Going beyond land acknowledgements

Five years after the publication of Concordia’s Indigenous Directions Action Plan, has our university really changed?

When Alicia Ibarra-Lemay, a Kanienʼkehá:ka and Chilean student who grew up near Kahnawà:ke, started at Concordia in 2018, she lost no time finding a community in her new university. Her sister, who started at Concordia before her, had prepped her: go to the Otsenhákta Student Center, talk to student advisors, and sign up for activities. 

In her First Peoples Studies (FPST) courses, she was happy to see Indigenous professors and staff. She remembers being excited to see similar representation in other courses outside her program. “It definitely wasn’t like that though,” she said.

With her minor in education, Ibarra-Lemay immediately felt a difference between her two programs. She explained that there was very little inclusion of Indigenous knowledges in her education classes, and she felt uncomfortable pointing this out. “I don’t want to raise my hand in case they call me out and then make me have to be the Indigenous representative,” she said. 

Ibarra-Lemay is not the only Indigenous student to feel this dichotomy within Concordia. Since the publication of the Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019, Indigenous faculty, staff, and students have been working hard to decolonize the university and make it a safer place for Indigenous students.

“Obviously some of this work is really long term,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of Concordia’s Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “It’s frustrating to us that things don’t move faster. We are facing systemic barriers in Canada’s post-secondary institutions, and they’re really hard to break down.”

Ibarra-Lemay is now a master’s student in the Individualized Program, a self-directed program in which students can stretch the limits of research practices. According to her, a lot of Indigenous students choose this program because it allows them to incorporate their community’s knowledge and ways in their studies. Ibarra-Lemay decided to take her research about storytelling and oral knowledges out of the classroom.

“When I’m presenting my thesis to my committee, I’m inviting them to my totà’s [grandma’s] home, around a fire and cooking them food,” she said. Her goal is to share the culture of oral storytelling, reciprocity, and the passing down of knowledge.

Despite this openness from her committee members, Ibarra-Lemay said she had to jump through a lot more hoops to get her methodology approved than other students. The inclusion of oral tradition in writing-based research settings was especially hard.

“Students are doing really creative things through the proposals, in the way that they present their thesis,” she said. “This is thanks to their committee members, their faculty that are helping do this, but not the program itself.”

Undoing expectations

When it came to integrating culture to university work, these challenges were not only felt by Ibarra-Lemay. Jared Gull, a Cree student from Waswanipi, was studying film at Concordia until recently. “I came [to Concordia] because it was the dream,” he said. “Then I got here, and it’s not what I imagined.”

Gull expected Concordia to be very inclusive, and while he praised the services offered by the Otsenhákta Student Center, his experience in his classes was very different. 

He recalled questions from his classmates about which race he was, and the discomfort of land acknowledgements, during which students and professors often looked straight at him. “I’m just sitting there thinking, I feel like I had caused this just by walking into the room,” he said.

“It kind of feels like I just existed as a person without any identity,” he said. “And I usually just try to take it on the chin and roll with the punches, crack a joke. But at some point, it just wears you down.”

Gull also got a lot of pushback when trying to make movies that showcased his culture and were entertaining. “The Cree don’t have those kinds of movies,” he said. “Everything is so documentary-focused. So when I go to make these movies, people are expecting me to be this depressed Native with all these stories about residential schools.”

He found his classmates and professors tried to politicize his stories in a way that he didn’t want them to be, and their feedback often made him uncomfortable. “People didn’t really see what I was doing. I had a teacher even say: ‘Oh, this is not the kind of Natives that I see on CBC,’” he recalled. “Sometimes, it just felt like I was talking to a wall, or I had to play to people’s expectations to be heard.”

Creating change 

Tremblay said she hears about these behaviours from professors and students far too often. “Ignorant comments, presenting things only from a Eurocentric perspective, situations where Indigenous contributions to the classroom are treated as if they’re inferior… We see this all the time,” she said.

This is not to say that nobody at Concordia is working towards change: the OID and other groups have put many measures in place to decolonize Concordia, such as the Indigenous learning series Pîkiskwêtân, or the recently-announced plan to decolonize the university’s curriculum. But change is slow to be felt throughout the university. 

“We have to start from somewhere,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the OID and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj. “[Concordia] is an institution that is colonial and in order to decolonize, it’s going to take another 50 years, right?”

The difficulties of changing an institution like Concordia are woven even in something as simple as its furniture. Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the FPST program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, shared that she often struggles to find a classroom where the desks are not nailed to the floor and can be moved into a circle, an important part of Indigenous pedagogy. 

“Circle teaching is paramount, and it has important implications such as the equality of the participants, the demand for respect, dignity, and collective care,” she said. “This Western worldview that you would sit in an amphitheater, and you look at the back of the head of the person in front of you, it doesn’t promote relationship building, or even care.”

Vicaire also emphasized the importance of visibility of Indigenous peoples on campus, something he said students have been asking for for a long time. “The symbolic things actually do matter,” he said. “But it can’t be just one area,” he added. “I’m hoping [such symbolic actions] will influence other ways of thinking of other art projects or other renovations that will include more indigeneity into the actual project.”

Cheyenne Henry, Manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, sees these projects as an opportunity to expand the services offered to Indigenous students. “That’s always great to have that representation, that recognition that we’re on Indigenous land,” she said. “Having those spaces, that’s important. And what we do in those spaces is also going to be important.”

One of the visibility actions outlined by the Action Plan is the land acknowledgements, which are becoming more and more common, but are not unanimously appreciated. “I find them kind of insulting,” Gull said, “just in that the acknowledgement is that the land has already been taken and they’re giving thanks for taking land.”

According to Tremblay, it is important to really take time to understand what the acknowledgement is about. “[People] read it and they can’t pronounce the words, they read it in a way that is very stilted,” she said. “It just has no meaning. It feels as if, okay, let’s get this stuff out of the way before we get down to the real business. So for me, if you’re not going to put your heart into it, then just don’t do it.”

Ibarra-Lemay pointed out that most of the actions to decolonize Concordia were led by Indigenous students, faculty and staff, which has led to burnout in the community. “We need to be the ones leading it, but we still need the support of non-Indigenous people to be able to do this,” she said.

Tremblay argued that more allyship would speed up the process of making Concordia a place of belonging for Indigenous students. “Although my office is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Action Plan, it is not our responsibility to implement every recommendation,” she explained. “The whole university has to put their back into it. It is the affair of everybody in this university: faculty, staff, and students.”


Tuition hikes loom over Concordia’s Indigenous students

Around 30 per cent of Concordia’s Indigenous students are out-of-province. How will the tuition hikes affect the community?

During recent strikes, student advocates have brought to light the effect tuition hikes may have on Concordia’s student services, as the university loses out-of-province students and the income generated from their tuition. Indigenous faculty and staff fear a potential cut in the services offered to Indigenous students. 

“We believe that these tuition hikes are catastrophic,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of the Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “And not just from an institutional budget standpoint. They’re catastrophic in terms of our ability to offer students a unique experience.”

While Concordia does not have specific data about Indigenous students, the OID estimates that about 30 per cent of them are out-of-province. 

“If we don’t get those numbers of students, then we’re going to have a small population,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the Office of Indigenous Directions and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj, Quebec. “It doesn’t enrich the campus and the community at Otsenhákta [Student Center]. I worry about that. I worry about the future of Indigenous education within Quebec.”

According to Vicaire, this diversity in students and experiences is crucial in the effort to decolonize Concordia and other anglophone universities in Quebec. 

“We’re attracting all these wonderful Indigenous youth, First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth, and that’s why this is able to progress,” he said. “So when we have those students coming out-of-province, they’re bringing a richness and pushing the agenda for the Indigenous Directions Action Plan.”

Tremblay fears the hikes will encourage Indigenous students to stay in their own province or study in other provinces instead. The announcement of the tuition hikes came right after universities in Ontario, including University of Toronto and University of Waterloo, announced that they will offer free tuition to Indigenous students from communities around their campuses, and in-province tuition rates for Indigenous students throughout Canada. 

Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the First Peoples Studies program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, said the language requirements accompanying the tuition hikes will create additional barriers for Indigenous students. 

“Why don’t we forefront Indigenous languages?” she said. “Quebec had two layers of colonization [French and English]. Whenever you impose a colonial European language, it’s always Indigenous people that suffer.”

Tremblay believes Indigenous students will not appreciate this obligation to learn French during their time at university. 

“Asking them to learn another colonial language, that’s not going to go down very well,” she said. “We are in a situation of catastrophic language loss for our own languages. Obviously people will counter by saying that if I have to put my back into learning another language, it’s going to be my own ancestral language, not another colonial one.”

The OID is working on scholarship offerings for out-of-province Indigenous students, but they still have little information in terms of what a post-tuition hike budget will look like. 

“The picture is still very unclear,” Tremblay said. “There’s going to be cuts, that’s obvious, and I think everybody knows that. Where those cuts are going to be, I don’t know.”

For Cheyenne Henry, manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, it is important that the university continues to focus on decolonization. 

“With the changes that are forthcoming, tuition increases and the potential reduction of out-of-province students to the institution, those are big things that are on the table now,” she said. “But despite that, there still needs to be the commitment to Indigenous students and indigenizing these spaces.”


CREW chosen to represent Concordia’s TAs and RAs

Last week, after a three-week voting period, CREW announced their win in the race to become the official union representing Concordia’s teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs).

The vote opposed the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW) to the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union’s (TRAC). CREW won with 71.7 per cent of votes, as they announced on their Instagram account on Nov. 15. 

“For us to win by such a landslide, it was humbling in the best way,” said Frances Davenport, CREW militant organizer and master’s student in chemistry. “I think it foreshadows what’s to come. I think it shows a level of unity that we have managed to establish, and that we are hoping to carry with us into bargaining, to get us the things that we campaigned on that we swore we were ready to fight for.”

CREW was created last March when TRAC’s executive team resigned, saying they could not get the gains they wanted for Concordia’s TAs and RAs while working under TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). 

Despite collecting a majority of memberships last semester, CREW was unable to be certified in court this summer. TRAC’s Collective Agreement had never officially been filed, which gave them a chance to re-file over the summer and keep power. 

Instead of a lengthy legal battle, a vote was held between Oct. 23 and Nov. 13 to determine which union TAs and RAs wanted to be represented by. 

The CREW team got the election results on Nov. 13, but after what they had been through over the summer, they did not relax until they got certification on Nov. 15. 

“We were still holding our breath for sure,” Davenport said. “Because, we’d been fooled once.”

Stephanie Eccles, CREW campaign coordinator, said the CREW win is much bigger than just their union. “It’s an accomplishment for workers everywhere in many ways, because if anything, this is just a boost to the importance of reclaiming unions for the workers,” she said.

Eccles explained that the next step for CREW is to hold a General Assembly on Nov. 29, where TAs and RAs will vote on their constitution and elect an executive and bargaining team. Then, once the winter semester begins, the union will start bargaining for their new Collective Agreement. 

“We always and forever will be the CREW campaign, but CREW is everyone now,” Davenport said. “And so, while we have a vested interest in seeing a smooth transition, and we have a vested interest and a passion and fighting power for achieving the goals we set out to achieve, we are counting on the community we’ve built to come forward.”

This semester’s campaigning period was marked by accusations of misinformation by both TRAC and CREW. One of the claims TRAC made was that choosing CREW would delay bargaining, since it would take time to get the union up and running—a claim that Davenport and Eccles find ironic. 

“CREW started for many reasons, but a prominent one was how long it was taking PSAC to initiate bargaining,” Davenport said. She recalls being frustrated with TRAC’s executive team for not initiating bargaining, until she understood that it was being delayed by PSAC. 

“We’ve been ready to bargain since CREW began,” she said. 

TRAC did not respond to our request to comment on the elections.

Since they campaigned on their bargaining promise, the CREW team has already prepared their demands to the university. Some of their top demands are a pay raise above inflation for TAs and RAs, more action to protect their members from sexual harassment, and the removal of tiered salaries for RAs.

CREW’s job has only begun as they start preparing for negotiations. Davenport warned that the process might take time. “The surest way to get a bad deal is to want a quick one,” she said.


One student launches Concordia’s Indigenous Bridging Program

The Kaié:ri Nikawerà:ke Indigenous Bridging Program started its pilot year in September, with only one student.

This semester, without much fanfare, Concordia University opened the new Kaié:ri Nikawerà:ke Indigenous Bridging Program. The program is a first in the university, and this semester, it only has one student. 

The program is meant for Indigenous students who do not have all the prerequisites to apply for a bachelor’s program. For now, the Bridging Program is only offered to students trying to get into engineering programs. 

The program was first announced last January. According to program coordinator Saba Din, this did not allow enough time to recruit students—especially because the program targets students with an atypical academic journey.

“It’s a short window of time for students who never thought university was an option for them, to rearrange their life and try to make university an option for them,” said Din. 

She also mentioned that the position of Indigenous recruitment officer at Concordia has been vacant for the last few months, which made it harder for her team to connect with Indigenous communities and publicize the  program.

While they did receive applications, Din said that “some applicants were not eligible for this program due to various reasons.” Eventually, the program opened its pilot year with only one student.

The creation of the Kaié:ri Nikawerà:ke Indigenous Bridging Program was an initiative under the Indigenous Directions Action Plan when it was reopened in 2021. Manon Tremblay, senior director of Indigenous Directions, explained the importance of making post-secondary education more accessible for Indigenous students.

“Because our education falls under a federal jurisdiction, what ends up happening is that decisions are made on a budgetary line,” Tremblay said. “In small communities, when there aren’t that many kids—if, for example, one year, there’s only one or two kids for grade 10 or grade 11 math—there may be some executive decision made where that class is not going to be offered that year.”

Tremblay was not surprised when she learned there was only one student in the pilot year of the Bridging Program. According to her, the lack of popularity comes from starting with a bridge to engineering programs, which are not a popular choice among Indigenous students. Instead, they tend to lean towards programs like business, psychology, and art therapy. 

“What we notice amongst our student population throughout the years is that Indigenous students have a tendency to choose programs where they’re either going to go back into their communities to invest their new skills and their new knowledge in the social economic development of their communities,” Tremblay said, “or they choose programs where they gain a better understanding of their place in society and Canadian society as Indigenous people, or a combination of those two.”

Din is hopeful that this interest will be reflected in the expansion of the Bridging Program next year. She is currently working on creating bridging options leading to a Bachelor of Commerce, and a Bachelor of Arts or Science in psychology.

Her team is also considering a part-time option for students who may have to work their schedule around jobs or kids. “We have this program as a full-time option to really build that sense of community, and really have a cohort as a way to support the students in this transition,” Din said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t offer a part-time option in the future.”

Din recently met with some of the Indigenous JMSB alumni for a focus group to discuss ways to support students in the Bridging Program. Some of the ideas that were brought up included academic and mental health check-ins, and peer mentoring with older Indigenous students.

Briefs News

A union referendum for Concordia’s TAs and RAs

A secret ballot, open until Nov. 13, opposes TRAC and CREW.

Graphic by Carleen Loney / The Concordian

After a months-long battle in the courts and on social media, TRAC and CREW have gone silent to allow Concordia’s teaching and research assistants to vote, determining once and for all which union they want to be represented by. 

Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 13 at 8 a.m., some of Concordia’s teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) will have access to an online ballot in which they can decide which union will represent them. 

The battle between the two unions started last March, when the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union’s (TRAC) executive team resigned to form the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW). They claimed that TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), made it impossible for them to get the gains they wanted in their negotiations with Concordia University.

By April 3, the end of the campaigning period determined by a legal deadline established in TRAC’s Collective Agreement, CREW had gathered 1,700 memberships out of Concordia’s 2,100 TAs and RAs, according to court documents. 

However, it turned out that TRAC’s Collective Agreement had never been filed to the Tribunal Administratif du Travail (TAT). This gave TRAC the chance to re-file their membership list over the summer, allowing it to remain the standing union for TAs and RAs. 

Instead of turning to a lengthy legal proceeding to entangle the validity of these memberships, TRAC and CREW are moving to a secret ballot to act as a tie-breaker between the unions. The vote will end on Nov. 13 at 8 a.m., after which the chosen union will be able to negotiate with Concordia for a new collective agreement. 

The eligible TAs and RAs have received an email from TAT with instructions on how to vote for their preferred union. 

For more information on TRAC and CREW’s legal battle this summer, read our article here

To find out more about each union, you can visit TRAC’s website and CREW’s website

Briefs News

Concordia students walk out in support of Palestinians

Last week, Concordia students left class for a sit-in to denounce the war in Gaza.

Around 500 students gathered in Concordia’s Hall building last week for a walk-out in support of Palestinians in Gaza and around the world. Similar actions were held at McGill University, Dawson College, UQAM and Université de Montréal. 

The event was organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), a Montreal-based group advocating for the liberation of Palestine. 

According to Noor, a representative of SPHR who did not disclose their last name for security reasons, the action had two goals: promoting “BDS,” which stands for “boycott, divestment, and sanction,” and condemning the normalisation of violence against Palestinians. 

Noor explained that SPHR is asking Concordia to stop investing in initiatives that support Israel.

“I think that we need to put our money where our mouth is, and the students are all speaking and they’re all saying that we stand for human rights,” Noor said. “And in this context, human rights are on the side of the Palestinians.”

Noor was happy with the number of people who showed up to the event and said that SPHR received supportive messages online from students who wanted to come but couldn’t make it.

“I am beyond hopeful for the future of our cause. Today was so inspiring,” Noor said. “Not only did we put this together in less than a week, but we did it in peak midterm season. The turnout was by far beyond anything that we could have expected.” 

They were glad that Concordia students were ready to show support for the Palestinian community. “We’ve got to keep building this community, not only in order to spread awareness and fight for our cause, but also to strengthen ourselves,” Noor said, “because as a Palestinian, the diaspora existing and taking care of ourselves is an act of resistance in and of itself.” 

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney / The Concordian

Montreal turns orange on the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Activists say there is still a lot to be done to decolonize our institutions.

Last Saturday, on Sept. 30, wave after wave of orange swept across the streets of Montreal, as a crowd gathered to celebrate the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

This day is one of commemoration for the Indigenous children who were taken away from their families to be sent to residential schools, many of which never came home. At the march on Saturday, Indigenous activists and allies honoured these children and called on governments and institutions to do more to decolonize their work. 

Kai and Mia Fischlin, two sisters of Inuvialuit and Dene descent, were present at the march. Mia was the first in her family to get involved in the activist movement and had invited Kai to join her at the march.

Kai is a Concordia student in biology, and Mia is an alumni who graduated in human relations. According to the former, it’s important for these marches to continue, year after year, especially with the continued discovery of unmarked graves throughout Canada. “And there’s still a lot to fix within the communities, the Indigenous communities all over Canada. I don’t think [the marches] are ever gonna stop until we see real change,” she said.

“Colonization didn’t happen long ago, and it’s still happening,” added Mia. “Me and my sister, we’re the first generation in our family to not go to the residential schools since it started. There’s just so much change that needs to happen, and it needs to come from everyone. It’s a lot on Indigenous people’s backs to be the only ones pushing forward, so we need everyone’s help.”

National Truth and Reconciliation Day was implemented by the federal government in 2021 as one of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In response to these calls to action, Concordia University published its Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019. Manon Tremblay, senior director of Concordia’s Office of Indigenous Directions, is happy with the progress Concordia has made in the last four years, but believes there is still much to be done. “We can’t sit on our laurels,” she said. “We have to continue that momentum, and we have to be able to deliver on these recommendations and these promises.”

Concordia currently has 12 Indigenous faculty members and seven Indigenous staff members—including Tremblay, who is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Tremblay believes continuous action is necessary to decolonize Concordia and make it more than “inclusive.”

“Personally, I don’t like the word ‘inclusion,’” explained Tremblay. “I find that ‘inclusion’ is a word that basically says that it’s still their house. And we’re still guests in that house, and we still have to adhere to their rules. What we’re looking to do really is foster a sense of belonging.”

Brina Rosenberg and Meika Blayone, two friends who attended the march, believe that the educational sector plays a major role when it comes to leading the movement of decolonization. 

“Knowing that the research that you can do includes oral storytelling as a resource that counts is super important, and I feel like that’s missing in a lot of university courses,” said Rosenberg. “Especially in history, knowing that oral history is just as important as written history is extremely important.” 

Blayone, who is Metis from Saskatchewan, believes Indigenous realities are erased from educational institutions. According to her, language laws in Quebec make this even worse. “French is super important, but where’s the Indigenous languages? Why are we not learning those? Why are they not an official government language?” she asked. 

Kai and Mia Fischlin encouraged Concordia students to support Indigenous communities whenever and wherever they can, even if it just means sharing a post on social media. 

“And if you see some racism going on, don’t be afraid to call them out, cause it’s a lot for Indigenous people to always fight for themselves as well, and feel alone,” said Mia.

Protesters gather through the streets of Montreal for Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Photos by Marieke Glorieux-Stryckman / The Concordian

Concordia student takes the stand in front of the Police Ethics Committee

Anastasia Boldireff filed a complaint in 2020 against the two officers who helped her file a report after she was stalked.

A legal-size clipboard, a pen and a rickety chair next to the door. That is all Anastasia Boldireff said she was given to write her report at Montreal police station 20 in 2019 after being stalked. For almost two hours, she wrote her report, trying hard to recall the events, balancing her clipboard on her lap.

Last week, Boldireff stood in front of the Police Ethics Committee and testified against the police officer who took her report, Officer Kevin Jacob, and his supervisor, Sergeant Martin Bouchard. 

Adamo Bono first approached Boldireff on St-Catherine St., as she was heading to school—Boldireff is a PhD candidate at Concordia University. He started following her and asking her out, even after she repeatedly told him she was not interested. This was on Oct. 25, 2019.

On Nov. 5, 2019, she saw him outside a coffee shop where she was meeting a friend, he followed her, and he refused to leave until she gave him her number. Bono knew her name and personal details about her life. Boldireff saw Bono again, standing in the EV building on Nov. 11, 2019, as she was headed to an evening class.

On Nov. 7, 2019, two days after the coffee shop interaction, Boldireff decided to go to the police. She went to Police Station 20, where, according to her, the officer told her he was busy and that she could come back later. 

Boldireff decided to turn to Concordia security. She filed a report with a security agent, who then offered to return to the police station together and give an officer the report.

The same officer Boldireff had spoken to previously, Officer Kevin Jacob, was still there. Jacob asked the security agent to leave and told Boldireff that she would have to file another report. 

Boldireff spent two hours filing this second report. She gave Jacob her stalker’s phone number, and Jacob looked it up. “The entire expression on his face changed,” Boldireff said. “And I said: ‘He’s in the system, isn’t he?’” 

Jacob confirmed that he was, but did not give her any more information.

Bono had sexually assaulted two victims in 2016 and 2017. Boldireff would not learn that information, nor her stalker’s full name, until days later, when another officer accidentally handed her a laptop on which Bono’s file was open.

At this point, according to Boldireff, Jacob left to get his supervisor, Sergeant Martin Bouchard. Bouchard asked Boldireff to describe her stalker. Boldireff remembers describing him as around six feet tall, Middle Eastern but pale, lanky, built like a soccer player. 

“He [Bouchard] says: ‘Oh, sounds like a good looking man. A soccer player, you say? Why don’t you go on a date with him?’  He had his arms crossed, he was leaning back, and he laughed,” Boldireff recalled. 

“I remember just being shocked,” said Boldireff. Later, she asked for a ride home, as she felt unsafe walking alone. The officers told her they could not provide one. When she asked about the next steps, she said the officers advised her to watch what she was wearing. 

As she left the station, she said Jacob told her: “I’m sure being an attractive woman like you gets you into trouble.”

The two officers have denied making these comments.

After these incidents, Boldireff did not feel safe in the city. She left the province and, eventually, the country. In April 2022, Bono pled guilty to harassment and was sentenced to two years of treatment in a mental health facility. 

In March 2020, Boldireff filed a complaint against Jacob and Bouchard. She said they were “dismissive, condescending, and inappropriate,” and she suffered from systemic sexism, according to a later complaint to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.

Last Wednesday, Boldireff recounted her story in a hearing in front of the Police Ethics Committee. She then answered the defense attorney’s cross-examination as even the smallest inaccuracy in her story was brought forward and criticized.

Boldireff denounced the fact that she had to stay standing for her whole testimony, which took the better part of the day. The way the room was set up meant her family, who attended the hearing to support her, was outside her field of vision.

On Thursday and Friday, Boldireff sat in the audience as the testimonies continued. Most of the legal proceedings were in French, a language Boldireff is not completely fluent in. “It felt like the worst language exam,” she said, adding that it made her feel confused and frustrated. 

“It makes all the sense in the world to me, given my experience in the last three days, of first having felt like it was a psychological stoning and it ending with me listening in silence, unable to contribute… It makes sense to me why so few women, so few victims of sexual violence, would come forward with complaints,” she said. 

She highlighted how grateful she is to the Police Ethics Commissioner for helping and believing in her, and to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) for helping her throughout the process.

Boldireff had some words of advice for other people who might experience what she went through. According to her, having a strong support network is vital, including seeking help from organizations who know the bureaucracy of filing reports and complaints. During the hearing, Boldireff was accompanied by family members as well as a massage therapist, who helped her relax during the breaks in her testimony. 

She also advised victims not to post on social media and to be careful with the messages they send, as posts and messages can be used as proof in an eventual legal case. 

Boldireff carries around a notebook, which she uses to remember everything that has happened to her in relation to her case for the past four years. On one side, she writes the facts. On the other, she writes her thoughts and feelings. She advised other victims to do the same. 

“A lot of the time, […] when you’re victimized, you feel like it’s in your head. Or you feel like it’s not happening to you. You know, ‘Just walk it off’ kind of thing. Like, ‘Oh, that was just a bad day, a bad moment,’” said Boldireff. “I would say that you’re not alone, and reach out to the services that are there to support you, and to your friends and family.”

The decision of the hearing has not yet been announced. 


Woman, life, freedom: a year of protests in Iran

As the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death approaches, Iranian Montrealers reflect on one year of protests and uprising.

A year ago, in the weeks and months following the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran, Pooya—then a graduate student at Concordia—was hopeful that this event and the protests that followed might be the spark needed to finally bring about change in his home country of Iran.

“Last year, I was personally thinking that this time is the time that something good will happen,” he recalled. “A hope was in our heart and our mind that a change will occur. But right now, when I’m talking to you right now, after almost one year, I’m devastated.”

Pooya, who asked his last name to be withheld for safety reasons, said he has lost hope that the people of Iran have the power to change the regime. His parents and sister, who still live in Iran, recently got work permits and are planning on moving to Canada this fall. “I don’t want them to stay in Iran anymore,” said Pooya. 

On Sept. 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for wearing her hijab incorrectly. She later died in custody, and witnesses claim she was beaten by officers. Her death sparked protests throughout Iran and the world. 

According to Amnesty International, more than 22 thousand people have been arrested in Iran in relation to the protests, including over 90 reporters and 60 lawyers. Seven people have been executed for their involvement in the protests, hundreds more were killed and thousands injured during protests. 

Despite all this, the chant of “Woman, life, freedom” still rings through the streets and on social media. 

For Forough Fereydouni, psychology student at Concordia and Iranian community activist, there is still a lot of hope in the movement. She said their biggest achievement is the widespread awareness of women’s situation in Iran. The fight isn’t over, and women in Iran are still protesting despite the risks.

“They know the Islamic Republic is going to arrest them, charge them, put them in jail,” said Fereydouni. “And they know suppression is very brutal. But these women are fighting for their rights.”

In the last few months, the regime’s crackdown on protesters has gotten even worse. “They are arresting activists very widely, many activists. They are [charging] them without any logical reason, they are suppressing women in the street very strictly,” said Fereydouni. “They are making themselves ready for the anniversary. They want to scare people.”

Aboozar Beheshti, a Concordia-graduated Iranian activist in Montreal, pointed out that protesting is almost impossible in Iran. “It is not possible to be there in the street and not be attacked by the police,” he said. “And when I say attack, it means attack. It means brutal attack, arrest, charges, prison.”

For Pooya, his hopelessness does not come from a feeling of having missed a chance to change the Iranian regime. It is a question of whether there was any chance to begin with. “I don’t think it’s possible to change the regime only by counting on the powers of people,” he said. “The people do not have guns, government have guns, and it’s a simple equation. They have guns. They kill.”

Despite these setbacks, both Fereydouni and Beheshti believe the movement against the regime can still change things in Iran. The activists explained that now that public awareness has been achieved, they are one step closer to their goal. 

“This new generation in Iran is different,” said Beheshti. “They don’t tolerate suppression. They are very brave. I could not imagine even that something like this [would] happen. They go ahead, they go in front of the bullets, they go in front of the police and they aren’t scared of anything.”

Fereydouni is grateful that the movement remains strong on social media when it is too dangerous for Iranians to take it to the streets. “Yes, we have a long way in front of us,” she said. “Imagine a day every woman, not just activists, fights for her rights, against mandatory hijab—how beautiful that would be.”


A return to four in-person workdays opposed by Concordia staff unions

Staff members are disappointed with the deans’ decision and are taking matters into their own hands.

At the President’s welcome last week, unions representing staff members of Concordia joined the festivities to present Graham Carr with a petition signed by 613 members. The petition asked him to reconsider the decision to request Concordia staff return to in-person work four days a week. 

This decision was announced in June. Before then, the hybrid work model had varied between departments, but many staff members said they enjoyed the flexibility and that it was a healthy and effective system.

Beata Tararuj, graduate program coordinator for the electrical and computer engineering department, created the petitions against the return to four in-person workdays. She did not hear about the decision from her dean, but from one of her colleagues. 

“The number of emails that I started getting, it was like an email after email after email, after email, after email, and everybody was so not happy. Everybody was miserable. Everybody was disappointed. We felt like somebody stabbed us in our back,” Tararuj said.

Her first petition was sent to all faculties at the university, collecting 250 votes. A second petition was later sent out when the unions were able to make their votes, which now has a total of 613 votes.  

“When a student comes with a problem, I am there to listen,” said Tararuj. “I’m here to navigate through the Concordia system. I’m here to make sure that these people are well taken care of.  So I was thinking to myself, I fight for students on a regular basis. Why won’t I fight for myself?” 

Since the pandemic, people have started to adapt to the new normal of hybrid work. Concordia University is still trying to define what this vision is going to look like.

In 2021, Concordia requested its staff return to in-person work two days a week. In 2022, that number went up to three days a week. And now, staff has been asked to return to campus four days a week.

Sigmund Lam, vice president negotiations of the Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CUPEU), worries that Concordia staff may be expected to return to full-time in-person work next year—a fear that was echoed by other union members. 

So where is this decision of increased workdays coming from? In an email, Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s spokesperson, explained that it “prioritizes services and supports Concordia’s core activities: teaching, research and knowledge creation, and the student experience.”

Maestracci also wrote that this decision was taken “to achieve the vision of a vibrant campus experience and ensure fairness.” The fairness refers to the idea of having a uniform standard for all staff (four days in-person per week) instead of letting departments decide on their own guidelines.

The four faculty deans denied our request for an interview. When approached at the welcome event on Sept. 7, president Carr refused to comment on the decision or the petition.

Many staff members have said they wish the deans had given more explanations for this decision. Shoshana Kalfon, advisor and president of CUPEU, said she wants to see the data supporting this return to in-person work.

“They have all these keywords, the word of the day. ‘We want a vibrant campus.’ Was it not? And is it required that everybody be on campus all the time for that to exist?” she said.

To her, the hybrid work model is all about giving staff choices. Some may decide to work from home two days a week, and some may decide to be on campus every day.

“I don’t know if it’s that [the administration] doesn’t want us to have the opportunity to make a decision, to make a choice—and that, to me, comes down to control.” she said. 

Lam explained that staff often end up doing more productive work when they work from home. “Quite often, people in the office are interrupted constantly,” he said. 

“Unhappy employees are less productive,” he added. “And I believe the employees have lost trust in upper management’s ability to make decisions with regard to hybrid or flexible work. And loss of trust also causes a reduction in performance.”

Alycia Manning is the enrollment coordinator for the law and society program in the history department. Last semester, she worked in-person for three and a half days a week. 

She said she valued “being at home and being able to just focus [on herself].” “You wake up, you can do a little workout in the morning, then you can do your laundry at lunchtime. It’s nice to be able to just have that, just a little bit of freedom,” she added. 

Tararuj echoed that feeling, saying she needs a healthy work/life balance to stay present with her tasks and in every aspect of her life.

“This specific position [program coordinator], it’s a demanding position. There’s a lot of tasks, there’s a lot of students. I’m a high energy person and I like to give energy to my students,” she shared. “By the time I get home, I’m so dead. I’m so tired, I can’t even go to a park with my kids.”

Daniela Ferrer—who was, until recently, VP grievances and mobilization coordinator at Concordia University Support Staff Union (CUSSU)—is also worried that this decision will affect staff’s mental health.

“Concordia pays a lot of lip service to the importance of mental health, but they really don’t seem to be listening to workers when they tell them: ‘Hey, you know, working remotely has been incredibly beneficial to my mental health and this return to campus is causing a lot of anxiety,” Ferrer said.

“[The administration is] ignoring the fact that a lot of things changed during the pandemic and people’s priorities shifted,” said Ferrer. According to her, hybrid work has brought to light people’s “lost time”—time spent commuting, sitting at your desk when all the work is done, or waiting between meetings. 

Elizabeth Xu is a woodshop technician in the fine arts department and already works four days a week from 9 to 5. She hopes President Carr will listen to what the university’s staff has to say. 

“I hope that they can open their ears and open their hearts to the will of the people,” Xu said. “If the majority of the workers are saying that this [hybrid work] is something that’s better for them, I feel like it’s just the right thing to do from one human to another, to listen to their experiences and try and make accommodations where possible, especially if the work isn’t compromised.”


Two Concordia Students claim they were violently arrested for Jaywalking

The students will file complaints against the officers for excessive use of force

One night at the end of July, at almost 3 a.m., Concordia PhD students Amaechi Okafor and Wade Paul were walking on Saint-Jacques street, heading towards Okafor’s apartment in NDG. 

As they walked, they saw police cruisers and officers gathered around an individual wrapped in a blanket. Not wanting to interfere with the situation, Okafor and Paul stepped into the street to go around the cruiser, then returned to the sidewalk. 

“We didn’t even cross the road,” said Okafor. “I actually told him: ‘Let’s step on the road and avoid these cars and step back on the sidewalk,’ which we did for a split second. And all of a sudden, we just hear yelling.”

“Next thing I kind of remember, there was a police car coming up onto the sidewalk,” recalled Paul. Okafor said the intervention was “very, very aggressive.”

The officers were speaking French, and while Okafor speaks French, neither student could understand the officers’ accent—Okafor is an international student from Nigeria, and Paul is from St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick. When told this, the officers switched to English and requested to see Okafor’s ID. 

Okafor and Paul asked why they needed his ID, and the officers said that it was because they had been jaywalking. The students asked for clarification, at which point the officers asked to see Paul’s ID as well. 

“They said […] that we were under arrest,” said Paul. “I had my arm kind of twisted, I was thrown up against a fence. I had my rights started to be read to me. I was in full panic mode.”

“The way the arrest went was really strange for me because it’s something I’d never experienced,” said Okafor. He recalls being put to the fence, handcuffed from the back and searched from top to bottom.

He was then put against the cruiser, where the officers spread out his legs so far that his pants ripped and searched him again, he said. This also affected his old knee injuries, and he is still suffering from knee pain a month after the arrest. He said the pain makes it hard for him to walk and work.

“I felt abused. I think that was the word to use. Because I didn’t give them the right to touch me all over where they touched me,” said Okafor.

The students said they were put in separate police cruisers, where they were left alone for 20 minutes. Officers went through their belongings and wallets, and did not explain what was happening. Okafor said they never read him his rights.

Both were fined $49 for jaywalking and $499 for refusing to show their ID. 

Since the incident, Okafor’s family has joined him in Canada. He waited two years before bringing them here, wanting to make sure it was a safe place for them. Now, he fears what happened to him might happen to his three children.

“If my son is 16-17, what would happen if a cop were to stop him like that?” he asks. “I don’t want to lose my son because I’m ambitious.” 

The students have pleaded not guilty to their fine. With the help of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) and its executive director Fo Niemi, they are planning on filing complaints with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission for Racial Profiling and with the Quebec Police Ethics Commissioner.

“The only down thing is that the law, as it stands right now, will allow these officers not to cooperate with the Police Ethics Commissioner investigation,” explained Niemi. “Because they have the so-called constitutional right to silence. Not to incriminate oneself.”

Niemi is hopeful that the misconduct charges for excessive use of force will go far. “Just the fact that they were handcuffed, that’s a form of force that was used excessively,” he said.

“It all goes far to speak on how unsafe international students should feel,” he said. “Because if that could happen to me, it could happen to any other person.”

After hearing his story, other international students told him that they were worried about their own safety.

Niemi stressed the importance of speaking out about these situations. “Just because you’re international students, it doesn’t mean you have less rights when it comes to this.”

The SPVM declined to comment on the intervention.

Infographic by Carleen Loney / The Concordian

The legal Battle to represent Concordia’s Teaching and Research Assistants

Two unions spent the summer working behind the scenes to be Concordia TAs’ and RAs’ official union

While many Concordians were taking some well-deserved time away from school this summer, two unions were fighting to be the official representatives of Concordia’s Research Assistants (RAs) and Teaching Assistants (TAs).

Despite collecting the membership of a majority of TAs and RAs at the end of their campaign, the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW) failed to get accredited this summer. The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union (TRAC) remains the official union, but TAs and RAs will have to vote this fall to choose the group that will represent them. 

CREW was created last March when all members of TRAC’s former executive team resigned to form a new union that was meant to be more independent. In their letter of resignation, the team spoke out against TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). According to them, PSAC was hindering the fight for better pay and better work conditions for TAs and RAs at Concordia. 

“The university takes full advantage of these dynamics [between TRAC and PSAC],” CREW wrote in the letter, “exploiting PSAC’s poor results and lack of consultation, not to mention its lack of a participatory union culture […] to push around our members and chip away at our working conditions.”

Bree Stuart, who was president of TRAC until May 2022 and is now their interim administrative assistant, disagreed with the arguments CREW was making in the letter. To her, PSAC had always been present in a supportive role whenever TRAC needed them.

She was also shocked that the executive team would resign while they were bargaining for a new collective agreement.

“That, to me, is just super disingenuous, that you can start bargaining in a union that you’re trying to destroy,” Stuart said.

The campaign for memberships

Before CREW could become the accredited union representing Concordia’s TAs and RAs, they had to campaign against TRAC. Both unions had until April 3, 2023 to collect as many membership cards as possible from the TAs and RAs.

“You could think of it as a referendum, in a way,” explained Stephanie Eccles, campaign coordinator and organizer at CREW. “So folks had to give their allegiance to TRAC or their allegiance to CREW.”

The deadline of April 3 had been chosen by both CREW and TRAC because union raids—the process of challenging an existing union—can only legally happen 60 days before the end of a union’s collective agreement. 

The accreditation 

On April 3, at midnight, CREW filed their membership cards with the Quebec Labor Board (TAT). At the time, they reported having 1,700 members out of Concordia’s 2,100 TAs and RAs, a number confirmed by TAT documentation.

“We were feeling very good about going into the court date on May 30,” recalled Eccles. “And then, on May 26—and this is how we found ourselves in our current situation—PSAC refiled a petition to certify the TAs and RAs at Concordia.”

On that day, PSAC sent the court a new list of their members, one in which they had a majority of memberships for TAs and RAs under contract on May 26. 

The reason they were able to refile despite being past the 60-day deadline was that PSAC had never filed TRAC’s Collective Agreement with TAT. In other words, in the eyes of TAT, TRAC’s Collective Agreement had expired on May 31, 2021.

“We just did a side agreement with the university,” said Eccles. “And so, what that means is that for the last few years, our union has been open to raids by other unions. It has not upheld the legal protections necessary.” 

The Collective Agreement had still been signed by the union and the university. According to Stuart, “even if it hadn’t been filed with the TAT, it was a signed, legally binding contract between Concordia and TRAC.”

As things stand now, CREW had a majority of signatures on April 3, and TRAC had a majority on May 26. There will be a secret email ballot in the fall to act as a tie-breaker and determine which union will be accredited. TAs and RAs should receive more information about who is eligible to vote in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, TRAC is still the official union and collects 1.84 per cent of TAs’ and RAs’ salaries, according to Eccles.

Where we currently stand

Two weeks ago, on August 22, TRAC elected their new executive team during an online General Assembly that student media was barred from attending. The quorum for the meeting was 30. TRAC claims that this quorum was met, at least during the votes at the beginning, but Eccles claims the election was done without meeting quorum.

Xiang Chen Zhu is TRAC’s newly elected mobilization officer. He initially supported CREW, but after the accreditation issues this summer, he started thinking that their campaign was taking time and attention away from bargaining and supporting TAs and RAs. “CREW has basically promised us everything will be transitioned smoothly,” he said, “and you will get a wage similar to the McGill students, which is around $33 [per hour].”

Marcus Granada, an organizer with CREW, disagrees with the idea that his union made false claims during their campaign last semester. He said that while CREW cannot make promises about wages or conditions, they can promise to fight for TAs and RAs. “Part of the campaign is being as transparent and honest as possible,” he said, “and not selling them a dream.”

What to expect in the coming months

Both unions are now turning their focus to the secret ballot this fall and the campaign that will precede it. The date for the vote is not yet set. 

“Of course, CREW is feeling very confident because, when we filed on April 3, we had over 1,700 of the 2,100 cards available,” said Eccles. “We had a strong majority.”

Granada highlighted the importance of mobilizing TAs and RAs to show up for the vote. “If the voter turnout is under 50 per cent of the TAs and RAs, then PSAC automatically wins,” he explained. “So we need to get the votes and we need to get a lot of people to vote as well.” 

On TRAC’s end, Zhu said they are ready to move on to bargaining. “Whoever wins the ballot, they should focus their time and effort on something that students really care about right now,” he said.

On her end, Bree Stuart believes that the secret ballot will give people a chance to express their true opinions about the union.“I just feel like it’s more ethical because people can take the time to sit down, educate themselves, and really make their own decision on what they want, who they feel is more apt at taking their bargaining demands into their own hands,” she said.

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