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Year in review: Commentary

The Daily looks back


Click on each quote to read more.

“There’s many applications: fire surveillance, harvest surveillance […] Police forces are using UAVs to help them with search and rescue operations.”
Inna Sharf, McGill professor of mechanical engineering, and researcher at the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory

UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are colloquially known as drones, and have attracted attention in recent years for their role in wars waged on foreign turf, and for allowing those wars to be waged in a detached, methodical fashion. In the above quotation, Sharf defended her lab’s research, which has the goal of making landings and take-offs for UAVs more autonomous, by pointing to its potential use in civilian matters. Sharf’s lab receives funding from the Canadian military; this came to light this year through the release of documents obtained through the Access to Information Act.

Resistance to military-funded research has developed on campus in recent years. Demilitarize McGill, a campus group founded in 2009, seeks to end military research at McGill and raises awareness through walking tours of campus, workshops, and articles published in student press. Its members also engage in direct action. On March 14, in response to revelations that defence contracts fund Sharf’s lab’s UAV work, Demilitarize McGill blockaded the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory for close to four hours. Seen as an obstruction of university work, the demonstration was dispersed by invoking McGill’s protest protocol and the arrival of police on campus.

McGill has responded that research at the university is “[conduct[ed] with integrity and adhere[s] to the highest ethical standards.” While researchers point to potential applications outside of warfare, Kevin Paul, member of Demilitarize McGill, asserted that military-funded research at McGill is dependent on the possibility of warfare, “McGill benefits when war is being waged by virtue of the wide array of military research opportunities and labs that arguably would not exist without military funding.”

Demilitarize McGill continues its ongoing campaign to disrupt, and eventually end, drone research on campus. In the meantime, McGill has released a series of heavily redacted documents in response to Demilitarize McGill’s access to information requests regarding military research at the university.

—Drew Wolfson Bell and Anqi Zhang

“Among the opponents to the Charter, a number of people fall within a fundamentalist movement. […] They become the first victims of the large-scale manipulation orchestrated by Islamists under the pretext of an attack on individual freedoms.”
Martine Desjardins, former student leader and current Parti Québécois candidate, criticizing opposition to Bill 60, the ‘Quebec Charter of Values.’ (translated from French)

On September 10, 2013, Parti Québécois (PQ) Minister Bernard Drainville officially proposed a ‘Quebec Charter of Values.’ The Charter includes five proposals seeking to regulate interactions between state officials and the public, but only one proposal has garnered significant attention. This proposal would “limit the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols” for state employees. In practice, this means that state employees would be prevented from freely expressing their religion if the Charter passes, potentially at the expense of their jobs. Banned religious symbols would include hijabs, burqas, turbans, kippas, and ‘large’ Orthodox crosses.

Debate erupted after the Charter was proposed, leading to numerous anti- and pro-Charter rallies. Those opposing the Charter have claimed that it unfairly targets religious minorities, and as such, is racism barely disguised under a label of secularism. This claim has been reinforced by a reported increase in hate crimes against religious minorities, such as Muslim women, as part of the public fallout since the Charter was first proposed. A Léger survey released in January 2014 found that 60 per cent of Quebecers polled support this component of the Charter.

In early March, the PQ called an election for April 7, with the intention of emerging from the election as a majority government. If this occurs, the PQ will likely push the Charter into law. Other major parties have failed to explicitly condemn the Charter in its entirety, and have instead endorsed altered versions that still prevent certain religious minorities from freely practicing religion. As such, the fate of religious minorities’ place in the public workforce in Quebec remains unclear, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election.

—Davide Mastracci

“That’s what food justice is: working with those most affected by an unjust food system, rather than creating spaces outside of it only accessible to the privileged.”

This year, the column “A Bite of Food Justice” by Aaron Vansintjan turned a critical eye to contemporary narratives of food politics and sustainability. In tackling topics like land grabbing, gentrification, and dispossession, Vansintjan created a narrative that included broader themes of food security in the face of ongoing colonialism and capitalism. Alternating between a historical context and current events, and between a specific Montreal focus and case studies elsewhere, from rural Ontario to urban Hanoi, Vansintjan investigated and reported on a broad range of social politics in his seven columns.

—E.k. Chan

“Every story we tell of our dead is also a story of those of us who still live: a cautionary tale, a political fable, a remembrance of what happened, and what is still happening.”

In Kai Cheng Thom’s second year of writing as a columnist, they took a different stylistic turn by penning a series of open letters, in From Gaysia with Love. Addressing their letters to personal role models like Janet Mock and CeCe Macdonald, as well explicitly addressing broader audiences at times, Thom wrote with poetic flare on a broad range of subject matter in their nine columns. Covering intersections of transness, sexuality, race, class, and other factors, the intimate nature of epistolary writing drew personal connections and contrasts between Thom and their addressees, which in turn related to broader, societal issues, such as rape culture, transmisogyny, homophobia, and racism. Writing about their own experiences cast a tangible light on normally abstracted concepts, grounding these discussions in a daily, lived reality.

—E.k. Chan

“All of those expectations for me to be masculine, to act a certain way and to live up to an ideal, were thrown out the window.”
Eric White, on dressing in drag for the first time, in “Sore feet and smokey eyes”

White Noise, a column by Eric White, broached topics of queerness in Montreal, using personal experience as a jumping-off point. In his writing on heteronormativity, polyamory, drag, and the contemporary notions of what it means to be ‘queer,’ White broached critical discussions that remained accessible to the student body. In his columns, White refrained from invoking highly academic terms and instead focused on a relatable narrative, through which urban queerness could be explored and critiqued.

—E.k. Chan