase local talent, though both were successfully accomplished. The event’s atmosphere carried an impassioned mission for performers and audience members to take their songs, stories, and battles beyond the walls of Le Belmont and into their daily lives.

Raising awareness for cycles of injustice drives many of the artists who performed. Mags, a member of the all-woman trio Strange Froots, explained how seeing other artists share socially-conscious music at a previous Rap Battles for Social Justice event served as a wake up call for them to do the same. “Now we have more of a grasp on how important it is that we are visible in the scene as three Black women; that in itself is a statement that should be reflected in our songs. And that is something we did.”

Everything about the event was focused on engaging with and empowering the community of listeners.

When asked about the connection between police brutality, social justice, and hip hop, Stephen-Ong recalled: “A friend of mine once said something like, ‘you’re not that valuable as an artist if you don’t make use of your position to bring about social change.’” Stephen-Ong believes that lyrical content and musical genres hold great responsibilities. They are the “gateway drug” to what he serendipitously calls “the message” – something that has been embedded within hip hop since its birth. “The message,” as Vincent and so any other artists see it, is not bound to a single definition, or to a particular time or context of struggle. The message is hidden within the act of reclaiming one’s voice when it is being forced into silence, and each rhyme carries a definition that is a piece of the artist as much as it is a part of the message.

Despite the fact that hip hop and police brutality both share racialized histories (albeit with very different expressions), “the message” is not just about revealing this link, but also involving everybody in its dissemination. The message has been consciously and purposefully carried on by artists and collectives like “The Rap Battles for Social Justice,” whose experiences in the music industry and the activist landscape help involve the community in their fight. These artists, collectives, and community-driven events encourage audiences to actively take part in spreading, contributing, and inspiring change.

Dear McGill: A Break Up Note Thu, 06 Apr 2017 21:25:16 +0000 Dear McGill,

You may not know it, but we have been in a rollercoaster relationship for about four years now. If we were Facebook official, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we would be “Complicated”. We’ve had our ups and downs: we’ve gone from A’s to C‘s; from classes in Leacock to McMed; and of course there was the time that we took a break during the second semester of third year, and yes, I’ll admit I did cheat on you during that time. A part of me still believes I left my heart at the University of Amsterdam, but you were my first true love, and we all know that that’s something you never forget.

As you may already know, we certainly have not always agreed, McGill. When it comes to politics, we don’t always see eye to eye, and sometimes I have a problem with the way you treat certain people. You have a lot to work on, and a lot to learn, there’s no doubt about it. But as much as I have loathed you, I know that no matter how hard I try, and who holds my affection next, I’ll always have you on the tip of my tongue, and in the back of my mind. We belonged together, if only for a fleeting moment, and I’ll never regret you. You were wildly ephemeral, but you were purposive. 20 years down the road you may not know my face in a crowd, but I hope you know that I’ll never forget the times we’ve shared, and that I appreciate everything you have done to make me the person that I am. I’m writing to let you know that I’m moving on and adding you to my list of ex’s, but I’ll always cherish our four years together.

Our relationship began like many others. I fell for you before you even knew I existed. I lusted after you from afar for so long that I was overwhelmed when I found out you wanted anything to do with me. You were my high school crush, after all. You just seemed so damn perfect. Even my parents loved you from the start.

You fell for me February 20th, 2013 and we became “official” on September 3rd, 2013 (I know, we took it slow). We moved in together soon after that. Remember our first place at 3625 Parc Avenue? The shower never drained and the neighbors had horrible taste in music, but it was my first home away from home, and because of that it was magic. You were my first taste of freedom, and, at that time, nothing had ever tasted sweeter than you.

You showed me the playground that is the city of Montreal, and introduced me to the vibrant megalopolis using all of my senses. If it weren’t for you, I never would have felt my skates hit the slick ice in Old Port; I never would have seen the street art splashed over the Plateau in early September; I never would have heard the persistent pounding of steel drums at Tam Tams on sunny Sunday mornings; I never would have smelt what a fresh Fairmount bagel smells like coming out of a wood oven; and I never would have tasted how good Two Chow tastes on those blurry kind of St. Laurent nights that I hope everyone gets to experience at least once. So, thank you. Thank you for bringing me to a city that stole my heart.

Now, I don’t want to give you a big ego or anything, but what they say is true: you are absolutely stunning. And I don’t want to appear shallow, but your beauty definitely drew me in the first time I laid eyes on you. And after all these years there are still moments where the sight of you takes my breath away. You get to me. Whether on those brisk late night walks when the streetlights and stars shine on you simultaneously, or the mornings when the first snow of the season sparkles atop your sturdy structure. You are traditional yet modern, vintage yet cosmopolitan, and you pull off the contrast with ease. Your beauty is dazzling, and I don’t think there will ever be a time when I stop believing that is true, because you age more gracefully than most could even dream of.

McGill, you taught me love and loss and lore, and introduced me to the sort of lifelong friends people spend their whole existence trying to find (they’re taking my side in this breakup, sorry not sorry). You taught me how to speak my mind, even when my voice shook, and how to know what’s worth screaming for. You made me a better person, McGill. I am more gracious, more open, and more empathetic, and I will think of you when I share these values with my own children, down the road. I cannot thank you enough for the person I have become, but I know there is more out there for me, and I’m going after it now.

I hope you know that it’s not you, it’s me. I’m just ready to move on. Four years is a long time, and it’s going to be hard to go our separate ways, it really is. But you’re just not right for me anymore. I know you’ll be so great to whoever comes after me, and they’ll be so lucky to become a part of your world. I hope there are no hard feelings, but I’m putting myself first and following my own path, and it just doesn’t include you anymore. But I hope we can still remain friends, and I’m sure I’ll hear from you soon, even if it’s just because you need a little financial support.

If you need me, I’ll be in New York City. Hopefully their lights shine as bright as yours.

With love,

Ways of Seeing: Inspired by Remed Mon, 03 Apr 2017 23:43:56 +0000 ]]> Robohacks and accessible robotics Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:29:09 +0000 Bravely ignoring the impending doom of finals season, robotics enthusiasts gathered in the Trottier building on March 25 and 26 for the second installment of Robohacks, a 24-hour long event that attracted students from as far as Cornell University to pursue their homebrew robotics dreams. From Saturday morning to Sunday late afternoon, energy drink-fueled tinkerers wandered the halls of Trottier exchanging ideas, building robots, and experimenting with hard-to-obtain hardware.

Sponsored in part by Major League Hacking, the authority in large-scale college hackathon organizing, the event was staged around the theme of space and space-related technology. With a mix of McGill professors, industry delegates, and Canadian Space Agency representatives as judges, motivation to work through the night was easy to find.

A few days after the event, The Daily sat down with Sabrina Zhu, Shammamah Hossain, Molly Shen and Jeremy Mallette, four members of the Robohacks organizing team, to chat about the history of Robohacks and its impact in the community.

An inclusive hackathon
Organized for the first time in 2016 with a shoestring budget, Robohacks is the brainchild of a handful of McGill Robotics members who not only had a passion for the projects their design teams were working on, but also eagerly wanted to communicate their love for robotics to others. From less than 150 attendees last year, Robohacks grew into a sizeable event that received around six hundred applications for around three hundred spots. This growth is not solely due to the resounding success of the first iteration of the hackathon, but is also a tribute to the organizing team’s year-round promotional initiatives, which included targeted outreach to a handful of Montreal CEGEPs and schools.

While the Robohacks outreach effort does promote the event, its main objective is not simply to bring people to the competition. Shen explained that the bulk of their work is showing people that “building robots really isn’t that complicated and that anyone can do it.” This philosophy of inclusivity stems from McGill Robotics’ core principles of giving prospective members a chance by working on a “trial project” meant to showcase not their ability to build a functional robot but their determination to see their idea through to completion.

With that in mind, racking up more “hackathon glory” won’t help you get the sought-after acceptance email: Hossain and Zhu explained that Robohacks deliberately prioritizes those who are passionate but have had limited exposure rather than those who are most likely to build spectacular machines that will woo the judges. This way, applicants who may have less of a chance in other more competitive events fare better.
While it falls under the broader “hackathon” label, Robohacks is significantly different from other events of the genre. As a robotics-centred competition, participants are tasked with building a robot, however simple it may be. Beginners are not left to their own devices either: the presence of McGill Robotics members, mentors, and industry representatives on site provides invaluable advice and support to those who have questions. “The important part is not to know how to do it, it’s to want to do it,” commented Shen.

A space for experimentation
Building robots requires raw materials, from bits of cardboard and duct tape to electronic components and soldering kits. Cost has always been hobby electronics’ major barrier of entry. However, the Arduino and Raspberry Pi development boards, affordable microcomputers as big as a deck of cards, certainly lowered the bar and made elaborate hobby electronics more accessible, but a significant amount of money is still necessary to get proper projects off the ground.

Events like Robohacks are a good occasion to experiment without any egregious expense. Participants were given anything from ultrasonic sensors to microcontrollers to build their dream machines, which left imagination and time as the only limiting factors to creation.

According to Mallette, the “hardware room,” where participants could borrow components, use power tools and try out 3D printers to produce the custom parts they needed was extensively stocked. “I could probably pay for two years of [tuition] with all of that,” he commented. “That’s my favourite part of the competition: it gives these resources to a bunch of people who would otherwise never get a chance to use things like the Oculus Rift and the Amazon Echo [editor’s note: a virtual reality headset and voice-activated “smart speaker,” respectively] and experiment with them.”

From the exhaustion and hype arose robots that accomplish feats like mimic the way spiders walk, track satellites travelling tens of kilometres above ground, and wander around waving their robot arms at attendees. By the end of the weekend, those who stuck around all had something to show for it, whether it was a semi-functional project for the judges, or a newfound friendship built at 2 a.m. the night before.

Hackathons done right
As Sunday afternoon came to an end, the Trottier building was restored to its former state and no trace of what had transpired during the weekend, save for a few stray jumper cables, was left behind. Despite not being the only hackathon in town, Robohacks did something other events often fail to do: it prioritized community and inclusivity, and embodied the spirit of collaboration and education that was originally at the core of most hackathons. It also didn’t fall for invasive corporate sponsorship that pegs participants against each other in the race for the grand prize.

As the hackathon scene becomes larger and larger, it’s important to highlight events that aren’t about brands or awards, but that prioritize having fun with technology and introducing new people to the club. Robohacks is certainly one of such events.

Climate change-induced migration Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:17:21 +0000 As war rages on between Assad’s Syrian armed forces and rebel groups, between Daesh (also known as the Islamic State) and coalitions formed from around the world, and between Boko Haram and Nigeria, forces millions of people are forced out of their homes and their countries to seek refuge. The United Nations High Commissions for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated in 2015 that there are 63 million people forcibly displaced around the world, of which 21 million of these are refugees that have left their country. Many of these refugees are displaced because of strife and war, but there is a growing amount of them that are forced to flee due to environmental circumstances. Environmental disasters happen every year around the globe, with some being sudden and lethal such as a tsunami, while others are slow and insidious like a drought.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated numerous countries, most notably Indonesia and Sri Lanka, with a total death toll of 225,000 people, and 1.75 million displaced. According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the threat of climate change and heating of the planet will most likely have an impact on the intensity of massive weather events such as cyclones and tsunamis as ocean surface temperatures increase.

As the glaciers melt and polar ice caps disintegrate over time, the sea level will also continue to rise. Projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013 estimate under a business as usual scenario that sea levels will rise between 28 and 98 centimeters by 2100, enough to swamp most of the Eastern coast cities of the United States. Dire estimates where the warming of the planet quickens from lack of action to stop it and the Greenland ice sheet completely melts put the level rise to seven meters, enough to submerge London.

Droughts and wildfires are already increasing both in frequency and intensity in many places around the world. The 2012 droughts of the U.S. were the most expansive in the country’s history per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with 71 per cent of the entire country under at least ‘Severe Drought’ monitoring measure for more than eight weeks in a row. While drought and wildfire historical records were beaten in 2012, they were again broken in 2015. The number of acres burnt those years were each triple the average from 1985-1995. Other arid areas around the world are experiencing similar trends, such as in Australia, where wildfires are also beating historical records in area burnt and starting earlier than ever in the year. Chile, whom in January experienced wildfires of scales they had never experienced before, needed the help of the U.S. to contain and eliminate the devastating blaze. While countries like the U.S. and Australia may be ready to contain these wildfires, and find solutions to droughts, it is hard to imagine other nations being equally prepared.

War, environmental change and low standards of living are likely to be interconnected together to make people choose to take refuge in a different country. A 2015 study from Columbia University and University of California Santa Barbara concluded that increasingly severe droughts in parts of Syria is likely to have contributed to the rebel uprising and public discontent with Assad’s government. According to their research, many farmers lost their jobs when their land was no longer growing crops due to the drought, and moved to the urban areas to compensate. The government’s lack of response to the 2011 Syrian drought crisis was not the only trigger to the original protests but played a substantial part, per another study from 2014 on the topic from the journal Middle Eastern Studies.

Diminishing resources, low standard of living and a changing environment seems to create a common theme as a similar situation took place around the Lake Chad Basin in Nigeria, which also borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The Lake provides water supply for thirty million people yet has decreased in size by 95 per cent from 1963 to 1998 and is continuing to shorten due to decrease in rainfall. The Nigerian side of the lake is where the insurgence of Boko Haram terrorists, who pledged allegiance to Daesh, drove millions of people away from the area for the resources provided by the lake.

If similar situations of such as ongoing drought and a lack of capabilities from authorities to help continue, many more people will choose to migrate. While the majority of refugees worldwide are hosted in Africa and other Middle Eastern countries, many also attempt the journey to Europe, and unfortunately it is not always legal. In 2016, 170,000 illegal immigrants were recorded to have arrived to Italy by boat from Libya, an enormous increase compared to 42,000 in 2013. Increased periods of drought will surely not slow down illegal immigration, especially since the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention does not include environmental refugees in its outlined protocols. With a lack of legal status and support from the U.N., many people trapped in worsening environmental conditions on small islands coastal to Australia and New Zealand cannot apply for refugee status. The UNHCR has stated that it worries opening new discussions on refugee convention reforms with the security council nations could backfire and let countries take the option to back out altogether. A report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in 2015 concludes that 19 million people around the world were obligated to flee their homes from worsening environmental conditions. A World Bank report from 2015 estimates that a hundred million people will go back into poverty from climate change by 2030. While climate change is gradual and people may possibly escape increasingly inhospitable conditions by migrating, there seems to be not many solutions available to efficiently relocate all of these people properly.

Great new initiatives such as the Platform on Disaster Displacement, previously known as the Nansen Initiative, whom are consultants to the U.N. on policy reform to facilitate relocation and cross-border interactions displaced people, are taking root to eventually find a long-term solutions to this problem. Unlike some previous refugee crises, climates will not simply go back down to their original levels anytime soon, not if we can’t both stabilize carbon dioxide emissions and lower annual temperature average increase. That is of course the long-term goal that would avoid such a crisis, yet it is impossible to know today how much we will be able to curb the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and how quickly. Some world leaders and military advisors are at least taking note of the potential risks of climate change and its inevitable refugee crisis.

Last year, a U.S. coalition of military and national security experts, which included advisors to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, sent a report to the Pentagon under their non-partisan Center for Climate and Security to outline the importance of a changing world climate to national security. The Pentagon adopted the same view and the Department of Defense started seriously considering climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ which could potentially warrant the need for greater humanitarian aid or additional military intervention.

Former military advisor to the Bangladeshi President Munir Muniruzzaman, now chair to the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, has publicly stated that climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century, not terrorism. It is easier to understand that point of view when the reality kicks in that Bangladesh is already trying to plan the relocation of twenty million citizens due to climate change and have asked countries like the U.K. for help doing so. Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, a member of the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs has publicly supported the notion that climate change increased conflict risks and is an accelerant of instability, citing the Arab Spring, Syrian War and Boko Haram’s previous control over Lake Chad.

Unfortunately, the U.S. President Donald Trump does not believe climate change is real, let alone human caused, as he recently purged the United States Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies from even the mere mention of the term, essentially censoring science. It comes as quite ironic when his own appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave a statement this month describing the potential dangers of climate change as a driver of instability in places with U.S. troops.

While it may not be immediately obvious that a refugee crisis between Northern Africa and Europe would have deep implications on the United States and Canada, we should also step up in taking more refugees, no matter where they are from. While some would argue that bringing instability into our borders is an unwise decision, as some public backlash from Justin Trudeau’s policy on accepting refugees has iterated, I would argue that Canada has some of the lowest population density in the world, and that we have ample space for refugees. Figuring out how to facilitate cultural, religious and linguistic transition will ultimately be key to not increase tensions and divisions, and admittedly Trudeau’s policies have shown to be lackluster in that department. The U.N. also won’t be able to be everywhere at the same time for humanitarian efforts, and countries who will be certainly affected by climate change should plan to minimize problems in the future, such as commencing dialogues right now with neighboring countries. Nature does not care for human made borders, and we know there have been five previous mass extinction events of life previously — we would be foolish to not attempt to slow down the sixth, which has already begun.

Year in review: Sci+Tech Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:16:00 +0000 Scientific Skepticism

This year saw two articles highlighting the vital importance of scientific literacy. Lack of scientific knowledge may sometimes lay dormant, but other times, it pops up to rear its ugly head. “Many scientific and technological breakthroughs which altered our perception of the world have had to go through obstacles and time to be commonly accepted”, as stated in the article “threatening the future of science” by Cédric Parages (March 27, 2017). It goes on to discuss how even though it was demonstrated that the Earth was known to not be flat as early as 600 B.C., to this day there are still individuals and organizations that deny this claim. Whether we choose to wholeheartedly acknowledge it or not, the climate is in fact rapidly changing, and we are in for the ride.

Thinking about scientific skepticism as a whole reminds me of the famous quote “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win”. In particular, the anti-vaccine movement has gathered some steam as of late, which is quite worrying, especially given the concept of heart immunity as discussed in “A dose of nonsense” from February 6 2017 written by Lindsay Burns. Our only way out of this mess is to continue educating everyone on the necessity of vaccination.

By: Igor Zlobine

Climate change is certainly one of the biggest problems in the 21st century

Over the course of this year the effects of climate change has been undeniable. As discussed in the article “Climate change on the grid” from October 3rd by Louis Warnock electricity production is tightly linked to our overall greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately one third of emissions in the U.S. in 2014. “Micheal Mann, a leading figure in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested earlier this year that a global warming of 2 degrees celcius could be reached as soon as 2036.” The smart grid must be taken into account, and utilized properly if we are to mitigate the project fifty per cent increase in world energy consumption over the coming 25 years.

Furthermore, as discussed in the article “Climate change-induced migration” Cédric Parages, published on April 3, climate change puts those of lower socioeconomic status at the most risk – by 2030, 100 million people might be forced back to living in poverty as a result of climate change. We must realize that this is not some far away future that may never actually come to fruition, as Bangladesh alone is currently attempting to relocate 20 million citizens in response to climate change. We are already undergoing the sixth mass extinction event the Earth has witnessed, and it is up to use to slow it down.

By: Igor Zlobine

This year was marked by setbacks in the fight against climate change. Following Trump’s electoral promise to bring back coal as a major player in the power industry and his resolute stance on gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists feared the worst. What could happen on the American continent as a result of modern-day industry backed up by coal can already be seen in China, where decades of coal-reliance had dire consequences (see “China’s air pollution crisis” by Cédric Parages, January 16, 2017). From spikes in infant diseases to zones where the life expectancy is significantly shorter, China had a lot of problems to deal with. Temporary solutions like installing air locks and elaborate air filtration systems in buildings were rapidly put in place in affluent areas, but real salvation should come from the new Chinese energy policy goals, which include injecting 350 billion dollars in clean energy technology by 2020 in an effort to replace coal and reduce air pollution.

By: Marc Cataford

A stranger home Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:04:35 +0000
Remembering Angélique Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:00:59 +0000 Though Marie Josèphe Angélique’s date of birth is unknown, the date of her death is part of Canadian history: Angélique, a Black woman born in Portugal and brought to New France by slave traders, was hanged on June 21, 1734 for starting a fire that burnt down 45 houses in Montreal.

While her birthday may still remain a mystery, Black Theatre Workshop (BTW)’s Angélique ensures that she is remembered for more than just the day she died. The play was written in the 1990s by the late Lorena Gale, a former artistic director at BTW, and draws heavily on archival material. It’s less a story about the specific circumstances surrounding Angélique’s death and more an exploration of her life as an enslaved Black woman in New France, chronicling her pain and joy amidst the systems of oppression that ultimately sealed her fate. The narrative follows her life in Canada, from her arrival in New France, to the death of the evil, abusive slave owner François (in a truly disturbing portrayal by Karl Graboshas), to her own attempted escape and subsequent death. Knowing the ending doesn’t make the journey any less compelling.

Directed by Mike Payette, BTW’s Angélique doesn’t shy away from the most horrifying aspects of this journey. On a small, almost claustrophobic stage that makes the horrors all the more intimate, the cast mimes gruesome violence and the audience is given full access to Angélique’s deep trauma, acted with excellent intensity by Jenny Brizard.
But the play also avoids becoming solely an exercise in watching pain. In one exhilarating scene, Angélique and Manon (Darla Contois), an Indigenous woman who works for François’ neighbours, both play with sheets while doing their boss’ laundry. Their exchange has no dialogue, only giddy laughter and captivating choreography. The connection it conveys between these two oppressed women needs no words. The scenes where Angélique falls in love with white farmer Claude (Olivier Lamarche) are also charming, providing little snippets of romantic comedy amidst the otherwise tragic tale.

As celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday ramp up, plays like Angélique are doing the crucial work of calling attention to Canada’s past and present crimes – seeking reflection and atonement rather than celebration.

These moments of happiness, often the strongest in the play, assert that Angélique, while subject to immense oppression, can’t be reduced to it. Far from undermining the horror of her story, they make it feel all the more unjust when these moments are cut short (as with Manon) or lead to betrayal (as with Claude). The music in the play – composed and performed live on a ledge above the stage by the SIXTRUM percussion ensemble – adds to its immediacy, aiding the quick and sometimes disorienting vacillations between such intense sorrow and playful joy.

Angélique is, at its core, a story of historical structures told through personal relationships. Angélique’s relationship with César (Tristan D. Lalla) – a Black man who, when he asks for permission to court a woman, is coerced into partnership with Angélique – exposes how white supremacy structures the relationships between Black men and women, inhibiting sexual agency and dignity. Indeed, the white slave owners watch Angélique and César’s first meeting as if they’re at a zoo. Angélique’s relationship with Thérèse (France Rolland), François’ wife, depicts how white women – though oppressed in their own ways – are active oppressors of Black women. Through the relationship between Angélique and Manon, the audience sees how the weight of oppression can divide those who, under better circumstances, would likely be good friends.

These relationships, though effective as a microcosm for larger social forces, are sometimes not as fully drawn as they could be. Angélique and Manon in particular could use more scenes together, given that their first is so powerful. In general, the narrative moves between so many stories, time periods, and extreme moments of emotion, that the play at times could use more moments where the characters pause – allowing the audience to invest in them before moving on to the next plot point.

The relationship between Angelique and her environment, however, is wholly realized: the Montreal cold acts as an extra character, reinforcing Angélique’s sense of alienation from her home and nearly killing her when she goes on the run. Where contemporary representations of slavery often position the north – and Canada specifically – as the land of freedom, Angélique flips the script: when the protagonist tries to escape, she heads south to New England. As celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday ramp up, plays like Angélique are doing the crucial work of calling attention to Canada’s past and present crimes – seeking reflection and atonement rather than celebration.

Though Angélique’s script mostly remains situated in the 1700s, the costume choices link Angélique’s experiences to the present day oppressions of Black people. François, in the scene where he first purchases Angélique and perversely describes her physical characteristics, wears a suit that looks like it belongs on a modern-day Wall Street patron. César, midway through the show, dons a black hoodie in a nod to Trayvon Martin, linking the way slave owner Ignace (Chip Chuika) treats César as an animal to Darren Wilson’s descriptions of Michael Brown. And in the final scene, as she is about to be hanged, Angélique herself wears an orange outfit reminiscent of a prison jumpsuit. The message is clear and crucial: the mass incarceration of Black people today is the direct legacy of stories like Angélique’s.

Where contemporary representations of slavery often position the north – and Canada specifically – as the land of freedom, Angélique flips the script: when the protagonist tries to escape, she heads south to New England.

Angélique opens and closes with dance: the first scene sees the cast circling the small stage in a line together, until Angélique falls out of step, collapsing and writhing onto the floor. It’s an arresting moment that foreshadows the manipulation and contortion her character will soon experience, conveying the sense that Angélique, as an enslaved Black woman in a cold, unfamiliar land, is not fully in control of her body – a notion that history seems to bear out.

But the play, in its final moments, suggests otherwise. As Angélique prepares to die, she breaks out once again into dance, but this time the movement is liberating. These last seconds are simply magnificent, a revelatory moment in Payette’s direction and Brizard’s acting. Against all odds, Angélique breaks free – perhaps not in the narrative, but certainly on the stage, and history, though not rewritten, has hope.