The McGill Daily Ce n’est qu’un au revoir since 1911 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 02:08:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 Loving friends Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:04:57 +0000 You are my R, you are as deep as the roots of a tree and joyous like its leaves soaking in the sun, you are stable and solid like a mountain, but rapid, delicious, scintillating, and in continuous renewal like a spring or brook, and you are weightless but so strong, mutable and pure like air. You are my light, in my darkest moments I have thought only of you and I prayed to see you again. I will never be able to explain to you what the sole thought of you unleashes in me. I am only surer than ever that you are the biggest and truest love I will ever have. It is as always, us two and then the world.

In my first year of university I took a course on the history of sexuality, and part of the syllabus involved learning about female romantic friendships. Romantic friendships have existed throughout history in beautifully organic and varied ways, but the term generally describes a deep bond of love and friendship, and an intensely romantic expression of affection between two women. I had never heard the term before, but it felt like something had clicked into place. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that I had found a phrase that explained the complexity of love that I felt at first for one, and then for many other people in my life. What I learned in that class gave me a basis for a personal exploration of the boundaries between love, friendship, sex, and romance.

features-2Photos courtesy of Inori Roy, Carli Gardner, Chantelle Schultz

The rise and fall of romantic relationships

“I love you, I miss you so much, endlessly, more and more.” “All I can say is I love you more than any other existing thing and I miss you more than air.” “You are my life. You are my reason for existing.”

Before going any further I would like to acknowledge that this class centered around the experiences of white women. My knowledge of the history of romantic friendships has the same flaws. While the term “romantic friendship” has been historically applied to white women, similar relationships have existed in various marginalised communities under other names, and with their own rich histories. I don’t have extensive knowledge or personal experience sufficient to speak to those realities, but I should note that white romantic friendships are not unique or solitary in their existence.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, romantic friendships were looked upon favourably – even encouraged – by society. Some believed that men and women fundamentally could not understand each other and should only seek company with members of their same sex. Other times, they were encouraged because, though lesbianism hadn’t yet gained visibility, men found it sexually appealing for women to show each other love. Many believed intense friendships between women allowed women to practice affection before marriage. Thus, romantic friendships became a mark of a noble, genuine, devout and trustworthy woman.

But the main reason romantic friendships were allowed was because no matter how many public declarations of passion, undying love, and displays of affection women bestowed upon each another, society was firmly convinced that sex between women was impossible. It was believed that without male penetration, a woman could not have sex, but also, more importantly, that women did not want to have sex. If women were recognized as having sexual desires, romantic friendships would not have been allowed to flourish.

As it was, in the 17th century, the poet Katherine Philips wrote love poems to ‘Lucasia’ (a woman whose real name was Anne Owen), describing her as “dear object of my Love’s excess,” declaring that she hadn’t lived before loving her, and that in her, Katherine found all the world.

I did not live until this time
Crown’d my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.

In 1778, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, two upper-class Irish women, eloped together. They established themselves as the “Ladies of Llangollen,” living together for fifty-three years, and entertaining visitors who travelled to observe their “unconventional lifestyle.” Also, in the 18th century, the author Elizabeth Carter wrote of her love for Catherine Talbot declaring, “Nobody has been observed to lose their way, run against a door, or sit silent and staring in a room full of company in thinking upon you, except my solitary self.”

If women were recognized as having sexual desires, romantic friendships would not have been allowed to flourish.

Women’s passionate love for one another was recognised amongst themselves as something purer, characterised by companionship, emotional connection, and equality. But women also gravitated towards strong attachments to each other in an attempt to become financially independent of men. Ponsonby and Butler’s elopement foreshadowed the Boston Marriages of the late 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S., wherein middle class women would live together, financially independent of any man.

As women gained social power in the 19th century – fighting for education and the right to vote – men grew increasingly anxious about the implications of liberated women for traditional family structures. Romantic friendships, though once encouraged, were suddenly a threat, since they undermined male authority and dominance, and offered women an alternative to heterosexual marriage.

But the final blow to romantic friendships was struck by the rise of sexology – a field of study created and populated by men. Sexology pathologized many sexual acts including, of course, homosexuality and lesbianism. Books began cautioning young women against sharing intimacies with other girls, and prodded parents to discourage such relationships. In 1896, the English sexologist Havelock Ellis published a book, Sexual Inversion, which recounts his conversation with a patient, Miss M. She revealed that she had romantic friendships and always found them spiritually enriching until she read the sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s work, Psycopathia Sexualis, and ‘realised’ that she was unnatural and depraved.

Not only did society now condemn intimate female friendships, but healthy women also began to see themselves as psychologically unstable. Women now had to ascribe a sexual identity to their feelings – while under the additional pressure of knowing that lesbians were ostracized and condemned. How were women who had grown up thinking their love for each other was ennobling now meant to self-identify?

feature-6Photos courtesy of Timour Scrève, Ralph Haddad, Anya Sivajothy

Compulsory heterosexuality and the hierarchy of love

I’ve never since felt such a depth of love. I knew her every scent, every single expression in her eyes. My body remembers the pressure of her legs on my lap, the way she would pinch me and make me scream and we would wrestle, a mess of tangled limbs and golden and black hair, until I inevitably fell on the floor. She would turn to me in the middle of a sentence while talking to someone else, knowing that I would have the precise date and series of events that she was referencing, including our outfits and how she’d felt about the situation. The boundaries between our bodies and minds were unendingly blurred.

As soon as I began studying romantic friendships I knew why I was so deeply interested: here, finally, was some other woman’s deep and passionate love for her friend, a love I knew and felt so keenly in my own life. I thought my friend R and I had been alone in what felt like the truest, most pure, elevated and profound, soul-reaching and expanding, life-claiming love for each other. In actuality, we were participating in a long history of female love – one that is suspiciously absent from common discourse.

R and I were inseparable. On the rare occasion that we would go out without one another, people would stop us and ask where our other half/comrade/associate was. We would write each other declarations of love, we took nude photos of each other and together. I was a planet orbiting around her, my sun. I knew with a deep certainty that she was the only person, aside from my immediate family, that I would die to save (it’s never really clear why exactly one needs to die to save people, but I knew that I would be game to try). But for all this deep and clear love for one another, R and I dated men – obviously.

Then I learned how men had felt threatened by romantic friendships, and had quickly demonized and invalidated them (as men are so quick to do to anything that undermines their dominance). I felt crushed under the weight of this knowledge. It seemed like romantic friendships had never recovered from the fatal blow dealt to them by sexology and the patriarchy in the 1800s. When women were taught that their love for each other was impure, a symptom of a disease, or a sign of lack of devotion to their husband, it reinforced the dominance of heterosexual romantic relationships in society. With it came the idea that a woman’s purpose is to be desirable to men, and her life’s goal to enter a heterosexual romantic relationship.

But for all this deep and clear love for one another, R and I dated men – obviously.

In her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Adrienne Rich argues that “women’s choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, co-workers, lovers, tribe, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise.” Rich argues that women are forced or coerced into heterosexual relationships through various tactics wielded by men, “ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness.” Female heterosexuality, according to Rich, is neither a free choice, nor an innate preference.

Part of compulsory heterosexuality is the expectation that romantic relationships must be prioritised above friendships. Even the few romantic friendships that exist today – rare as they are, due to the pathologization of lesbianism – take a backseat to boyfriends.

features-5Photos courtesy of Nicola Protetch, Khatira Madhavi, Marina Djurdjevic

In an article for NYmag’s series, “Single Ladies Week,” author Briallen Hopper quotes the novelist Hanya Yanagihara, who said “Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives […] It remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.” I think “unspoken” is the key word here. We are not explicitly bound to friends in the same way we are to lovers. Unlike in dating, there is never a moment where you have ‘the talk’ with your friends – no one asks “what are we?” or “where is this headed?” Platonic commitment happens in slow, implicit ways. First you start making dinner together, and then you manage to sit in comfortable silence with each other, and eventually you know you can call each other, sobbing, at 4 a.m. I don’t mean to say that explicit commitment doesn’t happen within friendships – indeed it does happen, particularly within romantic friendships – but it’s not the norm. There’s no expectation that you’re committed to living nearby and participating in creating a family or trying to be lifelong partners with your friends.

Even within the communities to which I belong, trusted close friends have disappeared upon starting a committed relationship with a romantic partner, without acknowledging the impact of their absence on their friends. Almost always, an explanation for their disappearance is seen as unnecessary. You’re probably thinking, of course one would privilege their romantic partner above their friends. But this hierarchy of love is, at least partially, the result of men having imposed romantic heterosexual relationships as the highest social concern a woman can have – and this preference for romantic relationships has remained ingrained even outside of cis-heterosexual relationships.

“[Friendship] remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.”

—Hanya Yanagihara

I’ve felt deeply and personally hurt the times that friends have disappeared on me – a hurt that felt hard to express precisely, because society makes us believe that romantic relationships are a more legitimate use of time and energy, and because we want our friends ‘to be happy.’ Maybe I’m asking for a revisioning of the hierarchy of love altogether (though I’m under no illusions that this will happen overnight). But, more immediately and more manageably, I really just want my friends to communicate with me about their priorities, and not to assume that everyone buys into the idea that romantic relationships trump friendships.

For me, the history of romantic friendships is a reminder that the way relationships are currently structured in our society is not the way they need to be. In her essay, Rich brings up the idea of a “lesbian continuum,” and argues that all relationships between women – be they coworkers, lovers, friends, or family – exist on the same spectrum, regardless of whether the women identify themselves as lesbians or not. The continuum serves to de-eroticize loving relationships between women, allowing them to feel more at ease in expressing love to each other.

Rich talks about the very real “constraints and sanctions which, historically, have been enforced to insure the coupling of women with men.” She is not arguing that in a world without patriarchal oppression everyone would be bisexual, but rather that heterosexuality should be recognised as a political institution. I would like us to be similarly critical of the way relationships are structured and prioritized. In my own experience, breaking some of those structures has been incredibly fulfilling, and I believe that most people would benefit from feeling comfortable expressing love in more open and varied ways. But the work of crossing these boundaries can be intensely painful, and I’m still often unclear about whether my heart is hurting because I’m unlearning something or because it feels innate to me – and I think it’s valuable to listen to that hurt.

feature-4Photos courtesy of Katie Buckley, Jonathan Brown Gilbert, Julia Bugiel

Queering romance

R and I loved each other platonically for at least three years. One night we went out together, and I stayed over at hers afterwards. But the energy between us felt charged. I remember lying next to her, wondering if I should do anything. The electricity buzzing between our bodies felt so strong, she must be feeling it too, I thought. I would never have done anything, but then she reached for me, and then we were making out, and then I was going down on her. The next day neither of us said a word about what had happened. A week later, it happened again – and once again we never talked about it. I knew that we were on exactly the same page, and in my mind I did not view it as sex – I always described it as a physical manifestation of our love, sometimes as “making love.” We both thought we were straight – in fact, she still does.

The sense of loss that I felt when I first learned about the attempted destruction of romantic friendships is slightly compensated for by my belief that they are back on the rise, and have been for a while.

While I was a teenager in Italy it became popular and cool for female friends to start telling each other “ti amo,” which means “I love you.” The phrase used to be reserved solely for romantic relationships and occasionally family. Traditionally, it was only acceptable to tell friends and family “ti voglio bene,” which translated literally means “I want good for you” – i.e. “I care about you.” Almost all of the girls saying “ti amo” were heterosexual – and yet, they would write each other long declarations of love on Facebook that would be validated by their other female peers with numerous likes and comments.

Romantic friendships have particularly strong roots in queer communities, since queer people – often ostracized from their blood families – have long understood the importance of chosen families. When I arrived in Montreal in my first year at McGill, I had only experienced my love for R. Four years later, I now have four explicitly acknowledged romantic friendships, and I have heard of many more, principally among queer friends. Romantic friendships have historically been a way of eschewing reliance on men, and heteropatriarchal systems more generally – but historical discussions of romantic friendships in the 17th and 18th centuries focus almost exclusively on white women. In a contemporary context, I’ve seen many marginalized people – specifically queer and transfeminine folks, and people of colour – turn to forms of romantic friendship, like Black and trans sisterhoods. Denied the security of participating in white cis-heteropatriarchy, marginalized people sometimes begin to replace these structures with radical alternative families, lovers, and friendships.

features-3Photos courtesy of Emma Sutherland, Claire O'Neill Sanger, Coco Zhou

Reconciling sex, friendship, and romance

The fact that we had made love did not register in my mind as being reflective of a sexual orientation – it remained an act of love outside of identity categories. But a year or two later I realised I was queer and eventually came out to R. She was vaguely supportive and it wasn’t an issue until a year later, when I sent her a particularly poetic and adoring birthday message. Her reply was a little brusque, and then I noticed she started avoiding my messages. When I confronted her, she told me “it sounded like I was in love with her.”

She meant I was in love with her as a lesbian would be, and it felt like the lowest form of betrayal. We had both always expressed our love in deeply romantic ways, and we had expressed multiple times to each other how it felt like our love was beyond all classifications, love in its purest form. Looking back, I see that as well as being a betrayal of our relationship, it was also homophobic. We didn’t talk for many months until she eventually apologised, but still refused to talk about what had happened. It feels like the whole incident was directly inherited from the creation of sexology in the 19th century. R used the difference between loving and being in love to leave me defenceless.

It’s precisely this difference that becomes blurred for me in romantic friendships. In some ways I did feel like I was in love with R, but because society inextricably tangles “being in love” with romance and sex, I felt I couldn’t admit to that. There are so many issues with conflating love and sex – including the erasure of asexual folks, and the ways that such discourse condones sexual assault in romantic relationships – that would merit a whole article on its own. For me, the entanglement of the two created a fear of rejection, and held me back from communicating my love.

In every single one of my romantic friendships there have been clearly sexual moments. Two of these friends and I have dated briefly, in very different ways and with varying degrees of success. Each of those times was really hard to navigate in my mind. Why didn’t I feel ‘in love’ with one friend when we were dating, though I had felt like I wanted to fall in love with them when we weren’t? With another friend, I know we have really good chemistry from the times we have been physical, and I would happily date them in theory, but I don’t really feel the need to. With a third friend, I know that some part of me could be deeply in love with them; but that part of me would need specific circumstances to come out, and in the meantime the level of our sexual attraction to each other has oscillated.

One of the many beautiful things about romantic friendships is how they blur the lines of love, sex, friendship, and romance, and how this lack of clear definition gives birth to so many different shapes of affection. But for humans – who adore clear boundaries and unequivocal definitions – the fact that romantic friendships raise more questions than they answer can be disconcerting.

One of the many beautiful things about romantic friendships is how they blur the lines of love, sex, friendship, and romance.

In this piece I’ve been using “romantic relationship” in opposition to “friendship” or “romantic friendship” – but it’s not that simple. When we talk about romantic relationships it’s implied that they are also sexual, though the two are not one and the same. Romantic friendships deconstruct the boundary between romance and friendship, as per their very name, and raise questions about how sex is tied into loving or being in love. If romantic friendships are called romantic because of the intensity of love and the way it is communicated, why aren’t they simply romantic relationships – in other words why does the “friendship” part remain as a qualifier? There is no way I can answer all of these questions, in particular because I believe that the answers are deeply individual or contextual, but they are important departure points for necessary conversations.

What changes in crossing the threshold from romantic friendship to sexual romance? What does the coexistence of all three elements – romance, sex, and friendship – look like? I have endless questions, but I’m learning to tailor each romantic friendship to our specific circumstance.

Living far away from R has affected our relationship and our ability to talk about the nuance of our love for each other. The past summer I went home and finally brought up what had happened and she acknowledged how painful it had been. We still love each other deeply, but honestly, I can’t feel the same way I did. I miss her beyond words – mostly I miss our oneness. But I now have many other romantic friendships that are much more intentionally constructed and in many ways more directly supportive. These people give me so much strength and I cannot see them ever not being a part of my life. We talk about how we want to live our lives and if we can live in a communal situation together, in some cases even help raise children together. I am endlessly grateful for the love we give each other and the deliberate ways we raise each other up and I have resolved a thousand times in my heart to make them an endless priority throughout my life.

feature-7Photos courtesy of Hannah Kaya, Sevrenne Sheppard, Taylor Mitchell
Fighting mosquitoes with mosquitoes Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:35:14 +0000 The pungent stench of mosquito coils and repellent sprays, and the claustrophobic experience of sleeping under nets are familiar to those who venture out from underneath the protection of the well-established public health infrastructure and temperate climate available in select countries. However, half of the world’s population – approximately 3.2 billion people – inhabit regions of the globe where the endemic mosquito population could serve as a vector (disease carrier) for the transmission of several parasitic and viral human pathogens. The most common of these mosquito-borne pathogens include malaria, Chikungunya virus, Dengue virus, West Nile virus, Yellow fever virus, and the Zika virus. These mosquito-borne illnesses claim about one million lives every year, with young children being disproportionately affected.

Basic vector control strategies, which rely on targeting breeding grounds, controlling larval populations, and using insecticides have been crucial in reducing the transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses. However, a truly effective vector control strategy would require basic vector control techniques to be implemented in conjunction with more sophisticated approaches, such as the use of genetically-modified mosquitoes. This integrative and modern approach will be the next step in successfully reducing the mortality (death within a population) and morbidity (sickness in an area) caused by mosquito-borne illnesses. This integrative strategy would be of particular importance in dealing with the current Zika virus pandemic; which has gained notoriety due to its rapid geographic expansion and its association with severe neurological complications such as Guillain Barré syndrome and fetal microcephaly.

Within the past decade, the Zika virus was brought to the forefront of global public health consciousness, with progressive epidemics in Micronesia (2007), French Polynesia (2013), and Latin America (currently ongoing). The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species of mosquitoes, and over the last couple years has caused localized epidemics in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Venezuela, as well as recent outbreaks in the southern United States and Singapore.

The controversial debate over the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to curb the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses has become salient in the context of the Zika pandemic. This strategy involves the introduction of a dominant gene in the mosquito’s genome, which doesn’t affect the normal development of the larvae, but results in the death of the mosquito before it reaches adulthood, if outside of laboratory conditions. As male mosquitoes are not directly responsible for disease transmission, genetically-modified specimen are then periodically released into the environment, where they mate with wild female mosquitoes to produce developmentally arrested larvae. As such, the transgenic males are able to competitively inhibit wild males from producing viable larvae. This ultimately results in a rapid decline in the local mosquito population, as well as a decline in the transmission of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Field studies conducted in the Cayman Islands, Brazil, Panama, and Malaysia were resoundingly successful in reducing the local A. aegypti mosquito population by 80 to 95 per cent.

Despite successful field studies, concerns about the possibility of environmental damage and a general public distrust of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)are some of the current obstacles to widespread implementation of a transgenic mosquito strategy in Zika virus affected-areas. While some of these concerns arise from a legitimate fear of upsetting delicate ecosystems, they are often exacerbated by misinformation; it is the responsibility of the scientific community to accurately communicate the benefits of this strategy to the general public while directly challenging outlets of misinformation.

The concern about the potential ecological impact of introducing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment is valid and must be continuously addressed. Releasing a new species into the environment could potentially upset delicate ecosystems by inadvertently affecting other species that are ecologically-dependent on mosquitoes. To date, however, no field studies conducted to date have found any significant downstream ecological effects. It is also important to note that the A. aegypti mosquito is usually an invasive species and is unlikely to be central to environmental stability. The potential for any serious ecological impact is also limited by the fact that the transgenic mosquitoes contain lethal genes that directly affect their ability to successfully reproduce. This environmental concern, however, is not to be dismissed lightly, and future field studies must continue to diligently monitor the regional ecological impact of releasing transgenic mosquitoes. This will be crucial in informing any potential large scale implementation of this strategy in other regions where A. aegypti is a public health concern. If any ecological effects are reported in future studies, then further release of transgenic mosquitoes can be halted or adjusted accordingly.

The recent outbreak of theZika virus in southern Florida has prompted public health officials to seriously consider using genetically modified mosquitos as a vector control method. In a nonbinding referendum, 58 per cent of voters in Monroe County, Florida favoured the release of transgenic mosquitoes, however 65 per cent of voters in the neighbourhood of Key Haven (Monroe County) – where the trial is to take place – were opposed to the test. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed the study proposal and concluded that “the proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment.” While we wait for the decision of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board on whether or not they will use transgenic mosquitoes, it is important to reiterate the need to better engage the public regarding the benefits of GMOs, while challenging misinformation and those who propagate it.

Opposition to transgenic mosquitoes – or any other GMO – often stems from a general distrust of corporate and government interests and dogmatic adherence to the view that humans should not alter the environment. Although it is reasonable to demand transparency from government bodies and biotechnology companies regarding the potential risks of specific technologies, there is also a responsibility to accept results from evidence-based scientific studies and allow future research to be conducted at a reasonable pace. The argument that humans should not alter their environment – even if it is in a responsible and controlled manner – is unjustified; genetic modification strategies like selective breeding have played a vital role in the development of complex societies. This is not to say that calling for responsible environmental stewardship or a comprehensive risk-assessment of new technologies is not warranted.

With approximately a million deaths attributed to mosquito-borne illnesses every year, it is a humanitarian imperative to have an effective and scientifically-informed vector control strategy. Influential environmental organizations – usually situated in developed countries – that spread misinformation about genetic modification to regions of the world that are facing an immediate public health crisis are misusing their power. Responsible environmental advocacy must prioritize human well-being.

While the use of fogging machines, insecticides, and mosquito nets have been moderately successful in controlling mosquito populations, more sophisticated approaches like the use of transgenic mosquitoes must also be cautiously implemented. The success of recent field studies as well as the immediate threat of emerging pathogens, like the Zika virus, stresses the importance integrating transgenic mosquitoes into any serious global vector control strategy. With climate change increasing the geographic range and the invasive potential of mosquitoes – and their associated human pathogens – it is crucial to properly communicate the benefits of GMOs and dispel public misconceptions.

Mental Health Services still lacking Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:29:42 +0000 McGill Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) has undergone a number of structural changes recently, some due to complaints from patients, and mobilization on the part of student representatives and campus organizers.

Most recently, CMHS shifted to a ‘stepped care model,’ but despite efforts on the part of CMHS to become more inclusive and anti-oppressive, many trans students have noted that their experiences with the service have been less than ideal.

In an interview with The Daily, Khloe,* a current McGill undergraduate student, described their experiences working with a number of therapists and psychiatrists at the clinic. They noted their discomfort discussing issues of queerness, transness, and racialization with their service providers, despite the fact that these issues often interact deeply with their experiences of mental illness.

When they met with their first psychiatrist, they explained, “I just didn’t trust [him] at all [and] just like could not tell him the most basic things about myself, like the fact that I was queer, that I was trans.”

A sense of distrust has permeated their relationships with therapists, creating a barrier between Khloe and their clinician. This distrust was created, according to Khloe, through the lack of incorporation of trans positive behaviors in the atmosphere of the sessions. For example, therapists normalized the gender binary.

When asked if the therapists leading a group therapy session asked for pronouns when meeting Khloe for the first time, Khloe said that “it just wasn’t a thing that was talked about.”

Furthermore, Khloe said the therapists did not respect their pronouns even after they had asserted them.

This created a client-patient relationship that wasn’t open to hearing about Khloe’s experiences with oppression. “I feel like like being non-binary or being queer are important aspects of my identity, and therefore my mental health, and if I can’t talk about those things in therapy, what the fuck am I supposed to be?” they said.

Another trans student who uses the Services, James*, told The Daily that when he initially accessed the services, the first clinician he saw turned him away because of a lack of knowledge about providing healthcare for trans patients, despite the fact that James was not seeking care regarding his transness.

As a result, James saw a student doing a practicum or internship who did not have training for treating transgender people and did not help with the original issue he sought help for.

“That was my first useless experience,” he said, “and I was so burned by that that I just didn’t go back for two years.”

These testimonials play into past criticisms of the Canadian medical system, with many saying that despite seeking care that has nothing to do with their gender, providers sometimes feel that if they do not understand trans issues, they will be unable to provide services.

Unfortunately, this results in many trans patients being reduced to their gender identity; trans people, like anyone else, experience health problems that have nothing to do with their sexual or gendered characteristics.

James went on to note that when he recently returned to access CMHS, although his new clinician was also unfamiliar with trans issues, “he seemed to have done a lot of reading, he mentioned some of the things he’d been reading and showed me,” he said. “He’d been doing his homework, which I really appreciated.”

James commented that this made him feel much more comfortable, though he worries about trans folks who might approach Counseling and Mental Health Services early on in their transition. These patients, who might not have access to information and resources about transness, could experience harm at the hands of a mental health service provider lacking knowledge about trans issues.

“If I think back to the person that I saw years ago, the first person I saw, she had worked with so many trans people she knew the right language to sort of lead me to where I needed to understand myself and things like that,” James said. “So [a clinician] with that kind of experience, I think is invaluable [for trans patients early on in their transition.]”

Trans patients are still facing these challenges in sessions at CMHS despite numerous efforts on the part of administration to improve services.

Associate Director of Counseling and Mental Health Services, Giuseppe Alfonsi, told The Daily that improving the inclusivity of their services was one of the Services’ main goals.

He noted that feedback was an important part of their new administrative model and he takes it very seriously: “I literally record every single feedback I get. I try to contact every single feedback,” he said. “But I’ve had a gap where I haven’t heard anything.”

As it stands, patients can only provide feedback through an online forum. Alfonsi added that “the first thing I would say [we need to work on] is figure out a kind of more proactive feedback system. Meaning, do we reach out on purpose to students who come from marginalized experiences? Do we design […] a kind of more formalized assessment for those students’ needs?”

In 2013, all Mental Health Services staff received a three-day training with Françoise Susset and Pierre Paul Tellier, both health care providers who work closely with trans communities in Montreal. Following this training, Tynan Jarrett, Equity Educational Advisor (LGBTTQ) at the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office, has delivered training sessions each year to the MMHS staff on competent trans care.

In an interview with The Daily, Jarrett discussed the contents of these trainings. These trainings addressed a number of issues including the importance of asking pronouns, not assuming anything about patients’ relationships to gender or transitioning, and how gender intersects with other aspects of one’s identity, such as race, class, and ability.

When asked why trans folk continue to face difficulties at CMHS, Jarrett and Alfonsi both noted that often this type of education takes a long time to take hold.

“The health system is embedded in broader social systems, which means that…health care providers, even relatively explicitly liberal health care providers […] are going to be raised […] in a classist, racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic society […] and that stuff is going to seep in,” Alfonsi said. “So you have to constantly exert energy to kind of roll that back.”

Creating a change within the culture of CMHS is a difficult task that requires the commitment of all staff members. Alfonsi indicated that most, if not all, clinicians at Mental Health Services were open to feedback and eager to provide the best care possible to patients.

Jarrett emphasized that the only way to improve is to continue educating the staff and make it a priority to hire clinicians who either are trans, knowledgeable in trans issues, or both. Alfonsi told The Daily that hiring was indeed a priority for the Services.

Both Alfonsi and Jarrett were optimistic regarding the potential for CMHS to improve.

They both think this is a moment of change for the Services in improving their care, not only to better serve trans patients, but also to improve on issues of racism and classism.
Beyond education and hiring, important next steps could include providing more trans-specific services and resources, as well as improving the clarity and ease by which students can provide feedback.

*Names have been changed.

LGBTQ rights in Russia Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:05:20 +0000 Content warning: homophobia, physical violence

On Wednesday, November 23, Alexander Kondakov, an assistant professor of sociology at European University at Saint Petersburg, gave a talk entitled “Why No One Goes to Pride Parade: LGBT Hate Policy in Russia,” at New Chancellor Day Hall.

The talk discussed the “ways in which the [Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R.)] leveraged power to exercise control over every aspect of citizens’ lives,” and the effect on LGBTQ Russians, as outlined by its Facebook event page. In relation to this, Kondakov traced Russia’s social and legal history to shed light on contemporary LGBTQ grassroots organizations, their exclusion from public discourse in Russia, and their hopes for reinvention.

The talk was hosted by OutLaw at McGill, a club “for queer (including but not limited to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, tran(s)sexual, two-spirited, asexual, intersex, pansexual, questioning, and anyone who identifies with the queer moniker) students and their straight allies,” according to their website.

Kondakov argued that the trouble began when the authoritarian Soviet Union government collapsed the distinction between public and private space. Since public space was subject to total government control, the privacy of its citizens was compromised and the freedom of their sex lives came under threat. By the 1930s the Soviet government, once openly allowing homosexual practices, had returned to its pre-revolutionary homophobic policies.

Domination of public and private life produced a culture of silence around sexuality. This made discussing queer issues, even in secrecy, difficult. Nonetheless, “parallel spaces” emerged where queer individuals could form a community. Kondakov said that while the “KGB and police patrolled parks” homosexual men and women were met with little interference.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s meant that Russia, in order to fall in line with Western norms, had to drop its anti-homosexual laws. Yet this did not bring significant change to a culture that had been silenced for so long, said Kondakov.

In an interview with The Daily, Kondakov said the social situation regarding queer rights in Russia was bad enough that he thought “breaking that silence would be a very important move […] But, of course, when the discussion was opened, we [were] all faced with hatred, intolerance, and the bans of propaganda.”

During his talk, he said that the Pride parades in Russia devolve each year into “a mess of abuse and violence,” because of Russia’s introduction of “gay propaganda” laws in 2013, which prevents the public from promoting “non-traditional” values.

Homosexuality was not criminalized, but largely omitted from legal discourse. However, it is strongly implied in the term “non-traditional values,” in much legal discourse and continues to be interpreted as such in disputes, Kondakov said in his talk.

“Breaking that silence would be a very important move […] But, of course, when the discussion was opened, we [were] all faced with hatred, intolerance, and the bans of propaganda.”

According to an article by Kondakov called “Resisting the Silence: The Use of Tolerance and Equality Arguments by Gay and Lesbian Activist Groups in Russia,” LGBTQ people are not protected under anti-discrimination laws, nor are they mentioned elsewhere in the legal code. Kondakov believes that judges could change that by defending the queer community within the official category of “social group,” but so far they have not done so.

Kondakov told The Daily that at least two cases of murder, in which Russian men lured suspected homosexual peers to private locations and murdered them, “[were] not covered at all” by mainstream Russian media. He believes the murderers’ conviction and sentencing did not receive widespread attention in the Russian media because it did not fit the official anti-queer narrative.

“Hate crimes in Russia are often private,” he said in his talk, and there is little incentive to publicize them.

While laws and social norms have consolidated this silence around sexuality to oppress the queer community, Kondakov says the government has failed to censor the internet.

Indeed, Kondakov told The Daily that “virtual networks [are] much powerful now than any material spaces.”

But on VK, the most popular social network in Russia, Kondakov – an openly gay academic – was labeled a “pederast.” During his talk, he explained that when he complained to authorities, he was told that the group that labeled him was private so the post could not be taken down.

“Hate crimes in Russia are often private.”

It was ironic, Kondakov thought, that in a country where public universities purge queer staffers and popular media use anti-queer slurs to discredit politicians and public figures, he was discouraged from pursuing his own protection.

Nonetheless he thinks the future is hopeful: a “silent revolution” is growing. New strategies are emerging in “parallel spaces,” Kondakov said, like internet-based queer communities.

When asked what Canadians should do, he encouraged them to create a positive online presence because “any kind of support is really crucial, when people feel they’re isolated it’s very important just to hear good words. […] It should be done as much as possible.”

OutLaw contributes to this process by providing “a social space where people can get together and feel safe to talk about issues that affect LGBT people,” OutLaw VP of Communications Dylan Gibbs told The Daily.

“Any kind of support is really crucial, when people feel they’re isolated it’s very important just to hear good words. […] It should be done as much as possible.”

In an interview with The Daily, OutLaw co-president Frédérique Bossé said that one of the most pressing issues in Canada are trans rights in legal discourse. She believes Canada “still [has] a lot to do in terms of transgender individuals. ”

She added that while the McGill Faculty of Law presents various opportunities to pursue critical legal studies, there is always progress to be made.

“Throwing Shade” Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:53 +0000 On Saturday, November 19, the UofMosaic Fellowship Program at McGill partnered with the Black Students’ Network (BSN) to host a panel discussion on the global impact of colourism.

What is colourism?

“Shadeism or colourism is basically the insidious cousin of racism,” explained panelist Nayani Thiyagarajah, a filmmaker from Toronto. “We internalize racism and then digest it and release it again as shadeism [or colourism] amongst ourselves and our communities.”

Panelist Safyer McKenzie-Sampson, a graduate student at McGill whose work focuses on the fields of prenatal epidemiology and prenatal health, highlighted the reality that this “insidious cousin” has often been swept under the rug by Black communities because other issues are deemed more important.

“[Colourism] was [meant] to create social distance, so if you were closer to white you were further from Black,” she said, “but […] you can be at different places on that spectrum, and I think it’s interesting because especially within the Black community there’s so many other issues, [and] we have so much to fight against that we don’t have time to look introspectively at these issues that do exist.”

How did colourism come to be?

“In the context of South Asia, I don’t think colourism started necessarily with European colonialism,” said Thiyagarajah. “There have been successive migrations of different communities through that region and different conquerors, some of which we don’t even have enough information on.”

“[However] it was very much made a bigger problem with successive European colonization,” she continued, tying it in with social and economic systems within South Asia. “I think […] a lot of the language surrounding colourism has to do very much with anti-Blackness as it exists in the caste system.”

Michelle Cho, another panelist and an assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at McGill, elaborated on the connection between colourism and the caste system from an East Asian perspective.

“Colourism is a […] long-standing characteristic in the Korean context because it’s always been connected to class, or to social caste,” said Cho. “You have peasants who represent revolutionary subjects within the Korean context, and then […] you have a Confucian scholar who is supposed to be the opposite and the elite, […] and this is communicated not just through clothing and other accoutrements, but it’s very much something that’s confirmed in skin colour.”

Cho also tied colourism in Korean society to how it developed under Japanese occupation.

“The Japanese colonial era brought with it a concept of scientific racism that was really important to the way that people were defining themselves, because this scientific concept of race is really linked to biological essence,” said Cho. “There was a really strong need on the part of the colonial government to make very hardened distinctions between the colonized population and the colonizing, and so they were continuously trying to use this concept of scientific racism as a way to justify their presence there.”

However, Cho highlighted the absurdity of the idea that race could be an “essential difference.”

“There’s a reason that plastic surgery is so popular,” she argued. “It’s because there’s this sense that if you can change your external appearance, then why not? There is nothing essential about your features.”

McKenzie-Sampson noted that, within the Black community, dialogues surrounding colourism are very different depending on historical identities.

“In the United States, […] about 80 per cent of Blacks are descendants of the slave trade, directly,” she explained, “but if you look at Canada, about 85 to 90 per cent of Blacks are immigrants or children of immigrants. […] It’s important to mention immigrants from the Caribbean, from West Africa; they bring with them a different nature of colourism.”

However, panelist Kazue Takamura, a professor at McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development, whose work centres around issues of labour in the diaspora, emphasized that colourism is not necessarily only perpetuated by social hierarchies outside of the individual. Takamura believes there are sometimes reasons for individuals to operate within racist structures.

“Filipino caregivers – these women also self-perpetuate this stereotypical image of docility as women of colour,” she said. “They often serve for middle and upper-middle income households and maybe different racial groups, but using this stereotype image of the docile, flexible, exploitable [woman], they gain opportunity.”

How does colourism affect us?

Some panelists described their own personal experiences with colourism: Michelle Cho drew on her experiences in Korea.

“I remember the first time I went to Seoul,” she said, “I remember thinking that it was going to be a place where I would finally be invisible in a certain way because […] until that time […] I always felt like it [was] impossible not to have to account for myself as a minority.”

“I think a lot of diasporic people feel this way when they go back to their home countries,” she continued. “I thought it was fascinating that before I even spoke, people knew. People would ask me if I was Korean-American, what they called ‘overseas Korean.’”

“I remember thinking, how did you know that?” she said. “They said, ‘because you’re dark’ or ‘you’re tan.’ They associate U.S. culture with tanning, hanging out.”

A way forward

Thiyagarajah was hopeful about the future given the recent developments within media industries in the United States.

“What’s interesting about the United States,” she began, “is that there’s a lot of private money there [in media industries] so there is a lot of support coming from […] racialized communities to support their own film makers.”

“This is why you’re seeing a lot of [people of colour on television],” she continued, “and now you’re seeing people within the industry […] creating more opportunities by themselves instead of relying on the industry itself.”

“I’m really hopeful because the screen and what we watch,” she said, “because we ingest so much of that, that says so much about our representation and how we see ourselves and so I’m excited, even in children’s books we are seeing a lot more diversity, [books] that are meant for inclusivity in storytelling.”

“I’m excited to see over the next few years how representations in our media across the board are going to impact shadism and colourism,” she concluded.

McKenzie-Sampson drew from personal experience to highlight the differing attitudes between generations, and how generational shifts trend toward progress.

“My grandmother was born in colonial times,” she began. “She doesn’t understand where we are now, she still considers herself a British citizen.”

“I remember once she was mad at my sister and she [said] ‘You look so African!’” McKenzie-Sampson said. “My sister was like, ‘that’s not an insult.’ It was just a moment where I was like, ‘Wow, to her that’s an insult.’”

“Seeing that generational shift, that the youth now don’t see that as an insult: we don’t see it as pejorative in general,” she said.

McKenzie-Sampson referenced the cultural movement celebrating natural hair texture as a positive sign within the issue of colourism.

“I thought that was interesting because it was a very grassroots shift,” she said. “There was a movement of women saying, ‘No, we’re not going to do this anymore’ and companies had to adapt quickly.”

Crawling through wires Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:49 +0000 Kama La Mackerel’s performance piece and installation, UN/FREEZE, took place at the entrance of the Faculty of Education building on November 23. In her two hour performance, the artist moved excruciatingly slowly on black cloth to evoke the discomfort of freezing. With chicken wires around her body, her restricted movement and contorted postures represented the incapacitating disempowerment felt by marginalized bodies trapped in inequitable power dynamics.

Kama La Mackerel is a Montreal-based performer, story-teller, and multi-disciplinary artist who explores themes of resistance and healing for marginalized communities through aesthetic practices. As a trans woman of colour, Kama La Mackerel is no stranger to microaggressions, particularly those perpetrated within transmisogynist, ableist, and imperialist institutions against her body.

The performance, though uncomfortable to watch, was cathartic through its dissection of the physical and emotional “freezing” that many marginalized people experience when they aren’t acknowledged or denied authority.To paraphrase her own description of the piece, the freezing response may arise from feelings of shock or disempowerment. It may serve as a coping mechanism, or a default reaction to a microaggression when responding is risky or requires too much emotional, physical, and mental labour. Her performance reflected this debilitating reaction that renders the individual incapable of anything but micro-movements that emphasize the painful heaviness of the systems of power as they enact violence upon marginalized bodies.

Such systems are represented by the chicken wires. The artist wore thick layers during her micro-contortions to symbolize the thick skin and resilience of marginalized people fighting for survival in an unsafe environment. Spectators were invited to participate by writing about a time when they have experienced a microaggression within an institution and to roll the testimony and attach it to the wire that restricts the artist’s movement. They can then come into the performance space and reflect on their experience, breathing deeply to let go of all the heaviness associated with the trauma.

After her performance, the artist mentioned that the freezing response is not a complete cessation of activity as it would appear to the aggressor. Instead, the survivor is still alive. They still have thoughts and feelings and a beating heart throbbing under their immobile outer shell. Kama’s dynamization of the freezing response introduces the audience to the inner perspective of the survivor, thus empowering the survivor and encouraging observers to slowly release their heavy emotions along with the contortions of the artist’s burdened body.

What was left of the installation post-performance was reminiscent of a school graduation: the white sheets bearing the testimonies were rolled up and tied with a black ribbon, suspended in the chicken wire. The creased black fabric partly covering the floor beneath the wires is similar to a graduation gown and gives observers the impression that a struggle occurred within the space but that the individual has managed to escape, leaving behind traces of their pain through the testimonies and the marks of her body on the fabric.

Overall, this piece explores the internalization of oppression and its effects on the survivor’s movements and emotions. Ultimately, Kama La Mackerel sends a message of resilience by examining the pain through her evocation of a graduation from an internalized submission to the aggressor to an externalized expression of the survivor’s feelings and struggles. The artist expresses hope that marginalized people can break themselves free from society’s projection that they are voiceless and traceless as they move toward being an agent within oppressive institutions.

Trans girl dangerous Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:48 +0000 On stage, Lady Sin Trayda is a force to be reckoned with. She sings lullabies to young trans and queer people of colour, comforting them with soft kisses on their bruised hearts. She cuts deep with her sharp tongue, fierce eyes, and curses uttered with enough rage to send her enemies into oblivion. Up close, Kai Cheng relates to you like a sister you never knew you needed. Incredibly funny and occasionally silly, she keeps it real while offering slivers of wisdom that only later register as a gift.

For fans of the long-time performer, poet, and writer, Kai Cheng Thom’s first novel is nothing short of a gift. Recently published by Metonymy Press, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, to quote the prologue, “bursts through doors […] like a glittering wind.” It is a kind of story that we rarely get to read, about trans girls who wield knives and survive out of spite, femmes of colour who tear each other apart and learn to love one another through “hot sex and gang violence and maybe zombies and lots of magic.”

A novel about violence, glamour, and the kind of love that sparks a revolution, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is a testimony to living dangerously and on the margins. The Daily spoke to Kai Cheng about the book.

[Longer version of interview by Viola Chen and Coco Zhou, audio edited by Viola Chen.]

The McGill Daily (MD): Did you have a vision for this book? If so, has it changed over time?
Kai Cheng Thom (KC): When I started writing this book, I didn’t think anyone was going to see it. My vision was that I wanted to write the kind of novel that I would’ve liked to have been able to read in my teens, or even now, a novel about trans women who are incredibly empowered and dangerous. Danger is an important theme in the book because, of course, trans women live in danger all the time. I wanted to see a rendering of us having reclaimed that power to be dangerous in some way. I also wanted to write about violence of all kinds. What does it mean to be someone who is forced to be violent in order to survive, like most of us are? What does that do to one? Experiencing violence is very traumatic, and we see a lot of literature about this. There’s very little literature about how traumatic it is to be violent. The project of this book remains, even though it started as a personal project, to examine violence for trans women primarily, but also for everyone, and to explore ways to heal both from the violence we experience but also the violence we commit.

MD: What was your process like?
KC: I started writing the book in Halifax at a writer’s residency. I’d just had my book of poetry rejected by a publisher in New York, who was basically like, your book is bad. So I was really sad – my book is really bad and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I started to write a new book, which was this book. I wrote one chapter a day for ten days. All I did was write the book and go for walks by the ocean. I thought I was only writing it to prove to myself that I could write a long-form novel, and also to work out some internal conflicts. But then Metonymy asked if I had any books lying around, and I happened to have this one. So that’s what happened. I finished it by writing chapters late at night and not sleeping.

MC: Does the book combine fiction and memoir?
KC: The question of autobiography versus fiction is one that’s come up a lot in different reviews and interviews. I think it’s hilarious because I’ve never once said that the book is my autobiography. But people assume that it is, which is fine. They’re probably right, in some way. The way I’ve been answering this question so far is that the book is definitely not autobiography. If one reads it, one will see that is definitely true. It’s a surrealist novel, though my life is fairly surreal. I would say that the novel comes mostly out of Audre Lorde’s idea of biomythography, which is this idea that you can start from the factual truth of your own life, but then also mythologize it and use poetic language or magical thinking to capture experiences in reality that are not able to be expressed through cold facts alone. The quote that keeps coming back to me while I was writing the novel was actually from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, where the main character is caught having lied about her whole life after seducing all these men and stuff. She’s great. Her lover’s like, you’re a liar and you’re unclean. She goes, I never lied in my heart. The title of the book is Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, and it’s about how sometimes we have to lie or use fiction in order to express the truth about our lives. For me, I’m able to use this book to express some stuff that’s happened in my life without having to directly talk about my life.

MD: You’ve worked mainly with poetry in the past. What is it like writing prose?
KC: Oh man, it’s really challenging! The book breaks into poetry here and there, and it also uses the script format. But prose itself is very difficult. There is a woman of colour poet who said, poetry is the form of the marginal because poetry is often short and to the point. Poetry is a wallet while prose is a suitcase. You need to have a lot of time and privilege, honestly, to write long-form prose. You also have to have a lot of stamina and dedication. I think this book is indicative of – what I hope is – my growing ability to write long form, but definitely of my growing privilege as an artist. I started out writing poetry in high school on Xanga and Facebook. I didn’t think I was ever going to be published or a professional, because that’s not the message you get when you’re an Asian growing up in Eastside Vancouver in the 90s. As I became more and more able to get money for my work and get residencies, I then became more able to write, to imagine longer form projects.

MD: Toward the end of the book, it almost seems like we were going to have a fairy-tale ending. This expectation is broken, however. What did you have in mind when you wrote this ending?
KC: I keep on asking people about this ending. I’m going to try to not spoil it too much. I knew for sure when I started writing that it was going to start in a certain place, with this narrator becoming what she calls “the greatest escape artist in the world.” Her life is about getting “unstuck” from the story that she was trapped in. It’s her conflict, and mine, and that of many women, trans and cis – this idea that we are stuck in a story. We’ve been trained to want this fairy-tale ending with all the things that come with it. I wanted to give the narrator this opportunity to have the chance at a perfect fairy-tale ending, not one that’s corrupted, which we see in a lot of feminist literature, like Margaret Atwood or whatever. People writing about princesses who marry princes, and the prince turns out to be abusive, which often is the case. But I wanted to examine a situation where you had everything you wanted from a fairy-tale ending, and it still wasn’t enough for you. It’s not enough because you wanted to create yourself to be someone different. I knew for sure that that’s where the narrator was going to end up because she’s a character that’s perennially unsatisfied. I also think she’s somewhat self-destructive. She’s like, I can’t give myself a happy ending. But then I don’t know if she really would’ve been happy in her happy ending.

Kai Cheng at the November 26 Montreal book launch at Bar Le Ritz PDB.

MD: Are you in love right now?
KC: What! Yes, I am in love right now. I’m in love with my wife, Kama La Mackerel, because she’s fucking amazing and changing the world right now. She’s at McGill in an artist residency at the Faculty of Education. I really hope everyone at McGill is appreciating her and loving her the way she deserves. Kama is a glowing force of trans femme goodness, and I’m just really happy to be married to her. I’m in love with all my closest folks, in particular Emily Clare, who is really important and an amazing artist, and we are working on some projects together. I feel love for the queer people of colour community in Montreal, because we’ve been through a lot. Like, so much! We have been through all kinds of hell that are particular to being in that space of white supremacy. I’m in love with trans women, and that’s a complicated love, which is also what the book is about. I feel like I am in love with trans women and I am terrified by them. I want to say that I’m in love with myself, but I think I waver on this one. We all waver on being in love with ourselves.

MD: What other projects do you have lined up?
KC: It’s been difficult being a trans woman, especially being a woman of colour, working in media. It’s really intense with the media being such a white and traditionally masculine institution. I have so much love in my heart for women of colour who are making media and staking it out, especially in leftist media because that can be such a bro-dude space sometimes. We obviously live in a time of great terror right now. The rise of white nationalism on the global sphere is really intense. The struggles around maintaining any kind of human rights for marginalized folks is about to become really difficult. I have a book of poetry coming out early next year, which is really exciting. Emily and I have a children’s book coming out in the fall. All those things aside, what I really hope is to be able to be there for other women of colour, and trans people, because we need each other more than ever. If art, or activism, or being around for two a.m. calls is part of that, then that is what’s right for me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir can be purchased at the Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore, or online at

Catch the recorded version of this interview in Unfit to Print through CKUT radio or on The Daily’s website.

America’s bully Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:45 +0000 It happened during my first “Show and Tell” in grade one after everyone had returned from Christmas break. As I walked in, tales of spectacular new toys and recently acquired clothing circulated around the classroom. After roll call, my teacher instructed everyone to sit on the red carpet in our reading corner while the first presenter took their place in the rocking chair at the front of the class. I watched in awe as my classmates presented their brand new dolls, cars, trains and shoes. When I was asked to present, I hesitated because my item was nothing like the rest. Despite my sudden stage fright, I continued to cradle the item that I had been so excited to share just moments ago and took my place at the front of the class in the rocking chair. I remember introducing a special Nigerian artifact to my class. It was a hand carved wooden giraffe that my mom had just brought back from her most recent trip to Nigeria. It started with one snicker and before I knew it, the laughter rippled across the classroom. My teacher gently hushed them and encouraged me to go on, but the weight of their judgement cowed me, so I sat back down. Later on, I sat at my desk somberly staring at my “Show and Tell” item, because I did not understand why it was worth any less than their toys and clothes. As I remembered the cruel laughter and whispers, I felt as if I did not belong in that desk, in that small school, in that city.

As children, we do not know any better until we are taught otherwise. Our first instinct is to pull hair, tease our siblings, and talk back to our parents, but we soon learn that these actions are unacceptable. From a young age, we are given a set of norms to follow. We are taught to respect those around us no matter their differences. We are told to work hard because hard work gets rewarded, that ‘sharing is caring’ and that if you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Ironically, the introduction of these norms makes breaking them all the more attractive, and there is strength in numbers. All it takes is one bully to create a domino effect of hatred among their peers. In our world today, the bully goes by the name of Donald Trump and bullies all over the world have followed suit. His election has made marginalized people feel as if they do not belong in their homes, in their cities, in their very own countries.

The election of Donald Trump as president of the ‘free world’ undermines the basic morals that are instilled in us as children. This is why I will never forget the day that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I remember waking up in the morning already empowered by the fact that a woman had potential to become the leader of the free world. I envisioned Donald Trump’s shocked face as he realized his political aspirations had truly come to an end. When he took the lead I remained in denial for as long as I possibly could. I told myself that no decent person would vote for a racist. No person would want the leader of their free country to be an Islamophobe. No parent would want to have to explain to their child that sometimes hard work is not enough, that the leader of their country does not respect differences and continues to let him speak even when he has nothing nice to say. I truly believed that people would put aside whatever resentment they felt towards Hillary Clinton so that people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations could wake up feeling as if they belonged in their beds, in their cities, in their own country. I was wrong.

The day after the election was a blur. It was as if I was back in that classroom because I did not feel as if I belonged. I was scared for my family. My Black, Nigerian, American family. I was scared for myself and I felt guilty because I am not American. I remember watching people laughing and smiling on their way to classes and I wondered if they knew. Did they know that the leader of the “free world” — not that the name is truly warranted — does not believe that all the citizens of his country should be free? When I explained to people my somber state, the common response was, “but you’re not American.” I expected this reply. However, it is ignorant to believe that this ripple effect of bigotry simply stops at the U.S. borders.

The impact of Donald Trump’s words, both pre and post-election, prove that “But you’re not an American” is not a valid statement. The same way that a Black president empowers Black people all over the world, the election of a bigot empower bigots all over the world. In attempting to “make America great again”, people forgot that America has never been great for all people. The election of President Obama made news all over the world, and his impact as president surpassed the U.S. borders. The same way that the arrival of the Obama family into the Whitehouse taught me to celebrate my Blackness, the election of Donald Trump allows racists, sexists, xenophobes, and homophobes to celebrate their prejudices.

The influence of May 1968 Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:37 +0000 Around thirty students gathered in the Henry F. Hall building of Concordia University on Thursday, November 25, to participate in Socialist Fightback at McGill and Concordia’s event “France May 1968: When Students Sparked a Revolution.”

“May ‘68” refers to a series of student demonstration and mass general strikes that took place across France between May and June 1968. Socialist Fightback called the uprisings “the greatest revolutionary general strike in history” in their Facebook event.

The event began with a half-hour presentation by Samantha Ilacqua, a member of Socialist Fightback and a Concordia student, on the historical details of May 1968. A question and answer period followed the presentation and the organizers then invited everyone to join them at an off-campus bar for further discussion.

Origins of May ‘68

The presentation began with an overview of the economic climate in France at the time.

“The living standards of workers were rising and we saw the emergence of a middle class,” Ilacqua said. “There was social stability for a certain section of the working class.”

However, for many people “the working conditions were actually quite poor […] In many places, bosses ran a very strict dictatorial style of management.”

Ilacqua stressed a feeling of disconnect between May ‘68 protestors, and the political and union leadership of the time, who “wrote off the working class as having no revolutionary potential at all.”

She also highlighted the role of youth, saying that “historically many movements begin with the youth, and this was also the case for May 1968.”

“The working conditions were actually quite poor […] In many places, bosses ran a very strict dictatorial style of management.”

She added that “in the early 1960s, students were involved in big movements against the Algerian War and […] were protesting against the restrictive education system,” as well as high unemployment and dropout rates.

Linking student protests and worker strikes

Socialist Fightback’s event largely focused on how a student protest can lead to a massive worker’s strike at the national level.

Ilacqua explained the key events in May, starting with the closure of the Paris-Sorbonne University because of protests, police intervention and brutality, and ending with how the French working class came to join and transform the uprising.

“Ten million people were on strike out of 15 million. That’s two thirds of the work force and only 3.5 million were actually unionized,” pointed out Ilacqua, illustrating the scope of the month’s protests and reiterating the lack of union and political leadership in coordinating these movements.

“Historically many movements begin with the youth, and this was also the case for May 1968.”

Ilacqua emphasized that the agency behind the strikes needs to be attributed to the workers, saying “more and more workers began to join the movement and they began to feel their collective power.”

Members of Socialist Fightback discussed the potential harmful effects such strikes can have on a capitalist system.

“I think what’s amazing about May ‘68 is that it shows that we […] can organize amongst ourselves and continue to provide for these people while hurting the bosses,” said one participant, who did not identify themselves. “I think that’s an essential part of how we can organize in solidarity with workers and students […] it’s something we should put forward when we talk to people, that there is a solution that won’t hurt them but will hurt the system [instead].”

Ultimately, protestors’ morale weakened and de Gaulle was re-elected, partially caused by an exclusionary voting system and the discreditation of socialist parties, putting an end to May ‘68.

May ‘68 and the 2012 Quebec student protests

In terms of the relevance of May 1968 to McGill and Concordia students, many attendees at the event had the 2012 Quebec student protests on their minds.

“I think what’s amazing about May ‘68 is that it shows that we […] can organize amongst ourselves and continue to provide for these people while hurting the bosses. I think that’s an essential part of how we can organize in solidarity with workers and students […] it’s something we should put forward when we talk to people, that there is a solution that won’t hurt them but will hurt the system [instead].”

Kian Kenyon-Dean, a McGill student and member of Socialist Fightback, explained in an email to The Daily that the event didn’t explicitly address the local protests because they were very different from May 68.

“2012 unfortunately largely remained a student movement, while 1968 brought ten million workers out on general strike for a few weeks,” he wrote. “[In 2012] the trade union leaders did not want this, and the student leaders, while many of them had good intentions, did not organize to make this a reality.”

Ilacqua, in an email to The Daily, explained the main objective behind organizing an event like Thursday night’s.

“What we need to do is to study past revolutions, so that we do not repeat the same mistakes as the past,” she wrote. “The workers and students of France rose up to transform society, but were blocked by the lack of direction or even bad direction of the movement that had their heads in the past. We need to build good leadership today to be prepared for movements like this that will happen in the future.”

“2012 unfortunately largely remained a student movement, while 1968 brought ten million workers out on general strike for a few weeks. [In 2012] the trade union leaders did not want this, and the student leaders, while many of them had good intentions, did not organize to make this a reality.”

Joel Bergman, a Fightback organizer present at the event, spoke about the failures and opportunities of socialist solidarity in modern times, especially in regards to movements like Standing Rock.

“I think [Standing Rock] is a good example of […] a failure of the leadership,” explained Bergman. “The IFL-CIO [Iowa Federation of Labor] is opposed to the protests that are happening because they want the pipeline, they’re in favour of supporting the very few number of jobs […] created when that pipeline is constructed.”

“The movement [could] actually win in Dakota […] if the trade union movement came out hard behind the protestors and actually mobilized their members and organized strikes,” concluded Bergman.

Rody or not Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:37 +0000 Content warning: Rape mention

Graduating high school at the time of President Rodrigo Duterte was a peculiar thing. School was out, friends started packing for their Eurotours, some stayed behind for their summer internships, and the Philippines was amidst a purging.  

President Rodrigo Duterte had not even been inaugurated last May when police around the country started to mobilize, taking kids and drunkards off the streets, determined to prove their resolute fealty to the president-elect. Fast-forward a couple of months later, and extrajudicial killing has become the name of the game, a normalcy, the status quo. And with just a little over half a year in office, more than three-thousand and counting have been unlawfully disposed of under his name.

Mr. Duterte, endearingly referred to by the public as righteous “Rody,” remains an odd apple on the country’s political tree. Whereas most scale the political hierarchy by way of nepotism and favor-granting, of which our political spheres are replete, Rody found himself in the provincial city of Davao: First, as its mayor; second, as a backer of its vigilante death squads—though the two are interchangeable depending on who you ask—garnering him another moniker, this time not quite so endearing: The Punisher. Reports estimate the lynching of about 1400 people during Mr. Duterte’s tenure as mayor of Davao city, none of which were afforded the provisions of justice entailed by a trial in court.

We see this similar and striking lack of regard for the rule of law in Mr Duterte’s newfound vocation in his new office. Generally well received by the populace, he has endeavored to name and shame figures in government and in the military allegedly linked to the country’s illegal drug trade—what would be a noble cause if not for the accompanying ultimatum: surrender or risk being killed.

Indeed, the keyword here is allegedly. Due process does not seem to be part of the agenda, and the suborning of injury and murder, without any regard for the rule of law, is of no consequence. In this narrative, which is the narrative Mr. Duterte prefers, the means justify the ends. Calling us ordinary citizens to arms, the commander-in-chief beseeches us, “Go ahead and kill them yourself.” Call him old-fashioned, if you will.

The scary thing is that people take him up on his challenge. Our President, in all his misogyny and underhandedness, has actually convinced the country that he is the solution to all its problems. People love Big Brother. One salient example, if only because it has been one of the few to have been documented ragingly on social media, was in mid-July when a body wrapped inside a garbage bag was found along a highway. Written on the masking tape binding cadaver to plastic: “Don’t imitate me, I’m a snatcher!” The point of reflection, besides the obvious moral and ethical implications, are political. Who’s to say that this wasn’t just another murder, and that Mr. Duterte has not become a criminal’s scapegoat? Such is the result of completely, and unabashedly, bypassing the law.

We see that he has set himself up as someone who can say what he pleases with impunity.

In early August, then Philippine Chief Justice Sereno (who has since been ousted) issued a public letter to the President reprimanding him for his subversion of basic human rights. She closed her remarks by imploring court judges, who had recently been shamed by Rody, “against ‘surrendering’ or making themselves physically accountable to any police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest that is pending.” Taking the statement as a challenge, the president replied “Please, don’t push me, hindi ako gago (I’m not stupid). If the illegal drug trade continues, would you rather that I declare martial law?”

From this we see that Mr. Duterte has set himself up as someone who can say what he pleases with perfect impunity. He is able to trivialize a perfectly valid point on legal procedure and human dignity, threaten martial law, and in spite of all of this, get away with it (his approval rating a historic 91% in mid-August) without so much as a flinch.  Although democracy has resulted in Mr. Duterte’s victory, it is unsettling—at least it ought to be—to see how he treats our freedom with such levity. In a country like the Philippines, the threat of martial law is not to be tossed around so lightly. In 1972, the Philippines underwent unconceivable injustice and suffering when it was turned into a police state by Ferdinand Marcos, a dictator who plundered billions from our economy. And as a result, many today live without husbands, children, and even entire families—a reality our current President dismisses in order to serve the next punchline.

Now, the problem with authoritative, powerful men is that they attract an equally vociferous following. But while Duterte, I suspect, can never go too far, being as often as he is under the spotlight, his following is much more unpredictable. In the face of the country’s war on crime and drugs, Duterte has promised to pardon those who would take burden of justice on their shoulders. What has thus resulted is a sort of tacit agreement between the lynchers next door and an unaccountable president that becomes ever brazen with the results.

When things like vigilantism—romanticized in cinema and literature—occur in reality, ethics and morality become painfully lucid. Authors and directors alike glorify the man who rises above his times and takes the burden of justice on his shoulders, and oftentimes for good reason. But vigilantism mandated on the governmental level—to the extent that one individual can kill his neighbor and vice versa merely because they are in possession or involved in the drug trade—is somewhat difficult to relish. Especially so in the Philippines. Firstly, because one suspects the motives of the government (it may well be justice, but one can’t in this case dismiss the misogynistic president’s interest to maintain his machismo persona). Secondly, and more difficult to assess, one suspects the motives of the individual citizen (it may very well also be justice, but it might also be brashness or impulse). Either way, it doesn’t make for a very nice picture, nor does it make for a truly just society that one can be proud to one’s children about.

Last May, friends of mine, before starting to leave the country, soon to pursue their educations abroad, jested that gone were the days of fooling around. How unlucky, so to speak, were the upcoming seniors, our successors. After all, adding to the turbulence, Mr. Duterte had already been pushing for a nationwide curfew on minors, not to mention a raise on the drinking age. We had graduated high school at the right time, as it were.

Jests will be jests. But Mr. Duterte has just been in power for six months, and has five-and-a-half years more ahead of him. And given the current state of things, I lie awake every night with but one question: Who’s to say that there is no truth to be found in jests?

Outremont upholds bylaw Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:34 +0000 On Sunday, November 20, Outremont residents voted to uphold a bylaw banning the construction of new houses of worship on Bernard by a vote of 1,561 to 1,202.

The bylaw

The legislation, introduced last year, would prohibit the construction of houses of worship on Bernard and Laurier, ostensibly banning religious construction throughout the entire borough, as a similar ban already applies to residential streets in Outremont and on Van Horne.

However, the bylaw remains controversial, because while the ban applies to all religious denominations, the referendum results have left Outremont’s Hasidic community feeling targeted: currently comprising 25 per cent of the borough’s population, Outremont’s Hasidic community is the borough’s largest growing religious group and expected to be Outremont’s largest demographic by 2030.

As Laurier did not receive the minimum number of signatures in its public registry to enforce a referendum, Bernard remained the last possible area where a place of worship could be built.

Outremont only has four synagogues with a combined capacity of four hundred: the ban would effectively force Hasidic Jews to travel outside of the borough by foot in order to attend Synagogue, as Jewish religious law prohibits any form of mechanical travel on the Sabbath, including, but not limited to, driving a car, taking the bus, or riding the subway.

Though borough councilors claim that the ban was designed to protect Bernard’s commercial viability, Outremont councilor Mindy Pollak, the only councilor to vote against the ban, says that this logic does not stand up under scrutiny.

In a September interview with The Daily, Pollak spoke about the example of Parc, where “the Plateau approved a few new synagogues, [and] there’s businesses that are booming now, new stores have opened up.”

The campaign

Arno Pedram, a U2 student at McGill and a volunteer for the ‘No’ vote against the ban, campaigned prior to the referendum in an effort to raise support for overturning the bylaw.

He feels that the ‘Yes’ campaign “had spread […] a lot of misinformation about what was happening” by focusing on the commercial aspects of the bylaw, rather than the religious implications. He accredits the success of the ‘Yes’ campaign to “huge amounts of donations,” and early mobilization.

Pedram told The Daily that the ‘No’ campaign only got off the ground a week prior to the referendum, saying “the lateness […] is due in part to the fact that the Hasidic community did not want to seem aggressive.”

Legal action

“[The ‘Yes’ campaign] had spread […] a lot of misinformation about what was happening.”

Julius Grey, a Montreal lawyer who opposes the bylaw, believes there are sufficient grounds to pursue legal action, telling CTV that “the majority vote is of no importance as long as there is a violation of the Charter, so what one would have to show is that there is a practical impediment to them worshipping.”

While similar bans exist in other boroughs throughout the city, Outremont does not have “Projets particuliers de construction, de modification ou d’occupation d’un immeuble” laws in place, which would allow the borough to issue building permits on a case-by-case basis, even if a general bylaw prevents the construction of places of worships. As a result, members of the Hasidic community are left with little alternative but to go to court.

“The majority vote is of no importance as long as there is a violation of the Charter, so what one would have to show is that there is a practical impediment to them worshipping.”

However, despite the threat of forthcoming legal action, Hasidic community leader, Abraham Ekstein, seeks compromise that will leave all parties satisfied, telling The Daily: “We hope to build bridges with the community around us to […] find a way to live together.”

“Race in the Academy” Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:32 +0000 On the evening of Thursday, November 24, around twenty students gathered in the William Shatner Building to attend an event called “Campus Conversations: Race in the Academy,” which prompted discussion of racial issues in academia.

The event, hosted by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Equity, was open to students who identified as Black, Indigenous, mixed-race, and people of colour (BIMPoC) from all faculties.

The event examined McGill’s academic spaces and was accompanied by facilitators and trained active listeners to foster solidarity and a safe space. SSMU Equity hoped to bring forward the experiences and voices of racialized students.
The discussion focused on themes such as lived experiences of racialized classmates and decolonizing education and de-centering whiteness in the academy.

Two main themes were presented, the first regarding “departments and courses,” and the other regarding “the atmosphere of being an ethnic, or a visible minority on campus.” Participants were encouraged to contribute to the conversation as speakers and listeners.

Race in McGill’s academia

When participants were asked whether they were expected to behave in a certain manner at McGill because of their race, religion, culture, or ethnicity, one student claimed that they have become “disenfranchised” with their faculty.

“There’s a […] constant perpetuation of the difference between objective fact and truth, and what people who live in the experiences of neo-colonialism actually experience,” explained the student. “For me, it’s often difficult to sit and hear peers speak with a certain air of expertise of things that are far more nuanced than they are projecting them as.”

This was echoed by a second student who decided to leave the same faculty due to “the hegemonic discourses.” Microaggression was a prominent sentiment among students who felt that “certain people like to take up space.”

A third participant spoke of an instance where a classmate was told that they “speak really well for a Black girl.”

“How can your race just define your intellect?” that person asked.

“There’s a […] constant perpetuation of the difference between objective fact and truth, and what people who live in the experiences of neo-colonialism actually experience.”

Power dynamics

During the discussion, some students mentioned that instructors have the ability to exacerbate marginalization when faced with a racist or sexist comment, especially “when someone in your class or conference says something clearly problematic, but the prof […] or TA […] nuances it, and [says] it’s fine.”

While students in the group participated in course evaluations, they questioned the effectiveness of these evaluations, as they were “dependent on the class size,” and held a “risk of identifying yourself.”

“How can your race just define your intellect?”

A fourth participant mentioned that they felt intimidated by that power dynamic.

“What we recognize is that professors […] have power over your grade,” they explained. “They hold this […] position of power [on] how to change your grade, [and] it’s a confusing complexity.”

“How do you correct it, […] when there is that power dynamic?” they asked. “I feel like as we come as that one angry person in the room, people know, when my hand shoots up, what’s coming.”

Lived experiences

The group also discussed the lack of lived experiences in McGill’s academic curriculum.

“I was in class, […] and one of the topics that came up was [China’s] Cultural Revolution,” a fifth student began. “It’s a very emotional experience for them [those with firsthand experience]. I felt that the topic was very objectified in class.”

“As a student, I would have liked to see more lived experiences, stories that were integrated into that class,” they concluded, “because specifically, the professor isn’t even Chinese. […] I felt very threatened in that class.”

Participants shared sentiments regarding professors who are not representative of the identity group being studied in the course, such as a white professor with no Indigenous background teaching Indigenous studies.

“How do you correct it, […] when there is that power dynamic?”

A sixth student pointed out that “when professors who identify as people of colour (POC) teach a course that is relevant to courses with cultural implications, it really makes a difference for POC identified folks.”

A seventh student mentioned that McGill professors rarely seem to be conscious of that fact: “It’s so strange [..] except for two classes, maybe […] they [professors] never address the fact that they are white.”

Within the group, humility and open disclaimers from professors were discussed as potential solutions.

“I think that coming from a place of humility both in terms of engaging and in terms of problematic comments when teaching material from historically marginalized communities is so important,” the student explained.

“Coming from a place of being humble, accepting that […] you don’t know everything” was very important for them. They added that when a professor addressed the fact that he is white, they “didn’t expect it,” but was pleasantly surprised.

“When professors who identify as people of colour (POC) teach a course that is relevant to courses with cultural implications, it really makes a difference for POC identified folks.”

An eighth student echoed this statement, saying that: “It’s really important to come into it, I think, with that humility.”

“I found that […] also having profs who aren’t racialized who talk about race [and] feature racialized academics in their syllabus, […] when they come from it from a point of humility where we […] are […] engaging with the theory, that has been very meaningful for me,” the student continued, “because […] it’s also allowed me to explore […] ways of thought I was never introduced to before.”

“It seems like within the group, humility from the professors […] and […] an honest disclaimer from the class should be suggested collectively,” said the active listener.

One participant who attended the event said, “I think that there should be more spaces like this and opportunities for BIMPoC people to get together,” as marginalized students “find so much encouragement and solidarity” from open dialogue among students in informal spaces.

“I think that coming from a place of humility both in terms of engaging and in terms of problematic comments when teaching material from historically marginalized communities is so important.”

“There is a dire need for […] space for underrepresented voices,” said a final student.

*This event was a safer space for BIPOC students, so the participants asked to remain anonymous.

Misty Monthlies Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:27 +0000 Aquarius
In an early winter snowstorm, you find yourself trapped in deep, deep snow at your friend’s ‘cottage’ (three-storey mansion) in the deep, deep Quebec countryside. After a week of confinement drives you two into ever wilder games of hide-and-seek, you manage to break into the secret attic, chuckling to yourself about never being found again. Alas, you are all too right – you’re not the only one in there. The World’s Most Undercover Squatter has been living there for years, and is simply not willing to be found out. Your life is a small sacrifice to pay for their 13th year of glory.

This week you realise that you have approximately zero transferrable skills, except for the best one of all – bullshitting. Capitalizing on this to a new extreme, you publish a book of ‘facts’ which are sopointless that they are impossible to disprove. For example: “No. 113 – Every time a badger is born, somebody sneezes.”

In December, Uranus enters you with powerful force (I’m not even making this up, it’s a real cosmological prediction). Now is the time for a revolution, so if you’ve ever been inspired by that poster of Che Guavara in pretty much every dorm building, now’s the time to get your starry beret on.

This month, your strongest element will be fire. I foresee merriment and festivities, and at the centre a ring, a ring of fire…this holds great power over you, but chance may be on your side ­— stay vigilant, keep your wits about you in games of cards, and beware of he who brings the Bacardi.

As Saturn finishes its cruise through Sagittarius (about time), you’ll be extra agitated and irritating to sit next to for a sustained period of time. Try to channel your energy into something more productive than shifting from cheek to cheek and jiggling your leg in the library. Oh, and it’s also likely you have one of those undetected twins living inside your ribs. Nothing to worry about, just remember you’ve always got company ­— plus it totally validates snacking for two.

You’ve always been a sweaty one. This month, encased in many winter layers and bombarded by blasts of hot air inside the metro, you begin to sweat actual beads. Embroidery beads. They roll down your stunned face and onto the rails in such a large quantity that they almost derail an arriving train, while all the other passengers slip and slide around the platform. Your anatomical function is now regarded as a public safety hazard, and you are forced off the public transit system for life, traversing Montreal on foot like a true pioneer for the rest of the winter.

Everyone presumes that if aliens invade the planet, it’ll be us humans fighting them off – you know better. It’s the squirrels who will defend the earth through this week’s extraterrestrial invasion. As the only human capable of seeing these events unfold, it’s your duty to bolster our furry friends’ efforts, hurling peanuts and pep talk into the trees. Don’t let anyone stop you, you absolute hero.

You have this constant feeling that doors are closing in your life, but this week is worse than usual — they’re slamming. I mean, they actually are. You left the upstairs windows open, you dozy muppet. Now stop doing ‘life-séance’ wanderings in the corridors and remember that central heating is a precious household resource.

This is a month which will excite the creatives and exhaust the non-creatives. As you belong to the former category, you experience a wave of inspiration fuelled by the political madness going down. Utilising nature’s resources, you craft an enormous snowman replica of Donald Trump, and invite the public to dissolve it with their urine. You may have discovered the most effective method of bringing down corrupt world systems.

Things are getting heavy towards the end of the semester, and you may be tempted to bury your head in physical sand. Please don’t. Try watching a few episodes of Planet Earth and being grateful that you don’t have to dive off a cliff every day just to eat breakfast, or traverse deathly, snake-covered plains just to reach your mum.

It’s your special zodiac time, you fiery type. This week you’ll be sensing some kind of delusional overconfidence, particularly if you’re birthday is between December 2, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, or the 21. You risk voicing your opinion that you are the scorpion boss/king/queen out loud. Just be tactful, the plebeian masses don’t like to be reminded of their inferiority.

This month, after a few too many drags on a special cigarette, perhaps, you fully understand that you are not very important in the grand scheme of the world, yet you are the only life you will ever know. You stretch out into the light, soft, existential plains of your subconscious and weep into a cream coloured scatter cushion.

Leave those kids alone: the power of student activism Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:16 +0000 In the winter of 1969, students occupied the Computer Centre at what is now Concordia University to protest a professor who had been acquitted by the University of racism after being accused by six Caribbean students of failing only Black students in his class. The protests forced the University to reevaluate how it dealt with instances of racism on campus. On November 18, 1985, McGill was the first Canadian university to divest from its holdings in apartheid South Africa in response to student pressure. On May 22, 2012, one-third of all Quebec post-secondary students took to the streets to protest a provincial tuition hike. Four months later, the Quebec government declared a tuition freeze. Students have been organizing and making change for decades, and we shouldn’t underestimate our power.

When you put thousands of young people on a campus together and give them access to education about systemic social injustice, it creates the potential for radical political change. Those who are invested in the status quo, including university administrations, are rightly terrified of the power that students have to enact social change. They use tactics ranging from delegitimizing civil disobedience to infantilizing student activists in order to silence and dismiss our concerns, and are complicit in creating a generation of students who feel disempowered and apathetic.

Part of using student power responsibly means acknowledging who is doing the organizing, and ensuring that spaces are accessible to the affected groups that they seek to support. At McGill, marginalized people shoulder most of the labour of activism. 

This stems, in part, from the fact that McGill proudly brands itself as an “elite institution” – another way of saying that many students are wealthy and white, and unaffected by issues like racism and tuition hikes. They may be less likely to care about those who are affected, and this apathy can become outright hostility against activism. Earlier this month, hundreds of students crossed the picket line of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), which was striking for a $15 per hour minimum wage among other essential demands. These students then had the audacity to call the strike “frustrating.”

The McGill administration works astonishingly hard to prevent students from exercising, or even realizing, their power. When Divest McGill set up camp directly outside the James Administration building to demand that McGill divest from its holdings in the fossil fuel industry, Principal Suzanne Fortier said she “didn’t see it.” When students voted to pass a resolution at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the McGill administration rejoiced as soon as the motion subsequently failed online ratification. Ignoring or silencing student activism is a cheap tactic that universities and governments use to delegitimize the work that students do – and activism is, indeed, work. We cannot allow such tactics to distract us from our goals, or make us believe that we cannot effect change, because we can, we have, and we will.

Bookstore employees voice concerns Mon, 28 Nov 2016 11:00:14 +0000 Student employees at Le James, the newly re-opened McGill Bookstore, are concerned about the future of their employment. On Friday, November 25, employees received an email from their employers announcing that, as the store’s move from McTavish to Sherbrooke and Parc locations has prompted reorganization, the way “casuals” (part-time employees) are scheduled will change.

As opposed to having regular part-time schedules, casuals will now only be scheduled during peak periods, drastically reducing their hours.

On the same day, president of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), Claire Michela, informed The Daily via email that AMUSE has reached an agreement “in principle” with the University. Michela said they cannot discuss what was agreed upon until AMUSE members vote on the agreement.

Le James employees’ grievances

Several Le James employees reached out to The Daily to voice their grievances regarding the change.

“AMUSE has demanded that part-time workers who have worked 26 consecutive weeks should be considered ‘full-time employees.’ This would mean that the bookstore [has] to increase the student wage and supply benefits to workers who do not even actually work full-time,” a group of employees wrote in a statement to The Daily.

“The McGill bookstore has been forced into negotiating with the union over this, and the outcome has been that all ‘casuals’ (part-time workers) will now only be called in for ‘peak periods,’” the statement continues.

Such peak periods “would include periods such as back to school rush, homecoming, and orientation/special event days, which we estimate would amount to maybe four-five weeks a year. This is a huge drop from the three-five shifts [per] week that many of us work currently.”

Several employees also shared how these changes will impact them.

“The McGill bookstore has been forced into negotiating with the union over this, and the outcome has been that all ‘casuals’ (part-time workers) will now only be called in for ‘peak periods.’”

In an email to The Daily, Leila*, a Le James employee, wrote that “as a student worker, I depend on my job at the McGill Bookstore for a steady bi-weekly income throughout the semester. How am I supposed to support myself by working four weeks a year?”

Another employee, Alex,* wrote, “Shouldn’t on-campus employment protect the interests of student workers? I can’t help but feel that my coworkers and I are being overlooked as part-time employees.”

Katie*, a bookstore employee for two years, told The Daily that “because being a student is my top priority, I depend on the flexibility of being a casual worker to work around my hectic school schedule. Working consecutively for over 26 weeks should not categorize me as a full-time employee.”

“How am I supposed to support myself by working four weeks a year?”

Union leadership responds

However, when The Daily reached out to AMUSE, Michela wrote in an email that the change in employment “has [nothing] to do with negotiations and everything to do with a MUNACA [McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association] grievance. It is not MUNACA’s fault though.”

“This** is not true at all and we are working with MUNACA and bookstore managers to clarify the situation,” she concluded.

In an email to The Daily, MUNACA President Thomas Chalmers wrote, “At this point all we at MUNACA are prepared to say is that this situation seems fraught with rumour and innuendo.”

“Shouldn’t on-campus employment protect the interests of student workers? I can’t help but feel that my coworkers and I are being overlooked as part-time employees.”

While he acknowledged the way casuals are scheduled will change, he added that “we are also very much aware that whenever possible management takes the opportunity to blame unions for the unpopular decisions they take and it would not come as a surprise to us that MUNACA is blamed for the termination of student casuals.”

“This is not true at all and we are working with MUNACA and bookstore managers to clarify the situation.”

Confusion reigns

Le James employees belong to AMUSE, but managers who supervise different sections of the store fall are under MUNACA.

Confusion over AMUSE’s role in the reduction of hours for casuals at Le James seems to stem from MUNACA and AMUSE having entered a political merger in 2014. The two unions agreed to merge their structure and bylaws, but conserve their pre-existing collective agreements for their separate units.

In a statement to both AMUSE and MUNACA memberships in 2014, union leaderships wrote “that the next round of bargaining would be done side by side, but AMUSE and MUNACA members would vote separately for their respective contracts.”

Moving forward

Leila shared an email Michela wrote to her, in which Michela reiterated that the change in hours concerns a MUNACA grievance, and outlined the steps she has taken to resolve the issue.

Michela has “spoken directly with the MUNACA president who said that his intention is not to get casual employees fired and he is working with us already to solve the issue.” She has also approached bookstore management to ensure she is receiving updates, and arranged a meeting for the employees with human resources and MUNACA.

“Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to keep you from losing your job,” Michela concluded.

According to Leila, Michela has arranged a meeting between the employees, MUNACA, and McGill Human Resources on Friday, December 2, to discuss the employees’ concerns. Chalmers added that AMUSE and MUNACA “have requested a meeting with the Human Relations department for this week, in order to clarify what management’s plans are for the casuals in the Bookstore.”

“Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to keep you from losing your job.”

*Names have been changed.

** Michela is referring to the idea that AMUSE’s agreement with the University led to the change in how casuals are scheduled at Le James. 

A previous version of this article stated, “The two unions merged their structure and bylaws, but conserved their pre-existing collective agreements for their separate units.” In fact, the two unions have agreed to this, but have not yet completed the merger: there will be a General Assembly in January to merge the by-laws. The Daily regrets the error.