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Housing crisis deepens in Canada

Canada’s housing crisis hits a new low with a 1.5 per cent vacancy rate in 2023, the lowest since 1988.

On Jan. 31, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that Canada’s rental market has hit a new low, with the national vacancy rate having plunged to 1.5 per cent in 2023. This rate, the lowest since the CMHC began tracking it in 1988, underscores a growing crisis in housing affordability and availability across the country.

The CMHC’s annual Rental Market Report paints a concerning picture of the state of housing in Canada, where demand for rental units far outstrips supply. This imbalance has put renters in a tight spot, facing increased competition and higher costs for available spaces. With average rent growth for two-bedroom units hitting 8 per cent in 2023—which is well above historical norms—the financial strain on Canadian renters is intensifying.

Urban planner Jason Prince, has two decades of experience in housing and community development. Currently teaching at Concordia’s School of Community & Public Affairs, he actively shed light on the CMHC’s findings in an interview with The Concordian

“When the vacancy rate falls below 3 per cent, tenants are at a disadvantage,” he explained. This situation gives landlords the upper hand, enabling them to set rents at will, due to the scarcity of available units.

The roots of this crisis, according to Prince, can be traced back to systemic issues within Canada’s approach to housing. He referred to a continuous rise in construction costs and a significant reduction in federal investment in affordable housing since the early 1990s. 

“The federal government has not been actively constructing permanently affordable rental housing like it used to,” Prince stated, highlighting a shift away from social and community housing projects that once provided viable options for lower-income Canadians.

Prince believes that the solution to this problem is not as simple as increasing the total number of housing units. “Building condos and new rental units that nobody can afford are not solving our housing crisis,” he said. Instead, he advocates for a substantial investment in social and community housing—tens of thousands of units that are permanently affordable and not subject to market fluctuations.

To address this crisis effectively, Prince calls for a comprehensive national program focused on community and cooperative housing. He stressed the need for a collective effort that employs the resources and tools of municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Such a program would mark a significant shift towards de-commodified, nonprofit housing models, away from profit-driven market dynamics that exacerbate affordability issues.

The Montreal-based urban planner further suggested that smart development around transport nodes can enhance accessibility and affordability, reducing the need to encroach on green spaces and agricultural lands. “There is a connection between transportation and housing, but it must not destroy our remaining green spaces,” Prince asserted.

As Canada grapples with this housing crisis, Prince’s insights offer a path forward that prioritizes affordability, sustainability, and inclusivity. His call for a critical mass of nonprofit housing stock and a reevaluation of urban development strategies underscores the urgent need for a shift in how Canadians think about and address housing. 

With the CMHC’s report laying bare serious challenges, the time for action is now, lest the dream of affordable housing for all Canadians slips further out of reach.

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News

Beyond Wages: Quebec’s Wealth Divide

INRS research chair Maude Pugliese’s study uncovers the hidden dimensions of wealth distribution between men and women in Quebec.

In a study published in December of last year, the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) unveiled findings that highlight stark wealth disparities between men and women in Quebec. The study, spearheaded by professor Maude Pugliese, chair researcher of the newly established Canada Research Chair in Family Financial Experiences and Wealth Inequality, marks a significant leap in understanding wealth inequality in the region.  

Until recently, the dialogue surrounding economic disparities in Quebec and the broader Canadian context has primarily focused on income and pay inequalities. However, Pugliese’s research has shifted the spotlight to wealth distribution, a critical yet underexplored facet of financial well-being.

“Wealth is an even more important resource for well-being than income because it can act as a safety net in times of hardship and is crucial to well-being in retirement,” Pugliese said, underscoring the necessity of addressing wealth disparities to grasp the full spectrum of economic inequality.  

The study’s findings, derived from a comprehensive survey conducted in 2022 involving 4,800 respondents, reveal that men in Quebec possess almost 30 per cent more average net wealth than women. This gap widens alarmingly among partnered individuals, with men in common-law relationships holding wealth at a staggering 80 per cent greater than that of their female counterparts.   

Single women, on the other hand, have positive net wealth across all percentiles. These disparities, according to Pugliese, surpass the pay gaps currently observed between men and women in the province, indicating a deeper, structural issue within the financial fabric of society.  

“These gender gaps are far larger than the pay gaps we are currently seeing between men and women in Quebec,” Pugliese noted. The research points out that even after accounting for income differences, a significant portion of the wealth gap remains unexplained, prompting a call for more nuanced investigations into factors such as inheritance, access to financial services, and advice.  

The groundbreaking nature of Pugliese’s study lies not only in its findings, but also in its methodology. For the first time, wealth in Canada was measured at the individual level rather than the household, unveiling the hidden inequalities within couples that previous data collection methods have masked. This novel approach laid the groundwork for more detailed and accurate data collection on private and family wealth, which Pugliese and her team argue is essential for understanding and addressing gender-based economic disparities.  

As the INRS continues to lead in research intensity across Quebec and Canada, this study not only contributes to the academic institution’s legacy, but also the broader societal understanding of economic inequalities. It challenges policymakers, financial institutions, and society at large to reconsider how wealth is accumulated, distributed, and measured, to foster a more equitable economic landscape. 

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News

Concordia’s climate-smart approach to education

How experts at Concordia evaluate the university’s response to the climate crisis and its sufficiency.

At a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, educational institutions such as Concordia University are at the forefront of integrating climate action into their academic and operational frameworks. The need to adapt and respond to these environmental challenges is reshaping the landscape of education, prompting a reevaluation of traditional practices, and spurring innovative approaches to sustainability.

At Concordia, this shift is evident in the efforts to incorporate climate change understanding and adaptation into the curriculum. Dr. Alexandra Lesnikowski, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, leads this charge. “My expertise is around the notion of climate change adaptation. Essentially, I study how governments and other types of actors are responding to the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate,” she explained. Her work underscores the importance of equipping students with the knowledge and tools to navigate a world increasingly shaped by climate-induced changes.

Lesnikowski, who also leads a team of researchers at the Concordia Climate Change Adaptation Lab, emphasized the evolving nature of educational responses to climate change. “We [researchers] essentially look at how we deal with things like extreme heats, floods and wildfires, and some of the changing environmental risks that we’re seeing evolve around us now,” she said. This approach is not just about understanding the phenomena, but about developing practical solutions at the community and policy levels, such as creating resilient infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events, formulating policies for sustainable urban planning, and implementing community-based environmental education programs.

However, Dr. Mitchell McLarnon, a faculty member of Concordia’s education department, offers a contrasting viewpoint. He expresses concern about the university’s “hyperactive optimism” approach to climate action. McLarnon stresses the importance of recognizing the environmental cost of modern practices, such as the digitalization of data. “How many people are deleting their emails? Things aren’t in the cloud—they live in a data farm that requires a lot of cooling,” he pointed out. 

In response to such concerns, Lesnikowski acknowledged the ongoing discussions within the university about the environmental impact of academic practices. “Yes, I think we’re seeing increasingly that universities and research disciplines more broadly are having this conversation about what the environmental implications are of our sort of business-as-usual practices concerning travel, certainly, but also material resource intensity for things like research programs,” she stated.

As Concordia navigates these challenging waters, the perspectives of experts like Lesnikowski and McLarnon are crucial. While Lesnikowski focuses on educating and empowering students to be agents of change in a climate-impacted world, McLarnon calls for immediate, tangible actions. 

Their insights reflect a broader dialogue in the educational sector about the role and responsibility of institutions in combating climate change. The steps taken by Concordia today will not only determine its sustainability, but also shape the environmental code of conduct of its students, the future guardians of our planet.

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News

Debt mountain: Concordia’s mounting money troubles

An in-depth analysis of Concordia University’s financial situation

Concordia University has a big issue brewing. This isn’t about exams or assignments, but about money—lots of it. The university’s financial statement for 2022-2023, along with their budget planning for 2023-2024, shows that it is deep in debt, which could cause serious challenges going forward.

Here is the deal: Concordia owes a ton of money, with payments due from now until 2059. This debt comes from government loans and a financial instrument called Senior Unsecured Debentures, which are big loans taken by the company or organization without offering any of their assets. 

Think of Senior Unsecured Debentures as an I-owe-you or a big promise to pay back money. The “unsecured” part means that if Concordia cannot pay, they have not promised to give anything specific in return, such as a building or equipment. This means Concordia is juggling a lot of financial promises for a long time.

To address concerns about the university’s ability to manage this debt, Concordia’s CFO, Denis Cossette, explains that debt is normal for educational institutions. For comparison, Concordia has a debt of $274 million against annual revenues of about $613 million. McGill University, with total liabilities of $4.211 billion, reports annual revenues of approximately $1.661 billion. 

This demonstrates a substantial financial structure to manage their liabilities. The University of Toronto, in contrast, has $895 million in debt against a much higher annual revenue of $4.3 billion. These numbers highlight that while debt is common in universities, the amount of debt relative to their income varies.

Adding to this, the university ended the 2022-2023 fiscal year with a $38.8 M deficit and has a net long-term debt of $274 M. They are also managing a hefty $162 M in lines of credit carrying past operating losses, emphasizing the gravity of their financial situation.

While Concordia offers a lively hub for its students, it also promises to take care of its staff, even after they retire, by providing plans for pensions and retirement benefits. However, these promises are like a big jar that Concordia must keep filling with money, which can be tough when there are many other expenses.

Balancing debt and keeping the university running smoothly is a tricky act, but Concordia has a plan for managing and paying for its big-ticket items such as buildings and tech equipment. For this situation, they have set up something called “sinking funds.” This is a fancy way of saying that the university is attempting to put money aside regularly to make sure they can manage these major expenses.

For the 2023-2024 fiscal year, Concordia is facing an uphill battle with projected total revenues of $613 M against expenses of $653.7 M. This means they are expecting yet again to spend more than they earn, furthering their financial strains.

Another significant concern is the potential drop in student numbers in light of the changes to tuition costs, as international and out-of-province student fees are increasing significantly. This could reduce the university’s revenue, adding to their financial woes. 

Cossette mentioned the creation of the Canada Scholar Awards Out-of-Province Awards, aiming to maintain accessibility for out-of-province students in response to these tuition hikes.

Due to these various issues, the university faces various kinds of financial risks. There’s credit risk, the danger that someone Concordia lent money to might not pay it back; market risk, when changes in interest rates or currency values can disturb Concordia’s finances; and liquidity risk, the risk that Concordia might not have enough cash when it needs it.

Investments and endowments are another significant aspect of Concordia’s money management. Endowments are large monetary gifts given to the university by individuals, but often have rules about how they should be used. Managing this money wisely is crucial for maintaining Concordia’s overall financial health. 

Concordia also makes money through other services such as retail stores, student residences and parking. But even with those extra sources of income, the big debt problem is not going away anytime soon.

To tackle these issues, Concordia has implemented measures such as freezing the salaries of top executives, continuing a hiring freeze for non-academic staff, and using reserve funds to reduce the current-year deficit. They also plan to strategically reduce expenses, such as payments to the pension deficit and managing non-critical activities, to create structural financial capacity. 

This could involve a more judicious approach to discretionary spending, optimizing administrative processes to reduce overheads, and postponing non-essential infrastructure upgrades or expansions. 

The university also relies heavily on grants and contributions, especially from the government. This can be compared to an allowance or financial support from family in that changes in support can really disturb the university.

Additionally, Cossette states, “We don’t anticipate issuing new long-term debt in the near future.” This approach is a part of Concordia’s strategy to minimize further financial strain and manage its existing obligations more effectively.

Concordia also has some ongoing legal issues and other commitments that come at financial cost.

What does all this mean for Concordia? It means that the university is at a crossroads where it needs to make some smart decisions about its money. The way it handles its debts and plans for the future will affect everyone at the university—students, faculty, and staff.

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News

Echoes of silence: teachings from the pandemic

Students who began their university years online due to COVID-19 revisit the early days of virtual learning.

The rhythmic tapping of keyboards and murmurs of conversation usually fill Concordia’s CJ building newsroom, a place where stories are chased and the news never sleeps. But on a Friday afternoon, just one week before the semester’s start, the room was an island of solitude on an equally empty campus. The only exception was Elisabeth Ndeffo, a fourth-year journalism student, who sat alone, immersed in the quiet that was once a rarity here.

This stillness was a stark contrast to the typical atmosphere, but it was a familiar one for Ndeffo. It mirrored the quiet that had descended upon the space during the pandemic semesters when the vibrant exchange of ideas was replaced by the silence of remote learning. The newsroom became a reflection of the isolation that students like Ndeffo experienced during the height of COVID-19.

Concordia beckoned, but the virus’ shadow loomed. “I knew that it was going to follow me in university,” she recounted, her voice carrying the weight of a premonition come true. The shift to university life in fall 2020 was supposed to be a fresh chapter. Instead, it posed the question: how long is this going to last? 

“It honestly sucked,” Ndeffo admitted. The rites of passage for first-year students—frosh, activities, the social rites of university life—were absent when she started university. “We couldn’t do frosh, activities, or anything that you’d normally do.”

“I didn’t want to do something reduced,” she said. Yet the circumstances demanded compromise and innovation. “We had to craft it out,” she explained. “You had to interview your family. I remember I did an assignment on how to hard-boil an egg. It was a Martha Stewart recipe.”

AJ Cordeiro, media instructor at Concordia, reflected on what came with the shift to online classes. “It got way lonelier,” he said, explaining his expanded role during the pandemic. Troubleshooting shifted to platforms like Zoom.

The delay in accessing professional equipment was also a frustration for Ndeffo, who was keen on gaining practical skills. “I only got to use a lot of the video equipment in third year, a bit in second year,” she said. “I knew about cameras, but there was a lot of hands-on training that we missed out on.”

When in-person classes cautiously resumed, a different kind of connection emerged. “It was exciting. I had met some of my peers, even though we were online. We would see each other on video,” Ndeffo recalled, finding solace in the digital faces of her classmates. Even with the return to campus, the mask mandates created a new barrier, contrasting the openness of virtual interactions with the masked, in-person ones.

Amidst the pandemic’s challenges, Cordeiro observed a significant shift at Concordia’s journalism school, leading to unexpected benefits. “It was an opportunity to reevaluate and explore new solutions,” he said, highlighting the adoption of cross-platform solutions and the use of more accessible technology such as smartphones. This transition, according to Cordeiro, fostered a more adaptable and flexible approach to education.

Despite a rocky start and the uneven playing field that the pandemic exacerbated, Ndeffo is forging ahead with a prestigious internship at CBC News. Her journey, like many others, reflects the resilience and adaptability fostered in the face of unprecedented times.

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Opinions

“They Can’t be Funged!” What’s up with NFTs?

How did a novel idea meant to benefit artists and creators become a frenzy of people clamoring over each other for pictures of punk monkeys in a $17.6 billion industry?

Ah, the whimsical world of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). At the height of their popularity, people were trading digital pixels loosely resembling apes for a staggering US$2.8 billion a month. Fast forward to July 2023 and the NFT market has come down from the clouds, now hovering around a mere 3 per cent of its former glory.  

At its core NFTs were initially created to establish digital ownership and authenticity. Meant to act as digital certificates, built on blockchain technology, they were designed to certify the originality and ownership of digital assets, ranging from art and collectibles to in-game items. 

NFTs are less about the actual art, song, or image and more about being a digital proof of ownership. They’re like a virtual badge that says, “Hey, I’m the real owner of this unique digital thing!” So, while you can still enjoy the art or music, the NFT’s main job is to make sure nobody can fake or copy your ownership. It’s like having a digital key that unlocks the real deal in the virtual world.

Beyond verifying ownership, they empower artists to maintain greater control over their work. Artists can use NFTs to tokenize their creations, ensuring that they get a fair share of any future revenue generated from their art. 

This means that as their work gains value over time, they continue to benefit from it, providing financial security and recognition for their talent. Somehow this concept devolved into a frenzy of uninformed, FOMO-driven investors, yeeting their life savings on pictures of punk monkeys.

Matthew Hougan, Chief Investment Officer at Bitwise Asset Management, sees potential for NFTs to transcend their initial hype. He believes that the second generation of NFT technology will make its way into the real world within the next two to three years. Hougan remains optimistic about the broader NFT ecosystem, even as trading volumes have dwindled. 

That’s all well and good, but it turns out that today 95% of the 73,000 NFT collections we examined are essentially worthless. We went from buying and selling million-dollar pixel art made on MS Paint when the NFT market was worth a jaw-dropping US$17.6 billion to… well, nothing. It’s safe to say that not every pixel is a Picasso.

Then there’s the curious case of supply and demand. Less than a quarter of all NFTs are actually ever bought, leaving a whopping 79 per cent of collections collecting dust on a USB somewhere. It’s almost as if people finally realized that buying a cartoon cheeseburger won’t satisfy their hunger. Who knew?

But wait, there’s more! It turns out the listed NFT prices often differ significantly from their actual selling prices, leading to a speculative market that’s reminiscent of the wild, unpredictable days of the early internet. 

However, not all hope is lost. The future promises a shift from speculative buying to genuine utility and significance. Forget about million-dollar pixel art—NFTs are branching out into preserving cultural heritage, where they digitize and protect historical artifacts.

They’re also infiltrating the gaming industry by enabling true ownership of in-game assets. Moreover, NFTs offer token-gated access to exclusive content, fractional ownership opportunities in real estate and high-value assets, and secure digital identities, reshaping the way we engage with digital culture.

It’s like the NFT market is finally growing up and realizing it has more to offer than just digital trinkets.  

When it comes to NFT as an investment, Hougan suggested considering cryptocurrencies like Ethereum or companies actively engaged in the NFT space, such as Nike, which has already earned an impressive US$185 million in NFT revenue. 

Ultimately, NFTs are undergoing a much-needed transformation, akin to the dot-com bubble burst that ultimately paved the way for the digital revolution. So whether you’re an investor, creator, or simply an amused bystander, keep an eye on the NFTs that bring real value and purpose to this quirky digital universe. 

After all, it’s not just about buying and selling psychedelic monkey JPEGs—it’s about making the virtual world a bit more useful and slightly less bizarre. 

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News

What’s up with Instagram?

What are the impacts of Bill C-18 on social media platforms?

For us to make important financial decisions, we must first be informed. Recent events surrounding Bill C-18, the Online News Act, have ignited a fierce battle between tech giants and Canadian journalists.

This legislation aims to compensate Canadian news outlets for their invaluable content. Tech giants like Meta and Google have chosen to block Canadian news on their platforms in combat—which is the reason why you may have noticed that news content has disappeared from your Instagram feed.

The federal government is throwing their weight behind Bill C-18 and suspending advertizing on Facebook and Instagram altogether. This move is echoed by provincial and municipal governments, including Quebec Premier François Legault. Even big media corporations are taking a stand. 

The Online News Act, enacted by the federal government in June, requires tech platforms to negotiate with news organizations for financial remuneration for the news shared on their platforms. This can potentially bring in over $300 million annually for Canadian news organizations.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, is urging all provincial and municipal governments to follow the federal and Quebec governments in stopping advertizing on Facebook and Instagram in response to Meta’s threat. The Canadian Association of Journalists calls on Meta to reverse its decision, emphasizing the importance of access to accurate and quality information for a flourishing democracy. 

Recent data from an August 2023 study conducted by Talk Shop reveals that 51 percent of Canadians are concerned about the impact of Bill C-18. These worries highlight a growing unease about the future of dependable news in the digital era.

Even though Bill C-18 was meant to safeguard journalism against dwindling revenues, it has unintentionally pushed consumers to seek news from unaffected sources like newsletters, podcasts, independent news sites, and even X (formerly Twitter).

The union also calls on corporations responsible for a significant portion of the more than $4 billion in annual revenue that Facebook generates in Canada to support local news and Canadian content by halting all advertising through Meta and its subsidiaries. 

The world is closely watching how Canada tackles this issue. As tech giants square off with governments over their responsibilities in the digital era, Canada’s actions will set a precedent for other nations.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s plans to implement the Online News Act are taking shape, promising a potential resolution to the contentious issue. With public consultations, an independent auditor, and a mandatory bargaining process on the horizon, the organization is hoping to establish a fair compensation framework. 

Whether through negotiated agreements or regulatory changes, the outcome will shape the future of digital news in Canada.

INFOGRAPHIC BY CARLEEN LONEY/ @SHLONEYS

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News

Summer of infernos

Amidst the intensifying impact of climate change, Canadians endured nightmarish journeys, unforeseen expenses and heartwarming acts of kindness.

Renowned for its vibrant summer festivals, Montreal bore witness to a disturbing transformation this scorching season. Azure skies became the canvas for relentless infernos, shrouding the city in smog and smoke, a poignant reminder of fires sweeping not just across Canada, but the world.

Among those affected were Concordia University students, enduring a nightmarish ordeal that left a trail of devastation. 

For Joshua Iserhoff, a human relations student, this summer became a harrowing nightmare. His family embarked on a frantic odyssey from one threatened community to another, pursued by the flames.

The journey from Montreal to their home in Nemiscau along the Billy Diamond Highway was fraught with tension. Despite some reassuring forecasts, the unpredictable nature of wildfires always loomed. 

“Rabbits [were] running on the highway because they’re running as well,” Iserhoff recalls. “And that’s the safe place that they could find.”

Due to the fires, their endeavour involved additional hours on the road and in hotels, incurring unexpected expenses, a heavy burden, especially for a student. Their families rallied to provide support, easing the financial strain.

Their escape began on July 11 after attending a wedding in Ottawa, heading northward. At the Matagami Gate, a crucial checkpoint on the private Billy Diamond Highway, they received the all-clear from the toll attendant, oblivious to the impending danger.

Iserhoff had been driving his sister’s car when in mere seconds, the winds intensified, carrying a blinding wall of smoke and flames, plunging them into darkness, cars threatening to lift off the ground. Panic set in as he glanced at his own family in the other vehicle. 

Unable to communicate through open windows due to his daughter’s asthma, Iserhoff’s wife used soaked towels as makeshift respirators for their children, a life-saving suggestion by Iserhoff’s mother. Fortunately, an elderly stranger saw them struggling and offered N95 masks, providing a glimmer of hope.

Survival instincts took over. “I have to drive,” Iserhoff told his wife after switching cars to join his family. “She covered [the kids] with a blanket, and opened the iPad. We were singing in the cars.”

Despite putting on a brave face for his children, it was a traumatic experience. “It does something to your humanity,” Iserhoff said.

Out west, creative writing student Jess Thodas confronted an advancing wildfire that jumped across the lake that separates East and West Kelowna. “We went out with my dogs to the lake”, Thodas recounts. “We started noticing the sky was turning red.”

Reliant on sporadic emergency alerts and Twitter updates, she relied mainly on messages from within the community to stay safe.

All flights were grounded, runways reserved for water bombers. More than a week of cancellations later, Thodas finally boarded a flight back to Montreal, leaving her concerned for her family.

Thodas embarked on a challenging 20-hour journey, which involved a night sleeping at the airport with her dog. Unable to relax until reaching her apartment, Thodas just collapsed on her bed once she’d made it.

Photo courtesy of Jess Thodas
Photo courtesy of Jess Thodas

In the midst of this crisis, Dr. Rebecca Tittler, a forest ecologist who teaches at the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and in the Departments of Biology and of Geography, Planning and Environment and coordinates the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre at Concordia, provides insight into the situation.

She points out that while wildfires are a natural part of forest ecosystems, this year’s early and severe onset can likely be attributed to the hot and dry conditions caused by climate change. “We must remember that trees naturally burn, releasing what they’ve stored, unlike the greenhouse gases emitted by humans altering the climate,” she explained. 

Dr. Tittler emphasizes the pressing need to address climate change and safeguard communities in isolated forested areas and enhance evacuation measures, underlining that firefighting efforts prioritize protecting human lives due to the vastness of Canadian forests.

Despite these stories of resilience in the face of nature’s fury, each new blaze serves as a stark reminder of our shared vulnerability and the urgent imperative to confront the growing impact of climate change.

Cree Nation of Wemindji – Photo courtesy of Bradley Georgekish
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News

Protesters gather against injustice

The International Day Against Police Brutality protest highlighted concerns about police accountability and mistreatment of detainees

On March 10, the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations hosted an event in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood to gather victims of crime, city officials, and community groups to discuss crime prevention. The event began with organizers acknowledging the pain and suffering felt by attendees in the room and hoping that they could start a conversation on how to overcome violence in the area. 

On March 15, the International Day Against Police Brutality, over 100 demonstrators marched through the streets of NDG to protest police brutality. The protest aimed to highlight brutality throughout the justice system, not just among police officers. Demonstrators demanded accountability for the individuals responsible for upholding systemic racism.

The demonstration was organized by the Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière (COBP), who founded International Day Against Police Brutality in 1997.

The protest also highlighted the case of Nicous D’Andre Spring, a 21-year-old Black man who died during an altercation with police while illegally detained at Bordeaux prison. Quebec’s chief coroner has ordered a public inquiry into Spring’s death, and provincial police opened a criminal investigation into the incident, which resulted in the suspension of a correctional officer and a supervisor.  

Alain Babineau, director of The Red Coalition, a group in Montreal that advocates for social justice issues, shared his perspective on the progress made in addressing racial profiling and police brutality. “Protests are good, but there has to be some type of objective behind it. They raise awareness, but it has to be sustained. Otherwise, the powers that be, the politicians, go along with the popular [sentiment]. If they see there is merit in supporting your claim or what it is that you’re pushing forward, then they’ll go along with it.” 

Babineau stressed the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, rather than just focusing on reconciliation efforts. 

Earlier this year, the Quebec Police Ethics Committee ruled that two Montreal police officers, Dominique Gagné and Mathieu Paré, knowingly omitted key information about David Tshiteya Kalubi’s medical condition before his death in their custody in 2017. The officers failed to document Kalubi’s sickle cell anemia on the inmate control sheet, a condition he took medication for. The committee found the officers’ omission amounted to negligent and careless behaviour. 

However, the Quebec Crown Prosecutor’s Office decided not to charge anyone in connection with Kalubi’s death. The case has raised questions about police accountability and the treatment of Black individuals in police custody. 

Quebec’s Crown Prosecutor’s Office has announced that the police officers who shot and killed Jean René Junior Olivier in Repentigny in August 2021 will not face criminal charges. The Crown’s decision was based on an analysis of evidence, including video footage from one of the paramedics at the scene. The incident sparked outrage in Repentigny’s Black community against racial profiling by law enforcement. 

The march served as a reminder that the fight against police brutality is ongoing and that it is the responsibility of everyone to demand justice and accountability from “les brutes en uniformes,” as one masked organizer called police. The COBP and other organizations have been fighting for decades to end racial profiling and violence by law enforcement, and they vow to continue until significant changes are made. 

Babineau highlighted the need for sustained activism to bring about real change.

“Apologies are apologies are apologies,” he said. “If it sort of atoned for evil that you did, great. It’s not a licence for the things you’re about to do.”

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News

It takes a village: justice for Nicous D’André Spring

Protesters take to the streets demanding release of video footage after the death of the poet and boxer in police custody

Montreal community members gathered on Feb. 10 to march for justice for 21-year-old rapper, poet, and boxer Nicous D’André Spring, who died on Dec. 24, 2022 while being illegally detained in Bordeaux Prison. 

Officials at the prison have stated that there was an altercation which led to the guards fitting him with a spit hood and pepper-spraying him twice. Spring was then taken to a hospital, where he later died. 

The circumstances surrounding Spring’s death have led to an investigation into the actions of the prison officials and the treatment of inmates at Bordeaux Prison. The case has gained widespread attention, sparking public outcry over the treatment of prisoners and the need for reform in the criminal justice system.

As of Feb. 14, only one correctional officer involved in the altercation has been suspended, and the footage of the incident has not yet been released to the family. The, Justice for Nicous Action Committee, continues to call for the release of the footage of Spring’s death to advance justice for his family.

The event organizers wore green bandanas on the upper arm to maintain visibility. At the start of the protest, Karim Coppry, one of the organizers, referenced the African proverb, “Il faut un village pour élever un enfant et le village est ici” (It takes a village to raise a child and the village is here), highlighting the importance of the community’s solidarity.

The march began at 1 p.m. and proceeded down Sherbrooke St. W. towards the Palais de justice de Montréal. Protesters chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace” and “When Black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” Marlene Hale, a Wet’suwet’en Elder, led the protest with the beat of her rallying drum.

Throughout the protest, Spring’s family members spoke, demanding justice for their loved one. Spring’s sister, Sarafina Dennie, and mother, Niquette Spring were in attendance. 

“I’m just looking for justice,” said Spring’s mother.

Spring’s sister also expressed her grief and anxiety: “Every day, I wake up and hear a siren, and I have anxiety — we came here to have a different life, and you took that away,” referring to the guards at Bordeaux. 

Protesters marched through Montreal, passing the Government of Canada building while shouting “release the video.” Volunteers wearing construction vests guided the crowd. A child watched in awe at the number of protesters and waved at a police officer on a bicycle, unaware of the fight for justice happening all around her. 

The protest ended at the Palais de justice at 2:45 pm. Spring’s mother closed the protest. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t work. I need justice for my son!” she exclaimed.

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