The McGill Daily http://www.mcgilldaily.com False twins since 1911 Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:30:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Scars we share http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/scars-share/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/scars-share/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:30:08 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39616 Multimedia artist unifies participants’ sewn scars

The post Scars we share appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
What does it mean to have a mark of permanence, a lasting wound? Nadia Myre’s multimedia exhibit “Oraison” grapples with traumatic experiences and the physical, emotional, and psychological scars they leave behind. Through photography, sculpture, and sound, Myre creates an understanding of collective memory that, in bringing together different scars, unites us in healing.

Nadia Myre presents “Oraison” as a response to her nine-year endeavour, “The Scar Project.” The project engaged various communities like schools and cultural centres, in a collaborative exploration of memory and its permanence. In an interview with The Daily, Myre explained that “The Scar Project” had initially been inspired by a previous project of Myre’s where over 230 participants partook in beading over the Indian Act with red and white beads, a process that took fifty to seventy hours to complete. Myre, an Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, described this as “a way of representing one’s identity with Canada, addressing the elements that had been lost,” and reclaiming them. The theme of Indigenous identity in Canada appears to be a strong, underlying element of the inspiration for the “Scar Project,” grappling with collective wounds. The exhibit too sheds light on how certain individual scars are intertwined with shared histories of oppression.

With “The Scar Project,” Myre sought to explore internal scars and how memory can manifest itself on the physical body. With fibres and threads, she invited participants to sew images of their physical, emotional, or psychological scars on canvas. Myre also intended to create a healing space, where participants could recognize their scars, unravel them, and find closure through creative expression.

“Oraison” presents a projection of all the pieces sewn by the participants, photographed by Myre. Ten or so canvasses projected consecutively all show similar, swirling forms; the pieces are grouped together based on patterns such as common subject matter or shape. The recurrence of these themes throughout the pieces is deeply thought-provoking, pushing the viewer to question what compelled these unrelated individuals to represent their completely different stories in such similar ways. The physical scars in the pieces appear more linear, whereas more tangled, complex shapes portray internal wounds. Some scars take symbolic shapes, like hearts or snowflakes. None of the shapes particularly stand out; rather, what makes an impression is the unity found amongst the pieces, despite their different creators.

Also striking is the wide basket which sits the main room, made of threaded wooden shards and filled with red cloth bundles which are “meant to be symbolic of prayer,” Myre noted. With each scar that’s experienced, Myre adds a bundle to the basket to symbolize of validation and support. During the vernissage, the projects’ participants also added bundles to the basket, effectively conveying a sense of continuity. The basket creates an open, secure, and comforting space, there to gather and hold us when we feel the need to be held. The threading of the basket almost mirrors the threaded scars.

The main space also includes a red net being slowly lowered to the ground, expanding and shrinking as it rises and falls. According to Myre, the netting is symbolic of “going out and harvesting these scars.” The broad netting acts as a breathing lung, bringing life and relief onto the darker subject matter sewn into the exhibit. Rising and expanding, it creates an open space for the stories and scars to be held. The basket and the netting also function as visual symbols of how these experiences are ongoing but can still be experienced collectively based on the emotional undercurrents that tie them together.

The participants’ pre-recorded stories form a sound overlay for the exhibit. Their words convey the sadness, frustration, and anger behind the scars in a more profound way. The participants’ voices bring the stories to life, and gives each one a tangible character. Some of the stories touch on the deaths of family members, or relationships that went awry. In one narrative that stands out, the speaker describes their sister, saying, “My scar: missing her is my scar.” The fragmented stories are quite short – that they stream and flow into one another echoes the concept of collective memory. Though the experiences differ, they can all be brought together to coexist in one harmonious space.

The common thread running through all these scars is the profound impact of memory on the human spirit. Despite this unifying thread, however, the themes addressed by the exhibit sometimes feel broad and vague, leaving a sense of yearning for more depth and specificity. Perhaps it would’ve been helpful to know the background of each participant’s story, or what specific aspect of their identity they felt had been scarred – their gender or role as a daughter, for instance. These details are only hinted at in the exhibit.

What “Oraison” does best is translate the powerful and personal effect of “The Scar Project” as a form of communal healing into an immersive experience. Through the layering of different mediums – photography, sculpture, and sound – Myre mirrors the broader significance of the exhibit: the rendering of seemingly different scars into a healing collective.


The  “Oraison” exhibit is open until Saturday, December 13 at OBORO.

The post Scars we share appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/scars-share/feed/ 0
PGSS Board of Directors censures Secretary-General, requests vote of confidence http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/pgss-board-directors-censures-secretary-general-requests-vote-confidence/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/pgss-board-directors-censures-secretary-general-requests-vote-confidence/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 02:21:58 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39611 Grad students take action in support of fossil fuel divestment

The post PGSS Board of Directors censures Secretary-General, requests vote of confidence appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

Censure of the Secretary-General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFS referendum date

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

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

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

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

Divestment from fossil fuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post PGSS Board of Directors censures Secretary-General, requests vote of confidence appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/pgss-board-directors-censures-secretary-general-requests-vote-confidence/feed/ 0
Close quarters and painful encounters http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/close-quarters-painful-encounters/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/close-quarters-painful-encounters/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:22:33 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39594 TNC presents Look Back in Anger

The post Close quarters and painful encounters appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
Acting is all about pretending. Tuesday Night Cafe’s newest production, Look Back In Anger, not only depicts actors pretending to be characters, but characters that, through existential uncertainties, are pretending to be human. An uncensored look at vulnerability and human flaws, Look Back in Anger manages to expose pain without being painful.

Set in a small flat in Britain, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger explores how the tangled emotions and insecurities of four roommates and friends inspire and infuriate in the apartment’s close quarters. Jimmy (Harrison Collett), an agonized industrial worker, is married to Allison (Kyung-Seo (Kay) Min), a woman confined by her traditional duties as a housewife. Having experienced his father’s death firsthand at the age of ten, Jimmy is a damaged, self-pitying husband who demands both obedience and emotional support from Allison, resulting in a tumultuous and abusive marriage. Cliff (Alex Bankier), Jimmy’s only remaining friend, lives with them in their flat, providing emotional relief for both Jimmy and Allison as well as comic relief for the play. As the show unfolds, affairs and anger drive the characters apart and bring them back together, exposing the twisted bonds of abuse and suffering.

While the play deals with themes that are difficult to put on display, the treatment of these themes by director Shanti Gonzales and the cast makes the show engaging and powerful, instead of unwatchable. Each character is portrayed as having their own personal struggles, fears, and contradictions, making it impossible to identify a villain or to distinguish ‘good’ characters from ‘bad.’ Gonzales effectively relays these character complexities to the audience by bringing out the nuances in their relationships.

Each character’s vivid awareness of the reality of pain keeps them on the constant brink of an emotional breakdown – and the audience constantly on the brinks of their seats.

Jimmy in particular is emotionally abusive throughout the play, making it difficult to render him likeable. But while his behaviour borders on evil, his upsetting character is broken down by his own self-loathing and fragility, which draws the audience in emotionally. The necessary trigger warning at the start makes it clear that Gonzales is conscious of Jimmy’s problematic nature. In an interview with The Daily, she explained how she dealt with his abusiveness with care. “It does help us to remember that he is a human being,” she explained. “I think that abuse [in theatre] crosses the line when people lose sight of the humanity of it all.”

Collett is remarkable as Jimmy – his on-stage energy is tangible. He lets himself take up large amounts of space, with a physicality that is both brash and unhinged. Through his anxious physicality and clear emotional investment in Jimmy’s character, Collett reflects the remnants of Jimmy’s past relationships, how he blames and constantly resents his past and present self, and how such thoughts continuously rip him apart. Gonzales notes that Collett was given a lot of freedom with the character. “He and I trust and respect each other immensely, which was critical as we approached the characterization of someone like Jimmy.”

While the all-consuming nature of Jimmy’s character could potentially obscure the rest of the play, Look Back in Anger is as much a study of relationships as individuals. The tensions between Jimmy and his lover, Helena (Kate Hamilton), as well as between Allison and Helena, are expertly developed and drawn out. The two women in particular listen and communicate well with each other onstage. With the actors so invested in their roles, an intimate relationship also develops between them and the audience members.

Given this intimate relationship, the audience cannot help but to become intensely engaged in the high emotions that run throughout the play. In one of the more emotionally-charged moments of the play, Allison falls to the floor, reciting her final monologue about wanting to be corrupt rather than neutral. Each character’s vivid awareness of the reality of pain keeps them on the constant brink of an emotional breakdown – and the audience constantly on the brinks of their seats.

At the heart of this show’s poignancy is the resemblance of the character’s fears to those we find within ourselves – fears that include emotional dependency on another person, the precluding vulnerability, and the pain of acknowledging both. Most profound, however, is the fear of one’s own humanity. The play awakens the vastness that’s buried within us, kernels of the unknown that terrify us. Gonzales’ production skillfully brings the audience, the characters, and the actors together in order to face these realities wholeheartedly.

The post Close quarters and painful encounters appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/close-quarters-painful-encounters/feed/ 0
Two steps backward, one step forward http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/two-steps-backward-one-step-forward/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/two-steps-backward-one-step-forward/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 18:00:03 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39583 The moral, medical, and financial absurdity of cutting refugee healthcare

The post Two steps backward, one step forward appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
In April 2012, the federal government announced sweeping cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) that ensured healthcare coverage for refugee claimants. As a result, all refugees lost access to medication, vision, and dental care coverage, and a portion of refugees from countries on the designated countries of origin (DCO) list – “countries that do not normally produce refugees” – lost access to most healthcare coverage for urgent and essential care, including services for pregnant women. Refugees from such countries would only be entitled to care if they are a threat to public safety – for example, if they are carriers of an infectious disease.

As a result of near-unanimous public indignation and pressure from physicians, lawyers, and political organizations, the decision was brought to the Federal Court. In July, the Court denounced the cuts as a “cruel and unusual” punishment and a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government was thus mandated to reverse the cuts and reinstate the previous system of coverage or a similar one.

Though vocally reluctant, on November 4 the government reinstated only partial benefits, excluding supplemental health benefits and drug benefits, and this only to a selected portion of refugee claimants. By refusing to restore all benefits, the government is only partially implementing a court order, and continues to ignore all the evidence showing that the cuts are a moral, medical, and financial absurdity.

Ottawa’s obstinacy on insisting to cut refugee healthcare coverage is a direct threat to the lives of thousands of refugees.

The temporary measures are clearly unsatisfying. The Court asked for the reinstatement of full benefits, yet the government only partially complied. Under the IFHP, pregnant women are still denied dental, vision, and mental health coverage, and most groups of refugees are also denied prescription benefits. Andrew Cash, a member of parliament for the New Democratic Party (NDP), complained that the government is trying to “pick and choose which refugees they’re going to cover.” As a result, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers denounced the new plan as being “selective” and “punitive.”

Ottawa’s obstinacy on insisting to cut refugee healthcare coverage is a direct threat to the lives of thousands of refugees. Furthermore, it undermines the credibility of the government. Ottawa is shamelessly violating a court order and persistently trying to prove a point that there is a financial and practical rationale for the cuts. It has refused to change its position, even in the face of vehement public opposition and overwhelming evidence pointing at the damaging impacts of the cuts.

The government’s rationale for such reform was twofold. The plan supposedly deters “bogus” refugees from taking advantage of the “generosity” of the Canadian system, and helps save $100 million over five years. There are many holes in this flawed rhetoric.

It is hard to believe that a large number of people flee their country for Canada, ready to undertake this nerve-wracking physical and bureaucratic journey, just to get free healthcare.

To begin with, the term “bogus” is problematic. Refugees are pointed to as bogus if they are ‘faking’ their refugee status to take advantage of associated welfare benefits. Getting refugee status in Canada is a painstaking process. Relentless paperwork, stringent criteria for proving real “fear of persecution,” lengthy procedural delays, and the constant fear and insecurity of acquiring status are some of the hurdles on the way to getting refugee status.

It is hard to believe that a large number of people flee their country for Canada, ready to undertake this nerve-wracking physical and bureaucratic journey, just to get free healthcare. Relatively few will get it too: Canada only accepts about 20,000 refugees per year, through a scrupulous selection process. Speaking to La Presse in French, Marie-Jo Ouimet, a physician at the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Montagne, explains, “Everyday at work, I see people traumatized by war, women who were sexually abused. I have never saw anyone coming here to take advantage of the system.”

In the language of the government, bogus refugees also include claimants coming from a country on the DCO list of ‘safe’ countries. How is a country deemed ‘safe’? According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, so long as a country “respect[s] human rights and offer[s] state protection,” it can be designated as safe. This ambiguous definition makes for unclear distinctions. Mexico is on that list, while every year there is an alarming number of incidences of disappearances, gender-based violence, torture, and military abuse in the country.

While it is impossible to deny that, under Canada’s current immigration law, there are no fraudulent applicants, surely there is not enough evidence to justify such categorical punishment for all refugees. In addition, research and early experience have actually suggested that, in the long run, the plan might cost the government more than what it has saved. With current barriers to accessing basic healthcare services, refugees delay seeking care until it is most critical, and therefore most expensive. Poorly-managed health conditions place an extra financial burden on hospitals, emergency services, and intensive care services. One study found that admission rates for refugee children at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto doubled after Ottawa cut its healthcare coverage for refugees. The author of the study concluded that parents were delaying seeking treatment until the child’s health deteriorated enough to require hospitalization. Yet another study estimated that the cost of emergency services delivered to uninsured refugees in four major health centers in Toronto was around $800,000.

Unable to understand the state of the regulations on refugee healthcare, some clinics in Quebec still refuse all claimants.

In addition to the general confusion caused by the government’s rhetoric, there has been a clear lack of transparency during the reform process, which has led to creating confusion for healthcare providers and refugee claimants. For example, Quebec has decided to oppose the cuts, and continues to offer full coverage to refugees, but there has been poor communication between the federal government, the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), and physicians. At worst, this has contributed to the false perception that claimants are not covered anymore. At best, it has created confusion as to who is entitled to what, and what jurisdiction is offering what coverage. Confusion has lead to chaos and paralysis. Unable to understand the state of the regulations on refugee healthcare, some clinics in Quebec still refuse all claimants.

Overall, what has emerged is “an inequitable patchwork that frustrates healthcare providers, confuses refugees and deters them from seeking badly-needed medical help,” according to the Toronto Star.

Jean Chrétien, a former prime minister, recently wrote in an open letter in the Globe and Mail, “For well over [fifty] years, it has been the Canadian way to open our hearts, our doors, and our wallets to victims of great upheavals.” It is critical that the current government rethinks its priorities and strives to be consistent with its historical role as a humanitarian country. It is hypocritical that the Canadian government champions itself as a humanitarian leader outside its borders while creating a humanitarian crisis within its own borders. There’s no logic in sending troops in Iraq in order to fight war and violence, while at the same time, cutting healthcare benefits for refugees fleeing war and violence.

How much more evidence does the government need to rethink its decision and comply with the Court’s ruling? Harper’s administration should reinstate all healthcare benefits for refugees, the way it was before the cuts in 2012.


Alice Escande is U3 Cognitive Science student with a minor in International Development Studies. To contact her, please email alice.escande@mail.mcgill.ca.

The post Two steps backward, one step forward appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/12/two-steps-backward-one-step-forward/feed/ 0
Examining the right to die http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/examining-right-die/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/examining-right-die/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 02:05:57 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39578 Law students host discussion on physician assisted-suicide, Bill 52

The post Examining the right to die appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current situation of Bill 52

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

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

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

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

The post Examining the right to die appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/examining-right-die/feed/ 0
Grad students decry increased workload, decreased hours for TAs http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/grad-students-decry-increased-workload-decreased-hours-tas/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/grad-students-decry-increased-workload-decreased-hours-tas/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 14:57:32 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39572 AGSEM negotiates collective agreement in the face of budget cuts

The post Grad students decry increased workload, decreased hours for TAs appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Grad students decry increased workload, decreased hours for TAs appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/grad-students-decry-increased-workload-decreased-hours-tas/feed/ 0
In which the environment is a governmental issue http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/environment-governmental-issue/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/environment-governmental-issue/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:13:55 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39569 The Daily’s environment pullout lacks analysis

The post In which the environment is a governmental issue appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
Coming to the forefront of our imaginaries in Montreal is the fight for environmental justice, an intersectional issue that has been largely led by Indigenous resistance groups, since before the Idle No More movement, and during the ongoing Decolonize movement.

Divest McGill – called Decorporatize McGill in late 2012 – is a group on campus that picked up traction with their petition in fall 2012 that demanded the University’s divestment from fossil fuel firms directly involved with Plan Nord.

We saw candidates coordinating their platforms around environmental issues last year in student union elections at Concordia and McGill – although no political slates are allowed on our campus. It is no wonder that The Daily chose to pick at the issue of environmental degradation, or as I like to see it, the imminent apocalypse that will end the possible side-effects of contemporary neoliberalism.

To put it plainly and verbatim, this is the sentence the Environment Issue opened with: “We all inhabit the same planet, but we have gone too long ignoring the fact that our actions can have a profound impact on communities around the world.” I am unclear at what point the introduction for special issues became loaded with empty rhetoric found on the likes of Lululemon tote bags. And just forget about clarifying the totally nebulous use of the word “community” here.

Having previously sat on The Daily editorial board for two years, and the Daily Publications Society for one year, I am no stranger to the high level of organization and extra work it takes to pull off a strong special issue. That said, in terms of writing, this is one of the weakest special issues I have seen in the past three years. Although, I do commend The Daily on the Enbridge Line 9 centrefold and increased online content – in particular the panel discussion among environmental groups on campus.

Beyond that, the writing and so-called ‘analysis’ contained within the issue predominantly criticized government policy. “Harper’s War on the Environment” discusses the details of Harper’s lack of concern with the environment – which I would not readily call a war – with the sole focus of regurgitating the 2014 Climate Change Performance Index report.

“Who is Most Affected by Climate Change?” rolls through the facts and figures provided by the United Nations (UN), complete with quotations from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Even “Indigenous Resistance to Resource Extraction Around the World” shows no new reporting.

The only original reporting can be found in the “Science and Technology to Combat Climate Change” section, and the “Fighting for Climate Justice” article online. In addition, the purportedly online article regarding Indigenous activism in Canada, which was promoted in the print pullout, cannot be found on the environment microsite at all.

The Daily is upheld by its Statement of Principles and should use its pages to provide space for those voices, which are not readily represented in mainstream media. One only has to look at the nation’s major newspapers today, or any day, to hear the voice of Prime Minister Harper and the UN as funneled to us through the words of journalists. In addition, the weak intersectional approach to class and the environment underserves the community The Daily is written for.

We see no bottom-up movement analysis or hear from the real people and groups active in pushing forth environmental change. Analyzing environmental policy purely through high-power institutional data denotes the agent of change as that of the Harper government, of the UN. When did The Daily forget about the community and look to the government for change?


Readers’ Advocate is a twice-monthly column written by Hera Chan addressing the performance, relevance, and quality of The Daily. You can reach her at readersadvocate@mcgilldaily.com.

The post In which the environment is a governmental issue appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/environment-governmental-issue/feed/ 0
#BlackLivesMatter: Montreal stands with Ferguson http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/blacklivesmatter-montreal-stands-ferguson/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/blacklivesmatter-montreal-stands-ferguson/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:12:13 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39561 1,000 gather for vigil organized by McGill Black Students’ Network

The post #BlackLivesMatter: Montreal stands with Ferguson appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post #BlackLivesMatter: Montreal stands with Ferguson appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/blacklivesmatter-montreal-stands-ferguson/feed/ 0
“Everything is problematic” http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 21:17:24 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39549 My journey into the centre of a dark political world, and how I escaped

The post “Everything is problematic” appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
I’ve been a queer activist since I was 17. I grew up in a socially conservative rural town where people would shout homophobic slurs at me from the windows of their pickup trucks. My brushes with anti-gay hatred intimidated me, but they also lit a fire in me. In my last year of high school, I resolved to do whatever I could to make a change before I graduated and left town for good. I felt like I had a duty to help other queer kids who were too scared to come out or who had feelings of self-hatred. I gave an impassioned speech about tolerance at a school assembly, flyered every hallway and classroom, and started a group for LGBTQ students and allies.

Not long after, I was exposed to the ideas of Judith Butler, a bold and penetrating mix of third-wave feminism and queer theory. I saw truth in Butler’s radical perspective on gender, and it felt liberating. My lifelong discomfort with being put in a box — a binary gender category — was vindicated. This is when my passion for feminism began in earnest. I put a bumper sticker on my car that said “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.” I bought a subscription to Bitch magazine. When it came time to graduate and move on to McGill, I eagerly enrolled in a class on feminist theory, as well as a class in Sexual Diversity Studies, the subject that would later become my minor.

My world only kept expanding from there. In Montreal, I was exposed to a greater diversity of people and perspectives than ever before. The same sort of transformation that had occurred in my mind about gender happened with race and disability. I learned about classism and capitalism. At Rad Frosh, a workshop by the high-profile activist Jaggi Singh gave me my first real introduction to anarchism. My first year at McGill was a whirlwind of new people and new revelations.

In my second year, I dove in. I became heavily involved with a variety of queer, feminist, generally anti-oppressive, and radical leftist groups and organizations, in every combination thereof (Mob Squad is one example of many). I read books like Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? and The Coming Insurrection. I shouted my lungs out at protests. So many protests. Marching down the street carrying a sign that said “Fuck Capitalism” became my main form of exercise. That was the year of the tuition protests. There was a lot of excitement in the air. I thought maybe, just maybe, there would be a revolution. A girl can dream.

2012 was the year I hit peak radicalism. Things I did that year included occupying a campus building (for the second time), bodychecking a security guard, getting rammed at low speed by a cop on a moped, sitting through an entire SSMU General Assembly, and running from flashbang grenades hurled by police. (I wasn’t nearly as hardcore as most of the people I knew. “I love how pepper spray clears out your sinuses,” one said. Some participated in black blocs. At one point, a few spent the night in jail.)

Since then, my political worldview has steadily grown and evolved and refined itself. I no longer pine for revolution. I don’t hate capitalism or the state as if those were the names of the people who killed my dog. My politics still lean to the left, just not quite so far, and now I view economic and political systems with an engineer’s eye, rather than in the stark colours of moral outrage. I am just as passionate about queer activism and feminism as I ever was, and aspire to be an ally to other anti-oppressive movements just as much as I ever did. I feel like I have a richer and more nuanced understanding of anti-oppressive politics and ethics than ever before. I’ve held onto all the lessons that I’ve learned. I am grateful to the many people who shared their insight with me.

There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics.

I’ll be graduating soon, and I’ve been thinking about my years in Montreal with both nostalgia and regret. Something has been nagging at me for a long time. There’s something I need to say out loud, to everyone before I leave. It’s something that I’ve wanted to say for a long time, but I’ve struggled to find the right words. I need to tell people what was wrong with the activism I was engaged in, and why I bailed out. I have many fond memories from that time, but all in all, it was the darkest chapter of my life.

I used to endorse a particular brand of politics that is prevalent at McGill and in Montreal more widely. It is a fusion of a certain kind of anti-oppressive politics and a certain kind of radical leftist politics. This particular brand of politics begins with good intentions and noble causes, but metastasizes into a nightmare. In general, the activists involved are the nicest, most conscientious people you could hope to know. But at some point, they took a wrong turn, and their devotion to social justice led them down a dark path. Having been on both sides of the glass, I think I can bring some painful but necessary truth to light.

Important disclaimer: I passionately support anti-oppressive politics in general and have only good things to say about it. My current political worldview falls under the umbrella of leftism, although not radical leftism. I’m basically a social democrat who likes co-ops and believes in universal basic income, the so-called ‘capitalist road to communism.’ I agree with a lot of what the radical left has to say, but I disagree with a lot of what it has to say. I’m deeply against Marxism-Leninism and social anarchism, but I’m sympathetic to market socialism and direct democracy. I don’t have any criticism for radical leftism in general, at least not here, not today. What I feel compelled to criticize is only one very specific political phenomenon, one particular incarnation of radical leftist, anti-oppressive politics.

There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. I’ll go into detail about each one of these. The following is as much a confession as it is an admonishment. I will not mention a single sin that I have not been fully and damnably guilty of in my time.

First, dogmatism. One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.

High on their own supply, activists in these organizing circles end up developing a crusader mentality: an extreme self-righteousness based on the conviction that they are doing the secular equivalent of God’s work. It isn’t about ego or elevating oneself. In fact, the activists I knew and I tended to denigrate ourselves more than anything. It wasn’t about us, it was about the desperately needed work we were doing, it was about the people we were trying to help. The danger of the crusader mentality is that it turns the world in a battle between good and evil. Actions that would otherwise seem extreme and crazy become natural and expected. I didn’t think twice about doing a lot of things I would never do today.

There is a lot to admire about the activists I befriended. They have only the best intentions. They are selfless and dedicated to doing what they think is right, even at great personal sacrifice. Sadly, in this case their conscience has betrayed them. My conscience betrayed me. It was only when I finally gave myself permission to be selfish, after months and months of grinding on despite being horribly burnt out, that I eventually achieved the critical distance to rethink my political beliefs.

Anti-intellectualism was the one facet of this worldview I could never fully stomach.

Anti-intellectualism is a pill I swallowed, but it got caught in my throat, and that would eventually save me. It comes in a few forms. Activists in these circles often express disdain for theory because they take theoretical issues to be idle sudoku puzzles far removed from the real issues on the ground. This is what led one friend of mine to say, in anger and disbelief, “People’s lives aren’t some theoretical issue!” That same person also declared allegiance to a large number of theories about people’s lives, which reveals something important. Almost everything we do depends on one theoretical belief or another, which range from simple to complex and from implicit to explicit. A theoretical issue is just a general or fundamental question about something that we find important enough to think about. Theoretical issues include ethical issues, issues of political philosophy, and issues about the ontological status of gender, race, and disability. Ultimately, it’s hard to draw a clear line between theorizing and thinking in general. Disdain for thinking is ludicrous, and no one would ever express it if they knew that’s what they were doing.

Specifically on the radical leftist side of things, one problem created by this anti-theoretical bent is a lot of rhetoric and bluster, a lot of passionate railing against the world or some aspect of it, without a clear, detailed, concrete alternative. There was a common excuse for this. As an activist friend wrote in an email, “The present organization of society fatally impairs our ability to imagine meaningful alternatives. As such, constructive proposals will simply end up reproducing present relations.” This claim is couched in theoretical language, but it is a rationale for not theorizing about political alternatives. For a long time I accepted this rationale. Then I realized that mere opposition to the status quo wasn’t enough to distinguish us from nihilists. In the software industry, a hyped-up piece of software that never actually gets released is called “vapourware.” We should be wary of political vapourware. If somebody’s alternative to the status quo is nothing, or at least nothing very specific, then what are they even talking about? They are hawking political vapourware, giving a “sales pitch” for something that doesn’t even exist.

Anti-intellectualism also comes out in full force on the anti-oppressive side of things. It manifests itself in the view that knowledge not just about what oppression, is like, but also knowledge about all the ethical questions pertaining to oppression is accessible only through personal experience. The answers to these ethical questions are treated as a matter of private revelation. In the academic field of ethics, ethical claims are judged on the strength of their arguments, a form of public revelation. Some activists find this approach intolerable.

Perhaps the most deeply held tenet of a certain version of anti-oppressive politics – which is by no means the only version – is that members of an oppressed group are infallible in what they say about the oppression faced by that group. This tenet stems from the wise rule of thumb that marginalized groups must be allowed to speak for themselves. But it takes that rule of thumb to an unwieldy extreme.

Let me give an example. A gay person is typically much better acquainted with homophobia than a straight person. Moreover, a gay person has a much greater stake in what society does about homophobia, so their view on the matter is more important. However, there is nothing about the experience of being gay in itself that enlightens a gay person about the ethics of sexual orientation.

To take a dead simple case, you don’t have to hear it from a gay person to know that homosexuality is ethically just fine. If you’re a straight person and a gay person tells you that homosexuality is wrong, you can be confident in your judgement that they are full of shit. In this situation, the straight person is right and the gay person is wrong about homosexuality and homophobia. Gay people have no special access to ethical knowledge, in general or about sexual orientation specifically. Gay people do tend to have better ethical knowledge about sexual orientation than straight people, but that is only because of how our life circumstances move us to reflect on it.

If I said the same thing about another context that isn’t so simple — when the correct opinion isn’t so obvious — I would be roundly condemned. But the example’s simplicity isn’t what makes it valid. People who belong to oppressed groups are just people, with thoughts ultimately as fallible as anyone else’s. They aren’t oracles who dispense eternal wisdom. Ironically, this principle of infallibility, designed to combat oppression, has allowed essentialism to creep in. The trait that defines a person’s group membership is treated as a source of innate ethical knowledge. This is to say nothing about the broader problem of how you’re supposed to decide who’s a source of innate knowledge. Certainly not someone who innately “knows” that homosexuality is disgusting and wrong, but why not, if you’re simply relying on private revelation rather than public criteria?

Consider otherkin, people who believe they are literally animals or magical creatures and who use the concepts and language of anti-oppressive politics to talk about themselves. I have no problem drawing my own conclusions about the lived experience of otherkin. Nobody is literally a honeybee or a dragon. We have to assess claims about oppression based on more than just what people say about themselves. If I took the idea of the infallibility of the oppressed seriously, I would have to trust that dragons exist. That is why it’s such an unreliable guide. (I half-expect the response, “Check your human privilege!”)

It is an ominous sign whenever a political movement dispenses with methods and approaches of gaining knowledge that are anchored to public revelation and, moreover, becomes openly hostile to them. Anti-intellectualism and a corresponding reliance on innate knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a cult or a totalitarian ideology.

Anti-intellectualism was the one facet of this worldview I could never fully stomach. I was dogmatic, I fell prey to groupthink, and I had a crusader mentality, but I was never completely anti-intellectual. Ever since I was a child, the pursuit of knowledge has felt like my calling. It’s part of who I am. I could never turn my back on it. At least not completely. And that was the crack through which the light came in. My love for deep reflection and systematic thinking never ceased. Almost by accident, I took time off from being an activist. I spent time just trying to be happy and at peace, far away from Montreal. It had been a long while since I had the time and the freedom to just think. At first, I pulled on a few threads, and then with that eventually the whole thing unravelled. Slowly, my political worldview collapsed in on itself.

The aftermath was wonderful. A world that seemed grey and hopeless filled with colour. I can’t convey to you how bleak my worldview was. An activist friend once said to me, with complete sincerity, “Everything is problematic.” That was the general consensus. Far bleaker was something I said during a phone call to an old friend who lived in another city, far outside my political world. I, like a disproportionate number of radical leftists, was depressed, and spent a lot of time sighing into the receiver. “I’m not worried about you killing yourself,” he said. “I know you want to live forever.” I let out a weak, sad laugh. “When I said that,” I replied, “I was a lot happier than I am now.” Losing my political ideology was extremely liberating. I became a happier person. I also believe that I became a better person.

I’ve just said a lot of negative things. But, of course, my goal here is to do something positive. I’m cursing the darkness in the hope of seeing the light of a new day. Still, I don’t want to just criticize without offering an alternative. So, let me give a few pieces of constructive advice to anyone interested in anti-oppressive and/or leftist activism.

First, embrace humility. You may find it refreshing. Others will find it refreshing too. Be forceful, be impassioned, just don’t get too high on your own supply. Don’t drink your own kool aid. Question yourself as fiercely as you question society.

Second, treat people as individuals. For instance, don’t treat every person who belongs to an oppressed group as an authoritative mouthpiece of that group as a whole. People aren’t plugged into some kind of hive mind. Treating them like they are, besides being essentialist, also leads to contradictions since, obviously, not all people agree on all things. There is no shortcut that allows you to avoid thinking for yourself about oppression simply by deferring to the judgements of others. You have to decide whose judgements you are going to trust, and that comes to the same thing as judging for yourself. This drops a huge responsibility on your lap. Grasp the nettle firmly. Accept the responsibility and hone your thinking. Notice contradictions and logical fallacies. When you hear an opinion about a kind of oppression from a member of the group that experiences it, seek out countervailing opinions from members of the same group and weigh them against each other. Don’t be afraid to have original insights.

Third, learn to be diplomatic. Not everything is a war of good versus evil. Reasonable, informed, conscientious people often disagree about important ethical issues. People are going to have different conceptions of what being anti-oppressive entails, so get used to disagreement. When it comes to moral disagreements, disbelief, anger, and a sense of urgency are to be expected. They are inherent parts of moral disagreement. That’s what makes a diplomatic touch so necessary. Otherwise, everything turns into a shouting match.

Fourth, take a systems approach to the political spectrum. Treat the pursuit of the best kind of society as an engineering problem. Think about specific, concrete proposals. Would they actually work? Deconflate desirability and feasibility. Refine your categories beyond simple dichotomies like capitalism/socialism or statism/anarchism.

I am not going to let my disillusionment with my past activism discourage me from trying to do good in the future. If you find yourself similarly disillusioned, take heart. As long as you learn from your mistakes, no one can blame you for trying to be a good person. Don’t worry. We all get to come back.


The author has chosen to use a pseudonym for this article.

The post “Everything is problematic” appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic/feed/ 0
Short and sweet http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/short-sweet/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/short-sweet/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39385 On the North American obsession with the playoffs

The post Short and sweet appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
There is a tradition in the NHL unlike any other league. When a team wins the Presidents’ Trophy, an award given to the team that accrues the most points over the course of the regular season, nobody on the team touches the trophy – it’s considered bad luck. The ceremony usually involves an awkward photoshoot in which everyone stands around the big trophy in front of them, without anyone so much as laying a finger on it If they do touch it, much of the media wonders if this team will fall victim to the “Presidents’ Trophy curse” – that the team that was the best during the regular season won’t eventually go on to win the Stanley Cup.

There’s probably no ceremony more indicative of the weird way that North Americans value sports, in which the playoffs’ value outweighs the previous four or five months of the regular season. To touch the Presidents’ Trophy is to value the wrong type of success; everything achieved during a regular season means nothing without victory in the playoffs. It is an obsession foisted on players and teams as a whole: to win in the playoffs is the most important thing – the only thing.

The genealogy makes sense, if you go back far enough. Back in the early 1900s, there were two separate professional baseball leagues of the same prestige – the National League and the American League – and it made sense for the champions of each league to play each other. The teams didn’t play each other at all during the regular season, and only the best team from each league played in the (presumptuously named) World Series, a system that persisted until 1969. Same thing with the NFL’s Super Bowl, which took the champion of the National Football League and the American Football League and pit them in an inter-league championship game. Before that, the leagues determined their own champion by vote or by tie-breaking playoff games. But when both these leagues merged, and the playoffs slowly expanded into what they are now: a collection of the 12 to 16 best teams in a league thrown together. As such, the results may vary. Why the expansion? More playoff teams creates more teams in playoff position throughout the season. This creates sustained interest across the country, as well as more constructively important playoff games, which means more money.

In the rest of the world, playoffs aren’t nearly as much of a thing as they are in the U.S. and Canada. Domestic soccer leagues everywhere else in the world simply anoint the champion of the league after each team has played each other twice. The winner is the team that won the most games over the course of the season. The best team is the most consistent over the entire season – no one game is ever more important than the other. Consistency is a virtue. Over here, the regular season is merely the means of reaching the playoffs, where everything suddenly becomes important. A Players careers is evaluated based on how they perform in a tiny percentage of it – whether they’re able to win ‘the big one.’ When someone doesn’t produce in the playoffs, they’re apt to be labeled a ‘choker’ or ‘soft,’ even if it was simply a stretch of bad luck, or, really, not entirely their fault. Professional leagues with playoff systems are team sports, yet often only one player is blamed for not living up to expectations.

Why the obsession with the playoffs here, then? They are, to many, a way to easily decide the ‘objectively’ best team in a certain sport – whichever team beats the other good teams theoretically must be the best. Of course, the easiest way does not always mean the best way. Playoffs are necessarily a small sample size, and luck often plays a larger role than talent.
A baseball season is 162 games over six months, but only one month of, at most, twenty games for one team decides the championship. Just last month, MLB Kansas City Royals advanced to the World Series after a string of miraculous wins; they were exceptionally lucky and rode that luck all the way to the precipice of a championship. But it would be hard to argue that they were even the second – best team in the MLB – they were just on a hot streak.

The media’s treatment of the playoffs is reductive and lazy, and basically propagates the idea that the team that wins is always better, that the result is always more important than the process. The playoffs have become an artificially constructed marker of importance, a stage in which to judge players or teams under entirely constructed ‘pressure.’ Sure, athletes want to win championships, perhaps more than anything – but this stage has become the means of truly defining an athlete, based off their ability in very specific circumstances, as opposed to the larger picture.

For some reason, there is a distinct dislike for teams or players that perform well over the course of the regular season. Every player seems to have something to prove until they win a championship – there’s almost nothing someone can do to escape the ‘choker’ or ‘soft’ narrative. Roberto Luongo, one of the best goalies in the NHL, is still known as a ‘choker’ because of his performance in the 2011 Stanley Cup final; nevermind the fact that he won a gold medal for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics a year prior after defeating their biggest rival. The playoffs signify, to the media, the time when the games really matter – as opposed to the months before, when the games that needed to be won to even get to the playoffs were somehow slightly less important – and the best teams or players will ‘raise’ their play.

Forget the day-to-day or week-to-week consistency of the regular season; the media (and, by influence, the fans) want the short streak of luck or brilliance during the playoffs. Only the best players or teams can do this, apparently, which leads the media to fawn over average players who got hot at the right time (such as hockey’s Danny Briere and football’s Joe Flacco, to name a few) and castigate the unlucky ones (basketball’s Chris Paul, football’s Matt Ryan, the entire roster of hockey’s San Jose Sharks). A player is questioned and questioned until they win a championship; after that, the player is forever given the benefit of the doubt. The old narrative is completely erased from the discourse. For instance, Peyton Manning was widely derided as a regular season stat-stuffer who choked in the playoffs; however, after a 2006 Super Bowl victory against an overmatched Chicago Bears team, he was suddenly given the media cachet of one of the all-time greats.

This is not to say that the playoffs are bad or not fun to watch, but merely that they are imperfect ways to decide a best team. They are given entirely too much precedent, and this leads to lazy, unfair media narratives. Any playoff system must be appreciated for its variability – over such a small time, unexpected things are bound to happen. Playoffs do not always point out the ‘best,’ as it is often mistaken for, but instead just the luckiest. The playoffs are fun, unpredictable, exciting, wild, stupendous, amazing, dramatic, what have you but they’re often not the best way to actually decide upon a best team in a given year. Perhaps the obsession with playoffs can only be described as a regional thing: it seems distinctly North American to shun consistency and instead reward short, incandescent flashes of brilliance.

The post Short and sweet appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/short-sweet/feed/ 0
Cuts to services worry student senators http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/cuts-services-worry-student-senators/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/cuts-services-worry-student-senators/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:09:25 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39465 Challenges to come for research institute’s transition to new Glen site

The post Cuts to services worry student senators appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

Cuts to student services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community engagement and out-of-classroom learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns with MUHC transition to Glen site

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

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

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

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

Student discipline

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

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

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

The post Cuts to services worry student senators appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/cuts-services-worry-student-senators/feed/ 0
Confronting misogynoir in popular media http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/confronting-misogynoir-portrayals-black-women/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/confronting-misogynoir-portrayals-black-women/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:07:13 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39474 Panelists discuss stereotypes, hypersexualization of black women

The post Confronting misogynoir in popular media appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Confronting misogynoir in popular media appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/confronting-misogynoir-portrayals-black-women/feed/ 0
Remembering the Sikh genocide http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/remembering-sikh-genocide/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/remembering-sikh-genocide/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:07:02 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39473 Concordia Sikhs host discussion of the events of 1984

The post Remembering the Sikh genocide appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

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

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

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

Participant experiences and collective knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy of the 1984 genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Remembering the Sikh genocide appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/remembering-sikh-genocide/feed/ 0
Vote or bust http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/vote-bust/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/vote-bust/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:04:49 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39434 Our political systems are broken, but we should not disengage

The post Vote or bust appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
Young people are not turning out to vote because of a disgust for a political system that does not represent them. As a group, young people are increasingly choosing complete non-participation – this solves nothing.

However, this sentiment is not only found among young people. The British comedian and actor Russell Brand recently shot to fame for advocating non-participation in an interview on the British news panel show Newsnight, which caused a large backlash; his remark that “there is nothing worth voting for, that is why I don’t vote” caused a mixture of consternation and approval among politicians, celebrities, and the general voting public. Brand further clarified by saying that mainstream political parties are unrepresentative and that voting makes no difference. Summing up his attitude, he stated, “Give us something to vote for and then we will vote for it.” Brand is mainly popular among young people, and the sentiments expressed are indicative of how many feel that their concerns are underrepresented. The short YouTube video of the interview has over ten million views.

The statistics clearly indicate that younger voters are less inclined to vote, and this is problematic.

Election turnout results support Brand’s claims. In the recent midterm elections in the U.S., while voter turnout was low overall (with only 36.4 per cent voting), 78.5 per cent of those who did not vote were between 18 to 29. Likewise, during the 2011 Canadian federal elections, 61.2 per cent of the 18 to 24 age group did not vote. However, the problem is not particular to North America. In the elections for the European Parliament this year, 72 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds did not vote either. The statistics clearly indicate that younger voters are less inclined to vote, and this is problematic.

What is Brand’s answer to this malaise? Revolution, mobilization, and a fuck-the-system attitude. The older generation may sigh, but from a student perspective this viewpoint is completely justified. Expanding austerity measures means we have to pay more for education, increasing our debt sizeably, while the quality of education plummets because of budget cuts. Not only this; when we graduate, we are left with limited job opportunities and thus little means of paying back this debt. As for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, did 15 million people on the streets worldwide not indicate to governments that citizens did not want war? It’s a truism that the establishment does not represent voters on an array of their critical concerns.

We have a democracy in name, but not in practice, and therefore according to Brand, we need to bring down the system, dismantle corrupt political structures, and replace them with directly responsible and democratic organizations. Providing such direct representation is indeed an answer to the concerns that young voters, and students in particular, harbour. Such a system could provide an accountable link between young voters and their representatives.

A party or group of parties still wins if you choose not to vote, and if anything, students and young people not voting means there is no desire to represent the concerns of this group among elites.

Direct-democratic mobilization has also been highly successful in achieving change, but arguably, it is limited and can easily backfire. The Parti Québécois’ so-called support for the student strikes, only to hike university tuition fees once in power, is a good example of this. Anger toward this sort of betrayal has led to the visibility of protest-vote parties like the Parti Nul, established on a platform of allowing voters a chance to express that they feel unrepresented by elites. The argument is that by acknowledging nullified votes, one step is created toward real democracy. However, this points to a more troubling question: we may not be able to change the system without participating in it. The solution to the problem of lack of representation is precisely participation in the system. Efforts at establishing direct democratic structures are valuable and have produced gains, yet repeated efforts to mobilize outside of the political system still have not led to systemic change.

While the premise of the argument for non-participation is admirable, failing to turn up at the ballot box is not a solution. In fact, not voting, or even spoiling your ballot, changes absolutely nothing. A party or group of parties still wins if you choose not to vote, and if anything, students and young people not voting means there is no desire to represent the concerns of this group among elites. Voters aged over 65 consistently turn out to vote and are rarely threatened by the kind of budget cuts that young people are. Thus, by not voting, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Historically, it has been through participation in the system that relevant gains have been achieved for those who felt underrepresented by the system. Think about the eight-hour workday, paid holidays, paternity and maternity leave, anti-discrimination laws, and affirmative action policies. If young people continue to disengage, they risk losing the momentum of decades of gains.

The argument should not be “give us something to vote for”; rather the onus should be on us to provide something for ourselves to vote for.

Though statistics clearly indicate that young people are disillusioned with the system, what is evident is that there is no lack of passion. Sales of Brand’s book raked in roughly $400,000 in the space of 11 days, and his YouTube channel has 750,000 subscribers. However, the issue is how to guide that passion in a direction that causes a change within the system. If citizens or young people do not get involved in politics, others will. This opens the door for them to rob you of democracy, your rights, and your wallet. The argument should not be “give us something to vote for”; rather the onus should be on us to provide something for ourselves to vote for. This could come in the form of creating a political party. This may sound a little like a pipe dream, but it can be a successful tactic. In Spain, the Podemos party was formed from a protest movement and is led by a political science professor. It achieved 2.25 million votes in the European elections and won five seats in the European Parliament. The effect of the party’s success has led to politicians in Spain admitting that the results represent a “serious warning” from voters and even led to the resignation of the Socialist party leader. Furthermore, in an opinion poll on voters preferences in October this year, Podemos was preferred by 27 per cent of Spaniards.

Mass participation in the system invariably leads to the requirement that the establishment take notice. If we are to have our views represented in government and our concerns listened to, we should unshackle ourselves from the demand culture of ‘give us something to vote for’ and stop expecting the establishment to deliver change. Instead, we need to recognize that disengaging from voting can be dangerous; organizing along party lines can change the system.


Thomas Burgess is a Masters student in Political Science. To contact him, please email thomas.burgess@gmx.com.

The post Vote or bust appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/vote-bust/feed/ 0
Deputy Provost shows no support for student-run food services http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/deputy-provost-shows-support-student-run-food-services/ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/deputy-provost-shows-support-student-run-food-services/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:03:40 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=39462 Councillors talk student engagement, reopening Redpath doors

The post Deputy Provost shows no support for student-run food services appeared first on The McGill Daily.

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

Dyens on food services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creation of a student engagement committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reopening the Redpath Library doors

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

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

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

The post Deputy Provost shows no support for student-run food services appeared first on The McGill Daily.

]]>
http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/deputy-provost-shows-support-student-run-food-services/feed/ 0