The McGill Daily Drugs and dogma since 1911 Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:37:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 Grassroots movements for equitable remuneration must be respected Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:28:11 +0000 On November 10, more than 15,000 students went on strike to fight for the remuneration of all internships. Shortly after the successful student strike, Campagne de revendication et d’actions interuniversitaires pour les étudiants et étudiantes d’éducation en stage (campaign for interuniversity advocating and action for students and education students in internships, or CRAIES) and the Quebec Student Union (QSU) participated in a press conference discussing the possibility of financial compensation for education-student internships. During the press conference, QSU President Simon Telles referenced the November 10 strike to stress the importance of the issue, stating that the QSU “expressed [their] solidarity to all that are mobilizing to get a just financial compensation for the work done through internships [and] CRAIES’s work.”

That same day, Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously passed a motion calling on the government to consider a financial compensation policy for internships for education students in their final year. In response, Minister of Higher Education Hélène David publicly recognized the importance of further discussion. The high profile of this issue is largely due to the mobilization on November 10, which pressured the provincial government to address the issue of unpaid internships. While the policy for education internships is a step in the right direction, we must recognize that this is mainly the result of longstanding grassroots initiatives spearheaded by the Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (committee on student work, or CUTE), alongside other coalitions.

It is important that graduating education students receive stipends, but organizations must recognize and respect the labour of the grassroots initiatives from which they benefit. The work of CUTE and other organizations benefits all interns, including advocacy groups like CRAIES, who gain a higher profile and increased momentum for their public awareness work. In advocating for stipends for education students, CRAIES must be mindful not to misconstrue the longstanding efforts of CUTE and other coalitions in their endeavors. The November 10 demands, backed by 15,000 students, concern not only monetary compensation, but also inclusion in the labour code. This entails full compensation, at minimum wage or above, including benefits and job security. This applies to programs where mandatory internships are often unpaid, as well as internships that fall outside the scope of mandatory training. Reducing the conversation to a specific demand for stipends risks co-opting the work of grassroots movements. This was iterated in a statement released by the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). Efforts on behalf of certain interest groups should work in tandem with the larger movement of which they are a part.

It is important that students recognize the value of their own labour. Like CUTE, AVEQ works to secure fair wages and benefits for this labour, to the advantage of all McGill students. Yet despite McGill’s observer status at AVEQ, SSMU has delayed having political affiliation with the student union. In doing so, we risk co-opting their efforts, benefiting from their advocacy without advancing the cause of Quebecois students as a whole. Thus, we as students must ensure that SSMU supports AVEQ and CUTE, and stand up for all students’ rights.

The Sex & Gender Issue Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:16:18 +0000 Department of English Studies Letter in response to the “hygiène de vie” philosophy Wed, 29 Nov 2017 21:57:25 +0000 This is a letter from the Department of English Students’ Association (DESA) executive. We believe the recent developments in mental health discussions on campus are in need of recognition and action on the levels of department and faculty alike. In his interview, Ollivier Dyens invites students to “find [him] a solution and [he’s] more than happy to consider it”. DESA believes an excellent first step to finding a solution is avoiding ignorance towards the issue at hand.

DESA writes in response to the philosophy of “hygiène de vie”, a concept involving language that invokes notions of cleanliness, order, maintenance, and routine. Mental health and mental illness are often reduced to matters of reorganization and purification – if the blatantly negative “toxins” are removed from an individual’s system, the individual will improve and return to some understood normalcy and functionality. Several concerns arise with regard to this stigma, a stigma that is echoed in the simplistic “hygiène de vie” approach.

A dialogue foregrounding supposed purification defines its subjects as entities that are dirty. I am lapsing into metaphoric prose here, but my point is that an approach purporting that an individual’s problems can be solved merely by removing certain habits and substances is a reductive blame-game.

This blame-game avoids considering the potential (and often, certain) negative effects of habit change. It denies the trials of an adjustment period. It removes the individual from the context which may have contributed to the development of these habits in the first place. It allows external factors – in this case, academic institutions – to avoid taking responsibility for the environment that leads to these habits. It assumes that individuals are affected similarly by such external factors; in this case, it erases social inequalities and dilutes oppression by pretending that all students experience McGill in the same way. It thus implies an impossible universal “Student Experience” upon which a universal “hygiène de vie” can be applied. It allows institutions to categorize certain habits as solely “unhealthy” rather than acknowledge them as coping mechanisms and thereby acknowledge the conditions responsible for these behaviours. It leans upon the notion that mental illness and mental health can be addressed and tweaked through consumption and habits alone. It places the individual subject to an ableist understanding of “normalcy” by prioritizing functionality. It allows for “laziness” and “incapacity” to be synonyms. It polarizes the community into the mentally fit and the mentally unfit, a dichotomy that is drastically misrepresentative for all individuals. It groups all mental illness into one body of experience, which in turn silences the suffering of different groups and nullifies the very specificities that need addressing. It permits for the institution to boast equality and consideration without accepting its own contribution to this impossibility.

This is not to say that an individual has no power over themselves or their own lives. This is also not denying that changing certain habits can help an individual’s well-being. This is saying, however, that mental health is not so linear.

We, the Department of English Students’ Association, acknowledge the positive potential of the notions such as initiative, reorganization, and reducing one’s indulgences, and would highly encourage the Deputy Provost to apply them to his own perspective. Telling students to eat better, pet some dogs, and do more yoga, is lazy. Putting full blame on students for their subsistence in an environment not totally under their control is irresponsible. The belief that it would lead to some pacifying change on campus is indulgent and immature.

With regard to Dyens’ aforementioned search for a solution, DESA is in the process of creating its own departmental mental health project. After we poll our constituency on an anonymous submissions basis, we intend to compile the results in a formal report that we can use to adjust the resources that we as an executive can provide or point people towards. Moreover, we will incorporate our findings into how we host our events, what kind of services we provide, and how we address our constituency. We also aim to present this body of information to our faculty, and ideally implement this kind of mental health departmental “check-up” every other year.

We look forward to working with other departments on extending this project. Several departments including Law, Engineering, and Medicine have implemented such initiatives already, and we believe this kind of involvement should manifest itself in student associations in the Arts too. We acknowledge the limitations of categorizing students by departments, but we hope that by creating a base group of information, we can start a conversation that can begin to focus increasingly towards the individual. Although we, as an executive team, cannot take the place of the one-on-one resources lacking in our system (despite the fact that they would be and have been one of the most impactful resources offered), we can be conscious of our role within our department as resource-providers.

DESA welcomes further conversation, questions, or concerns. We also invite other student associations to consider what actions they can take to better respond to the needs of their constituency.

Lastly, I extend profound gratitude to my teammates, who entrusted me with the writing of this letter. I thank them for their comments, their reflections, their participation, and their dedication to this cause.

Sincerely, and sending warmth,

Danijela Stojkovic – DESA President
Thomas MacDonald – Vice President External
Emily Szpiro – Vice President Internal
Sanjna Navani – Literature Stream Representative
Alexandra Toutant – Vice President Finance
Emily A. Mernin – Vice President Academic
Atusa Mehrasa – Cultural Studies Representative
Dorothy Poon – U1 Representative
Frederique Blanchard – Drama and Theatre Representative
Zoe Shaw – Vice President Events
Sylvie Schwartz – Vice President Journals & Affiliates
Anisah Shah – Vice President Communications

Public Statement from Individual McGill University Faculty Members on Quebec’s Bill 62 Wed, 29 Nov 2017 21:43:13 +0000 We, the undersigned faculty members of McGill University, publicly condemn Quebec’s Bill 62 and denounce its divisive and discriminatory politics. In specifically targeting Muslim women, Bill 62 flies in the face of McGill University’s stated mission to promote “principles of academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.” It is thus our professional, ethical, and intellectual responsibility to resist this harmful legislation. We state here that:
1. The provisions of Bill 62 will not be enforced in our classrooms, offices, or events.
2. We will do our best to support community members whose sense of safety, access, and inclusion has already been violated by the passage of Bill 62 and by Islamophobia and recent anti-Islam violence in Quebec.
We stand in solidarity on this issue with many other groups and individuals across McGill, Quebec, and Canada who are speaking out against Bill 62. We add our voices to others who are calling for the revocation of Bill 62 and a rejection of the exclusionary and
discriminatory ideologies on which this legislation stands. 

Malek Abisaab, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies & Institute of
Islamic Studies
Diana Allan, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology & Institute for the Study of
International Development
Dorothy Ann Bray, Associate Professor, Department of English
Isabelle Arseneau, Professeure agrégée, Département de langue et littérature françaises
Susan Ballinger, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Sandeep Banerjee, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Darin Barney, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Peter Bartello, Professor, Mathematics and Statistics & Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
Francois Barthelat, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Subho Basu, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Fiona J. Benson, Associate Dean, Academic Programs, Faculty of Education
Kenneth Borris, Professor, Department of English
Pascal Brissette, Associate Professor, Département de langue et littérature françaises
Mary Bunch, Faculty Lecturer, Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies
Jenny Burman, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Lynn Butler-Kisber, Professor, Department Integrated Studies in Education
Eric Caplan, Associate Professor, Department of Jewish Studies
Michelle Cho, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies
Aziz Choudry, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
William Clare Roberts, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Brian Cowan, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Nicolas Cowan, Assistant Professor, Physics & Earth and Planetary Sciences
Maria Di Stasio, Lecturer, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Allan Downey, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Elizabeth Elbourne, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Merve Emre, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Shanon Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Tara Flanagan, Associate Professor, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
Yuriko Furuhata, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Studies
Ratna Ghosh, James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies
Allison Gonsalves, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Allan Greer, Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Gal Gvili, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies
Daryl Haggard, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics
John A. Hall, James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology, Department of
Jill Hanley, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, School of Social Work
Michelle Hartman, Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies
Terry Hébert, Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Daniel Heller, Assistant Professor, Department of Jewish Studies
Philip S. S. Howard, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Mary Hunter, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Erin Hurley, Professor, Department of English
Sandra Hyde, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Kristy Ironside, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Sarilee Kahn, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Berkeley Kaite, Associate Professor, Department of English
Maggie Kilgour, Professor, Department of English
Andrew Kirk, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Daniel Kirshbaum, Associate Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
Lynn Kozak, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Julia Krane, Associate Professor, School of Social Work
Martin Kreiswirth, Professor, Department of English
Lucyna Lach, Associate Professor, School of Social Work
Thomas Lamarre, Professor, Department of East Asian Studies
Catherine Leclerc, Associate Professor, Département de langue et littérature françaises
Brian Lewis, Full Professor, Department of History & Classical Studies
Bronwen Low, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Laura Madokoro, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Katherine Maurer, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Kevin McDonough, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Timothy Merlis, Assistant Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
Leonard Moore, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Suzanne Morton, Full Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Momar Ndao, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology
Naomi Nichols, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies
Michael Nicholson, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Derek Nystrom, Associate Professor, Department of English
Ara Osterweil, Associate Professor, Department of English
Laila Parsons, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies & Institute of
Islamic Studies
Stephen Peters, Faculty Lecturer, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Monica Popescu, Associate Professor, Department of English
David Ragsdale, Associate Professor, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery
Saleem Razack, Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Carrie Rentschler, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Fiona Ritchie, Associate Professor, Department of English
Christine Ross, Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Christie Rowe, Associate Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department
Marilyn Rowell, Associate Field Work Coordinator, School of Social Work
Jarrett Rudy, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Selena Sagan, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Mela Sarkar, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Ned Schantz, Associate Professor, Department of English
Shaheen Shariff, Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies
Ada L. Sinacore, Associate Professor, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
Vandna Sinha, Associate Professor, School of Social Work
Tabitha Sparks, Associate Professor, Department of English
Lisa Starr, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Jonathan Sterne, Full Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Will Straw, Full Professor, Department of Art History and Communications Studies
Tamara Sussman, Associate Professor, School of Social Work
Jeremy Tai, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Alanna Thain, Associate Professor, Director, Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies
Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas
Lisa Trimble, Faculty Lecturer, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Nico Trocme, Professor and Director, School of Social Work
Claire Trottier, Academic Associate, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Michael Van Dussen, Associate Professor, Department of English
Angela Vanhaelen, Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Gavin Walker, Associate Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
Brian J Ward, Professor, Medicine and Microbiology
Daniel Weinstock, Full Professor, Faculty of Law
Dawn Wiseman, Faculty Lecturer, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Robert Wisnovsky, Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies
Paul Yachnin, Professor, Department of English
Paul Zanazanian, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Katherine Zien, Assistant Professor, Department of English
John Zucchi, Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies

Nigerian women make Winter Olympic history Tue, 28 Nov 2017 23:23:32 +0000 In Vancouver, in 2012, Ghana became the first African nation to participate in the Winter Olympics, when alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong placed 47th in the men’s slalom event. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, spectators will witness the second: Nigeria’s women’s bobsled team is on the cusp of qualifying for the 2018 games, which will begin on February 9, 2018.

The team, comprised of three members, has now completed all the required qualifying races, and, based on past standings and results, is very likely to qualify for the Olympics. There are two extra races left before the final rankings are determined on January 14, when their participation will be confirmed.

Qualifying is not the team’s only hope. Seun Adigun, the team’s driver, said last week after a race in Calgary: “We have goals. I know the goal I have as a driver is to drive us to the podium, that’s just the competitor in me. Obviously, the bigger goal is to just be as competitive as we can and obviously shoot for the podium.”

Their journey started in 2014, when Adigun, born in the United States to Nigerian parents, built a sled she named the ‘Maeflower’ out of scratch in her garage in Texas. Formerly a 100-metre hurdles sprinter in the Summer Olympics, her competitive drive led her to recruit two brakewomen, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga, also former track athletes.

The three-person team was then able to compete in World Cup bobsledding competitions around the world. Their success led them to Olympic aspirations. In total, their dream required them to raise approximately $150,000, for training, equipment, and an Olympic bid. The team exceeded this amount through contributions on their GoFundMe page, the International Bobsledding and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) Emerging Nations program, and Team VISA, which is a program that provides tools and resources for athletes.

After many hours of hard work and fundraising, the three women have finally made it past the first step of the qualifying process. They are already beloved by fans and will be without a doubt one of the most thrilling stories of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

Producing change Tue, 28 Nov 2017 08:09:34 +0000 I used to see myself as a town mouse rather than a country one. Born in downtown Montreal, I’ve always gravitated around metropoles. I’ve found remarkable peace by losing myself in mazes of skyscrapers, shops, and dwellings of every shape and size. It therefore felt coherent to pursue my studies in urbanism, and I winded up doing an urban agriculture internship. My initial idea was to learn more about how to integrate nature into cities and resilient ways to address pressing issues such as food deserts. However my perspective changed as the internship gave me a chance to watch seeds germinate, seedlings grow, and plants flourish. I have seldom felt so fulfilled as by witnessing how my hard work has a direct impact on those lives.

Now I dream of nasturtiums, floating on the wind like lily pads for bees to hop on, flowering islands amidst iridescent swiss chard, hanging peas, fleshy tomatoes and voluptuous cabbages. I dream of hens, sheep, goats or cows grazing around, regenerating and tilling the soil, sequestering more carbon under their feet. I want to wake up every day to care for those plants, insects, and animals, so as to give back to the soil just as it it gives to me. So that I can keep contributing to a healthy community—for plants, animals, and humans. I hope to do my part in making our food system and overall interaction with our environment more holistic and sustainable.

However, as I dug deeper into the agricultural world that I so dearly wished to become a part of, I began to realize something that a number of other people have observed as well: the current Quebec agricultural system is deeply and undeniably flawed. It is drowning in regulations from another age, aimed at challenges that no longer exist, maintained to protect the assets of those farms currently benefitting from them. There is a dire need for adaptation in order to respond to new issues. The current situation is especially detrimental to newcomers and people experimenting with innovative ways to address the many issues plaguing our food system. With such an aggressive frame for operation in place, we end up deprived of a diversity of species, practices, produce and knowledge.

Now I dream of nasturtiums, floating on the wind like lily pads for bees to hop on, flowering islands amidst iridescent swiss chard, hanging peas, fleshy tomatoes and voluptuous cabbages.

One syndicate to rule them all

The core of the problem is to be found in the syndical monopoly held by the Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA), stemming from the 1972 law regulating agricultural producers. This statute allows a single union at a time to receive official recognition by the government, meaning every producer in Quebec within every different area of agriculture has to be part of the same one union. While joining the union is optional, it’s the only possible union to join and it’s the only way to access certain state granted benefits. This situation is unique in the world. How can a single union defend the interests of all farmers and foresters, of both conventional and organic agricultures? Surely someone raising beef would have very different demands from someone growing vegetables, and even more so if one is a large-scale industrial operation while the second is merely selling some of their surplus home produce at a local market.

It all started in 1924. Quebec producers felt the growing need to associate to ensure their own protection, especially against the competition of Ontarian farmers, and so came to life the Union des Cultivateurs Catholiques (UCC). The powers of this Union grew out of proportion in 1955 when, following the recommendation of the Héon Commission, the Act respecting the marketing of agricultural, food and fish products was created. The report claimed that, at that time, the number of farms in Quebec was too high, which was incapacitating the most productive farms. Therefore the number of farms should be decreased in order to increase concentration of resources. The new law called for the creation of collective marketing. Collective marketing happens through the creation of  producers’ offices, invested with the power to fix prices, to control quantities of production, to manage how production happens, to direct how produce is sold, and to ensure that whatever decision the offices make is thoroughly followed by everyone with the same product. They also have the right to demand any information from farmers in order to make sure they are complying with regulations. This means that they can enter farmers’ installations at their own discretion and search through producers’ documents. They can also order those producers to sell their produce to that office, at the price the office has previously set, and finally the office collects a contribution on every produce purchased.

A major component of the overwhelming power of the offices is the formulation of Joint Plans (Plans conjoints). These are created by the grouping of at least 10 producers of a certain agricultural good. Together, they set a standard for the produce regarding its characteristics and production methods. There is an office and usually a joint plan for the following produce: cattle (including oxen, cows and veal), pork, game, sheep and lambs, goats, rabbits. This also includes grains such as: wheat, barley, oat, maize, buckwheat, soy, rye, linen, rapeseeds, alfalfa, mustard, and sunflowers, vegetables such as beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, asparagus, and tomatoes, potatoes, apples, strawberries and raspberries, maple products, forest products, and honey. Once the plan is laid out, it has be voted for; at least half of the producers have to vote, and at least the two thirds of that half have to agree on the measure for it to be approved. Once approved, their definition of what that product should look like becomes law, every producer in the province has to comply, and very few modifications are allowed. Most can agree that one third of agreeing votes is already a rather small proportion for such a definitive and restrictive measure. And worse yet, the only people allowed to vote have to be officially recognized as farmers by the government. The government sets the bar at farms commercializing at least 5000$ per year, not taking into account anything produced by smaller scale farmers. This system is the extreme opposite of what I consider as the foundation of an empowering food system, with production and knowledge in the hands of many, and with genuine promotion of self-sufficiency. Instead, this definition explicitly excludes all those small-scale, family-run farms from even having a voice. These family-run farms have to comply to the modifications made to laws, but get no say in how those laws are made or what they will look like. If a farmer refuses to submit to all those regulations, the Agricultural Market Authority (Regie des marches agricoles) exists to enforce the decisions of the offices, especially when it comes to producers failing or refusing to pay their contributions or to adhere to the joint plans.

The problem with standardization

The regulation of eggs in Quebec is an excellent example of the absurdity of these measures. In order to ensure conformity, all eggs must be sent to a sorting center if they are to be sold outside of the farm. However, the only actions performed there are to classify them according to their size and to chemically wash them. Nothing is aimed at verifying quality. Furthermore, cleaning them removes the fine cuticle on their shells that naturally makes them impermeable to bacteria. That’s why we are now supposed to store eggs in the fridge: to prevent the proliferation of bacteria, even though nature had already figured out a way to solve that problem. In contrast, washed eggs are illegal in the European Union.

With such constraints, the evolution of new farming techniques is severely hindered, if not fully stopped. Moreover, the options available to consumers are dramatically reduced. Another example of this can be found by looking at the processing of milk under these regulations. Since all the milk produced is bought off by the Federation of Milk Producers, which then pasteurizes it and differentiates it according to their standards of 0%, 1%, 2%, and 3.25% M.F. milk, the end result is that all the milk of the province ends up mixed. This means there is a homogenous flavour of milk across all of Quebec, even across seasons. Milk’s taste is usually characterized by a cow’s nutrition; the taste would be much richer during the summer, given that it feeds off grasses as it is allowed to graze, rather than during the winter when it is restrained to hay. The taste also changes according to regions, following their vegetation, climate, and the cows themselves. I have been told the anecdotal but eloquent story of a farmer who found that, after a conifer fell in his pasture, the milk his cows produced developed a coniferous taste. That allowed the farm to differentiate its produce and stand out from competition. Hence, limiting and standardizing production limits the variety of gustatory experiences available for consumers and impedes farmers from being recognized for the novelty and quality of their labour. Moreover, while pasteurization did wonders for public health in regards to pathogens developing during storage, raw milk is considered by many to be full of beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and nutrients that do not endure past pasteurization. Currently in Quebec raw milk can only be consumed by its producers and their family, and it is strictly forbidden to sell or give it to anyone else. If a dairy farmer’s unpasteurized milk or cheese is found outside of their property, even in the result of the product being stolen, they risk being fined up to a few thousand dollars. Again, potential findings regarding the health benefits of new ways to approach our diet are systematically pushed aside.

This process of standardization has other negative consequences. Most agricultural produce must be sold to its respective federation, meaning it has to be taken to that federation’s installation for product control, be it slaughter or simple inspection. This requires a lot of transportation. For example, there are very few slaughterhouses in Quebec compared to the size of the territory, and they might not be located anywhere near either the point of production or sale. This copious transit further increases the carbon footprint of our food, forcing a lot of “local” foods to travel greater distances than one might expect. The consequences of this requirement are multiplied if the farmers wish to transform their products by themselves. How lovely does it sound to prepare fresh and delicious pies, cheeses, or soups out of the produce you put so much of your energy, time and love into, and to be able to sell them in person to thankful customers? Considering the relatively low prices of food, transformation is among the best ways for a producer to boost their income and ensure the profitability of their activities. However, due to the fact that the ingredients of transformation are farmers’ produce, they must be sold to their corresponding federation at the price the federation has set, shipped to their facilities, processed, and then bought back by the producer, and shipped back to the place of production. This renders the process of transformation more costly and unnecessarily complicated, with direct effects on producers’ livelihoods. Moreover, considering the high volume of operation in those installations, many farmers are voicing the concern that they might not even be receiving back their own products, since they are all standardized. To further complicate the situation, once a producer goes  over a certain volume of transformation per year, they are required to  build a second fully equipped and standardised kitchen, as they are not allowed to work in their home kitchen. Obviously, small-scale farmers do not have the means for such an investment.

Undoubtedly the aim of these myriad regulations—or at least the explicit aim—is to ensure the maximal safety of the food on our tables. Nonetheless, this obsession for control, sanitation, and structure can have outcomes that are the exact reverse. Many claim that executing actions—in particular slaughter—are actually safer performed on site, although that right is currently reserved exclusively to government institutions. When done on site the scale of the operation is much smaller and the risk of contamination by pathogens is therefore proportionally reduced. The refusal of officials to accept and accommodate these facts became dangerously evident during the listeriosis outbreak of 2008. As the bacteria made more and more victims, authorities needed a culprit onto which they could redirect public anguish. It had already been established that the source was the cheese industry so they decided to target small, hand-made cheese artisans. Who else could be responsible, when small scale establishments clearly  have such a lack of control over the conditions of fabrication? The government then demanded that huge amounts of suspected cheese be thrown away, sometimes the equivalent of months worth of labour. This measure resulted in some companies going out of business because they couldn’t recover from such a loss. It was only later that officials learned that listeria, the bacteria responsible for all this commotion, grows best in cold, sanitized environments, where any competition from other micro-organisms is eliminated—the very conditions found in these allegedly safe government-regulated industrial installations.

It seems clear to me that aside from some necessary regulated produce control, the best way of ensuring food safety, and quality on top of that, is by building a relationship of trust with producers. By simply taking the extra step to engage with farmers, learn more about their practice, and potentially visit their installation, one should be able to choose for themselves which approach suits their values the best. And in the case of unsanitary food the culprit would be easily identified, as opposed to facing a anonymous wall of homogenous produce. Farmers would then also have concrete incentives to ensure they bring the best quality of produce possible to their customers since they are directly accountable for it.

Due to the fact that the ingredients are farmers’ produce, they must be sold to their corresponding federation at the price the federation has set, shipped to their facilities, processed, and then bought back by the producer, and shipped back to the place of production. This renders the process of transformation more costly and unnecessarily complicated, with direct effects on producers’ livelihoods.

Quotas and access to farming

Another way the UPA limits the potential of small farms, and especially newcomers, is through quotas. They were first introduced by the federal government in the 1970s to ensure a minimal income to farmers.  They were evenly distributed so that the quantity produced in each province would perfectly match the quantity consumed in that same province, so that there would be no surplus or shortage, thus securing decent prices. Quotas were issued for the ownership of chickens, hens, and dairy cows in the province. However, this commendable initiative was carried out in a rather dubious way. The producers freely distributed amongst themselves this livestock, in accordance with their different production levels. Seeing as there were set quotas for the province, if one producer wanted to increase their production they would have to buy out other producers. Producers were then granted the right to set their prices for later exchanges—in other words, they could establish prices for buying in the future. This lead to rampant speculation, resulting in inflated prices. This is still a problem for farmers today, making starting a farm incredibly expensive. Small-scale farmers often aren’t able to only buy a small amount of livestock because farms will usually sell theirs in bulk if they are going out of business, and you are only allowed to purchase the full package. On top of that, no quota has actually been available for sale for many years now. As technology is increasing daily productivity, big producers need more and more quotas, fuelling competition and giving the whole industry a cannibal logic, where expansion can only be attained by buying off your competitors, and where concentration is unavoidable. This makes entry utterly inaccessible to newcomers, safeguarding the interests of already well-established farmers.

There is one unique exception for smaller farms in regard to birds; they are allowed a maximum of 99 chickens and 99 hens. That’s a start, but a fairly small one compared to the 2000 chickens and 300 hens allowed in Alberta. Plus, when we remember all the regulations and requirements they have to abide to and how centralized to whole system is, we can foresee a current problem: small farmers are upheld to the same standards as everyone else, but given much less support. Slaughterhouses and sorting centers that process thousands of items per day might overlook someone coming up with only a dozen chickens or eggs, or at least not give the same amount of care.

As mentioned earlier, the UPA is the umbrella organization overseeing all that has been discussed.  Not only is it excessively controlling, it is also omnipresent. It funds most if not all agriculture trainings and school programs, events and promotional and educational campaigns, ensuring that their ideals are spread as far as possible and therefore limiting defiance. How can the public in Quebec have a multi-faceted understanding of agriculture in the province when every contact it has with it is sponsored by a single entity? To add another level to the pervasion of the UPA, it only allows and recognizes agronomists from its own organization to perform “agronomic acts” on farms, something which simply entails giving advice to farmers on how to handle an issue they’re facing or on how to increase their efficiency. Receiving advice from anyone else is illegal. All the UPA’s employees have to set aside their own stances and stick to the guidelines of the union. Aside from the creativity that a farmer may bring to his operations on his own, there is very little room for innovation or collaboration. The expertise of many professionals and the exchange of ideas that could contribute to breakthroughs in the field is blocked. Additionally, not only is the state granting the UPA exclusive recognition, but it is also tweaking its policies in order to constrain farmers to adhere to the union; only members who duly pay their contribution to the organization have access to governmental benefits such as land tax returns, which are quite a substantial amount.

Reclaiming control

As I discovered more and more about plants and food production, I simultaneously discovered the extent of my ignorance about food production. When I enthusiastically shared my new knowledge with those around me, I found that most of them were in the same situation. We have a very skewed understanding of where our food comes from. The overwhelming abundance of standardized identical foods in the supermarkets couldn’t be more detached from the reality. Our current ways of obtaining food have made us put food in the same category as any factory-made object. It becomes easy to neglect that those fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairies are in fact side-benefits of the natural life-cycles of living organisms. But those beings have to be cared for until and after that point. Their growth is as unpredictable as the weather can be, and as unique as the amount of different food there exist. You can’t create those products, all you can do is facilitate their creation by assisting the life form which is its true origin.

Our diet used to be something so organic; people had their gardens and animals, and could produce a part of their own food. They had a much deeper understanding of what they ingested. But now, we have an increasingly impoverished grasp of what we are putting in our bodies, although it is probably the most vital aspect of our everyday life. It is the fuel that allows us to go on adventures, to learn, to love, to create; it is at the core of everything we do. Why are we blindly trusting such distant organizations to feed us according to their own values and interests? An important step in reclaiming control of our bodies is to reclaim control over what nourishes our bodies—the food that we eat.

Instead we trust a sea of ambiguous labels to tell us what we are about to eat. Organic, free-range, non-GMO, “Made in Quebec,” etc. We are drowning in appealing words that speak to our values, but seldom to reality. In fact, these labels are very often deceiving. Free-range certification only requires hens to have access to a small outside cemented yard, and “Made in Quebec” products could very well be made using imported ingredients. There are a range of farming practices, unique to each producer. Categorising them with these labels overly simplifies their work. Within the free-range label, there might be eggs produced by hens roaming around in sunny grassy fields as well as hens restrained to an overcrowded chicken coop with a few meters of cemented access to fresh air. The label diminishes the efforts of the former and allows the latter to profit from them. Getting closer to our egg producers, and asking them about their methods and values, allows us to get a much clearer understanding of the agricultural practices our money supports. 

More and more people are standing up everyday to challenge this system that is not working. For example, Union paysanne is an organization trying to get recognition as an alternative but valid syndicate in the eyes of the government; the C.A.P.É is promoting local organic producers. You can also read La Ferme impossible by Dominic Lamontagne, a veritable goldmine of information on the issue, that provided me with a lot of content for this article, or watch La Ferme et son état by Marc Séguin, which draws a comprehensive portrait of the current situation in Quebec through its main actors; you could also look up the extensive work of Joel Salatin to get an understanding of the similar challenges the USA is facing. Alongside his work, Dominic Lamontagne is currently working on organizing a black mass (la messe noire)—a feast open to everyone where farmers would bring produce considered illegal: unpasteurized cheese, chicken slaughtered on site, eggs from their 101st hens, as well as a panoply of homemade recipes.

Witnessing all these voices, and countless others, rise in an attempt to redefine our agricultural system makes me hopeful that someday I will also be able to have my own farm and care for all the living beings on it according to the values I hold close, not the ones imposed upon me. It makes me hopeful that this province will choose to see farmers not only as the ones providing food to put on the table, but also as ecological architects with their own creative processes. The most likely path to this is for the government to recognize more than a single union, so that farmers from all backgrounds can organize according to their beliefs and finally have a voice in all the issues I’ve been discussing and, hopefully, lead the way to a diversified farming system in the province.

Task Force on respect and inclusion addresses free speech Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:37:48 +0000 On Tuesday November 21, the Principal’s Task Force on Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life held a press conference. Co-chairs Bruce Lennox, the Dean of the Faculty of Science, and Nandini Ramanujam, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, answered questions from representatives of the student press.

The Task Force is focusing on “respectful and inclusive debate” in the university context, and how the university can develop the “best practices” to handle conflict over issues of free speech. Detailed information is available on the McGill website.

“The specific term of reference […] begins with the statement: ‘the university values the variety of opinions and experiences of members of the McGill community and encourages the open and respectful expression of that diversity.’ So our mandate is to explore and create concrete recommendations and frame that statement, to operationalize that statement,” explained Lennox.
Ramanujam spoke about her earlier research on enabling environments and how that work is related to the mission of the task force.

“We have been working around the concept of enabling environment for a civil society, and theorizing about […] what makes a civil society flourish [and] engag[ing] with the process of institution building in a democratic setting,” said Ramanujam. “When I was asked to be part of this task force it resonated with me because I do care about an enabling environment, an inclusive, respectful enabling environment.”

The task force is under the office of the Principal, meaning that it will report to senate once it has completed its research and determined its recommendations. It has no direct power to enact policy change; however, it serves as an advisory body for the Principal moving forward.

“The nature of task forces are working groups, and they have a finite timeline with a set of recommendations and, if possible some, sort of a plan of moving forward on how universities could operationalize or implement these recommendations. […] Until our committee meets for the first time we won’t be able to assess our capacity in the tight timeline to assess some of these issues,” said Ramanujam.

The task force is currently in the organizational phase and the committee has not met yet. However, they are currently working on a survey which will be sent out to the entire student body. Lennox summarized the timeline of the task force and the various steps to be undertaken in the coming months.

“We have a deadline of completion of a survey […] by December 7, [then] we will be undertaking a series of focus groups throughout January and February. […] Now we’re just getting people on the ground who can organize that. We will be undertaking a town hall at the end of January. […] We’ll [then] have the progress report to senate, which will be about process, not content, by the end of February, and a status report, which will have elements of content, at the end of March senate meeting.”

A news editor from the McGill Tribune, Calvin Trottier-Chi, asked whether the task force is related to the investigation by the administration into events that transpired at the Fall General Assembly, which sparked allegations of anti-semitism.

Lennox responded, “we’re not linked to that, […] and any reporting that’s done we will receive it as the university public does. So this task force is not related to that initiative at all.”

“This sort of task force [and] the discussion that the task force is undertaking has been a topic of discussion at the university for years, as far as I’m aware […] having a group such as us to work in the university community about [this topic]is far more than a year old discussion,” continued Lennox.

“At the Faculty of Law level we have been talking […] for a long time about safe spaces or inclusive spaces, respectful spaces,” said Ramanujam. “I see this as something which is neither the beginning nor the end of this process. I think we’ve had task forces before that have looked at issues of freedom of expression […] it’s almost like a burgeoning exercise for the university and so I just feel that our work is part of a continuous process in the university space.”

Following this discussion, a writer from the Bull and Bear asked how the task force will define the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Lennox reiterated that the task force is not precisely related to this issue.

“I’d say that the granularity of that is something that is unlikely that we will be addressing. Again, the level of discussion of this task force is about the role of respectful debate in a university. […] So there are issues, you’ve touched on a couple of issues, that are issues that are the subject of debate, but we’re not going to be dealing with [these] topics […] we will be steering the discussion into how does one engage in a respectful debate in order to discuss whichever topic.”

“There’s an obvious coincidence, but […] this has been identified as a need, this university wide discussion about inclusion and respectful debate. The time is now. […] Several Canadian universities, they’re dealing with incidents and they are reacting […] without policy, without having the discussion.” Lennox continued, “we can’t allow this topic to be one that surfaces only when there are issues of concern. […] It’s part of the DNA of this institution, freedom of expression, and how do we how do we manage it? […] Right now we will assure you that this is not about an incident or a crisis, it’s about who we are as an institution.”

When asked to elaborate on what he meant by “incidents,” Lennox referred to the recent controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for showing her class a video about whether or not people should use gender neutral pronouns.

“So this week, [there’s] been a very prominent news story [at] Wilfred Laurier University. […] It’s a situation [about] what can be presented in the classroom setting, and it’s pretty complex,” said Lennox.

“It’s an example of where you haven’t had the discussion that we wish to undertake, an example that if you’re not working within a framework, that you can be dealing with situations rather than best practices.”

“The more diversified we get as a community the more we ought to be reflecting and creating a space for fostering diversity, enriching diversity and creating pathways for people to connect,” said Ramanujam.

“The overlap between respect and inclusion is respectful debate, respectful discussion, and I think that intersection, the venn diagram of those two entities, I think that’s where we’re going to operate. That’s where the concerns in every North American university lie. It’s not just McGill. How does one apply the concepts of freedom of expression within an academic environment as a society’s safe space as an entity, how does one operationalize that? How does one make it a reality? So we’re going to continue to come back to the terminology of respectful debate,” said Lennox.

Towards the end of the press conference, the Tribune asked about a conflict at McGill that happened a few years ago in which faculty member Andrew Potter resigned after publishing an essay that criticized Quebec.

“What would you say the limits and benefits of free speech are? For example, with Andrew Potter resigning last year, would you say he should have been protected under free speech or was his article critiquing Quebec not respectful debate?”

Lennox replied, “I’m not going to comment on that incident. What’s the role of free speech? Free speech is how we share in knowledge. A lot of knowledge is created by understanding one another. If you can’t do it in a university environment, you can’t do it anywhere. [O]ur society expects people to be able to express their point of view, to debate it, to listen. That as a method, as a construct, has incredible value.”

Montreal in solidarity with international effort against TAP Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:34:45 +0000 On November 15, activist groups in Montreal convened in front of Caisse de Dépot et de Placement du Québec’s (CDPQ) headquarters to rally against investments in pipeline projects. CDPQ is a crown corporation that manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec. Groups such Leap Montreal and Stand up with Standing Rock held signs that read “CDPQ no tap” urging them to divest from the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), connecting the gas fields of Azerbaijan to the European market through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Albania and Italy. The TAP is currently in construction, and scheduled to be implemented in 2020, and would pump up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas across Europe.

“I took part of a collective action along people in Europe and in Canada in order to push finance actors to divest from Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. Our action in Montreal has lighted up Caisse de Dépot et de Placement du Québec’s investment,” said Guillaume Durin, a member of the Stand Up with Standing Rock.

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline
The event was organized to condemn CDPQ’s affiliation with Fluxys, a Belgian based natural gas infrastructure company which owns 16 per cent of shares in the TAP. According to a petition by Climate Justice Montreal, CDPQ has invested 16.2 billion in oil and gas last year. Moreover, 16.4 per cent of the CDPQ’s public equity holdings were in carbon-intensive energy and materials sectors. This has prompted criticism against CDPQ, such as the petition “Get off my Caisse”, urging CDPQ to obtain informed consent on any resource extraction project taking place on Indigenous territories. This September, a protest was organized by various grassroots to speak out against CDPQ’s investment practices.

While TAP is a project based overseas, CDPQ signed an agreement in 2011, allowing the CDPQ to acquire a stake in Fluxys, with a capital increase of up to €150 million. The same year, CDPQ increased their investments with an additional €210 million, raising its stake from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

“The [CDPQ] owns shares of the company Fluxys who is one of the main developers of [the] TAP,” said Nicolas Chevalier, the Co-Founder of Leap Montreal. “This project directly puts the local environment [at risk] but will have a global impact as well. In a context of global […] warming and where an effort has to be made from the bank to invest in renewable […] energy, TAP does not have its place.”

Earlier this year, the CDPQ announced a “decarbonated” policy, a mandate to increase investments in low-carbon assets by more than $8 billion, and commit to cutting its carbon footprint by 25 per cent per dollar invested. However, according to Durin, CDPQ still owns 19 per cent of Fluxys, which makes CDPQ complicit in a “climaticide project.”

International solidarity
The event held on November 15 was part of an international effort to pressure financial groups owning TAP shares to divest. The Paris agreement signed in April 2016 commits countries to ensuring that the global average temperature does not increase by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

“TAP is not a local issue. It is not even a European issue anymore,” explained Chevalier. Given that existing fossil fuel operations already exceed the carbon budget, NGOs like published an open letter, arguing that the TAP would sabotage the European climate targets agreed upon during the Paris agreement. However, the TAP began its construction in Albania in July 2015.

On October 23 2017, 15,000 scientists from 184 countries endorsed a global warning regarding the urgency of the climate crisis and its imminent effects. The letter addressed to the president of the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, calls on the European Union to immediately withdraw its support for the TAP, stressing that the ‘TAP would lock Europe into fossil fuels for decades’. On November 14, the European Investment Bank approved a 9.2 billion budget financing climate action projects in 16 countries.

Chevalier hopes to extend these efforts to Montreal, demanding that actors such as the CDPQ do not participate in the financing of the TAP. “Activists in Canada have joined the wave of protest against the mega gas pipeline,” said Chevalier.

“With citizens’ action and commitment, climate justice can be achieved. Disinvesting is one of the key elements to go forward with this goal,” said Isabelle L’héritier, a member of L’eau de la Terre c’est sacre. L’héritier emphasized Montreal’s support for mobilizing against the TAP, with activist groups such as the Coalition for Climate Justice Montreal and Leap Montreal.

Brexit update Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:31:03 +0000 European Union (EU) leaders met in Gothenburg, Sweden on November 16 and 17 to discuss jobs and growth within their continent. Talks quickly turned from the issue at hand to that of Brexit efforts, or lack thereof. Since the legitimization of Article 50, the legislation stating the UK’s intent to leave the EU, in parliament nearly eight months ago, Brexit efforts have struggled to reach the second stage of negotiations to leave the European Union. Issues raised include those of how much the UK will need to pay the EU upon its exit, the current border disputes between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and of UK citizens living across the EU (the only issue raised whose theoretical progress has been deemed sufficient).

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said the government is willing to pay more alimony than originally stated. Speculation puts the figure at £40 billion (C$67.7 billion), which is still less than the EU’s request for £60 billion (C$101.56 billion). Even if this new sum receives approval from the remaining 27 EU members, the border disputes with Ireland remain a dire matter.

An EU working paper states that trade trade rules must remain the same on both sides of the Irish border to avoid a hard border. This effectively requires Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union and single market, both things the UK government hopes to avoid when leaving the EU.

Without any sort of deal, the UK and would have to abide by the World Trade Organization’s regulations.

The UK has stated that it will uphold the Good Friday Agreement that decommissioned paramilitary groups, and opened the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland, and citizen groups in Northern Ireland, have made it known that they will not accept a hard border on the island. Varadkar has stated that the Irish government will accept nothing less than a written promise on the surety of the Irish border.

Given the problem of the Irish border, it seems increasingly unlikely that Brexit talks wil move on to the second round at the EU council meeting on December 14 and 15. UK Brexit negotiator and finance secretary Philip Hammond is confident that he will have a proposal ready by that date.Should the proposal not be accepted, the UK has threatened to suspend negotiations until the EU is ready to take the UK’s proposals seriously. Suspending talks would further postpone the withdrawal process. meaning that the departure of the UK from the EU would be delayed until March 2019.

Germany fails to form a government Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:29:52 +0000 On September 24, Germany held their federal election to form a new parliament. In the two months since the election, a government has yet to be formed. No deal has been reached among the parties, whose potential union is the most viable option for a minority coalition government, leaving Germany with no real government.

Negotiations for this proposed coalition between The Free Democratic Party (FDP), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), and the Green Party, were tense from its inception. These negotiations involved two centre-right parties: the FDP and the CDU/CSU, and one the left-wing Green Party. After the FDP left negotiations, apparently because of disagreements with the Greens, Germany is left uncertain on how to form a stable government. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the leader of the FDP, Christian Lindner, said the collations had “no ideas, no trust, no stability.”

Other Potential coalition governments include: the “GroKo” (grand coalition) between the CDU/CSU and centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD); however, after losing 40 seats in the September elections, SPD leader Martin Schultz declared that his party would not go into coalition with the CDU/CSU under Merkel again. There is also a potential for a “traffic light coalition,” a coalition of the SPD, FDP, and Greens; however, the FDP has already shown that it cannot work with Greens, rendering this union unlikely. An historic coalition between the CDU/CSU and either the FDP or the Greens, or even a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the the much opposed far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could be formed. The CDU/CSU could also run a minority government alone, but Merkel has expressed concerns over a minority government, saying that a minority government does not posses the stability necessary to govern properly.

Alternatively the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, could call new elections, though these would likely not take place until February. Be that as it may, Steinmeier does not wish to call new elections, saying that the inability of parliament to form a coalition should not be pushed back to the people. Steinmeier, a member of the SPD, seems to favour renewing the grand coalition, and has been pressuring Schultz to do so, though he is also meeting with all party leaders in an attempt to find a solution.

Survival of the generous Mon, 27 Nov 2017 11:30:49 +0000 Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms. Most bacteria have one large circular chromosome inside of them, and many other smaller circular pieces of DNA called plasmids. The DNA contained within these plasmids encode for the expression of proteins that are not essential to the growth of bacteria. However, they often provide an advantage to the bacteria, helping them to overcome obstacles in the environment, such as the ability to metabolize a different source of food or to synthesize a membrane protein that allows it to resist antibiotics. Bacteria can acquire and exchange these plasmids in many different ways, such as uptake from the environment or, more compellingly, through a process called bacterial conjugation.

Bacterial conjugation occurs when a donor cell bacterium that has a certain plasmid extends a long “arm” called a pilus. In doing so, the bacterium is able to find another bacterium that does not have that specific plasmid, making it the recipient. Once the donor finds the recipient, it replicates its own plasmid so the recipient can have a copy of it as well, hopefully giving it an advantage that allows it to overcome an environmental challenge.

Many people would, incorrectly, consider this a form of bacterial sex. Scientifically, this is untrue, because this process does not result in the production of a daughter cell (The Daily recognizes that sex does not necessarily result in a child in humans – however, this is the definition that is used for microorganisms). This process can be thought of more as a bacterium sharing critical information with its good friend, to help said friend lead a more successful life. An analogy that comes to mind is one person teaching their friend how to swim. It is easy to get through “everyday life” without needing to swim, however, if this person was ever in a shipwreck, the actions of their friend will have single-handedly saved their life.

What’s interesting about this entire process is that there seems to be no obvious benefit to the donor cell. Despite this, the donor expends significant energy in searching for a recipient and in copying its DNA, potentially putting itself at a disadvantage. So why do bacteria do this? Well – bacteria have been on earth for a very long time. For about three billion years, most organisms were microscopic, and bacteria and archaea (another type of microscopic organism) were the dominant forms of life. So, bacteria have been exchanging genetic information with each other for a very long time, leading us to assume there is a logical explanation for the process. And yet, conjugation seems to benefit only the recipient.

Evolution over time is understood by most biologists as the “survival of the fittest.” This can often be interpreted as, ultimately, every organism is looking out for itself, and must compete with everything else in its environment in order to survive. However, in my opinion, the existence of bacterial conjugation demonstrates otherwise. When a bacterium donates its genetic information to another bacterium, the recipient of this selfless act will have the same advantages as the donor. Furthermore, this recipient bacterium will likely go on to donate the copied plasmid to even more bacteria.

This suggests the theory of evolution isn’t so black and white. Perhaps bacteria have been such successful organisms on this planet in almost every environment for so long, not only because they are competitive, but also because they are generous. In times of trouble, they reach out to each other and give each other information that is sometimes critical to survival. Maybe, we could learn something from bacteria. Throughout my entire life I have been taught that in order to succeed I must compete with others. I must be better than others, even if that means leaving others behind in the dust. In competitive environments such as McGill, I do not think my experience is unique. However, I do not think that competition is imperative to success. Despite all that has been said about survival of the fittest, generosity has still proliferated throughout millions of years. Maybe, competition isn’t imperative to progress; instead, in order to better ourselves, we must give to others. Perhaps there is something innate about generosity. If bacteria can look out for each other, so can we.

Social determinants of mental health Mon, 27 Nov 2017 11:30:00 +0000 It may come as a surprise that your zip code might be a better indicator of your overall physical and mental health than your genetic code. An advocate of this statement, Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, once wrote in a paper that “poorer people die younger and are sicker than richer people, indeed, mortality morbidity rates are inversely related to many correlates of socioeconomic status such as income, wealth, education or social class.”

It has been documented that social determinants of health have a far greater impact on individuals than the actual provision of health care. Social determinants include the conditions in which people are born, live, work, and age, and the health systems they can access. These determinants of health are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social dynamics, environmental policies, and politics.

There is accumulated evidence that measures of physical health such as the prevalence of infectious diseases, infant mortality rate, and life expectancy may be impacted by social determinants. Recently, scientists have found that mental health may also be impacted by such determinants.

Previously, genetic underpinnings of mental illnesses have been heavily focused on. In recent decades, however,  there has been a shift to a biopsychosocial model, which takes social factors into consideration during diagnosis. This illustrates that mental health professionals are increasingly cognisant of the fact that mental illnesses are strongly driven by social factors.

Mental health inequities may be understood as being at least partially determined by unequal distribution of opportunity and, more deeply, by social norms and public policies. Social norms are the cultural opinions and biases that set the stage for poorer health among disadvantaged groups – for example, racial biases against minority groups. Public policies refers to legislation that may not particularly concern health but has far-reaching effects on health. Examples of public policies that have diverse downstream effects on health include the tuition costs for higher education within university systems, minimum wage legislations, and a city’s zoning ordinances.Two of the social determinants that may greatly impact mental health are income inequality and education level.

Income inequality as a social determinant of mental health

There is evidence that people in low socioeconomic classes suffer from mental health issues and their adverse consequences at a disproportionate rate compared to people in higher socioeconomic classes. Income inequality produces psychosocial stress, which leads to deteriorating health and higher mortality over time. There is good evidence that common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across social strata.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information published results from a nationwide study that showed that between 2003 and 2013, self-ratings of poor or fair mental health increased in the lowest income level but remained stable in the highest income level: the rate in the lowest income level is still more than five times higher than that in the highest income level (14.5 per cent versus 2.8 per cent).

In 2010, Lund and colleagues, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at  University of Cape Town, published a systematic review of the epidemiological literature on common mental illness and poverty in low and middle-income countries. It was shown that 70 per cent of the 115 studies reviewed reported positive associations between a variety of poverty measures and common mental illness. In another systematic review, it was reported that depressed mood or anxiety was 2.5 times higher among young people aged 10 to 15 years with low socioeconomic status than among youths with high socioeconomic status.

It is important to keep in mind that inequalities occur along a continuum and affect everyone in the population, not only the poorest or most disadvantaged. Researchers contend that inequality reduces social cohesion, a dynamic that leads to more stress, fear, and insecurity for everyone. Consequently, high levels of inequality can negatively affect the health of even the most affluent.  Money does not guarantee immunity from mental illness, nor does a lack of money lead to mental illness; however, it is generally conceded that poverty can be both a determinant and a consequence of poor mental health.

Education as a social determinant of mental health

Poor education is associated with decreased physical and mental health. Higher quality education and higher education attainment have been associated with better social outcomes, such as stable employment and higher income. Additionally, employment is a major determinant for mental health status. Unemployment significantly increases the odds of diagnosis with psychiatric disorders: in a study published in 2004, it was noted that unemployment almost quadrupled the odds of drug dependence after controlling for other socio-demographic variables.

Ethical implications of inequalities in mental health

The effect of inequality on mental health has profound ethical implications. Public health organizations are beginning to recognize the detrimental effects of social inequalities, and are making efforts to fulfill key bioethics principles of medicine and public health: respect for individuals, justice, beneficence, and non-malfeasance.

Importance of intervention at the policy-making level

Intervention at the policy-making level appears to be just as important as intervention at the individual and familial level. More attention should be paid to government funded programs that focus on reducing poverty. There is often political debate about the allocation of resources to programs that could narrow the inequality gaps. Politicians should be aware of the fact that funding these programs may, in the long term, better society by indirectly decreasing the burden on the health care system.

The changing roles of health care professionals

Absolute social equality is difficult to achieve. Therefore, varying prevalence rates of mental illness between unequal groups in society, will be difficult to completely eradicate. Researchers, psychiatrists, and other public health professionals must reduce the magnitude of this inequality.

There is a sense that the role of psychiatrists and other public health care professionals might evolve to include advocating for policy change. Psychiatrists may be forced to have a more active non-clinical role by advocating for policies that address these social determinants of mental health at varying levels in society.

Making family after separation Mon, 27 Nov 2017 11:00:43 +0000 content warning: colonial violence

During a period known as the Sixties Scoop, the Canadian government forcibly removed Indigenous children from their homes and gave them to a neglectful child welfare system to be adopted into white families. The policy was similar to the assimilationist agenda of residential schools — both intended to separate Indigenous children from their cultures. The Sixties Scoop remained in effect from 1955 to 1985, affecting upwards of 20,000 children. Encompassed in these 20,000 children taken from their homes are Betty Ann, Esther, Rosalie, and Ben, all of whom were forcibly removed from their Dene mother Mary-Jane’s (MJ) care in northern Saskatchewan and placed in different foster homes across the country.

In Birth of a Family, director Tasha Hubbard reveals an honest and deeply moving account of MJ’s children as they trace their family history and learn more about one another. Starting with the siblings’ first nervous encounter at the Calgary airport after decades of searching for each other, the film follows the four as they travel to Banff for a week of bonding.

While exploring the scenic Albertan town, the siblings visit a local elder at the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum who teaches them some of the traditions they would have learned had they been raised within their culture. After experiencing their first drum circle, Betty Ann and her younger siblings are overcome with sadness at all that had been kept from them, shedding light on the systematized foreignization of Indigenous culture and language from Indigenous children.

Birth of a Family disrupts the myth that Indigenous children were better off growing up away from their families, languages, and cultures, a belief commonly perpetuated in colonial society. Hubbard opens the viewers to the agonizing experiences that many Indigenous people had and continue to endure.

The director strikes a perfect balance between representing the pain of a family separated and the joy of one recently united. She includes precious moments such as the celebration of the collective 211 birthdays they had missed out on, emphasizing the positive outlook these four had despite the violence of Canadian policies. The poignant moments are paired with the hilarity that often characterizes family vacations, such as when Ben, a grown man in his fifties, learns he has a fear of heights while walking, and then crawling, on the Glacier Skywalk.

Birth of a Family disrupts the myth that Indigenous children were better off growing up away from their families, languages, and cultures, a belief commonly perpetuated in colonial society.

Despite these playful interludes, the film constantly circles back to the heartbreak felt by the four from having been removed from each other’s lives. In a particularly heart-wrenching moment, Esther asks, “Why did some people get left behind and others get taken?” The siblings then address the failure of the Canadian government to protect Indigenous people and the continued lack of support for the survivors of these atrocities. The conversation inevitably steers towards a heated debate over truth and reconciliation, as MJ’s children discuss the emptiness of a simple apology for the crimes committed by the colonial settler government. They note that the politics of recognition have done little in substantive action to improve the material conditions of Indigenous people and their relationship with the Canadian state.

Despite its heartbreaking origins, Birth of a Family manages to carry a hopeful tone. Even when Rose and Betty Ann discover that they had once lived only 15 miles away from each other in different foster homes, Rose laughingly remarks that those 15 miles have been reduced to 15 inches after forty years, and further lessens the distance as she reaches across the table to embrace her older sister.

Birth of a Family, with its picturesque backdrop, is ultimately a story of two very different Canadas. First, there is a land of romanticized beauty, full of snow-capped mountains and touristy towns, and then there is a country with a dark colonial history it has yet to overcome. Hubbard effortlessly merges these two distinct visions of Canada as the siblings all at once explore Banff, the pain of separation, and the joy of reunion with one another.

Undergraduate Student Optimistic After Adopting “Hygiene de Vie” Approach to Mitigating Stress Mon, 27 Nov 2017 11:00:34 +0000 Montreal Johnny Vyanse, a U3 History and Linguistics student, is excited to begin his new Hygiene de Vie action plan after reading a recent interview with Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning Ollivier Dyens.

Johnny, who has spent the last several hours chanting “HYGIENE DE VIE, IS WORKING FOR ME!” at visibly uncomfortable tour groups in the McLennan lobby, is adamant that the plan is the balm to all of his problems. “It’s something I was hesitant to try at first,” he told the Daily, “but I finally made the leap. I mean, I would have never known that caffeine is a study drug!”

Johnny’s busy schedule led him to dramatically change his habits. As the president of a departmental association and a research assistant, he struggles to handle the stressors of student life, which is exacerbated by his fairly severe anxiety. The start of the fall semester threw a wrench in his mental health, as he was suddenly faced with writing an honours thesis and applying for graduate school.

“He’s a complete fucking mess”, says one of his friends. “He’s in five courses because his visa runs out this year, and I’m pretty sure that hasn’t slept for like, the past three days. Yesterday I caught him running around Provigo tearing open bags of coffee grounds.”

The Hygiene de Vie action plan is comprised of many individual steps: eating and sleeping well, exercising, managing time effectively, and abstaining from performance-enhancing drugs like Ritalin and Jingle Jangle, as well as coffee and cigarettes. Johnny insists that as a student who doesn’t have the time to do any of these fucking things, the action plan will benefit him.

“I just don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner,” he proclaims as he picks walnuts out of a Premiere Moisson sandwich – his sixth this week. “Like, to offset the effects of being too busy and mentally ill to eat well, sleep regularly, and schedule things in advance… I just need to eat well, sleep regularly, and schedule things in advance. It’s so simple, but brilliant.” Zoloft is out – only Ollivier Dyens’ Hygiene de Vie action plan will produce real change.

Johnny’s friends, however, have their reservations. “He quit smoking cold turkey, and it doesn’t seem to be doing him much good,” says one of his classmates. “Also, he asked me to look over his application for this MA program in Toronto, but instead of responding to the prompt he wrote a dissertation on the viability of yoga as a universal solution for psychiatric disorders.”

Another expressed concern at Johnny’s sudden shift in attitude. “I have ADHD, and he’s really been a prick about my Adderall prescription,” she confided to the Daily. “He keeps telling me that I can’t rely on performance-enhancing drugs as a substitute for maintaining a good hygiene de vie, whatever that fucking means. He also won’t stop sending me links to Buzzfeed lists for kale smoothie ideas.”

Johnny’s regular clinician at McGill Psychiatric Services had this to say: “Who?” [we describe Johnny to her, and it seems to jog her memory] “Oh, yeah. In all honesty all of my patients kind of run together at this point. I mostly see him to give new prescriptions. I told him that he couldn’t just go off his meds on a whim but he didn’t listen. It went terribly. He ended up coming in for a safety appointment. The poor bastard jumped the front desk when we told him there was no space left for the day.”

Psychiatric Services receptionists corroborated this. “He tore down our ‘chocolate is cheaper than therapy’ poster. It was fucking custom-made on Etsy. Do you know how much that shit costs?”

Johnny remains hopeful despite his clearly deteriorating emotional welfare. At the time of publication, students were seen quickly shuffling away from him in Schulich as he snorted chia seeds off his desk, sobbing uncontrollably, the absolute wreck.

Ollivier Dyens evaded all requests to comment. We chased him from James Admin to the McGill metro station but he’s just so fast. Why is he so fast.

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Decolonizing Veganism Mon, 27 Nov 2017 11:00:28 +0000 content warning: racism, ableism, eating disorders

Being vegan in Montreal is easy. Lola Rosa is right around the corner. Marché Eden has you covered for most groceries. The restaurant options are endless and are never more than a slight detour from your usual route. Your friends probably don’t even make that much fun of you. Besides the occasional hiccup, veganism is popular and prevalent.

Yet over time, I’ve noticed that veganism is actually a less feasible choice for many. The ways in which veganism isolates itself from marginalized individuals need to be addressed and rectified. When I say being vegan in Montreal is easy, I need to clarify: it’s easy, unless you’re lower-middle class, disabled, living in a marginalized community, or experiencing or recovering from an eating disorder.

I first decided to be vegan earlier this year for ethical reasons. I thought that fighting against systemic oppression must at some point include the fight against speciesism. I looked up vegan recipes, bought vegan groceries, ate vegan food, and eventually realized it wasn’t that hard. By spending time in “plant-based” restaurants and “health-oriented” grocery stories, I learned a lot about white vegan culture. I learned about the huge variety of reasons people choose to be vegan, and how passionate many vegans are about spreading their beliefs.

However, I also learned that veganism is constantly used to reproduce oppression. By constantly employing guilt tactics and propagandistic arguments to try and convince the public of the importance of veganism, many vegans homogenize humanity by ignoring the intersections between different forms of oppression.

Veganism and settler colonialism
Indigenous populations often have the most notable clashes with animal rights activists. Earlier this month, Indigenous communities gathered for an annual observance of the traditional Haudenosaunee deer hunt in Short Hills Provincial Park, and, as they have in the past, animal rights activists showed up in protest. Vegans are often insensitive to Indigenous traditions and history in their activism, and thus unknowingly reproduce settler colonialism by refusing to acknowledge their own participation in the oppression of Indigenous people. Many Indigenous nations are irreducible to supposedly normal “human society”, they view and treat animals differently. Animal rights activists ignore the fact that domesticated animals raised solely for their meat were rare in pre-colonization Indigenous communities, and that the human/animal binary didn’t exist as a concept for Indigenous people. But colonization twisted these facts, resulting in the perpetuation of misconceptions regarding Indigenous peoples’ treatment of animals. Without recognizing the role settler colonialism plays in the lives of both Indigenous communities as well as animals, veganism often fails to address the role colonization plays in animal mistreatment. A fight for decolonization is vital in the struggle to dismantle systems of oppression, and vegans must reconcile with that instead of choosing to target Indigenous communities for their supposed “cruelty.”

Cultural insensitivity
Veganism has also isolated itself as a white branch of the animal liberation movement, by refusing to acknowledge and cater to people of colour. The perception of the ‘classic vegan’ being white isn’t groundless. Vegan restaurants are more likely to exist in upper-class white communities, which already limits exposure and access for communities of people of colour. This limited access is a direct consequence of much of the oppression people of colour face, yet animal rights activists often shame people of colour for not being vegan.

Ignoring the lived realities of people of colour often leads to veganism being culturally insensitive. Many cultures use meat as a central ingredient in their dishes. White vegans are often unconcerned with this fact and try to reduce ethnic reliance on meat, leading to the appropriation and dilution of ethnic recipes. In a superficial effort to “increase awareness” of veganism, white vegans will cook vegan ethnic food to show how it can be done. In my short experience with ethnic vegan food, white-owned vegan South Asian restaurants have done more harm than good, as their insensitivity towards cultural and historical ties to food is alienating at best. “Veganizing” ethnic food must necessarily be the initiative of people of the ethnicity in question. It is also relevant to keep in mind that many ancient religious cultures have historically had large vegetarian populations, such as Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to name a few.

Ableist arguments
It isn’t just race and culture that vegans tend to be insensitive to. In many ways, vegan animal rights activists engage in ableist arguments and practices. The amount of times I’ve heard animal rights activists describe themselves “a voice for the voiceless” is uncountable, and is a prime example of the conflation of animality and disability. As Arundhati Roy writes: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Animals constantly express themselves; they might cry out with pain or gasp for oxygen. Assuming that the ‘voiceless’ cannot speak “betrays an ableist assumption of what counts as having a voice.” One of the arguments that convinced me to be vegan is directly intertwined with disability: the moral assumption that humans are valued over animals for their intellectual capabilities and higher-order thinking is ableist. There is no intellectual capability that all humans have but all animals do not. Not all humans are capable of higher-order thinking or of speaking a language. Does this assign them a lower moral value?

Upon reflection, this argument lacks nuance and perpetuates ableism. While animal liberation tries to destroy the human/animal binary, it too often relies on the instrumentalization of disabled people. When you compare the situation of animals to disabled people, you put disabled people’s moral value up for consideration. They have nothing to gain from this argument. By pitting the intellectually disabled against animals, vegans and animal rights activists imply that if animals go down, so should intellectually disabled people.

Veganism and food policing
Many arguments in favour of veganism advocate for its health benefits. Facebook videos of people roaming the streets to aggressively convince people to go vegan have gone viral recently, and are often quite troubling. Policing food can be triggering for many people, including those recovering from eating disorders. Watching people convince others of the “health benefits” of veganism and having someone tell you what you can and cannot eat is not something everyone is or should be ready for. Again, vegans and animal liberation activists must acknowledge this and be aware that some people need to take care of themselves first. Food shaming and policing is unnecessary and unhelpful.

The price of veganism
Vegan restaurants are often advertised as “healthy,” “raw,” and “organic.” The environment they create is one of “clean eating” and self-care. However, it’s easy to be turned off almost immediately by prices. Vegan restaurants often double the price of a meal by using locally-grown produce and organic ingredients. A simple take-out meal can be financially taxing, especially for students on a budget. This is particularly true for people of lower socioeconomic status, as it often not feasible for some to spend extra on plant-based products when animal products and byproducts are often cheaper and more widely accessible. Yet many privileged vegans continue to assume that fighting against speciesism “transcends” this barrier, ignoring the reality of classism and economic oppression. It is not uncommon for vegans to decline to acknowledge that class differences are an obstacle in becoming vegan, which ends up reproducing classism in many ways.

Not everyone has a position privileged enough to be vegan. Government programs often strategically place Intensive Livestock Operations — otherwise known as factory farms — near Black or Indigenous communities, making animal products readily available in these areas, and often forcing people of colour to work jobs in these facilities. Even crop farms tend to have a large number of marginalized and migrant workers, and are often subjected to low-wages and abuse. It is essential to recognize that not all plant-based products are “cruelty-free” when you consider the treatment of food/farm workers. “Food deserts,” areas with decreased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, are also characteristically in areas with low-income and minority residents, making veganism much less viable for marginalized individuals. To be an effective movement, animal liberation activists need to recognize how capitalism and white supremacy operate to oppress people of colour. Marginalized individuals are often not able to even consider being vegan, due to the structural oppression they face every day. Ignoring these systems of oppression will not further the animal liberation cause, only hinder it. Consulting movements such as anti-racism and anti-ableism can provide a deeper understanding of concepts such as violence and objectification, and ensures that one movement doesn’t negate or impede another.

For people dealing with systemic oppression and discrimination, veganism can often be the last thing on people’s minds. Instead of the “go vegan or go home” approach, animal liberation activists must acknowledge and participate in the fight against oppressive structures such as capitalism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.

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