Nation in brief

Anti-abortionists sue Carleton University

An anti-abortion group at Carleton University has filed a lawsuit against their school over an incident in which five students were arrested last fall for displaying signs of bloody aborted fetuses on campus. The students’ lawyer said the school’s actions represented both censorship, through the suppression of freedom of expression, and discrimination, the National Post reported. The group, Carleton Lifeline, also alleges that the university administration violated their own human rights and academic freedom codes in the incident, which saw Ottawa police arrest the five students for trespassing. Only two of those five are plaintiffs in this suit, which reportedly demands $200,000 in compensation for damages to reputation, damages for wrongful arrest and breach of the school’s fiduciary duties.


Chicken, coming to a TV near you

Two professors at the University of Ottawa say that the federal government has targeted them because of their propensity for criticizing the Conservatives. Professors Errol Mendes and Amir Attaran were the subject of two enormous freedom-of-information requests at the university which they believe is part of an intimidation tactic and effort to use their information against them, the Toronto Star reported. These requests are done anonymously in Ontario but the professors believe that this is another example of the Conservatives’ effort to silence critical voices in academia. To try and prove it, they’ve offered to release all information if the person who made the request reveals himself or herself. Employment details, expenses and teaching records were requested but Mendes said the university will not release much of the information which is private or personal in nature, and therefore legally protected from release. A Conservative spokesman said the requests were not made by the party.


Part-time Toronto students may face transit hikes

Toronto’s Transit Commission is considering putting a halt to discounted Metropasses for part-time post-secondary students as a way to allay budget issues, the CBC reported. The recommendation came from TTC staff who suggested that budget pressures could be eased if only full-time students were allowed to benefit from the reduced $99 monthly fare. Last December the student discount was extended to students at private career colleges, a move which has reportedly cost the TTC $400,000 per year in revenues lost. This new policy would serve to overcome those losses. If passed, the approximately 49,000 part-time students who currently use the student pass would instead be forced to buy the adult Metropass for $121, a price increase of over 20 per cent. Estimates show that the TTC could save in the area of $1.4 million with these changes, which would take effect July 31. The proposal will be voted on at a meeting of the TTC board today.


Seal (not the recording artist) hits the road

A lost seal strayed from his habitat and onto a waterfront road in Charlottetown, P.E.I. last week, creating an interesting challenge for local law enforcement who didn’t want it to be run over. After police officers failed to convince or coax the seal back into the ocean, personnel from the Fisheries and Ocean Department needed to be called onto the scene, QMI reported. Those officials were able to successfully relocate the seal back into the water. Only in P.E.I.



ConU to spend $3 million on tuition waivers for international PhD, MFA students

Over the next three years Concordia will be spending $3 million on a pilot project to provide full tuition waivers to international students entering PhD and MFA programs at the university.

The object of the project, according to School of Graduate Studies dean Graham Carr, is to hopefully improve the quality and increase the number of international graduate students the university is attracting.

“Most other Quebec universities currently offer tuition waivers to international students at the PhD level and so clearly we have been in an uncompetitive situation or a less than ideally competitive situation in the past,” Carr told those in attendance at a Senate meeting on Feb. 18. “This is a very significant step forward, I think, in addressing that.”

The funds will be implemented in a staggered fashion: $500,000 this year, $1 million the following year, and $1.5 million the third year. President Frederick Lowy approved the project only a few days into his term in office.

The funds “will allow us to bring in approximately 35 new international students per year with the full tuition waiver,” Carr said. “This effectively doubles the number of international tuition waivers that the university has at its disposal when combined with existing waivers.”

Despite acknowledging the positive step forward for the university, Provost and VP academic affairs David Graham raised some concerns at the meeting that the inaccuracy of certain budget projections, made based on expected enrolment growth figures that have not been met, has taken a toll on how much they have to spend. “I don’t want to sound like the Grinch in this,” Graham said. “What that means, in practical terms, is that at the moment we are not projecting enough revenue to cover the totality of the expenditures that the [chief financial officer] projected, including that very significant incremental graduate support.”

Graham then advised senators that there was a difficult decision to make as to whether they want to retain lower enrolment projections and thus force the CFO to reduce projected expenditures, or to raise the enrolment projections to match the original budget projections.

Instead of influencing their opinion of the tuition waiver project however, this seemed to heighten the senators’ criticism of the Senate’s financial processes.

In fact, arts and science faculty member June Chaikelson, who chairs the senate’s finance committee, responded to Graham’s comment, saying “There’s a third choice and that’s change some of our other priorities in the university.” Graham said that he agreed on that point. “When I talked of reducing expenditures, that was precisely what I meant. That’s what reducing expenditures is about, is deciding what our priorities are.”

Of the new tuition waivers, Graduate Student Association Advocacy Manager Roddy Doucet said “We don’t necessarily think that this particular announcement goes towards alleviating on the ground problem of current students at Concordia who are already victims of the international tuition increase and the fee restructuring.”

“So, while we’re fully behind the initiative and we’re happy Concordia’s taking steps to attract better talent, you know it will only contribute to the richness of Concordia’s academic community, we encourage them to look for on the ground solutions for current students.”

A representative from the Concordia International Students Association could not be reached by print time.


897 students make WHALE motions binding

Photo by Sarah Deshaies

Defying expectations and ignoring rainy weather, 897 students packed into the Reggie’s terrace yesterday morning for a special general meeting, surpassing the 2.5 per cent of undergraduate students required for quorum, and making the two motions they passed legally binding.

An overwhelming majority of students raised their blue slips voting in favour of both motions, the first calling for a Day of Action to denounce the Ministry of Education’s proposed tuition fee hikes and the second reducing quorum for future special general meetings to 1.5 per cent of undergrads.

“I just want to say that today has been a very historical moment for Concordia,” CSU president Heather Lucas told the crowd after the vote. “You all have taken part in an amazing democratic process. Having you all here, I don’t have words. The sight of having everyone’s placards lifted up, that was fucking amazing.”

There were doubts leading into the event that quorum would be reached, but students erupted in cheers at the news that the 850th student had signed into the event, far surpassing the 795 needed according to CSU councillor Lex Gill.

Matthew Brett, communications coordinator for the WHALE event, called the attendance “remarkable, given the rain and given that the odds were stacked against us from the beginning.”

Brett thought that the success of the event sent a clear message to both the University’s Board of Governors and the provincial government. “The Board in particular, I think they’re really going to start to shake in their dress pants,” he said. “Let’s just say that this event at least will keep them alert that if they continue to neglect the student voice we will continue to come to your doorstep.”

Photo by David Vilder

The Day of Action immediately followed the special general meeting so after some closing words and thanks from organizers and Lucas, a large group of attendees left the terrace to march through the downtown campus area.

The Graduate Students’ Association also managed to reach a substantially smaller quorum at their own meeting held inside shortly before the undergraduates’ meeting. All motions at that meeting were passed by attendees as well.

Much of the talk following the meeting was of Concordia students proving the allegations of apathy false.

“I think that Concordia students shook off the apathy label today,” said GSA councillor Roddy Doucet.

Brett agreed. “I think the students have never been apathetic at Concordia,” he said. “We always need to keep at this. I think the student voice is now out, loud and clear and it’s going to get louder in the coming weeks.”

Brett was referring to a city-wide student protest set to take place on Mar. 12 following the tabling of the provincial budget, the bigger step student organizations have been planning to fight tuition hikes.

“We’re definitely going to keep mobilizing toward March 12 to send a strong message to Charest that we stand with the health sector, labour sector, anti-poverty organizations, indigenous people against service fee hikes and basically charges that are targeted at middle-class working people,” Doucet said.

For her part, Lucas said “This is just a taste of what’s to come on Mar. 12 when we go to protest.”


City in brief

When angry students attack

About 50 students from Cégep Vieux-Montréal stormed the headquarters of Quebecor in Old Montreal last Thursday, proceeding to throw smokebombs and committing other acts of vandalism. Premier Jean Charest’s office was also targeted. A student association from the Cégep indicated in a press release they targeted Quebecor to denounce its “libertarian ideology” and “anti-union” attitude, adding they were against tuition hikes. The company stated that the students ransacked a photo exhibit and destroyed some furniture, leading to the evacuation of more than 1,000 employees. The student association’s press release also indicated that actor and director Xavier Dolan could be contacted for further information, though that was revealed the following day to be an error.

ASFA wants a communications committee

A motion was passed at ASFA’s council meeting last Thursday to create an ad hoc communications committee to aid in the promotion of the organization’s activities. The idea was originally suggested by VP communications Natasha Launi, who indicated that she would like to have up to five students-at-large who could help market ASFA’s events by speaking to classrooms, developing ideas for posters and selling tickets, for example. Launi stressed that at the moment she does most of the promotion on her own. It was then decided that ASFA would promote the committee and officially fill the positions at its next council meeting. Launi expressed hope that the committee would eventually expand to even more members.

ASFA VP internal candidate sanctioned

In a judgment upheld by ASFA’s judicial committee on Feb. 9, ASFA VP internal candidate Tanya-Michelle Contente was given a three-day campaign ban for violation of electoral regulations. Contente had used the mailing server of Humanitarian Affairs, Concordia University (HACU), to promote her candidacy, but the JC found this to be unfair to her opponents because not all ASFA candidates have access to this server. A similar sanction had been imposed earlier on VP finance candidate Pier-Luc Therrien Péloquin for informing the ASFA council through the organization’s mailing server that he would not be present at the upcoming council meeting. ASFA CEO Nick Cuillerier confirmed that to date, there have been three contestations during the electoral campaign.

Most TRAC members have now been paid

Most members of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia were paid as of Feb. 10, according to the union’s president Thomas Leonard, although one person whose contract wasn’t signed until Jan. 20 has yet to receive a paycheck. TRAC had filed a grievance on Feb. 8 with the Faculty of Arts and Science over the fact that its members had not received pay since they began work on Jan. 3. The office of the dean signed off on the grievance the following day. The main demands for TRAC’s grievance are the university respecting its collective agreement as well as working with the union in order to create guidelines that will ensure that TAs and RAs are paid in a timely fashion.


CSU passes all six IGM student motions

The Concordia Student Union council respected the will of approximately 150 students who attended an Informational General Meeting last month and passed five motions approved by those students on issues ranging from fighting tuition increase to regulating credit cards on campus. A sixth motion regarding the creation of an ad-hoc student centre and student space committee introduced by councillor Lex Gill, at the behest of the IGM attendees, was also passed.

While each motion was successfully passed with few dissenting, the discussion of the motions was one which highlighted tensions between councillors.

After all of the motions were introduced, independent councillor Ethan Cox moved that all six be passed omnibus but councillors voted this down.

“Last month was bad enough, guys. You clearly went against the will of the students. Everybody knows that, it was demonstrated quite clearly at the IGM and quite frankly by the number of people sitting in this room right now,” Cox replied, referring to how the CSU council responded to the firing of Judith Woodsworth. “If you don’t approve every motion that was passed by our students who elected us at an IGM I will resign in protest from council on the spot […] There’s no question that we have an absolute obligation to pass what was put to us by our students. The insanity of the people’s conception of democracy in this room is beyond belief.”

Councillor Menachem Freedman replied to his comments by asking the chairperson to request all councillors avoid “pejorative comments and rhetoric.” Freedman also explained why he voted against the omnibus motion, saying “We’ve never seen these motions before. I think it’s our responsibility to the students to hear each one of them individually so we actually understand what we’re voting on and passing.” This statement was echoed by multiple other councillors.

Tension among councillors peaked when representative Stephen Brown said “I believe that by looking around, people are growing tired of your belligerence, Ethan. We all respect the will of the students. Personally I’m not going to sit here all night […] while you berate us and pretend that somehow you’re more democratic than we are.” Cox responded with a point of personal privilege stating “I would like the chair to restrain members from personally attacking me please.”

A technical malfunction caused a break in discussion and actually served to calm council, with all motions passing relatively quickly afterwards, with a few minor amendments to the wording.

Notably, council passed a motion which mandates the CSU to call for the resignation of all external Board of Governors members. This stricter stance was rejected by a majority of councillors at the council meeting in January, where they instead called on only those board members who had exceeded their terms to resign.

Cox also followed this discussion with a motion of his own. He moved that any representative who does not comply with part of a motion which called on student representatives on the board of governors and senate, whom they listed by name, “to represent forcefully and persistently to the bodies they sit on,” be asked to resign by the CSU. Some councillors and VP Loyola and advocacy Hassan Abdullahi vehemently opposed the motion, calling it redundant and unenforceable. Pointing out that those in question could not be forced to resign, Cox and supporting councillors responded that the CSU calling on them to do so would act as a symbolic fail-safe, pushing them to follow through on actions they have been mandated to complete.

After a lengthy discussion, Cox’s motion failed in a close vote, 10 to eight.

The meeting was well-attended by students at large, many of whom were at the IGM, as well as organizers of the WHALE day of action who spoke out in favour of the motions. These students also spoke on behalf of WHALE and asked everyone at the CSU to increase their participation in the event and use all the resources available to them to increase awareness about it. With the strong support of certain councillors like Lex Gill, council approved a motion mandating the CSU to contribute $1,900 to the WHALE event, matching the Graduate Students’ Association’s contribution.


Nation in brief

Study highlights disabled students’ financial woes

A study released last week has revealed that Ontario students with disabilities face increased financial obstacles in their efforts to pursue post-secondary education, the Cord reported. Commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the study found that 81 per cent of the disabled students surveyed were concerned about the debt incurred during the course of their education, and half expected to have at least $20,000 in debt. In addition, 40 per cent said that debt or other financial barriers had altered their “post-secondary pursuits.”

Professors say Conservatives trying to intimidate critics

Two professors at the University of Ottawa say that the federal government has targeted them because of their propensity for criticizing the Conservatives. Professors Errol Mendes and Amir Attaran were the subject of two enormous freedom-of-information requests at the university which they believe is part of an intimidation tactic and effort to use their information against them, the Toronto Star reported. These requests are done anonymously in Ontario but the professors believe that this is another example of the Conservatives’ effort to silence critical voices in academia. To try and prove it, they’ve offered to release all information if the person who made the request reveals himself or herself. Employment details, expenses and teaching records were requested but Mendes said the university will not release much of the information which is private or personal in nature, and therefore legally protected from release. A Conservative spokesman said the requests were not made by the party.

B.C. radiologists may have missed deadly diseases

Health officials in B.C. have been reviewing thousands of complaints about two radiologists who were not qualified to review CT scans and ultrasounds, and thus could potentially have missed countless life-threatening diseases. In fall 2010, the two radiologists both practiced in the Powell River and Abbotsford areas of B.C. despite lacking to credentials or experience to do so, the Vancouver Sun reported. Chair of the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council Dr. Doug Cochrane will be leading an independent investigation into the matter. Despite learning about the issue in October, health officials reportedly only began contacting patients last week, citing a desire to not alarm or cause anxiety in the public. All of the over 900 patients are being contacted, and their scans are being reviewed. An independent review reportedly found 134 of those patients required more testing, 30 of them urgently.

Police not charged in kicking incident

A police officer in Victoria, B.C. will not be charged for an incident in which he kicked two men as they were being handcuffed. The officer in question was filmed kicking one man as other officers held him down following a fight in the street. He then kicked and kneed a second man as he and another officer struggled to handcuff the suspect. The province’s Criminal Justice Branch reviewed the incident and ruled that the force used by the officer was permissible and legal in that particular, unsafe situation. The spectator-filmed video of the kicks was posted on YouTube last spring and has received over 250,000 views since.


Queer Concordia seeks a two cent fee levy

Joey Donnelly addressed CSU council.

Queer Concordia took the first step in an effort to make the transition from club to fee-levy group last week, with the Concordia Student Union council approving their referendum question to appear on ballots this March. The organization is requesting a two cent per credit fee levy largely for the hiring of a part-time coordinator, ideally someone with an expertise in counselling, who would allow them to keep the doors of their resource centre open to students on a more regular basis.

“Part of the reason why we’re seeking [the fee levy] is to have somebody to be able to keep a regular presence at our office,” said Joey Donnelly, a spokesperson for Queer Concordia. “We find that we’re usually the first stop where a lot of people go to when they have questions regarding sexuality, whether it’s academic or personal. A lot of people come to us as a first stop so we see that demand for our services and a need for a more visible presence of people who identify as queer.”

Donnelly said Queer Concordia is currently more of a referral service and works completely on volunteers, a model he called “unsustainable.” The modest levy they are seeking, two cents per credit for an average of between 48 and 60 cents a year from full-time undergraduate students, would make a big difference in terms of their budget.

“It would basically represent triple what we receive right now from the CSU as a club,” Donnelly said, adding that while they currently receive approximately $4,000 from the CSU the levy itself would bring approximately $12,000 more to their budget according to their calculations.

The group is also in consultations with Queer McGill, a service centre with a budget in the area of $40,000, in order to establish a concrete plan for the finances. “We also realize that with extra cash comes extra responsibility and we wanted to ensure that […] that process is done transparently and in an accountable manner,” Donnelly said. “We don’t want to overextend our budget or ask for too much money where we don’t necessarily have plans for that money.”

Some councillors at CSU asked for clarification as to how the newly-funded Queer Concordia centre would differ from the existing 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

Donnelly explained that they deal more with issues of sexuality, while 2110 deals more with gender and there shouldn’t be much overlap. “We feel that we would be sister organizations with 2110, that we would complement each other really well.”

Largely however, councillors voiced strong support for the fee levy.

There is still some work to be done for the organization. Councillor Lex Gill successfully amended the motion to accept Queer Concordia’s question, pending their ability to prove they are legally incorporated and have a functioning board of directors, both of which are required in order to receive fee-levy funds, by the time ballots are in next month. Donnelly said the group is currently engaged in the process of being incorporated as a non-profit organization and hopefully will have that taken care of shortly.

Once that’s completed, he said the next step is to organize a “yes” campaign and illustrate how this centre can benefit all students.

“We think for 60 cents a year, for less than a cup of coffee or a bag of chips, to be able to have access to a space like this, plus have a group advocate for free safer sex products, I think it’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Donnelly said.

“Giving a chance for queer people to have a voice on campus, that’s what a person’s two cents is worth.”

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