Concordia hosted-event opens discussion for children’s online safety

 In the wake of World’s Children Day, one Concordia public scholar hosts events on child safety in the digital age.

On Nov. 20, 4th Space Concordia, the university’s event-hosting public space, opened its doors for a week-long event educating attendees on children’s safety when consuming content online.

Headed by Azfar Adib, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at Concordia, the events centered around the legislative, technological and social aspects of children’s online safety in Canada.

The first event consisted of multiple panelists including experts in technology and legislature, as well as members of advocacy groups. Panelists answered questions pertaining to the subject matter from both moderator and audience. 

“I think as technology changes, I probably will know less as it goes on. And so there might be a gap between me and my child,” said Brogan Stewart, PhD candidate in environmental science at Concordia University. “I didn’t realize, like, the extent of it really until I came here.”

Stewart, who is currently expecting a child, said her curiosity surrounding methods used to prevent children from accessing mature content motivated her attendance. She believed it may become a problem she’ll have to deal with later on.

Stewart, who witnessed the rise of the internet growing up, expressed her fears of no longer being able to prevent her children from stumbling upon content unsuited for kids, especially pornography.

“It’s not just a different format, you know. The content, the abuse, the dehumanization, the objectification—it’s really difficult to keep [porn] away from kids,” said Penny Rankin, Vice President of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) and one of the panelists. “And the trouble is, we have a demand for it […]—it’s addictive.”

The NCWC advocates on behalf of women and children. In recent years, Rankin has been involved in the ongoing situation of trafficking of women and children in the adult entertainment industry. In late 2019, popular pornography website PornHub and its parent company MindGeek (now Aylo) were accused of sex-trafficking and hosting non-consensual intercourse.

Rankin was among the many who protested at the company’s Montreal offices, along with the aforementioned event host, Adib, and independent senator Julie Miville-Dechêne. 

Millville-Dechêne previously introduced two Senate public bills, namely Bill S-210, “which would require the implementation of age verification methods online to protect minors from exposure to online pornography.”

Rankin believed the consumption of pornography at a young age is detrimental to a minor’s development, further desensitizing them to unrealistic expectations or violent acts during intercourse. She’s been calling on the government of Canada to adopt laws to prevent further exposure, such as implementing bill S-210’s harsh age verification laws.

“It’s a first step. This is not going to solve the problem, but it is going to at least finally– shine not just a light on an issue– it’s going to hopefully be a first step from a legislative point of view,” Rankin said.

Since 2019, host and moderator Adib has been working alongside people like Millville-Dechêne and Rankin on implementing non-invasive technology to verify age and prevent children from accessing pornographic content. His research at Concordia has led him to develop verification via electrical signals of the human body, specifically from the human heart.

Adib’s device is attached at the wrist and uses artificial intelligence to identify the individual’s age through their heart rate.

Adib has previously spoken at the Senate in 2021 alongside Millville-Dechêne for the implementation of his technology. As his developments gained more followers and funding, he said he believed it to be a realistic alternative to providing personal information, like information on I.D.’s. However, he believed its application won’t be fool-proof.

Adib said the child online safety events were spurred on due to PornHub’s parent company recently undergoing an administrative overhaul, which he believed aimed to distance themselves from controversy.

Bill S-210 was recently debated in the House of Commons on Nov. 23, its second hearing after passing in the Senate.

Perfume – (In)conspicuous consumption?

If you spent $425 on a bottle of Baccarat Rouge 540 but didn’t get a compliment, did it ever really happen?

I never used to be someone who cared much about fragrance — I probably owned three Bath & Body Works body sprays my entire teenage life, and since then, I’ve pretty much been a shower and out-the-door kind of gal. But, while others were baking bread or practicing their French in the latter half of the pandemic, I was starting down a much less productive, and much more expensive, road.

Recently, I’ve been falling deep into the spending hole that is perfume. Ever since stumbling on the #Perfumetok hashtag on TikTok, a new consumption-based hobby has taken hold of me, and I can’t say I’m mad about it.

I do largely blame TikTok for this (among many of my other ills). The platform is nothing if not amazing at selling you a very specific aesthetic goal over and over again. If Emelia, aka Professor Perfume, tells me that all I need to do to radiate “femme fatale” energy is to wear Mugler’s Alien — well, she makes a good point.

In this way, fragrances function just like any other branded commodities — you buy them for the name and bottle as much as you buy for scent. According to Allure, in some cases, the perfume is actually developed with the bottle’s shape and colour in mind before the scent inside is even formulated. Fabien Baron, the designer, photographer, and filmmaker behind Calvin Klein’s CK One fragrance told Allure that a perfume’s image is generally more important than the scent itself when determining the success of a fragrance launch.

Further, with the perfume industry being largely dominated by premium (ie. designer and niche house) perfumeries, there is a lot of money to be made from a good branding strategy to go along with your product. 

However, as the consumer, once you leave Sephora and actually begin to wear the perfume in your everyday life, are you actually communicating this expensive purchase to anyone else?

Sure, I could clock a sniff of $166 By the Fireplace by Maison Margiela walking down the street, but I admit that my perfume nerdiness is not the default. Even when wearing the most famous and luxurious perfumes, to most people, you’re just someone who smells nice, not someone with $210 to throw at a bottle of Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford. With that being said, is perfume necessarily a conspicuous consumption? 

It’s hard to say. When I think of why I like to buy perfume, it’s difficult to find a distinct answer. If it was just about smelling nice, surely I would be okay with just buying some essential oils off of Amazon and calling it a day, right? But I don’t, I have to buy Glossier You.

It’s not that I even like Glossier as a company. I find many of their makeup products to be overpriced and underperforming, and their corporate governance has been marred by controversy. I know that the millennial pink branding and Instagram full of cool influencers’ impossibly “clean” glowy skin is simply a marketing strategy. Yet, I still paid $60 USD for their Glossier You perfume.

Despite the fact that maybe one out of hundreds of people would know that when I walk down the hall smelling of a faint, powdery, peppery musk, it is in fact due to Glossier, I still feel trendy wearing it. And that’s tied to the name more than the scent itself.

So here perfume becomes both conspicuous and inconspicuous — you’re always influenced by the bottle and marketing strategy, even when you are not outwardly advertising your purchase to anyone. 

While I pat myself on the back for being a conscious consumer, aware of branding strategies and the power of influencer marketing, this recent trip down the financial rabbit hole that is a perfume addiction has shown me that we’re all a bit susceptible to the hype. But, that’s not going to stop me from visiting now is it?


Feature graphic by James Fay


The misconceptions of marijuana

Analyzing the misplaced stigma surrounding cannabis consumption

After years of debate, marijuana is finally legal in Canada. On Oct. 17, the first dispensaries opened across the country. This is a massive step toward not only making pot safer and more accessible, but also ensuring a degree of product quality that couldn’t be guaranteed in an unregulated market. That being said, I believe significant progress is still needed in regard to the elimination of the stigma associated with marijuana use.

Certainly, cannabis is by no means a product without fault. Just like everything else, overuse of marijuana can have serious side-effects. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry noted that acute cannabis consumption at a young age has been linked with the inhibition of psychomotor skills, short-term memory, and minor cognitive functions.

There have also been studies aimed at examining and contrasting the overuse of marijuana at a young age with the development of certain mental disorders. While there is a certain correlation, it is crucial to remember that researchers have yet to find any meaningful causality. According to CBC News, Matthew Hill, an associate professor at the University of Calgary Hotchkiss Brain Institute emphasizes that we shouldn’t fall into the stereotypes about pot; instead, we should have faith in the studies being conducted which disprove them.

With all its potential side effects, the stigma around cannabis consumption still massively outweighs the real risks. We live in a world where the majority of the population is comfortable with people drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes (more or less). While people aren’t necessarily okay with others being addicted to opioids or pharmaceuticals, it’s definitely still a very common and accepted pain relief method. Yet some of the same people are still adamantly against the very thought of marijuana.

That being said, alcohol, cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals/opioids are distinctly worse for your health in every aspect and deadlier than marijuana could ever be. Unlike booze, pills or cigarettes, marijuana does not create a chemical dependency in the brain. While attitudes like psychosocial dependency can be developed, the detox period for this is significantly less painful and shorter than the detox period for chemical addiction, according to CBC News.

Another factor to keep in mind is that not a single person has ever died solely due to marijuana consumption, according to Greencamp, a website that researches cannabis use. Not a single one. Ever. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, smoking has killed 37,000 people in Canada this year alone, and opioids have taken 8,000 Canadian lives since 2016 according to CBC News. Marijuana is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to prescription drugs with research being performed at facilities such as CanniMed and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on the medical benefits of cannabis. This shows how invaluable it could be for the creation of effective and addiction-free treatments.

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, alcohol consumption also led to the hospitalization of nearly 77,000 Canadians in 2016. Yet pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and alcohol are accepted aspects of society with no legislation aiming to ban them. Unfortunately, marijuana is consistently demonized, and will remain so for several years to come.

In his book Weed: A User’s Guide, columnist for the cannabis website Leafy and host of the Roll-Up podcast David Schmader explained that a person would need to smoke roughly 1,500 pounds of cannabis in an hour to fatally overdose. According to calculations by the peer-reviewed journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, that would come to about 1,943,965 joints. In one hour. Good luck with that.

At its core, legalization of marijuana takes the first step toward the de-stigmatization of its consumption. Regardless of the potential health benefits or the toxic and deadly products we deem more socially acceptable, marijuana use still has a negative connotation to it. However, with the progressive steps governments are taking to not only decriminalize cannabis, but make it more accessible, one can hope this stigma won’t remain a mainstream concept for much longer.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

Student Life

How to become actively involved in the zero-waste movement

Quebec actress Mélissa de La Fontaine talked about her experience joining the movement

Quebec actress and environmental health advocate Mélissa de La Fontaine talked food waste and consumption during her Conférence Zéro Déchet on March 21 at Université de Montréal.

During the conference, which was held in French, de La Fontaine touched on her experiences living a zero-waste lifestyle and offered tips for people interested in joining the movement.
She talked about her experience moving from Shawinigan to Montreal, and how she started raising her awareness on environmental issues and the rising problem of food and material waste in Canada. She said through her activism, she wants to encourage all Montrealers to make better environmental decisions.
“You should all know that the garbage that we throw daily, it does not disappear. It ends up at landfill sites,” de La Fontaine said. According to de La Fontaine’s research, there are two ways these sites pollute our environment—many non-compostable materials, such as plastic produces methane and well-water. “Methane ends up in the air that we breathe, while well-water is a form of juice that garbage creates, which can end up in our oceans and deeply harm fish,” she said.

De La Fontaine propelled herself in the movement after reading environmental activist Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste. The book helped de La Fontaine become more educated on waste and environmental issues in Canada. The environmental advocate said she believes if everyone made small, regular contributions towards waste reduction in their own homes, it would do a lot of good for the planet. According to a 2016 Huffington Post article “Let’s Work Towards A Zero-Waste Future By Creating A Culture Of Reuse,” people throw out “an average of 4.7 trash bags of clothing every year,” which is equal to 2.6 billion pounds of garbage that goes into landfills per year.

“We do not need to count every piece of garbage we throw out, but rather all contribute according to our personal limits. We all have limits, so it’s not about going to extremes,” de La Fontaine said. She said following a minimalist lifestyle is a good way to reduce waste. When you live a minimalist lifestyle, you are dedicated to buying less and focusing on only necessities.

She outlined a four-step technique to limiting waste in urban households. The steps are refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling.

Refusing is about saying “no” to extra, unnecessary items. This includes trinkets organizations tend to give away at conferences. It also includes promotional cards and flyers distributed on the street, or “freebies,” as de La Fontaine called them. “You are telling the organizations to make more of these items, which causes an issue when they use petrol and energy to create them,” she said.

Reducing is about minimizing the purchase or use of household products, among others. Reducing not only saves money but also lowers the demand for certain products that harm the environment, but that also create pollution when they are manufactured.

Reusing is about utilizing items such as bags and containers. De La Fontaine suggested to buy reusable plastic containers and grocery bags that can last for many years and do not cause damage to our planet.

While de La Fontaine said recycling seems fairly self-explanatory, it’s important to do it correctly. Composting is one of the most important waste-reducing processes, she said. About 50 to 60 per cent of garbage being thrown out in Quebec is compostable, according to Statistics Canada.

“I would recommend composting things like fruit peels, which is very easy to do,” de La Fontaine said.

De La Fontaine said she hopes in the next five years, Canadians will start taking serious action towards environmental health, reducing waste and saving the environment from further pollution.

For those interested in finding out more about the zero-waste movement in North America, de La Fontaine highly recommends reading Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste.

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